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A Letter from Rabbi Sue Morningstar

A Letter from Rabbi Sue Morningstar

Dear Friends,
This is the moment we have been waiting for. This is the moment we have been preparing for all of our lives. Here is our opportunity to use all of our spiritual tools to appreciate the blessings and opportunities that are being presented to us. Even now, in this state of crisis.

In the words of Tara Brach, “This is a moment of unprecedented uncertainty”. How easy it is for us to become overwhelmed by fear. My 88 year old mother, Ruth Mauer, said to me, “in all other times of crisis, there have been refugees. Now there are none, there is no place of refuge.” On the physical level that is true. This virus has penetrated to everywhere on the planet. The only refuge we have, is our inner refuge. Our inner place of strength, wisdom and surrender.

Our tradition teaches about the Mishkan, the sanctuary in the wilderness where the Holy One dwelt. We each have our own holy Mishkan, our inner sanctuary of equanimity and grace. And especially now, in the wilderness of this mystery in which we find ourselves, we can access the healing space of this sanctuary. Sheltering at home allows us the opportunity to feel into and cultivate the beauty and comfort of our inner Mishkan.

On a deep level, we truly know that the pace, the frenzy, the overpopulation, the disregard of Mother Nature, the grabbing, the consuming, the “mine mine mine” mentality was not sustainable. As my Beloved Howie Morningstar says, “Mother Nature has sent us all to our rooms without our toys, to think about what we have done and the consequences of our actions.” Already, after just a few months, Mother Nature is regenerating herself. Our air has become cleaner, our rivers and canals more clear and habitable. Yes, we are on a reset, a correction.

What a holy opportunity!
Feel into the isolation, feel into the silence. Appreciate this moment of forced retreat. Remember that we are human beings, not human doings.
Many of us are in a perpetual state of fear, anxiety, anticipatory grief. Now is the time to feel into the gratitude and, as Ram Dass has said, “surrender the idea that we are the captains of our ship.” We have no control over the external circumstances. We have control only over our actions and reactions.

How do we maintain a state of grace, calm and equanimity in the face of such crisis and uncertainty? This is no small task.
Start with gratitude. Our daily gratitude prayer says:
וְעַל נִסֶּֽיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל יוֹם עִמָּֽנוּ, וְעַל נִפְלְאוֹתֶֽיךָ וְטוֹבוֹתֶֽיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל עֵת
Each moment is filled with goodness, miracles and wonders, and despite the external chaos, we are capable of feeling into the inherent goodness of our world.

Become aware of the breath. Andrew Weil’s relaxing breathing technique is helpful in reducing stress. Inhale through the nose to the count of 4, hold the breath to the count of 7 and exhale through the mouth with a whooshing sound to the count of 8. Repeat over and over as needed. (google it, you can watch Dr. Weil on youtube guiding you through it)
Sit in silence and meditation for 20 minutes, several times a day. We have been graced by circumstance with this opportunity to stop. If possible go outside and be in silence with the trees, perhaps with a particular tree that has resonance for you. Trees are solid, grounded, sway with the wind and remain strong. In Hebrew the word for tree, eytz, is closely related to the word for advice, eytzah. Sitting in silence offers us the opportunity to listen closely to the wisdom offered you by the natural world, and by the holy tree. As you watch the branches gently swaying in the breeze, remember the words of Bob Dylan, “may you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift.”

Don’t try to fill up your time and space with frenetic activities. One friend said to me, “I’m busier at home than I was before. I have zoom writing classes, zoom support groups, zoom book group, I’m watching movies, cleaning out my closets.” God, Mother Nature, the Holy Source has blessed us with this opportunity to stop, reflect, get still and leave the mundane behind. Accept the blessing. Accept the stillness. Accept the mystery. As Rilke has warned: “how we squander our hours of pain.”
Get in touch with your own mortality, settle your affairs, write down your last wishes, create an ethical will. Realize the preciousness of life and the inevitability of death. We know that we are not our bodies, we are not our egos. Someday, maybe someday soon, we will be leaving the bodily plane and returning to the spiritual state from whence we came. Do we want to go tight fisted? Greedy for the next breath? Or in a state of surrender and grace, knowing that whatever the outcome for us personally, ultimately, it is all perfect, we are all love, we are all holy.
Gaze deeply into the eyes of your loved ones, either in person or virtually, and appreciate the preciousness of the connection. The injunction to live every day as if it were our last is a reality at present. Feel into that right now. Facing our mortality gives us the chance to communicate our deep appreciations to each other. To say “I love you” out loud and often. To delight in each other and to let the insignificant details be insignificant, as we acknowlege the joyful and wondrous gifts of loving connection.

In our morning prayers we say,
בָּרוּךְ מְרַחֵם עַל הָאָֽרֶץ, בָּרוּךְ מְרַחֵם עַל הַבְּרִיּוֹת
הַטּוֹב כִּי לֹא כָלוּ רַחֲמֶֽיךָ

“The Holy One has compassion for the earth, compassion for all her creatures. . .How good it is that your compassion is unending.”
As we feel into our despair, may we gracefully transform it into loving compassion. Even in these chaotic, uncertain, anxiety ridden times, we can heed the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, who said:
“Let my joyfully streaming face make me more radiant;
let my hidden weeping arise and blossom
How dear you will be to me then, you nights of anguish. . .”