Tag Archives: counting the omer

Higher than Normal Call Volumes on Revelation Road: notes from pilgrimage in uneasy times

(This blog series focuses on pilgrimage through the counting of the Omer, marking the seven-week passage from the Jewish holidays of Passover to Shavuot, in which one works each week with different traits both human and Divine. You’ll find more context in the first post in this series. Also, please excuse the Omer-to-blog lag; this exploration of netzach, or endurance and eternity, covers the period April 30-May 8. I think it would be fair to say, though, that there’s no expiration date for the matters at hand.)

It’s going to be different this time.  I’m sure of it.

And it’s about time, too.

If you’re bored one day, and think seeing the lesser angel of my nature might be entertaining, check me out when I put in a call to customer service at my cable and internet provider.  Even before the call is made, I’m bracing for endless prompts and “then press pounds,” until at last I’m finally told to hit zero if my call “is about something else.”

My calls always seem to be about something else.

While waiting for the customer service representative who will draw the short straw and be forced to attend to me, I not infrequently get into a spat with the recorded messages.

“We are currently experiencing higher than normal call volumes.”

“That’s what you said the last time, and the time before that.  How about staffing up for your new normal?”

“Your call is very important to us – ”

“Oh, I know.  You’d be bereft without me.”

“- and we appreciate your patience.”

“Don’t give me too much credit.”

If the unfortunate rep who gets me asks a little too sweetly how I’m doing today, they’re likely to be met with “I’m fine” in an icily cool tone, the subtext of which is “I’m done, so let’s not bother with pleasantries.”  And they’re certainly not asked how they’re doing.  Once I’ve explained my issue, when they repeat it back, whoa are they if I have to correct them – especially if they began the call by saying they could certainly fix my problem.  My words may be civil, but they come slowly and reluctantly, as if I don’t know how much longer I can suffer this conversation.

No, not me at my best.

Hopefully, somewhere along the way – early in the call, ideally – I catch myself, and make adjustments, remembering the rep is forced to speak from a script under the watchful ear of a supervisor while dealing with many a crappy customer, and I summon my more pleasant, cooperative self.  Too often, though, the call ends with my having made the rep’s life less pleasant than it needs to be.  Maybe I regret it soon after the fact; but by then, there’s nothing to be done.

But something is going on these days.

~~~~~~~~~~

We are now in the fourth week of the counting of the omer, the week of netzach, commonly translated as endurance and eternity.  The week of pushing through on the journey from the constriction of slavery to revelation.

Netzach seems an invitation to ask, “How am I enduring these difficult times?  And what from these troublesome days might I like to see survive into the better days that will come?”

Among other things, my newly acquired habit of taking the stairs instead of the elevator comes to mind.  As does the opportunity I’ve taken advantage of to give daily attention to the same group of trees from my balcony, and watch their day-to-day transition.

But what would I like to see endure that benefits more than me?

~~~~~~~~~~

I am seated on the meditation cushion, doing Buddhist metta or loving-kindness practice.  Typically, the practice begins with extending good wishes to oneself – for instance, silently saying, “May I be safe.  May I be happy.  May I be healthy.  May I live with ease.”  And from there, those wishes are extended concentrically outward, such as to a being from whom we’ve experienced unconditional love, other loved ones, those about whom our feelings our neutral, people we find difficult, and finally, all beings.

When I was first introduced to the practice, I confided resistance to one of my teachers.  How would others, I asked, benefit from my silently and stealthily wishing them well?  “You may not change them,” he said, “but you’re going to change yourself.”

And he was right.  I wasn’t long into the practice before I saw that it helped me more easily and consistently access patience and compassion for myself and others. Even if cable company reps are too frequently given cause for skepticism.

Lately, something has changed when I do metta.

When I get to the juncture where I’m to wish safety, happiness, good health and ease to a person about whom my feelings are neutral, I can’t come up with anyone.  Visualizing others I’ve only glancingly encountered, my feelings are anything but neutral.  It’s clearer than ever that they’re carrying the same burdens as me, and why it is they should be wished safety and good health. Though I don’t know them, I know enough that I’m feeling too much compassion to have only neutral feelings about them.

