Stumbling Through Blessing: The Prequel – Instant Karma Meets the Jewish Morning Blessings

May 12, 2015 – This is a brief winter’s tale, and a prelude to the series I’ll be starting next week about the Birkot HaShachar, the Jewish morning blessings, and the role they might play in helping us (Jews and non-Jews; believers, agnostics, and atheists) live with more gratitude, presence, and even compassion.  It will be part spiritual reportage, and part suggested practice.  

January 23, 2015

C’est tout correct?” the square-shouldered woman with the blue-rimmed glasses asks. Is everything alright?

She has just stepped outside her building to see a complete stranger (me) standing in front, staring up at her roof.  Somehow, I don’t think explaining that it’s merely part of my spiritual practice would put her at ease.  I’ll have to find a more conventional response.

The practice I’ve taken on this month – one of my own devising as far as I know – is to set time aside each day to be mindful of one of the Birkot Hashachar, the Jewish morning blessings.  The fifteen blessings I’ve chosen are brief – one-liners, if you will – intended by the rabbis who conceived them two thousand years ago to be recited in the home.  Over time, they’ve come to be recited in synagogue instead, but I’m taking them to the streets and wherever else I go.  That’s the plan, at least.

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Today’s brucha, or blessing, is:

Baruch Atah Adonay, Eloheynu Melech Ha’olam, Zokef Kfufim

Blessed are You, Source of all that is, who straightens the bent

The question for me this morning was, how could I carry the brucha throughout the day?

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The answer was in my hamstrings.  For no sooner had I anticipated stepping outside, than they begin to tense up.  Montreal this January has been an unrelenting deep freeze, walking its sidewalks a slip-sliding workout over uneven patches of ice, some salted, most not, requiring a vigilant eye on the ground, it seems, before every step.

Perhaps this brucha can serve as a reminder to stop once in a while, raise my head, and take in my surroundings.

Before stepping into my meanderings, I sit down to some steaming fish tacos at a Mexican restaurant on Fairmount.  When the meal is done, while awaiting the bill, I reach for a book I’ve been enjoying.  Then, I remember the brucha, put the book back down, and look up instead.  Watching passersby through the window, I start doing Buddhist Metta, or loving-friendliness, practice.* A spiritual sharpshooter, I take benevolent aim at unsuspecting victims of my good will.  “Be happy,” I think in the direction of the guy negotiating his way over a snowbank, the weight of his grocery bags serving as ballast.  “Be at ease” I command the young woman rushing along the sidewalk, her hands clasped for some reason below her neck.  Others get “be healthy” and “be safe.”  The old woman inching along with her cane gets another “be happy.”  Then I notice the street itself, and how it slopes upward towards Mount Royal.  I’ve been here countless times, but somehow never seen this before.  The street’s become new to me.

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I leave the restaurant, round a corner, and am stopped by something that belongs only in the sappiest of movies – a hand-written sign stretching the entire length of the window in the doorway of a house, saying:

“I see curiosity in your eyes.  How beautiful!  I see in your gaze, someone who takes time to stop and rest for a moment.  Magnificent!  I simply want to offer you my most beautiful smile.  You have truly done me good.”

Talk about instant karma.

Further down the street, I’m about to pass a building, when I become distracted by ferns in an alcove above the entrance.  Having looked up a little, with the brucha in mind, I decide to look up a lot.  Just below the roofline, spanning its entire width, bricks are sticking out of the building at an unusual angle, and I find myself thinking about the architect who designed it, and the workers who built it, and their efforts to offer something distinctive.  They must mostly be gone by now, but they have left us this.

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That’s when the woman with the blue-framed glasses finds me.

“C’est tout correct?”

“Oui,” I respond.  “C’est tout correct.”  Everything is fine.  Then I point out the angled bricks.

She stands beside me and looks up.  “I’d never noticed them,” she says.  “That’s the way it used to be.  They used to care about things like that.  Not like today, when it’s all fast money.  Beauty is not so important to them anymore.”  Then, after a brief pause, she adds, “But truly, it’s the beauty in your soul that matters.”

She gives me a little history, explaining the condo used to be the Stuart factory; the source of all those sugar and apple pies I used to devour at metro stations.

“Thank you for the chat,” I say, as she starts to leave.

She turns to face me.  “No, no.  Thank you!  Thank you for making us aware of our own building!”

IMG_2020As the walk continues, so do my skyward glances.  In a surprisingly residential alleyway, I look up to notice a succession of weathered wooden planks jutting from the upper floors of the houses, presumably a defunct hoisting system, and one I’d never seen before.  Two birds shoot across the sky in tandem.  I quickly spin around to follow their flight, as they merge together, twist in the air, and disappear beyond the rooftops.

