Friday, March 4, 2011

from the heart

I am flying high. For the past three and a half weeks I've been running the 'lev yehudi' in Hampi (Central southern india), a home away from home for traveling Israelis to hang out, feel at home, do shabbat, learn/talk about Jewish stuff and life, and be cool. When people ask what the 'lev' is, i like to say, cheesily though it may sound, that there are a lot of people traveling and disconnected from their heart, so we're a place where people can come and feel at home and reconnect...but it's actually true and I get to see it happening before my eyes almost every day. The opportunity and privilege to welcome people, to be a gentle, caring, listening presence for so many people who don't seem to have that in their life has been amazing for me, to see the power of being real with people, of not being defensive, of sharing my path openly and expressing it as much in form and way of being as in content, of inviting people to connect to and express unabashedly their own self, of seeing what it means for people to feel at home and how powerful that can be out there in the world, has all been powerful and deeply affirming and fulfilling. There have been times that have brought me shivers and tingles, and I am constantly learning more and more how to be myself and what that means and feels like. This whole opportunity totally fell into my lap after a series of enabling "coincidences," as I was sitting here visiting the family who was previously here (and who had welcomed me very warmly when I first arrived in India in the north), and all of a sudden the woman, Yael, says to me, 'ulay tavo l'hachlif otanu...' (maybe you can come take over for us?)

Where did that come from???

It took me about two minutes to realize that it was right and it so has been. A few good friends have been by (Grumer, Beruria, Alana) and my friend Eyal, a 41 year old Israeli who I met a few months ago in Rishikesh, has joined me here almost since the beginning. I have so benefited from his presence. He has a rare level of awareness, sensitivity, and tranquility and I constantly learn from him and enjoy his fraternity. He has also helped introduce me to the world of inner health and the importance and potential re how what we put into our bodies (namely our bowels) has tremendous effects on our health, energy levels, psychological state, sensitivity, and the like...this should be an essential part of our education and yet it's totally out of the picture, even and especially the religious picture...
(those interested might start with the book Internal Revolution: the Key to Eternal Youth and Vitality. the author says, "My wish is for you all to die age 100.")

The retreats I did for a couple weeks before coming here, with an emphasis on deep rest, gentle retreats with lots of lying down, were tremendously valuable for me and helped me release some inner knots. Ajay, one of the teachers, is one of those people who's living rooted in olam ha'ba/the kingdom of heaven, with no ego, simply and consistently present and loving, but all with no effort. I've never met anyone like him. I also really connected to another of the teachers, who felt more this-wordly, Jaya, an originally American woman. The few conversations we had, her deep listening, her patience and way of listening and waiting for responses or insights to arise really affected me, and she gifted me as we hugged and parted with a deeply powerful whisper of 'I love you, Danny,' said with a truth and meaning hard to believe from the little time we had actually spent together. It floored my heart and gave me a taste of what it means and how enabling it is to feel deeply loved. A little later I realized that this is Hashem's love, always there to be felt, in every heartbeat and closer to us even than our thoughts. Jaya, in her way, also helped me realize that I'm curious to explore/relate to more the feminine aspects of the Divine in Judaism.
I wrote a couple poems during the retreat and continue to enjoy that medium. The first one went like this:

Making Friends with Myself
Dawn breaks, a beginning.
and the sun rises to
reveal my own loveliness
in its soft morning hues, spread
over the vast fields of my soul
And so too of yours
Harsh tones of my night no long obscuring
your face.

Clouds begin to gather,
the air is tense,
the fields wince, brace for punishment,
This storm has been here before.

comes a Voice,
from Above and Below.
Without the storm
there are no fields.


In all, I feel like my life is unfolding in ways I couldn't plan, that something is living, happening through me, and I am learning to open to it, slowly but surely, just to attend and let happen.
I'm leaving Hampi on Sunday and heading into retreat until mid-April. I'm eager, slightly apprehensive, but mostly eager. I plan to come out just before Pesach(passover) and then, as of this week, will be flying home in time for seder (and my dad's birthday). I'll be home for a bit and then going/moving to Israel in mid-May to start training to work as a counselor/educator on Nesiya, a summer program for American and Israeli high schoolers exploring Jewish identity and life and stuff, and to look for a place to learn Torah and continue my journey over the years to come.

