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Archive for Mai de 2018

When I was working as a chaplain in hospital a lady approached me and said:

I’m Catholic and I hear you are a rabbi. My mother is dying and I would like you to give her a blessing.”

I thought to myself, what blessing would be most effective in this situation? Then I remembered that Christians use the priestly blessing from the Torah in some of their prayer services. It dawned on me, that this family might appreciate receiving this blessing in the original Hebrew, as well as in English. I gave the blessing, holding the fragile hands of the mother of the lady who had requested it. A special feeling filled the room and it felt like one of those times when a depth of cross cultural sharing had taken place. The wisdom and power of tradition was palpable.

In this week’s Torah reading, Nasso, we learn how in ancient times, the High Priest and his sons were instructed to bless the people. The words used thousands of year ago, are the same used today to bless each other – whether it be:

parents blessing their children on a Friday night (or before going to sleep), rabbis blessing couples at weddings,

listening to the soundtrack from Fiddler on the Roof,

prayer leaders blessing the community during the amida prayer,

or cohens, covered in their tallit, blessing community on festivals and special occasions.

It is amazing to contemplate the power of a phrase when it has been handed down for thousands of years – said at important times.

Here are the words of this priestly blessing, translated from Hebrew to English:

              May God bless and protect you.

              May God’s light shine on you and bring you favor

              May God’s Presence be lifted towards you and bring you peace.

In Jewish mysticism it is considered that every time we bless someone with deep intent, we draw spiritual light from heavenly realms into the world. This spiritual light, enhances goodness and brings positivity into the world.

From a psychological perspective giving people blessings, can be a way to create an atmosphere of compassion and increase the level of well-being of those who are giving the blessing as well as those who are receiving.

There is a certain power that rituals have and you might want to experiment adding these three ancient blessings to your weekly routine in some way and see what effect it has.

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Relatives and partners must respect the will of the dying and show affection and gratitude so that the passing is serene. Although we know that birth and death are part of life, we are always caught by surprise. Accompanying the dying in that final stage, which can also be seen as a prelude to a new existence, is important in both a physical and spiritual way.

3 keys to help a loved one to say goodbye

Death is a mystery difficult to understand and accept by those who face it and also by those who surround the person diying. Those are moments when we often experience uneasiness and fear.

We are happy for the arrival of a newborn and we mourn in sorrow the loss of a loved one. But both extremes of the life cycle should be viewed with equanimity. Dying is a natural fact that equates us all. The laws of nature law so dispose and surely the process of dying can also be very meaningful.

People with a religious faith or a transcendent sense of life should not be afraid of leaving the physical body that has served as a vehicle in this world, since death may well mean a birth to another plane of existence.

Those who hold a biological view of existence should not feel fear either. As the philosopher Epictetus stated, death is never really a problem: while we are alive, it is absent and, when death arrives we are not more.

          1. Do not leave open circles

The person preparing for that last trip needs very light luggage. That is why it is good to close all circles regarding possessions or emotional issues. The last will distributing assets is an example of the first. Also it is very important to forgive and be forgiven old quarrels between family members or friends. Being grateful for the good times or all the love we have received through the beloved person is equally comforting to both parties.

          2. Creating a quiet and peaceful environment

The room of the dying person should be a quiet and peaceful place. It is advisable to take the necessary care with slow gestures that do not disturb the patient.

Hearing is the last sense that is lost, so the words addressed to the dying person should always be affectionate and gently expressed. Even if the person is already dying, it is not good to speak as if he or she were not there, the conscience is present and the person can surely hear us.

           3. Avoid drama

Should we tell the patient that the end is near? Depends on the person. There are those who want to know in order to prepare, while others prefer to ignore it. It is also worth wondering if the sometimes palliative care should go so far as to obscure the conscience.

Under favorable conditions and in the absence of panic, it is advisable to die consciously. For most religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism, the attitude at the time of death is important when facing a future existence.

Maintaining serenity is fundamental in this sense, both for the dying person and for those who surrounding him or her. So it is fitting that the inevitable pain is not accompanied by excessive signs of despair that may disturb the peace of the person who is leaving. Love and gratitude will be the preferable feelings in such circumstances.

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In this week’s parashah, Moses is commanded to take a detailed census of each of these tribes. However, there was to be one exception – the Levites (B’Midbar 2:49). Counting them was prohibited. Rather, the Levites were instructed to take care of the the tabernacle housing the tablets that Moses brought down from Sinai. It was their duty to break down the mishkan and to and to re-erect it during their journey. The Levites were to work on behalf of the community, preserving the communal relationship with God.

God instructs the Levites to take the place of the first born of Israel: “I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are to be Mine” (B’Midbar 3:11-13). When we investigate the status of the first-born son, we find the identical sentiment: “Sanctify to Me all the first-born males. The first offspring of every womb belongs to Me “. (Shemot 13:13-14). Why does God choose to claim one of each of our offspring as God’s own? Why did the Levites take their place?

