The Next Test

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3/7/2016

The Next Test

“Behold, I set before you a blessing and a curse.”

-The Source

“Torah, for those who merit it, becomes an elixir of life. Torah, for those who lack such merit, becomes a potion of poison and death.”

-The Talmud

Torah is instruction designed to teach us the truth about the Creator. Torah means direction, teaching, instruction or doctrine.

The words of Torah are a blessing, or a poisonous curse.

If your deeds are pure, the words of the Torah become the elixir to life and joy – but if your deeds are spoiled and bent then those same words of Torah can become a lethal poison. How?

The words of Torah are truth. Cosmic law. Divine law. Reality.

Joy comes through alignment with truth. Pain comes from dis-alignment. When your actions are aligned with Torah, its words of wisdom reinforce the spirit of joy within. Its words become a blessing.

But when you fall to base desires, and by choice separate and become dis-aligned, it doesn’t change the truth – the words of the Torah. Those words just become painful to face, because you are in a low place as a result of your own choices.

The key to a joyous life is to align with the truth. To align your actions to the truth. Then you can feel the joy in the words of Torah and bask in the blessings surrounding you – through your choices to rise above the pullings of your adversarial force.

You rise higher through restricting from the alluring call of base desires – impulses pulling you to dishonesty, lust, anger, ego, revenge, addiction, jealousy and fear. These are the internal and external gods which we are warned to not worship in Exodus, “You shall have no other gods before Me”.

King David said it himself, “There shall be no strange god in you, neither shall you worship any strange god.”

That flare of anger, that high, is a strange internal god. That persons property is a strange external god.

When you overcome a test, you experience a burst of exertion followed by a flow of sustained joy. When you succumb to a lower pull, you experience a flash of adversarial release followed by sustained pain. You further envelop yourself in the husk of illusion and physicality.

And the tests keep presenting themselves, one after the other, day after day. Fortunately for us, the Source is all merciful – “slow to anger and quick to forgive”. But this just leads us to the next opportunity where the choice is ours once again.

All these tests are here for a reason. Through them, our heart’s desire is measured. Our will is established. And according to the sages, at the end, it’s the will, the ratzon, which we are responsible for, not how high we climbed or how far we traveled.

We need to show up to the fountain of blessing with a strong vessel.

Poor choices can crack the vessel we need to hold the blessings coming to us. Wise choices strengthen the vessel. Teshuva patches up a crack, reinforcing the vessel even stronger than it was before the fracture.

As transformers, it is our job to elevate the spiritual sparks within all matter – to rebuild the vessel of humanity which was shattered at the Big Bang, at the destruction of the Temples and through our our own destructive choices today. We accomplish this by connecting and adhering to the spiritual laws of the Torah through our thoughts, actions and intentions.

We are building a spiritual structure here, like the 3rd Temple which the sages say is already built above us, that we will once again experience. We are crafting the foundation of our eternal reality through our physical actions. This is why we are here. This is what we are building.

It’s that big. That important. Every test.

Contemplate this when your next test shows up today.

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Blessings,

Etan

The Next Test

A Song of Ascents

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2/27/2015

A Song of Ascents

A song of ascents – from the depths I called out. The Lord heard my voice.

King David saw the hand of the Source operating behind the events of his life. At night he laid beneath his sheets – drenching them with tears – playing his 10 stringed harp which hung above his bed – channelling the music of his soul to the Creator.

No matter the test, no matter the foe, his faith and connection remained unshaken. This is why his Psalms have become our prayers today. The depth of his words were so powerful that his personal experiences and breakthroughs became the storyline of prophecy and prayer. His personal encounters, and what he was able to tap into and express, are the spiritual lyrics we recite each morning, afternoon and evening of our lives – in prayer.

And, he was a king – a leader of a nation – living in this way, so humble – yet so confident, secure, committed and clear in his relationship with the Creator and Sustainer.

It is said that every possible version and combination of our struggles is contained somewhere within the Psalms, and that concentrating and connecting with his words can carry us through our challenges to great heights.