Purim sameach. Alas I'll be in retreat for Purim, hopefully refining my ability to see and reflect the Divine in this world, but I've been thinking maybe the deeper meaning of 'ad d'lo yada' is getting beyond the consciousness where we can only see things as good or bad, me and you, us and them, and other such dualities (or perhaps this is just the simple meaning), like in Rumi's poem:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.

Thinking of you all with love, warmth, and appreciation.

(with ganga who works here with me at the lev (left) and friend 'badri')

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Upending Top Down Spirituality

Top Down Spirituality
One of the things that was hard for me in Rishikesh was that I got into an unhealthy place mixed up in all kinds of ideas about ‘spirituality’. What does that term even mean anyway? What is actually the whole goal of a spiritual journey? Does it have an end? What does enlightenment mean? Is that motivating me? What am I actually looking for?
One of the traps is to think that spirituality means being a certain way, and then to try and impose that way of being from the outside in/top down. So equanimity, which actually, I think, has something to do with being experientially and existentially deeply rooted in something more than one’s current, changing circumstances, can be morphed into a feaux indifference, pretending that things don’t affect you in the holy misguided pursuit of enlightenment, or ‘spirituality’. One might run off to India so he can think affirmedly of himself as being on a spiritual journey, or something like that. Spirituality should really be about opening, about disembedding but not becoming indifferent, about being more fully engaged and attentive and awake and alive and sensitive and at home in the world and living from a place of wholeness and helping others to that too. Or as Reb Zalman explains the meaning of 'ashrei' as being about living with a kind of fundamental confidence, or existential affirmation. I also like to think that good sign of being on the right track is being able to laugh with total abandon, and in a way which is in no way running away.

I once received a great piece of advice- whichever section you always go to when you go into the bookstore, that’s what you should do with your life. This from a sex therapist ;)
Anyway, in Rishikesh, the bookstores are my section, filled with spiritual/psychological stuff. Good times. So I bought some, and books like Ken Wilber’s above, and Chogyam Trunga Rinpoche’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, and very much Daniel Ingram’s Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, which anyone interested in serious spiritual practice and development/attainment should read, and Mariana Caplan’s Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path and the Baal Shem Tov and R’ Nachman and others have really been helping me sort out some of the chaff from the wheat. Likewise conversations with people along the way, be they those I met on the trail on Annapurna or elsewhere, like Richard Davidson and his simple reminder to listen to my heart/inner voice. Also, doing that, practicing it, the way becomes easier and clearer.
One of the things that someone said along the way, I think it was Elan, was about living close to your soul. Without getting into the theology of it, that really speaks to me, just kind of feels like the right way to be. Here’s another poem along those lines:

Close to the Source
Soft tears, whimpering quietly just below the surface,
Now gurgling forth, the spring breaks through.
Not for long can the awakened soul hide her face.
Now stirred, her breath returns, deepens.
Mother is coming back to nurse her child.
The tears flow freely now,
And the deluge brings spring.
The dead debris is freed, old skin shed,
Now we are home.

I think that sometimes the mud can become so caked and dried on our skin that we forget the actual color and softness of what’s underneath. and meanwhile our skin struggles to breathe and can’t radiate its light. so once we noticed that what’s there is mud and not our natural state, we start scrubbing, which brings up all kinds of dirt (obviously, since it’s mud we’re talking about) and crud and involves a bit of irritation in scrubbing, but of course, the result is purity, freedom, radiance, and that wonderful entering-Shabbas like feeling.