Then, when I try to bring someone to mind who I find difficult, I’m similarly challenged.  Maybe out on the street and in the ravine, my judgement and ire are triggered by those who are less heedful of physical distancing than they should be, but here on the cushion, it’s a struggle to remember what they look like, and to think of them as difficult.  They, like me, are just trying to manage their way through a time none of us are equipped to handle.  So most times, I settle for people I’ve found difficult in the past, but towards whom I feel kindness now.

~~~~~~~~~~

Even before I pick up the phone to call the cable company, I can feel the difference in my body.  I start to brace myself for the menu options and pound keys, and discover I lack umbrage.  And the small degree of resentment I’ve managed to marshal dissipates entirely when I get a new recording informing me that the long wait times I can expect have to do with prioritizing customers in need of emergency services.  While I wait, I think about the economic fallout from these days, and what it means for the job security of the rep with whom I’ll be speaking.

So when I finally get through, and am required to speak to multiple people, and given multiple answers to my one question, I recognize this for the small stuff it is.  I still don’t ask the reps how they’re doing, but it’s not because I don’t care.  It’s because my instincts tell me they’re too busy to get into it, and also, I fear that their script will require them to answer “fine, thank you,” even though that’s likely not true.  But I’m hoping that the cooperative and friendly tone which is coming from me is just as good.

“I see friends shaking hands,” Louis Armstrong once sang for us, “saying ‘how do you do?’  They’re really saying, I love you.”

When the call ends, maybe my better angel has shown up and I’ve made the lives of people who are required to serve me a little better than they would have been otherwise.

It’s not that this has never happened before, but it seems to be coming more easily right now.

And so, let conduct of this kind be my way of enduring these times.

And also, let it be something more.

I don’t think my teacher was entirely correct in saying that metta would only change me.  Because the greater my capacity to connect with patience and compassion, the better I make the lives of everyone I encounter, and by extension, the lives of all they encounter, and so on, l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation.

Let this be the netzach, the eternity, that comes of these times.

It doesn’t seem like a stretch to say, you and me both, we’ve got this.

=====================================================

Bonus Feature: someone else’s reflections

In anticipation of writing this post, I invited others to convey how netzach – endurance and eternity – has played out for them.  And with that, it’s my pleasure to share the following reflections from David Orenstein

My Omer Netzach

David Orenstein

Like many of us, daily walks are an expression of Netzach during this shutdown pandemic Omer.

Early in the shutdown, I decided that I would take an early morning walk, in my Riverdale neighbourhood, first thing every day. That is first thing after I feed the cats, bring in the Globe and the Star, maybe check for the Moon, planets and stars, perform my morning ablutions and get dressed. Getting home from the walk I make breakfast for our household.

Back in mid-March, the weather was not always pleasant but I was determined.  But in addition to the push of improving my health and maintaining a regular schedule, was soon added the pull of the pleasure of moving my body and the scenic local parks, gardens and architecture.

By now these walks are the best part of my day. As I write, in early May, there are daily changes in the flowers and trees. I’ve worked out quite a variety of interesting return trips. Also I can meet friends and neighbours for short, safely distanced schmooze sessions.

This evokes an earlier period in my life when endurance in walking paid off. Many years before I retired from teaching and was still working, I was feeling perpetually exhausted and emotionally drained.  Not only was I teaching my classes with a total of up to 180 students, but I had the heavy commitment of being a member of the local union executive for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation in Toronto, along with political commitments and involvement with scholarship, culture and a social life.

So I decided to start my day with a twenty minute walk, on a slight uphill grade, to the Christie subway station. This project also started in challenging March weather. Luckily as my willpower and determination wore off the more clement weather and the burgeoning neighbourhood gardens made this early trek a positive pleasure.

=====================================================

Your turn…

What about you? What enables you to endure this juncture of our path? What would you like to see endure beyond these times? Any thoughts about how to bring it about?

Leave a comment

Filed under counting the omer, Uncategorized

Horses and horses and ducks (oh, my) on Revelation Road: notes from pilgrimage in uneasy times

(This blog series focuses on pilgrimage through the counting of the Omer, marking the seven-week passage from the Jewish holidays of Passover to Shavuot, in which one works each week with different traits both human and Divine. You’ll find more context in the first post in this series. Also, please excuse the Omer-to-blog lag; this exploration of tiferet, or balance, covers the period April 23-30. I think it would be fair to say, though, that there’s no expiration date for the matters at hand.)

I’ve been perched a while on my secluded rock in the ravine, spending time amidst water, wind, trees, light.

Suddenly, a frantic flapping of wings – a couple of ducks putting on reverse thrusters as they land with a splash in the stream beside me.

I think about going for my camera, but don’t want to make any sudden moves, as I’ve decided I’m the Jane Goodall of omer-counters, a quiet presence around whom the wildlife feel unthreatened.  (Or maybe the urban experience of these waterfowl is such that they’re accustomed and unfrightened by humans, but since this is not my preferred thought, I go back to being Goodall.) 

After a short while, one of them, the more colourful, coasts over closer to me, concentric circles emanating outwards.

“Beautiful,” I think.  “Now, the camera.”

Tiferet, though, has me pause a moment.

In this third week of the counting of the omer, the overarching trait with which one works is tiferet, variously translated as splendour, truth, and balance.  One way in which balance comes into the picture is to find the right proportion of the first two week’s practices – how much open-hearted, chesed (loving-kindness) to extend, and how much gevurah (boundary-making) to employ. 

