I read a piece recently in the Jewish Forward in which a rabbi in smoke-filled San Francisco says that this year Rosh Hashana is a time of mourning.
A thoughtful piece, but still, the Jewish calendar requires us to mourn and to celebrate at set times–mystical, not conditioned, times. A Rosh Hashanah may be devastating either personally or societally but it is still a new start.
I’ve been reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” along with my friend Ana who is in smoke-filled Portland. I’d always avoided it, although practically everyone else I know has read it. First off, it is set in the death camps. By the time I was eighteen I’d been over exposed to that history, to the point where it poisoned my every day reality. So, too depressing. Also, I knew Frankl took a positive attitude towards life. In a death camp? So, too upbeat.
Turns out, I should have read it years ago. I’m not going to recap here, but the gist is that we still own our reactions, no matter the circumstances. This brought me right back to Buddhism. When, as a young adult, I first heard the Four Noble Truths I felt as though I’d spent my whole life trying to cut a carrot with a butter knife. And then been handed a vegetable cleaver.
Since the Days of Awe are upon us, I thought I’d pick back up my study of mussar, or self-examination. I do one trait a week. It starts with gratitude, a familiar but ever useful practice. Today I’m realizing that gratitude isn’t despite suffering, but in addition to it.
Years ago I was in residence with Center for Land Use Interpretation, in a trailer “living pod” in an abandoned air force base in Wendover, Utah/Nevada. Dogs howled, squatters built fires, huge trucks carrying ore from the Ruth mine far to the west rattled by. It was terrifying—isolated, raw, scary, on the edge of a million empty acres of bombing range. The first night there was a voice in my head that loudly said: I can’t stay here in this mental state.
Something had to change. I didn’t want to leave. By sunrise my mind had…changed. I stayed, and wrote poetry, and had many powerful moments of real happiness.