Not in Kansas Anymore- Epistemological Growth

Not in Kansas Anymore
One of the results of my being here that I’ve noticed is that, through a combination of reading, practice, exposure, encounter, and coming into my own, I am allowing myself to be disabused of the heavy Western bias towards a reductionist scientific materialism. In other words, a shortchanging, neglect, or total discounting of the inner/spiritual/energetic/invisible realms, worlds, and deep/subtle reality. Suffice it to say that in my accounting class we never listed ‘soul’ in the asset column, which is too bad, because it doesn’t need to be amortized...People are so quick to talk about ‘believing’ or not ‘believing’ in ‘God’ or spirituality or anything more than the gross (as in conspicuous) level of physicality/materiality. The whole issue becomes a matter of ‘belief,’ a result, I believe, of the Enlightenment approach and understanding (or misunderstanding, or simplification) of religion and apotheosis of reason. Why do we so readily accept ourselves as being real, solid, relatively static? Perhaps the lack is in our sensitivity rather than the absence on the part of Reality? Perhaps we’re lost in ideas and misconceptions? Perhaps the metaphysical can actually be experienced, as all mystical traditions attest? I’d highly suggest reading Ken Wilber, very accessible in his short book “A Theory of Everything,” which goes a long way to help reconcile a lot of things.

Tree of Life

The Tree of Life
After trekking in Annapurna, I returned to Kathmandu with a flight booked to Bangalore in southern India for that Thursday afternoon. Or so I thought. I had just been thinking that I would like to be a bit more spontaneous in my goings about here, feeling like I already had much of the next few months planned out. So it happened. I went to print my ticket for a 2:30pm flight at 10:30 in the morning, only to see that the scheduled departure time was 10:45am. Seeing that the flight was leaving an hour and a half late I hustled to the airport just in case. Alas, their counter was closed and naturally no one was in their company’s office. So I missed the flight. I was bummed for about 15 minutes until I remembered that I didn’t actually know that arriving in the south-where I didn’t have a particular plan- would be any better than what would unfold henceforth. So I decided to stay in Kathmandu for Shabbat, wondering who I would meet who would change my life. Well, I don’t know if my life changed drastically, but I did meet a couple people. Let me also take this opportunity to say that while I think we have a general tendency to see people and occurrences happening to us to help us along our journeys, we may actually be filling that role for someone else. Anyway, I might have played that role along the way here at times, especially for the numerous Jews I’ve met, quite estranged from Judaism, whom perhaps I’ve interested or exposed to a more meaningful approach than they knew existed. But back to my story. I did run into Elan, an American friend whom I’d met in Jerusalem in September. Elan mentioned that he was heading to Darjeeling, the ‘tea capital of the world’ east of Nepal, after Shabbat, and would I like to join? Seeing this as my opportunity to ‘lizrom’ ie be more spontaneous, I went with it. So then we traveled 26 hours by local bus and jeep to Darjeeling. I think that is too easy to write/read. We traveled 26 hours by local bus and jeep, on Nepali roads, to Darjeeling. We did make it there in one piece, with a much greater appreciation for the first world. And we did another 45 hours or so of transit that week. budabump, budabump, budabump. Anyway, Darjeeling was okay, but there were 3 real treasures of the two and a half weeks I spent in Elan’s company.
A) we trekked to Lake Kachuperie, a holy Buddhist lake in Sikkim, a former kingdom bordering Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan. We hiked up there to a hilltop plateau, about 200m by 50m with a small Buddhist community, including the former chef of the Dalai Lama. We spent a most sublime, beautiful, peaceful Shabbat there, resting, reading, playing with puppies, enjoying the beauty, and each other’s company.
B) it just so happened that the very week we were in Sikkim there was convening a conference on Science, Spirituality, and Education, chaired by the Dalai Lama (HHDL) himself, and featuring presentations, amongst others, by Professors Richard Davidson (Jewish neuroscientist from UWisconsin) and Alan Wallace, both of whose work has really interested me. The first day we went to the stadium where HHDL was giving a public lecture. There were no seats. “Ah, delegates!” an usher called out to us, I’m assuming either from our white skin or our professorial appearance. He led us to a special section up front. Then Richard Davidson and Alan Wallace came and sat down next to us. Then Adele Diamond, another Jewish professor of cognitive development psych from U BC in Vancouver (And formerly Penn) noted my kippah (yamulke) and came over to chat. She was really friendly and helped get us into the conference, where we spent a couple days enjoying the rigor and critical reflection of an academic setting, meeting the delegates and listening to (some) interesting presentations. I also got a few minutes of 1on1 with Richard Davidson, whose warmth, attention, and affirmation were really impressive and encouraging. Likewise some of the simple advice and reminders he gave me in response to my questions.
C) traveling with Elan. he’s really wonderful. an ecologist. wonderful nature Torah. learned all about nature and stuff. and trees. amongst other things, he shared a beautiful dvar torah at chabad about finding your soil, the environment in which you can really blossom. that helped me realize that this hasn’t really been my soil, that Buddhism is interesting and while its meditative practices intrigue me, as a religion (very religious, ritualistic over here) it interests me, or appeals personally to me about as much as, well, I don’t know, suffice it to say I’m happy being Jewish, baruch Hashem (asher asani yisrael), and so far being here as very much affirmed me in that.
One of the things I’ve gained in my time here is a kind of patience with life, relaxing into the development of my life’s journey (in Hebrew, the root of the word for develop is ‘open,’ like a flower). I’ve learned from Elan, and my Tai Chi teacher, about learning from nature. Like take a fruit tree, you don’t see an apple hustling and trying to be ripe and drop off and get on already and pollinate all by the time it’s 30, do you? Every kind of tree takes its specific amount of time to deepen its roots, to get the nourishment it needs, to spread its canopy, and to start to put out fruit, and then for the fuit to come to full fruition. So, me too. For everything there is a gestation period and usually a premature delivery doesn't bode well. Rushing life can do no good.


