Turning Towards TISHA B’AV

By Monte Dube

Don’t let it bring you down
It’s only castles burning
Find someone who’s turning
And you will come around

We are about to enter the seven-week period, from Tisha B’Av to Rosh Hashanah, when this thousands-year old ritual commemoration presents us with an opportunity to do turning inward, to focus on how we might do Teshuvah.

In his masterful book “This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared,” Rabbi Alan Lew presents Tisha B’Av as a spiritual jumping off point. He describes humanity’s Groundhog Day-like predicament— and opportunity—when we realize we find ourselves stuck, again and again, in making the same old mistakes, of having the same old fears, of telling ourselves the same old stories, that is, because we live in our habitual, conditioned, reflexive, dream-like states.

Tisha B’Av can be a wake-up call, a gentle knock on our inner door. A chance to reframe our personal narratives and our communal stories. To ask, with curiosity and compassion, whether what we perceive as having been a tragedy or a curse in our lives, may, in fact, have held the potential to be a blessing. Might a loss, a destruction, hold the hope of being a chance for renewal and reconstruction? Might we see a singular event in our lives—or a series of seemingly unending events in our lives—as fluid and dynamic, providing an opportunity for resilience and growth?

Might the repeated loss of our Holy Temple, our sacred home, and, despite that, our renewal as a people, be a metaphor for our ability to recognize and live more fully with the impermanence of everything which we try to convince ourselves is solid and everlasting, including our own health and immortality? Might our diaspora, our banishment and alienation, from places, and nations, and from our own selves, be an opportunity to find our ways back? To something new and better?

We find ourselves, all so often, being confronted with (or denying) proof that we’ve missed the mark, precipitated by our own unique limitations, our natural tendencies and inclinations, our repeated mistakes of speech and (in)action. Which is why, Rabbi Lew tells us, that Tisha B’Av is paired with the beginning of the Book of Deuteronomy, where Moses recounts the story of the scouts to the People of Israel, forty years later, which we find ourselves once again on the precipice of entering the Promised Land. When the People were too scared to enter the Land of Milk and Honey. Will it be different this time around? Will the Israelites see and believe the words written in God’s own Hands on the Divine Welcome Mat? Can they take the collective and individual leaps of faith into the Unknown?

For the last several years, my wife Lori and I have been in the process of selling our Chicago home, giving away most of our material possessions, moving to New York, then moving to Boulder, stepping back from our careers, saying au revoir to our friends—all in an attempt to discover what our identities might be(come) if we break down the walls of the blessings of the familiar. An exciting, adventuresome, and absolutely terrifying process, all wrapped in one. Terrifying because we are the agents (and not, at least for now, the victims) of our own impermanence. Of our letting go. If, as Rabbi Lew says, Yom Kippur is a dress rehearsal for our own deaths, then, so too is our daily life, if we have the courage and faith to be brutally honest with ourselves.

But, I think, this awareness need not bring us to our knees in terror. In “Seeking the Heart of Wisdom,” Goldstein and Kornfield remind us:

When we understand in a very intuitive and connected way the essential insubstantiality, emptiness, and selflessness of phenomena, we begin to weaken the fundamental attachment we have to the sense of “I,” of “self,” of “mine,” those concepts around which our whole lives have revolved. We see this “I” as an illusion, a concept we’ve created, and we start the journey of integrating the possibility of greater freedom in our lives.

So, as we approach the doorway into Tisha B’Av this week, and the circle of time beyond, here is a mindful practice to consider as an opportunity to experience some of what the holiday offers.

First, consider listening to the two songs attached below. To set a mood, or an intention. Then, settle into your seat. Begin to feel grounded. To feel the sensation of pressure of your tush on the chair/mat. The pressure of your feet/legs on the ground. Of your hands on your lap/legs. Settle in more deeply. Just be present with whatever is.

Then place your hand(s) on your heart. Try to visualize your heart, your pure heart, your heart of wisdom, as your Home. As your innermost sanctuary where you reside. And where the One/Shechinah resides. A Home which is always available for you to return to, wherever you are. Let your heart/Home feel whatever it is feeling; yearning, gratitude, fear, sadness, shpilkes….whatever. Rest at Home in your heart, knowing that you don’t need to seek refuge or shelter anywhere outside of your own body. See if you feel safe, and secure, and loved and at home, in your own Home.

Observe how visualizing your heart as Home makes you feel. What sensations, emotions, moods and thoughts are triggered by this visualization? Just be with them. And when your mind wanders away from your heart, as it will, gently return, do Teshuvah, and settle back with compassion and curiosity to experience what your heart is telling you. Continue in your sit to be anchored in your heart, to be Homeward Bound.

I wish I was
Homeward bound,
Home where my thought’s escaping
Home where my music’s playing
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me.

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