At the time that I smote every first born in the land of Egypt, I consecrated every first born in Israel… to be Mine”. We left Egypt only after the first-born son of the Egyptians was killed. The cost of our freedom was another family’s trauma. We remain eternally in debt. For this reason, God demands our first born to oversee God’s service on behalf of all the people Israel. We are never allowed to forget the price of our freedom.

However, after the unanimous acceptance of Torah at Sinai, this burden moved from each of the households of Israel to only the Levites. When Moses returned from the mount and witnessed the dancing around the golden calf, he provided an ultimatum: “Whoever is for God, come here”. (Shemot 32:26). Moses’ fellow Levites came to his side. From this time forward the Levites accepted the mantle of representing the entire people with their commitment to live with kedushah, holiness, service to God.

Just as the Levites were to motivate the rest of the Israelites in service to God, the Israelites have been called to be a “Kingdom of Priests and a holy nation (Vaykira 19:6)” and thereby become “a light unto the nations”. As the Levites are the smallest of the tribes, so we are among the smallest of peoples. As their rituals and rights were distinct from all the other tribes, so our rites, rituals, and memories ensure that we are distinct. Just as the Levites were to take responsibility for the condition of the entire people, so our role is to accept responsibility for the entire world.

Being a Jew means living with this responsibility. We either live according to this responsibility, or do not. The loss of the Egyptian first-born so that we could experience freedom forces each and every one of us to value our own lives and the lives of our children even more. The Levites were witnesses to us, as we are called to witness to the world that to live is a privilege, to serve an obligation.

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In our daily interactions with people, there are certain things we say to one another and don’t really expect a sincere answer back. The most obvious example is a simple greeting, where we ask, how are you? More often than not, the response is a canned insincere answer as there usually is an understanding that the asker doesn’t really care and is merely being polite and the respondent is echoing that politeness and giving an appropriate answer of fine, or ok, or something along those lines. Something that conveys the same meaning and sincerity of the question.

Something I like to do, not to put people on the spot, but to actually illustrate my care, is to follow up with a question. I want that person to know that I am genuinely interested in what they have to say and I am not just asking to fill space or to fulfill some social obligation of making conversation. For example, if someone says they’re fine, I will ask why? It is revealing about the human condition that many times the answer to that question is simply, because nothing is bad.

We are conditioned to ignore when things are not going badly and to focus when things go awry. The order of normality is disregarded because it is normal and expected. This pattern is seen in this week’s parasha, Behar-Behukkotai. There are a series of blessings and curses, depending on if we follow God’s laws. The rabbis were puzzled as to why the curses far outnumber the blessings. Is it simply because we are human beings and we focus on the negative? We are very specific when detailing things that are not going well, if we are in pain, or suffering a loss. Indeed, when you stub your toe, you exclaim that your toe hurts.

But, what about when things go well? How specific are you? How detailed are you about the joy you experienced? If you have not stubbed your toe and are not in pain, do you detail the lack of pain in your toe? Of course not. That is not the way we communicate.

Indeed, the rabbis teach that the Torah is written in the language of the people and therefore, the blessings are written about in a general, yet all-encompassing way and the curses are written in a detailed, yet limited fashion. So, it would be incorrect to see the curses as outnumbering the blessings, as they are extremely constrained, whereas the blessings could be without limit. The text needs to detail the potential ill effects of disobeying God in great detail, but just like our modern communications, if things are going well, the text does not need to convey what that would look like in great detail. In broad generalities, we are given a picture of a society living in harmony with God’s will.

So, the next time someone asks how you are, take a moment before answering, and really think how you are, and see the blessings that are right in front of you.

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Our society values youth in excess and rejects the signs of aging and the passage of time. Although our environment tells us otherwise, maturity can be one of the most beautiful stages of life, if we are able to collect and savor, with passion and optimism, the many values that it treasures.

Old age, an old fear

Hanrahan, the hedge schoolmaster, a tall, strong, red-haired young man, came into the barn where some of the men of the village were sitting on Samhain Eve “

Thus begins W. B. Yeats’ sublime story that delves into the theme of death and old age from the Irish oral tradition. The story starts right on this fateful day of Samhain, at the beginning of November, when the doors of the Hereafter open and the most extraordinary things can happen.

That night, Hanrahan will see his destiny twist in an instant and begin to walk the roads like a wandering bard that goes from village to village teaching children and singing and reciting verses and old ballads at parties in exchange for a few pints of beer or a few bowls of milk.

Week after week and year after year, the time goes by for Hanrahan as for all of us and one day he finds Nora, a beautiful young girl, crying inconsolably because her family wants to marry her to Paddy Doe, the old potentate of the region. The bard tries to comfort her and Nora, in desperation, asks him to throw a curse on the head of his resentful suitor that makes him think more of the monastery than of marriage.