There are certain combinations of Psalms which contain mind bending super powers, like the Tikkun Haklali – “The General (or Comprehensive) Rectification” – also known as “The General Remedy” – a set of ten Psalms, whose recital serves as a repair for all past errs — these 10 Psalms, whose identity and precise order, revealed by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, and 150), when said in order, and with deep concentration, have the power to neutralize spiritual demons unleashed through past breaches of the covenant – our most sacred seed cast outside of the realm of the sanctity of holy union – unbridled creative energy dispersed toward the fertile gardens of the dark side. Through the recitation of these ten Psalms, we get to harvest those spiritual crops – pulling them back to their root – freeing ourselves from their piercing haunting screams for sustenance – removing the clouds they formed, and left behind.

There are Psalms that carry the power to heal on an individual and national level. When praying for an individual who is ill, it is customary to recite the following thirty-six chapters of Psalms: 20, 6, 9, 13, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 37, 38, 39, 41, 49, 55, 56, 69, 86, 88, 89, 90, 91, 102, 103, 104, 107, 116, 118, 142, 143, and 148.

Each Psalm is embedded with a unique attribute, empowered to unlock and elevate the restrictivity of our circumstances.

Psalm 3: To conquer fear of poverty – Psalm 5: To ask for a special financial favor – Psalm 7: To ask that blocks to progress be removed – Psalm 13: To overcome anxiety, when backed into a corner – Psalm 21: To increase one’s spiritual vibration to invite prosperity into one’s life – Psalm 24: To calm disturbed thoughts, anxiety and still the subconscious and the spirit, relieve fears of the future – Psalm 55: To conquer anxiety and fear – Psalm 69: For deliverance in times of suffering – and on and on…

There are Psalms so powerful – and continuously relevant – that we repeat them multiple times daily during our fixed prayers.

What makes us any different than King David?

If I asked about Michael Jordan, we can say our physicality is no match – not all of us have been blessed with the physical ability to jump from the foul line and slam dunk a basket ball with our tongue hanging out – and if I asked about Albert Einstein, our analytical brainpower might not yet be as activated – but what did King David do? He saw the Source in everything – and lived his life from that perspective. He spent his nights in hitbodidut (deep contemplative active honest personal best-friend sleep over party style dialogue with the Creator and Architect of our reality), and his days, following the light of his Creator. He maximized the exertion of his will – and this is something accessible to each one of us, regardless of our circumstances.

Same with Moses. Humility was his greatest attribute – casting away his own “wisdoms” to make room for Divine wisdom – and leading the nation from this vantage point – transforming himself into a tool in the hands of the Creator.

Rebbe Nachman tells us that any of us can grow to his level, with enough effort. He was quick to shoot down anyone who inferred, in the slightest fashion, that his greatness was attributed to him being the great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov (the grand daddy master funk flex of Hassidism).

Look at Rabbi Akiva – just beginning his spiritual work at the tender age of 40 – and accomplished more than anyone. He is referred to in the Talmud as “Rosh la-Chachamim” (Head of all the Sages).

“What was Rabbi Akiva like? – A worker who goes out with his basket. He finds wheat – he puts it in, barley – he puts it in, spelt – he puts it in, beans – he puts it in, lentils – he puts it in. When he arrives home he sorts out the wheat by itself, barley by itself, spelt by itself, beans by themselves, lentils by themselves. So did Rabbi Akiva; he arranged the Torah rings by rings.”
— Avot deRabbi Natan ch. 18; see also Gittin, 67a

None of us are handicapped spiritually, because it’s not how much we accomplish – it’s how far we ascend in relation to the force of resistance placed against us – each through our own circumstances. There is no limit to our will. That’s why anyone can scale the heights of the the greatest sage – through exertion of their will – at this moment – here and now.

A true yogi is not concerned with the flexibility of the practitioner in the front row. She is focused only on her relationship to her point of resistance, breathing through it to make more room – to expand – to integrate healing spiritual breath into physical constriction.

What is stopping us from calling out to the Creator from our bed – soaked with tears under our sheets? The sages were up late at night learning – woke up early in meditation and prayer – did not eat too much – weren’t particularly distracted by next season’s glossy pages of British Vogue. If we are looking for enlightenment during our lifetime – there’s a system to follow. The lazy animal within prefers to sip Cabernet at night, sleep late and eat scrumptious meals in cashmere socks.