Now I’m in Goa and have been here for a couple weeks, a very welcome change. Beginning to settle is helping me have the stability of concentration to attend to my inner knots. Other things that are helping: spending a couple wonderful days with Benj who was here to visit; the beautiful weather, walking around barefoot, living in a hut on the beach, eating well, Ayurvedic herbs that I bought after an insightful consultation with a doctor on the side of the road, having a schedule/doing Tai Chi, meditation, and Chi Kung(like pranayama, or breathing exercises) and especially the numerous friends I’ve made here or especially a number of friends from earlier in the trip who also happened to show up here such that I actually feel a bit of a sense of sociality, have some external affirmation and outlets for sharing, laughing, learning, and listening. These are almost all Israelis, incidentally. And it’s been noted that being in India has improved my Hebrew. whereas I think my English might have ‘turned straight’ or something.
I’m leaving Goa today and it’s been wonderful. Great people here, even enough friends to have a sense of sociality, and bump into friends in the road. to get to be me the way I like- listening, sharing, laughing, joking. the night before last I even got to facilitate a chabura/some Torah learning with some Israeli friends- we had a really great evening exploring themes of Shabbat, Intimacy, and Spiritual meaning of home. I’m feeling open and good.
I also ran into Adi, who I’d traveled with for a few days towards the beginning of my trip, and having a good long catch up with her really helped me realize that I’ve made some good progress along my journey and moved forward with some of the issues I was grappling with a few months back. yayy.


I’m sitting in an internet cafe in Goa with my shoes off. I left them outside as is the custom here. The electricity has been flickering on and off, as is also the custom here. What a pleasure to be in a place of temperate climes, with some semblance of stability and a schedule- staying here for 2 weeks after moving every 2-3 days for the past 6 weeks. i invite you to breathe with me a sigh of great relief. iiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnn, oooooouuuuuuuuuuttttttttt. aaahhhhhhh. I haven’t really updated here in a couple months, so in case you think I haven’t been doing anything (or anything ‘worth writing home about’), I will take great care to disabuse you of that notion below. In the interest of your time/for those of you who are not still on break and/or waiting with baited breath to pour over my every word, I’ll start with a short summary of my goings on and then proceed with the interesting version ;) This issue will feature a) a poem, b) a “Lighter Side,” report of some of the funnies collected along the way, c) a “Heavier Side” reflecting on the sandpaper-like challenges and struggles of moving about in this part of the world and my attempts to reckon with/reframe them in fruitful way, d) tickling, and e) quidditch.