~~~~~~~~~~

Winter 2007 – I’m aboard the Southwest Chief, the train that runs from Los Angeles to Chicago.  I’ve been travelling in stages, and got on about a half hour ago in Raton, New Mexico. 

As always, I’d headed to the viewing car and its floor-to-ceiling windows. 

As we pass through grazing and ranch land, I hear a gasp and a “wow!” from the other side.  I stand up to see a horse galloping alongside the train, its combination of grace and speed providing a thrill of a kind I’ve never known.  I reach back to my seat, grab my camera, take off the lens cover, and turn back. 

The horse is gone. 

I will think often of this moment, regretting that I tried to capture rather than live it.

~~~~~~~~~~

Spring 2017 – I am following the arrows, walking the Camino Portuges, the pilgrimage route that runs from Portugal to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. 

I’ve chosen the coastal route, carrying my backpack from village-to-village, the Atlantic Ocean on my left, waves crashing against rocks, locals calling out, “Buen Camino!” 

Somewhere between Matosinhos and Vila Cha I spot a group of young equestrians.  Still on their mounts, most are watching a trio of classmates at the far end of the beach.  Suddenly, their horses are in motion, kicking up sand, hooves a blur of speed.  As they get closer, I think of my camera.  And then, I think of the Southwest Chief, and leave the camera alone so I can simply enjoy the gift of watching them race past, the horses beating out thunder on the ground, the blue-green ocean for a backdrop. 

The trio come to a stop and turn around.  For another charge along the shore?  “Okay,” I tell myself.  “The camera can come out.  But set it up so that if the moment comes, you’re not experiencing it through a viewfinder.”  The moment does come. 

The picture I take is slightly out of focus. The delight of the moment is not.

~~~~~~~~~~

In the ravine, I think of chesed as the voice that says, “Yes, take the picture.  Capture the moment.  Keep it for yourself, share and show it off to others.”  While gevurah says, “Not so fast.  These moments come once.  Try to capture them and they’re gone; don’t participate from the sidelines.” 

When the duck drifts my way, tiferet lets chesed and gevurah have their say, then finds a middle path, just as it did on the Camino.  First, be here, in case here goes away.  Breathe in this gift, and breathe it in again.  And then, if it lasts, get out your camera and click.  Unlike the Camino, though, this time my subject is slow-moving, and I could take dozens of pictures till I get the perfect shot.

Gevurah says, “Remember.  You’re Goodall.  Not Ansel Adams.”

Even chesed has me let go of the camera, saying, “Listen to your body.  Your body doesn’t want to work that hard.  It just wants to be here.”

Sometimes, I guess, tiferet has to negotiate between chesed and gevurah, and other times it lets them find their own path to the same destination.