Hanrahan, indignant, assures him that he will compose a song that will fill his soul with shame and melancholy.

Living is about growtand change

-How old is he? – Hanrahan asks.

And the girl answers:

-Phew! He is as old as you.

– As old as me! -the bard repeats as if a dagger had been stuck in him, because old Paddy is twenty years older than him, because he likes the girl and because he realizes that his hair has turned the color of straw and the young girls barely look at him any more because some pains are deep in his bones and that woman to whom he had asked for a glass of milk gave him sour milk.

All the weight of the years makes him feel suddenly dejected; rage and impotence overwhelm him.

Taking then in his hand a wand of Hawthorn, he composes a curse dedicated to the elders of this world, starting with his own head for having become gray. And he invokes a great curse from the shady lands of the North on all the old men of the place and on Paddy Doe.

At last he blesses the flowers of May, because in their simple beauty they are born and die in full splendor without withering…

A bitter seed

To disseminate the bitter seed, Hanrahan makes his students repeat the verses of this enchantment and then sends them to sing them in all directions. The effect will not wait. The next day, sitting placidly in the sun and surrounded by children waiting for the lesson to begin, he listens to a crowd of grandparents approaching like an enraged swarm, brandishing canes and clubs.

Once again, Hanrahan will have to err on the roads until the day of his death, and although I cannot unveil what happened in that final hour, I cannot help but recommend this tour of Ireland’s most magical reality.

The wisdom of “well being”

This story represents in a crude and accurate way the drama of not accepting aging and getting old before having matured. Sooner rather than later, we find ourselves with the terrible contradiction of possessing an ageless mind within a body that reminds us that time does not pass in vain.

Therefore, the mind rebels at times and we try to rejuvenate by starting a relationship with someone much younger or we become avid consumers of exciting experiences that rise for a moment the adrenaline and the next leave us more empty than at the beginning.

We continue to grow and develop intellectually and in our humanity, while declining in strength and vitality, memory, health, sexuality…

Dissatisfaction and unhappiness are implicit in these attitudes that paralyze us and prevent us from going through the labyrinth. The only way out is living consistently with our age, maintaining a balance between what we can and what we want, between passion and emotion and dignity.

Old age, instead of serving as an excuse, can make us more aware and tolerant. We lose a part of our innocence and vitality, but in return we develop the wisdom of “well being” and treasure an experience that grows year after year.

Walking through the village I have heard a conversation that reflects the fate of our time. A grandmother spoke with a young neighbor:

– It is necessary to ask when it is planted – she said.

-Let’s look on the Internet -the boy replied, ignoring that in each region, in each village, even in each plot, the dates of planting are adapted to specific climates and specific conditions that are part of the traditional wisdom is transmitted from the mouth to ear.

This thread of knowledge is centuries long and also includes the way of living and educating in relation to society and the landscape we live.

The prestige of age

The elderly are more necessary than ever in this society suffering from Alzheimer’s and lives increasingly in virtual reality. Their role is transcendental in the defense of the heritage, social achievements, aesthetics and life, the tree on the corner and the landscape that surrounds us, real democracy and participation…

It is necessary to recover the prestige of old age and the tradition that allow us to distinguish the useful and the essential from the superfluous as part of the learning process. This learning process allows us to find the meaning of life, of our own life.

At the opening of this article I warned about the risks of a childish rejuvenation. Now it is about time to reveal the secret of eternal youth. We can call it passion or optimism. It is, at the same time, a vital attitude and a tool.

As the pacifist Satish Kumar says “You can’t be an activist and a pessimist, as a pessimist gives up. A true spiritual activist is an optimist.” Optimism turns us into activists and, therefore, into active and useful beings. I remember a scene that I contemplated years ago: an old man went with his bicycle and a woman said with admiration:

-He 89 years old and he just finished to plant a pomagrante tree.

– What optimism! Said another woman.

But those of us who heard that dialogue understood that the planting also hold the grandfather’s hopes for the future, who will live while he has a project to live for, a pomegranate to plant.

The saying goes: “When the house is finished, death comes.” Our spirit feeds on beauty, passion and knowledge; and when the emotion is extinguished, we reach the end.

Discover a new world

Old age has no age. At nine as at ninety-nine it is possible to live with intensity, to paint a picture, to begin a new book or to plant a garden. As we mature, we witness how life is becoming more interesting; we interpret reality better; we understand that the world does not revolve around us and we begin to discover it.

It is time to take the journey that brings us closer to others and leads us, step by step, back to the Old Mother Earth. This journey is an end in itself for those of us who feel a little more earthly and human every day. through study and experience, through walking, composing or cultivating.