The short: Left you last in Rishikesh, where I went with the vague idea to ‘do some yoga’. Turns out going to Rishikesh to ‘do some yoga’ is a bit like going to Walmart “to buy something.” The supersaturation was a bit overwhelming and I didn’t end up doing much yoga. It was a hard time for me there personally, with the highlight of making a really nice Israeli friend from whom I learned much. From Rishikesh I made my way to Kathmandu and spent some good time visiting the chevre who are volunteering on Tevel b’tzedek in Nepal. Then to the Annapurna trek. Once I was there I understood why I had been told it was the end of the season. Very cold. very beautiful. very arduous. good alone time + some meaningful and some challenging encounters along the way. 10 pounds the lighter I returned to Kathmandu. missed a flight to Bangalore in southern India. for the better. ran into a friend, let’s call him ‘Elan’ (cuz that’s his name), who I’d met in September in Israel at the Chabad (jewish center) in Kathmandu. took him up on his offer to go to Darjeeling/Sikkim. sikkim=beautiful, and we happened upon and joined a conference on Science, Spirituality, and Education with HHtheDalai Lama et al (ie a bunch of Buddhist people and probably a minyan of Jews). 3rd time this year seeing HHDL, but he still hasn’t invited me for can add 30 hours of developing world transit for every sentence. Really enjoyed Elan’s company. few days in bodh gaya. then headed southward to Goa to meet Benj and Chad. Family is priceless. Now in Goa for 2 weeks living in a great hut on the beach, doing an intense Chi Kung/Tai Chi course, and hanging out at the Bayit Yehudi with other Jews and Rebbe Nachman. Leaving next Thursday, via Hampi to visit the people from Lev Yehudi who first welcomed me in India, to Tiruvannamalai to participate in the international quidditch tournament for the next few months (ie do some meditation retreats).

Now- y’all rock on your way if you gotta go.
Here begins my tale in earnest.

So it’s kinda like this. I’m the man. basically, a magnet. Let me explain. All it takes is for me to walk down the road here and people just start talking to me. I’m everybody’s friend. They all greet me with ‘hello, friend!’ and then they just start offering me things. This one offers me a taxi, the next one wants to invite me into his shop- and ‘just to look,’ even offering me ‘good price’ should something really catch my eye, then another one offers me a taxi, not content that I should receive the invitation from only one of his peers. Little kids come running up to me wanting change just because it’s in my pocket, sometimes even their mothers join them. Sometimes, random Indians stop me just to have their picture taken, to shake my hand, and ask “which country?”*...”first time?”...shopkeepers, rickshaw drivers, taxis, guesthouse owners are all equally generous in their insistence in giving me the opportunity to give. the people are so sensitive they don’t even want to hurt my feelings by telling me they didn’t understand my English. (must be that idiosyncratic Southern-South African-Philadelphian-Israeli mix that throws them off). they also seem to have an uncanny perception of my ‘adventurous’ sense of direction, sharing directions certain to further my adventures, like ‘turn straight’ or, in response to which way, how far, or how much time, ‘yes’ will always suffice.
*Sometimes, as a way of dealing with the monotony of the question, I answer more playfully. It goes like this, let’s say between me and ‘Raj’:
Raj: Hello, friend!
Danny: Hi.
Raj: Which country?
Danny: Me? I’m from India. You, which country? America? California?
Raj: (a little bit puzzled. maybe smiling.)
Danny: Yea, I speak Hindi.
Raj: You speak Hindi!?
Danny: Yea, but only on Fridays...
What day is it? Tuesday, aww man.
Raj: Why only on Fridays?
Danny: That’s what it says in my contract.
Raj: Contract with who?
Danny: Sorry it’s classified.
Raj: Ahh, sorry, we’ve just been talking for a little bit, maybe it was too personal a question.