So a couple more pics, and the technology is put aside.  I hang out with the ducks for some time, until a rambunctious golden retriever charges into the water and sends them flapping away.

And with tiferet’s assistance, I am full, still enjoying this opportunity to breath easy.

Your turn…

How about you? What’s your experience of late or of life in finding that sweet spot where tiferet finds harmony between chesed or loving-kindness and gevurah or boundary-making? Or how have you witnessed it in others? Got advice or insights you would care to offer?

6 Comments

Filed under counting the omer, Mindfulness

Chopped Liver Boundaries on Revelation Road: notes from pilgrimage in uneasy times

(This blog series focuses on pilgrimage through the counting of the Omer, marking the seven-week passage from the Jewish holidays of Passover to Shavuot, works each week with different traits both human and Divine. You’ll find more context in the first post in this series. Also, please excuse the Omer-to-blog lag. This exploration of gevurah, or strength and boundaries, covers the period April 16-23. I think it would be fair to say, though, that there’s no expiration date for the matters at hand.)

Damn.  I really wanted the walk to the ravine.

But the wind is fierce, whipping wind chimes out of tune, and banging on the lids of garbage bins.  And those are big garbage bins. 

Maybe the ravine’s not such a good idea right now.  Or the long walk to get there.  There’s a reason the street’s so empty.  This is the kind of weather that rips branches from trees and gets people hurt. And should I really take the chance of being injured when the last thing the medical system needs right now is an unnecessary wound to fix? 

Okay, I’ll make it a short walk.  A block or two.  At least, with the street so empty, it feels safe to stop and take some pictures without messing up everyone else’s physical-distancing rhythm.

Damn.  And crap.

The memory card is full.  And I hate to delete images from a memory card, even if I have back-ups.

The pharmacy’s only a few blocks away.  I’ll get a new one there.

No, no I won’t.  I can’t.  Maybe the person working the cash where the memory cards are is an essential service worker, but my wanting one is not an essential need. It wouldn’t be right to enter their space just for this.

I find some shelter, turn the camera on again, take a calming breath, and start removing images.

And I think about stairwells, and have a conversation with myself about chopped liver, and my gevurah grade.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s the second week of the counting of the Omer.  The focus with which this pilgrimage began last week was the Divine and human trait of chesed, or loving-kindness, the perfect foundation from which to build any practice.  But unchecked, loving-kindness isn’t without its problems.  It can mean going along just to get along instead of having necessary but difficult conversations, or bypassing the broccoli to get to the ice cream.

And man, have I been going for the mental ice cream lately.

That’s where the second week of the Omer comes in, with its overarching theme of gevurah, variously translated as strength, courage and discernment.  Often, when one works with gevurah, it’s in the form of boundaries to temper indiscriminate chesed, so that our valuing someone else’s wants or our own doesn’t lead us to forget what we and they actually need.

It’s true that, in the main, people have risen to this difficult occasion, staying at home and, when they go out, practising physical distancing.  And the trajectory of illness is looking promising.  But, as mentioned in a comment to my previous post, there’s also a fair amount of heedlessness going on.  People just going on their way or coming up from behind as if others didn’t exist.  And others not stepping aside to give a wide berth to elders lugging heavy groceries. 

In some ways, I don’t mind swerving out of the way to make room for others, even if it means going up embankments in a ravine or down alleys on a street.  I enjoy the zigging and the zagging, and finding new angles on the world.

Sometimes standing aside and stopping begets looking up

But in other ways, especially in that moment between the heedlessness and my finding a passage towards physical distance, I burn with a fiery alchemy of anxiety and self-righteous judgment.  Among the greatest hits of my mutterings are, “What part of six feet don’t you understand?”, “If you’d take your head out of your cellphone, maybe you’d be a little less clueless”, and “If you don’t know how to run in place, then maybe you shouldn’t be running at all.”  And the unmuttered transcending theme is, “I’m scared.  For myself, the old people, the frail people, the young people we never imagine getting ill.  I’m scared because I don’t know how to deal with all this uncertainty about health, jobs, livelihood, and because the book I’d begun writing has come to feel like it’s about a world that has gone away and will never come back. And the heedlessness isn’t helping!”

