Elul: Week 3
Rabbi Yael Levy is posting a teaching for each week of Elul that builds on the theme “Eyes on Life.” In the first week of the month, we began taking an accounting of the soul. Last week’s teaching urged us to return to awareness of the interconnectedness of all life. This week, we work on minding our psychic space.
Elul, Week 3: Living with Eyes Wide Open
How do we live with eyes wide open?
How do we see the horror, tragedies and the realities that go against our deepest values and not get blinded by anger, hatred, fear or despair?
How do we stay open to what is difficult and continue to experience the beauty, harmony and blessings of the world?
The tradition teaches that we do mitzvot, we engage in acts of connection. We pause. We give thanks. We offer our love and generosity to each other. We ask for help. We notice opportunities to be of service. We are mindful of our words and listen well to each other.
We set aside time for ritual.
Spiritual practices, the tradition teaches, slow us down, open our awareness and expand our perspectives so that we can hold paradox and contradiction. Spiritual practices help us cultivate the capacity to see the difficulty, to experience the pain and still embrace beauty and joy.
Practices for the third week of Elul
The tradition teaches that the first words we say each morning create the foundation upon which the entire day unfolds. With this in mind, the tradition instructs us to say the following as soon as we awake:
Modah/modeh ani lifanecha—I am grateful in the presence of all life.
This third week of Elul, we sit with this prayer each day.
Taking our seats, and bringing the attention to the breath, we say to ourselves,
Modah/modeh ani lifanecha— I am grateful in the presence of all life.
We repeat this phrase again and again, letting it travel with the breath. Each time we notice the attention has wandered, we gently bring our awareness back to the breath and the repetition of this prayer.
As we are sitting in the meditation, we do not need to name what it is we feel grateful for, nor do we need to feel particularly thankful as we are saying this prayer. We simply repeat these words and, by doing so, place the intention of gratitude upon our hearts and before our eyes.
We close the sit with the intention to pause during the day and give thanks for a moment of connection, love or beauty.
Minding our psychic space
We set an intention this week to make wise choices about what we let into our psychic spaces. With everything that is going on in our country and throughout the world, it can be very easy to spend a lot of our time listening to and reading news. While it is imperative to be informed and aware, sometimes an overabundance of news knocks us off balance and makes it more difficult for us to see clearly and act effectively.
This third week of Elul, we give special attention to the amount of information we take in, noticing when we turn toward the news and what is motivating us to do so. Paying attention to our physical and emotional responses, we explore how much news is helpful for us to receive and when we have reached overload. We set boundaries determining how, when and where we will engage with the news, trusting that at times the wise choice is to turn our attention elsewhere.
This week we also make it a practice to listen to music and notice how this affects our physical and emotional well-being.
And each day we pause, lift our eyes and give thanks for something that amazes us.
We choose one of the issues we are concerned about and make two phone calls this week to our elected representatives. In one phone call, we thank a representative for standing up for the rights and dignity of people, the country and planet. And we make another phone call letting a representative know we would like for him or her to be making different choices. Find your senators' Washington and local phone numbers.
Engaging in Mitzvot
We set an intention to notice opportunities to turn toward others with kindness and generosity, to offer help, to be of service. We pause to give thanks for the beauty and blessings we experience.
We allow for joy.
Here is a wonderful song by Ben Harper and his mom Ellen. You might want to put it on, close your eyes and let it into your heart.
Thursday Meditation Sit
During this third week of Elul, we will sit Thursday with the intention of being present with the fullness of life. Join this Thursday morning 8-8:30 AM EST via call-in.
During the month of Elul, it is traditional to recite Psalm 27 each day, a psalm that guides us in realigning with the mysterious and awesome unfolding of our lives. Download the psalm in Hebrew with an English translation by Rabbi Yael.