This is approximately a true account.
Let me stress that despite the challenges of being in this part of the world, I have found Indians (and Nepalis) to be very warm and welcoming.

deep breath. we’re trying to reframe the experience of moving about this country. Having moved places every couple days after leaving rishikesh in mid-November-to Kathmandu, then trekking, then onwards, moving about here, with the constant pack-lugging, haggling for everything, constant soliciting, dependable delays, and i think mostly the frustration and complication of the simplest communication, it’s felt a lot like sandpaper, wearing on me, leaving me, by the time I arrived to meet Benj 10 days ago in Goa, quite weary and feeling the need either to leave, change pace, or do something different. Here’s the ironic part:
Everyday in my tefilah (prayer), I cultivate/express a lifeworld-determining intention and hope that goes like this: “barech aleinu et ha’shana ha’zot v’et kol minei tevuata, v’ten tal u’matar al penei ha’adama...” ie “bless us with this year and all its produce, and give dew and rain upon the earth...” which I take both in the direction of appreciation/hope for the bounty of the earth, without which we are not, and also in a spiritual/emotional vein, as in, let this year be one of goodness, of growth and sprouting, deepening of roots, blossoming, and all your other favorite nature metaphors. But, Danny, come on! Did you really expect fertile soil and harvest without aerating the land?? Don’t you need to shake things up to make some space for new growth? So it is. I have my inner tract which I’ve come to cultivate- you can see it as neural networks if you’re more scientifically than poetically inclined- and the path of growth means going towards the discomfort of the unfamiliar, the challenging, what’s not easy and routine. The key, I think, is learning how to do that, to relax into the difficulty, the abrasiveness. to open my heart.
A friend mused about me recently, reflecting on the seeming paradox or irony of someone so peaceful-seeming setting off on a journey to cultivate inner peace. Indeed, I have felt lately that I am quite relaxed and peaceful, on a gross level, perhaps more so than a lot of other people I know. Contrary to what one might expect though, the path goes beyond the horizon line. Having taken some steps along this path, I feel like I am now much more aware of deep, underlying knots which need mindful, gentle holding to unwind, like an upset child who, in the peace and safety of his mother’s arms, can gradually let go of his tears and come back to rest in his natural peaceful state. So I mainly came to India to do this kind of inner work, with the expectation of finding meditation centers and the like. I also realized that I might have done just as well, as far as finding good teachers goes, to stay in the USofA. But I don’t regret coming here, in part because going to meditation in Boulder, Colorado or Barre, Massachussetts would, at least in some ways, be really easy. I don’t actually want to diminish that even one bit, but I do want to say that the spiritual work of trying to learn to reckon compassionately with the daily host of potential frustrations and challenges here has been really valuable, the ways that just getting around and moving about here have stretched me, and if we are to grow and let our souls expand into our lives, being stretched is a must (happily,my coaches and PE teachers over the years emphasized stretching before exertion. Now I understand that if we don’t stretch ourselves and prepare for the game, we are more liable to burst, tear, pop, or pull something. Better pliable than liable). I also learned that just that week was parshat v’ereh, when Bnei Yisrael go down to Mitzrayim, and learned a great Netivot Shalom explaining the whole purpose of that descent as being for the sake of purification. Or to quote Tomahawk (aka Mr. Anderson, my awesome high school history teacher), quoting a dude he once worked with in a warehouse, “You got to git down bEfor’ you can git up.” Well said.