Consciousness and beauty

The supreme art of aging is, in a certain way, the art of rejuvenating what is around us and ourselves. It is the art of recovering spaces for feeling more playful and more alive. Even if we sometimes feel invisible, helpless or lonely, we can reconnect with the natural or human “landscape” in which we find ourselves.

The mind does not need a ticket to travel through the wings of poetry, beauty or life that we breathe at every moment. Like the planet, people grow with time in consciousness and beauty.

Every gesture and every event is recorded in the wrinkles of our skin as indelible ink reminding us that life is like a cup of tea; you have to drink it all even if the last drop is the bitterest.

It is necessary to remember to live. And our spirit, more daring than ever, whispers into our ears: “The mystery is in the thicket, but if you want to keep all your feathers, do not go through the forest.”

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Sometimes we are addicted to negative thoughts or, in other words, to stress hormones. We live in a constant state of survival. Concerned about the past or the future, we activate chemical substances in our organism to which we are hooked. We need to transcend those thoughts and feelings memorized by the body and relearn to flow.

We spend our time worrying about negative thoughts. Next time it happens take a step backwards and observe it. Soon you will realize that most of the time we are thinking about the past or the future. Most people have such a negative attitude because they live anticipating the stress of what is coming or re visiting and experiencing again and again the stress in memories of what happened.

Most of your thoughts and feelings are motivated by the strong hormones of stress and survival. Our bodies are so accustomed to memorizing the chemical records of past experiences that they become addicted to those emotions. The body gets used to those emotions. And to make things more complicated we are getting used to to function in a for foreseeable future, which is based on memories from a known past, missing the point of living the precious “now”.

The Big Three: how to break the automatic response

When in an environment that we consider hostile, we active the stress response , we focus on three important elements: the body (I must protect it), the environment (it is threatening, where can I flee and be safe?) and the time (how long do I need to run to avoid the threat?). These three elements, which I call the Big Three, dominate our Human nature. The stress response and the hormones that it secretes force us to focus (and obsess) on the body, the environment and time.

That is why we begin to define our self only within the framework of the physical realm, without realizing we become less spiritual, less aware, less present and less lucid. In other words, we become more materialistic, that is, we are constantly thinking about things from the outside world.

We identify with our body. The outside world monopolizes all our attention because we are forced somehow by our own chemical substances to look at ourselves in that frame of reference gaining a sense of identity based mainly on what we do and who we know. Most people usually see themselves as “someone” but the Big Three have nothing to do with who they really are.

In reality, we are much more.

When we become that “someone” who lives in state of survival, we forget who we really are. The more we live conditioned by the stress hormones, the more the stream of chemical substances becomes our identity.

1. Go to your positive thoughts

So, how to leave that elongated state of stress? How to stop being as we are in that limiting way?

Some people sustain the answer lies in positive thoughts. I would like to clarify that positive thoughts are not enough by themselves. Many so-called positive thinkers have been feeling negative emotions for most of their lives and are now trying to have positive thoughts. They are in a polarized state in which they try to overcome what they feel inside with their thoughts. Consciously they think one thing, but they feel opposite.

However when the mind goes against the body, it is impossible to change. Body and mind need to in harmony to achieve the positive thinking. We proclaim to the four corners have changed, but deep down we do not feel happy because mind and body are not working together. The mind wants one thing, and the body another very different. So?

2. Abandon automatic responses and flow

It may sound strange to you but in order to abandon your “almost” automatic responses and to stop anticipating the future, you need to learn to live beyond the environment, body and time. The biggest obstacle to changing the habit of being the same as always is to think and feel according to the Big Three (body, environment and time).

At some point in your life I bet you have already thought beyond them. Those moments in which you transcended them is what some call a state of “flow”. There are several ways of describing what happens when the environment, the body and the notion of time disappear and we “forget” about the world.

3. Live creative moments

Surely something similar has happened to you while you were driving, enjoying a good company during dinner, while reading, weaving, playing the piano or simply sitting in the middle of nature.

Creativity occurs when we paint, play a musical instrument, doing wood work or we do any other activity that frees us from the limits of the Big Three. Also it happens after spending some time in meditation.

I do not know if you have experienced it, but after living one of those moments in which we zoom out and the environment, body and time seem to fade away, I feel like new.

After I finished writing my first book I realized those creatives moments were happening more and more often. Practice makes perfect and over the years I have managed to experience more the state of flow and now it is no longer an unexpected experience as it was before.

But why is it so difficult for us to experience those creative moments so refreshing for the being?

If we focus on a painful past or the dreadful future, it means that we are living most of the time stressed, in a state of survival.

Whether we are obsessed with health (the survival of the body), the payment of the mortgage (the need to survive in a space that protects us from the external environment) or the time that we lack to do what is necessary to survive, most of us are more accustomed to living in the addictive state of the mind called survival than in that of creators.

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