As I continue onto Marie-Anne Street, I suppose one could say that all I’ve experienced is some people-watching, a house with a weird sign, a conversation about bricks, and a bunch of rotted wooden planks.  But if that’s all it were, how come the desire I have to say hello to the stranger now approaching me is entirely irresistible?  When I do, she doesn’t say anything back, but there is a sparkle in her eyes and the trace of a smile on her mouth.  I’m pretty sure her day just got better.

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Let’s Get Mindful

  • Start your day with the intention of noticing when you’ve got your head pointed towards the ground, literally or metaphorically. Every so often, when you notice this…stop.  And lift your head up, and take in your surroundings.  Feel free to overdo it, and look into the sky.  Speech can be powerful, taking us from intention to commitment, or from fleeting appreciation to heartfelt gratitude, so you might want to say the brucha aloud:

Baruch Atah Adonay, Eloheynu Melech Ha’olam, Zokef Kfufim

Blessed are You, Source of all that is, who straightens the bent

  • If you like the intention, but still aren’t doing the practice, make an appointment. Tell yourself that for the next ten or thirty minutes, or at another assigned time, that you will periodically stop in your tracks, lift your head, and pay attention.
  • Is there someone you notice similarly trapped in habitual ways? Might there be something you can do to help them see what’s before them?
  • What about the more literally bent? Is there something you can do to lighten someone’s load that they might stand up straighter?

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*Loving-friendliness, or Metta, is a Buddhist practice wherein you wish well for others. When I was introduced to it a few years ago, my initial reaction was resistance.  What good could I be I to others simply by wishing them well, especially since they would never know?  But a teacher I respected told me that if I adopted the practice, it might not change other people, but it would certainly change me.  He was right and it did.  The practice does in fact make it easier for me to access patience, and sometimes even kindness and open-heartedness, benefitting me, others, and surely, the lives of those they touch.

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23 Comments

Filed under Birkot HaShachar, Mindfulness

23 responses to “Stumbling Through Blessing: The Prequel – Instant Karma Meets the Jewish Morning Blessings

  1. Eden Nameri

    Lorne, you had me at “spiritual reportage.” It’s a niche market and you have cornered it so beautifully. Thank you for this. Looking very forward to the other fourteen.

    Talk to you later this evening,

    Eden

    >

  2. Lorne this is wonderful!!! I think after Pesach we need to Skype or email… we are on the same wavelength about so many things.

  3. Lorne, this has touched me so! Here I was, bent over my desk, with intentions of getting this work done. And now there is a smile on my face and a beam of light in my heart. I am looking out me window and seeing sun shinning on the distant maples. So looking forward to your eloquent posts. Thank-you!

    • Thanks so much, Louise. It sounds like the post was able to bring a shift to your day, which I’m very pleased to hear.

      • Dora Usher

        Hi Lorne, I attended a course on mindfulness about a year ago. Your approach adds some valuable tools to incorporate even more of it into my life. Thank you so much.

      • My pleasure, Dorothy. Whenever we get to see each other next, I’d love to learn more about that course…as I continue to work at walking the talk (and the silence).

  4. Bob L.

    Just finished reading the latest entry in your blog. Great stuff! My invitation to meet at our Place in Port Hope still stands. Take me up on it. Happy Passover celebrations!

  5. Ben Sternman

    Really beautiful, Lorne, and deeply affecting.

  6. Very nice, resonant, comes to me at the right moment: thank you!

  7. Thank you very much for this post, Lorne. It came in a needed moment for me. Now in rural Nova Scotia, the sky is very present and compelling and I look up frequently – but not necessarily mindfully! You inspire me to bring consciousness in as often as possible. The passersby are mostly deer and fox, but I suspect they – and I – would benefit from a little more metta practice, too.

    • Deer and fox? Wow! If you’re comfortable putting it on the blog, I’d love to know where in Nova Scotia you find yourself. Also, as you’ll see elsewhere amongst these comments, you have a fellow blog-reader in Dorothy Rusoff.

  8. Ellen Moss

    This is beautiful Lorne!
    Ellen

  9. sheila weinberg

    I applaud you Lorne. You are a master teacher! What a delight. Much love, Sheila

  10. dorothy rusoff

    Lorne, here you go again with your wonderful writing,insights and teaching in soft, graceful ways. As much as I dislike reading on the computer, you’ve got me, so my back will just have to adjust. (Also noticed we have mutual friends/acquaintances-Alex Hickey)

  11. Margo Miller

    I just started reading this (fashionably) late to the party. I have been working on a morning blessings project and was trying to find the insights of others. This is the best for me I’ve come across. Interesting to me that zokef k-fufim was also my beginning place.

    • Hi, Margo.

      Your lateness to the party has only legitimized my lateness in saying how pleased I am that you’ve stumbled on my stumblings, and that you’re finding resonance and merit in them.

      Lorne

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