As I’ve learned, very deep in our brain, in the most ancient part, the brain stem, we have an evolutionary survival mechanism that creates a sharp distinction and feeling between self and other. This is important inasmuch as it allows us to respond appropriately to existential threats. Unfortunately, however, this same mechanism persists and is strengthened and can coat our entire lives with a very real-seeming feeling of separation, self-contained individuality, isolation, and alienation. This is strengthened by our regular clinging to our personalities, to things that we call “my” or “I” and the like, and furthermore or therefore, by every antagonistic encounter where my desire or point of view is pitted against yours, and we each feel ourselves to be the very content of our positions, meaning that winning or losing is now operating on the basis of the same mechanism that attends to existential threats- ie if I don’t get my way, I die. All this is a rather complex explanation for why it is so particularly unpleasant to be constantly engaged in antagonistic encounters- I want this price, you want that price. hmmph. i want peace, you want me to get in your taxi, buy your wares, eat your food. hmmph. It’s almost a constant experience of imutz ha’lev, contraction of the heart, one of the things for which we repent and seek atonement on Yom Kippur. That can’t be the only way...

So one of the teachings that the Buddhists emphasize is metta, or loving-kindness. It’s also emphasized in Judaism, as gemilut hasadim. One of the nice nuances explained to me about the Buddhist approach is that it’s based on kind-ness. As in, we’re all of the same kind. As in, every person, or actually every sentient being, is motivated by happiness. So they teach that everything than anyone ever does is done out of the pursuit of happiness. Now, that’s not to say that some of those actions aren’t severely misguided, nor is to say that all actions are acceptable. The point is then, that when I can understand and internalize that this person is approaching me thus because he needs to feed his family, or because he’s thinks this will lead him in a beneficial direction, it softens the blow and even opens some space for empathy, whereas I think for most of us our usual, habitual response is to impute to him, at least on an implicit or subconscious level, some kind of malevolent intention where he is actually just out to annoy me. Once I have made contact with his basic humanity, ie that he’s just trying to move in the direction he perceives as the light, I can actually relate to him as such, see in his eyes the rawness, the vulnerability, the striving, rather than being blinded by my own anger, frustration, impatience, and feeling of victimization. These patterns, however, are so deeply habituated in our brains that we’re not even aware that we have a choice to relate otherwise to life, and to choose a different experience. One great piece of advice I read recently is to ask ourselves if our reactions are habit or fact? That is, am I responding out of programming, and if so, have I actually evaluated the underlying premises of my programming to see if they make sense, if they promote a beneficial orientation in life?

I was just reminded that the Jewish equivalent of the above is ‘dan l’caf zchut,’ meaning judge a person with the scale in their favor, give them the benefit of the doubt, and as Rebbe Nachman develops it, do whatever you can to find the positive point in yourself and others, and relate to that, even if its tiny, like finding the last ember of dying fire and nurturing back to roaring life.

Why aren’t more people aware of the ability to ‘choose life’? I think part of it is a lack of role models. Abraham Maslow talked about the psychopathology of the average. as in, our picture of the normal person and standard expectations for experiencing life is severely distorted. pathological is his word. as in, far off from health, or wholeness. (I actually find this encouraging. it means there’s a better possibility. but to drive home the point) How many people do you actually know who to their depths exhibit compassion and open-heartedness? who aren’t holding deep wounds or mental habit patterns that cause us to flinch, withdraw, contract, close down in all kinds of situations? For those people, and myself, is this poem.
‘Hazori’im bdimah’’*
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked” (Khalil Gibran)

Encrusted soul, who knows not peace,
embittered and covered in scabs,
you flinch now at every touch.
Your wounds are deep, the depths
scare you, and their darkness.

Trying, trying, crying,
I see your callouses.
Let yourself break. I am already here,
Don’t you see, only for your sorrows,
have you known your self.
Seeds of sensitivity deeply sown,
Arise now by My light,
Reap in joy.

*ha’zori’im bdimah, /b’rina yiktzoru/’ (those who sow in tears, will reap in joy)-Psalms 162:5

So, the sandpaper of traveling has revealed to me my own deeper knots and taught me a lot about the spirituality of everyday life. God/Life/theUniverse gives us what we need to learn, we just gotta do it. And you can’t run away. Well, you can, but you won’t find solace. What if we could see all the people whom we encounter- the pleasant and the trying ones- as angels, sent specifically to help us along our way? That’d be cool.