But, it doesn’t have to be one or the other – there are many points of harmony between the physical and spiritual lifestyle – in fact, the path toward our highest potential involves transforming, not subduing, the pleasures of physicality to their greatest potential – in alignment with their spiritual counterpart – but for those sensitive souls who are seeking extraordinary levels of connection to the Source – following the lifestyle of the sages to the greatest extent possible, acknowledging areas of our lives perhaps a bit too identified by what will eventually decay – is a wise path for deeper transformation.

Look at Abraham. All alone, he saw the Source. He followed the Source all alone – and the Source responded. That’s what happens. We start to see a response to our calls. And this gives us confidence to go deeper.

“Says the Creator, I removed the burden from his shoulder, his hands from the kettle passed. In distress you called out to me and I released you. I answered you when you called privately with a thunderous reply. I tested you at the waters of strife.”

(Psalm 81)

As I ascend north, leaving the healing waters of Miami, after having called out to my Maker in distress – I leave, released – with a thunderous reply to my private callings – tested at the yam suf’s edge – walking onward between walls of water – as my doubts and fears drown beneath.

Holding on through the tough times builds character. It gives you something to share with others going through challenge. We can all access this in our own way – and we should all try to share our experiences with those in our lives who can use a little help from a friend.

Shabbat Shalom - Lion & Star

Blessings,

Etan

A Song of Ascents

Gratitude

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2/12/2015

Gratitude

A prisoner in solitary confinement has the power to experience the highest levels of freedom and joy. A billionaire king has the power to experience the highest levels of jealousy and depression.

It’s all a matter of our perspective – what we are focusing on.

Gratitude for our most basic blessings is what’s most important to express, because when any one of our most basic blessings is threatened or taken away from us, it’s all we can think about and pray for. We would gladly cash in all our chips for one critical issue to be resolved. It’s amazing how quickly our list of needs and wants gets edited and slashed when our health or the health of a loved one is at stake.

Gratitude brings us to the mindset of recognition of our blessings. It becomes very easy to overlook all of the miracles going on every second which sustain who we are and what we experience. We take them for granted.

Allocating time to appreciate the basic miracles in our lives sets the bar lower for our experience of joy – shifting us away from reserving experiences of joy for only when newer and greater things are manifested – to sitting in the joy of the present miracles in our lives, smiling and breathing deeply.

Today, with newer and more advanced products coming out faster than ever, it’s even more challenging to associate joy with the basics in life.

Until the moment they are taken away from you.

Well, that’s the point that I’m interested in. Because that’s a trigger which brings to the surface that which means most to us. And I’d rather incorporate a system of acknowledgement of what means most to me now – so that I don’t need to wait until they are threatened to bring them to awareness.

The question is, how does time spent focusing on gratitude improve my life or get me out of whatever pain and anxiety I’m experiencing?

The answer lies in our ability to create our own reality.

Look, right now we are experiencing some version of reality that’s been influenced and architected by a number of external forces. Most often our family, friends, society, and media are pretty hefty contributors to how we perceive our world. While there are parts of our perception which serve us well, there are also parts which are no longer helpful. Most people will continue along their way, incorporating solutions to temporarily fix their problems. Others will seek the root cause of their problems and attempt to assassinate them.

It is helpful to be grounded to a foundation of wisdom as we travel the road of return to our true selves. Wisdom is the water in our canteen – the sage, our Sherpa – the mountain ahead, our life potential.

Kind David tells us that clean hands and a pure heart are required to scale the mountain of the Source.

Rebbe Nachman tells us that no matter how far out we are – how sick, disconnected, addicted, in denial, lost we are – the path back starts with finding the small good point hidden within ourself. That flickering flame deep within. The most basic blessing we take for granted. And by focusing on that good point, and tuning out from the surrounding distractions of this world, we slowly start to identify with that good attribute – and we then look for other good points within, gradually expanding our identification with the good – and then we start to look for good points in others, and connect with their good points, and so on. Ultimately, this process has the power to lead to world peace – and it starts deep within ourselves.

Gratitude is what trains us to look within for the hidden basic blessings. The blessings we take for granted as we hold our self worth out against the latest version of how we think society views us. Our shell can seem more real than the jewel of our soul within.