Is it any wonder, then, that indoors I’ve been soothing myself by diving into the social media vortex, scrolling for connection, information, reassurance?  And I get it in the forms of messaging and memes and stories of inspiration.  But they often seem mere punctuation for tales of despair and discord, underlining how fragile things seem.  When I click on an article, I’m as likely as not to get antsy after a couple of paragraphs before clicking onto the next one, until I feel like I’m taking in everything yet nothing at all.

This is brain dessert.  Occupying me for a while, but too much of it is unnourishing, taking up time I could be spending checking-in on people about whom I’m concerned.

I need less flitting, and more focus.  A more substantial mind meal.

And there are all these lectures I’ve been meaning to check out on nature and climate change and far-flung Jewish communities.  What if I were to tap into those, and see if their substantiveness offers more settling, and makes me more available for others?

~~~~~~~~~~

I wake in the middle of the night, as usual resolving not to reach for my phone and then give in to the temptation all the same, but this time, I remember gevurah. Instead of the social media scroll, I queue up a lecture on climate change and bird migration.  Despite the first few minutes of the lecture just showing the agitation of co-leaders trying to figure out the technology, when the lecture begins and the first slide appears – a photograph of birds in flight – I start to feel at ease, quieted. And I go back to bed.

I’ve made the right choice. 

Which I end up mostly disregarding. 

I can only speculate why.  Maybe, given the length of my evening to-do lists, it feels too difficult to commit a whole hour to learning.  And so, the brain dessert diet continues, and I feel like the last person in the world who should be blogging on gevurah practice.

I could really use some ravine calm.

What awaited at a future ravine visit

And I set out, only to discover the wind having its way with the wind chimes and garbage bins, that my memory card is full, and find myself here, taking shelter, and talking myself into removing images from my memory card instead of going to the pharmacy for a new one.

When I tap to delete an image, my camera asks if I’m sure I mean it.  I choose yes, even though I’m thinking “nooooo!

And I start having conversations with myself about other things to which I’ve been saying no.

“Think about your decision,” I tell myself, “to pass on the elevator and take the stairs.  Nine flights of them.  Yes, it’s the only form of exercise you’re getting right now, and yes, you’d been meaning to do it for months.  But it’s only since the pandemic that you’re finally delivering.  And yes, it’s for your well-being, but it’s for everyone else’s, too. 

 “And there’s the time you could spend zoning out with television, but you’re using it instead to prepare the contemplative services you’re leading online.  And you are picking up the phone to look after others, even if it’s not as often as you wish.  And yes, you’re doing all this to feel good, but you’re not only doing it for yourself.”

And then, the subject that trumps them all.

“Think about the chopped liver,” I tell myself.

“No,” I answer back.  “Don’t make me think about the chopped liver.  Why does chopped liver get such a terrible reputation, anyway?”

“You mean the chopped liver available in the deli over at St. Clair and Yonge serving takeout?”

“Oh, man.  I can’t take it.”

“But you can take it.  You have taken it.  How many times have you wanted that chopped liver sandwich, but – ”

“With sweet potato fries and a coke, don’t forget.”

“- but decided not to get it, because you didn’t think it would be fair to the staff or you, or anyone you or they come into close contact with.  So forget your perfect offering.”

“Hey, that’s one of my favourite Leonard Cohen quotes.  Keep going.”

“Forget the gevurah you meant to exercise but didn’t.  Think about the gevurah you did choose, for yourself and others.  Okay, maybe you don’t get an A for week two of the Omer.  But you definitely get a B.  No.  Screw that.  Normal times, you get a B.  But how normal are these times, when your most common way of answering people who ask how you’re doing is to say that you’re okay, but that you always feel like you’re on the edge?

B+, baby.  You get a B+.  Now let’s see what you can do from here.”

Your turn…

Now how about you? What’s your experience of late or of life in general in balancing chesed or loving-kindness with gevurah in the forms of boundaries, strength, courage? Or how have you witnessed it in others? Got advice or insights you would care to offer to others? Any thoughts on your mind are welcome below.

4 Comments

Filed under counting the omer, Uncategorized