There’s a kind of unease that’s healthy and productive. Like having found a certain degree of stability and understanding, it starts to break down in light of greater exposure, deeper experience, more acute perception and sensitivity, like dropping down another level in the movie Inception, except it’s another level of awareness rather than a dream. My tai chi teacher used the example of a bullseye. You shoot a bow and arrow (or your little sister does at camp, or someone you know. anyway). and you get a bullseye! a bullseye is the center circle. that means that you may have a bullseye, which from 100m away looks to be right in the center of the target. however, when you increase magnification a couple X, ie get closer to 10m or 1m, then you might discover that your arrow is indeed in the center circle, but still not ‘dead’ center. So you might feel centered, or be making progress in your spiritual life in the sense of becoming more aligned, but once there you realize that you are not in fact all the way there. My body might feel totally relaxed, but now I can detect a more subtle unease- no doubt it has been there all along, affecting me from beneath my normal waking consciousness, but now I am aware of it- and therefore can attend to it.
In other more recent news (as of today):
I came in this morning to Hampi to spend Shabbat with the family at 'Lev Yehudi' ( who initially welcomed me so warmly when they were stationed in the North. I was just gonna enjoy them and pass through, but we were talking, and seein' as they're leaving in two weeks, Yael (the matriarch) suggested maybe I could come take their place here when they leave. So it looks like I might be spending most of February here in Hampi (after the meditation retreat I'm starting on Monday), welcoming, hanging out with, listening to traveling Israelis and sharing some Torah and shabbas spirit/food. Cool. so if you wanna come crash with me in Hampi and help out, lemme know, that'd be great, and I'll probably have a room and food for ya. Love how these things pop up.

the Lighter Side

the lighter side
at a restaurant in Nepal:
Danny: Do you know where I can buy a yak-wool sweater?
Attendant: Yes, we have filtered water.

trying to communicate with the former chef of the Dalai Lama, I was quite eager to know what he had absorbed after years of his presence:
Danny: what did you learn from the Dalai Lama?
“P”: yes, lunch 12 o’clock, dinner six o’clock.
Danny, trying a different tack:
“ahh, What did he teach you?”
P: Yes, tea, 11 o’clock.

Oh, well, can’t win ‘em all. Bon appetit to you too.

Israeli girl trying to communicate that she has a hole (Hebrew=khor) in her door.
“Excuse me, we have a whore in our door.”

Israeli friend who I trekked with a bit in Nepal, let's call him "Yarok," left Israel on his first ever airplane trip. When the fasten seatbelt sign went off with the according ding, everyone started standing up and moving about the cabin. Yarok, a bit confused, says, "What, is there a buffet?"

I’d like to increase my environmental awareness and responsibility, so II ordered the mushroom masala with “green peace”.

Talking to a Nepali dude at the Bob Marley hostel in Muktinath along the Annapurna trail (who, despite our minimal conversation, naturally wanted to have his picture taken with me and me to send it to him), I found out he’s from Lumbini, where I’m planning to go in a month or so to a meditation center.
Danny: Lumbini! Ahh, I’m going to Lumbini!
Dude: You have gun??
Danny: (wtf? isn’t this the birthplace of the Buddha) “a gun??” “is it dangerous? I need a gun?”
(motioning with hand to demonstrate a gun)
Dude: you have gun?
Danny: (really taken aback by the images coming to mind of a meditation center amidst a Wild West showdown)
Danny: (realizing what the dude meant) “Ahhh, have I gone?”
Walking along the arduous Annapurna trail one day I stopped for a break and was talking with another toursit, an older man from SE Asia. He was on a bit of a tight time schedule and expressed some concern about being able to acclimatize quickly enough to make it over Thorung La pass (17,700feet) and make his flight.
Danny: “Are you taking diamox?” (a pill that helps increase oxygen in the blood and facilitates acclimatization)
Older man: “No. I’m taking viagra.”
Danny: (a little bit confused as to why he’s telling me this.) “Viagra??”
Older man: “Yea, they say it makes it easier.”
Danny: “Huh.” (and to myself, “And I thought viagra was supposed to make it harder” )