Gratitude expressed – a list of the basics – is something that no matter where we find ourselves – how far off the path – can lead us back to the blessings within – and reshape our experience from lack to abundance.

It doesn’t have to be a formal prayer. It can be just reading our list in the morning – drumming up emotions of appreciation – recognizing that nothing in this world is automatic and guaranteed. The most basic of the blessings are the ones to be most grateful for.

Gratitude attributes the gift to the Source and brings joy to the giver. Everyone likes a smile, some appreciation, recognition for our efforts. It just makes us want to give more. Giving more to the ingrate just buries the basic blessings deeper within the layers of fresh abundance – teaching them to consume without the chance to marinate on gratitude for what’s already been digested. That’s called spoiling a child. A.K.A – bread of shame. That’s why we weren’t created with a soft serve ice cream dispenser in our mouths and trophies in our crib – to give us the opportunity to work for things and to feel as though we’ve earned them. That brings more joy than just receiving things without exerting any effort. A spoiled child does not express gratitude. It’s no gift to keep giving more to one who has yet refined their ability to house and express appreciation.

Starting each day off on our knees in deep appreciation for our soul returning to our body, for oxygen and heart beat, for sight and comprehension – it is wise to afford ourselves the luxury of basking in life’s greatest and most basic blessings. This is gratitude.

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Blessings,

Etan

Gratitude

Psalm 131 – Widening the lens to achieve tranquility

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1/27/2015

PSALM 131 – Widening the lens to achieve tranquility

A song of ascents by David.

HaShem, my heart was not proud and my eyes not haughty;
And, I did not pursue matters too great and wondrous to me.

I swear that I have stilled and silenced my soul like a nursing baby at the side of his mother; so too, is my soul like a nursing child.

O Israel, yearn for HaShem from now until eternity.

– Psalm 131

I am meditating because I want to come to the point of feeling like a baby, nursing in the arms of its mother. When nursing from its mother, a baby does not lift its eyes higher than they must go. The baby is plugged into its direct flow of sustenance, overcome with joy and comfort. At that moment, the baby has all it is looking for – all it needs.

The following steps help lead us to this level of connection and tranquility:

Step 1: Wait for those moments when we are not thinking about what we are lacking – when we are physically comfortable – totally taken care of – and then meditate on, “I am taken care of “… “HaShem, You are my Mother”…“You provided for me all I need for this moment”. These moments may present themselves on Shabbat, on vacation, at work after a successful deal, during a positive experience with a child, or even after reading this piece. At these moments, when we feel filled up – through this meditation we acknowledge our connection to HaShem, who fulfills our needs.

Step 2: We practice this meditation as often as possible – drawing the connection between our experiences of fulfillment and the Source of our experiences.

Step 3: Perfection will be when we take this meditation and slowly start to widen its lens to include that, “HaShem is taking care of all my needs”, even during times of distress. This is not a rush – it’s a progression, where once we’ve practiced enough, we can start letting in other types of experiences – those where we don’t feel fulfillment – and even experiences that can be annoying, scary or test our patience. We expand our capacity to see the Source behind the experience – to nurse from the experience – and to know that HaShem is giving us exactly what we need.

Ultimately, we will feel the same tranquility in life’s more challenging times.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I will not lack. He causes me to lie down in grassy pastures; He leads me beside calm waters…”

-Psalm 23

King David was in the desert when he wrote this Psalm – there was nothing.

This level is achieved only when we are plugged into the Source. We cannot achieve and master this when we feel there is a lack.

Most people are not able to savor the good in the “good” times, let alone the “bad” times – like sitting in a restaurant and worrying about what you’re going to eat tomorrow.

In Psalm 131, David said “I did not lift my eyes too high” – not higher than I was supposed to – I saw you HaShem at all times, behind every experience, and It was equal – “good” and “bad” – exactly the nourishment I needed.

We choose all the time how to view ourselves.

If we view ourself as a spiritual being with all of our needs taken care of, then we will feel content and rich – tranquil in the arms of our Mother above.

Blessings,

Etan

Psalm 131 – Widening the lens to achieve tranquility