Saturday, September 6, 2014

Earth Etude for Elul 12 - Growing Teshuvah

by Maxine Lyons


I am often looking for ways to connect to teshuvah even during the leisurely days of summer. Teshuvah for me is turning to those thoughts and actions that help me to become my better self, following those practices that nourish my growth to know peace - shalom - and to reach greater wholeness - sh'lemut. As I pursue personal growth, I resonate to the Hebrew word, hitpatchut, growth through an openness and receptivity to change.This summer I have focused on ways to practice with greater compassion in how I spend my time and focus my energy as I take on these goals.

Flowers in full bloom remind me of the beauty 
and delicate nature that lies within each of us
I resonated deeply with a spiritual writing that described the personal journey of a young man who made meaningful contributions to help alleviate suffering, first locally and then he volunteered in Peru with a health organization performing basic life-saving measures for the most needy. He realized that he could not SAVE them all, that whatever he does is a small amount given the needs and intensity of the impoverishment and sickness of those in dire circumstances. And his conclusion is similar to minethat one cannot effect major changes, but we can become more aware that individuals in pain and need require compassionate responses. He called it a "ministry of silence"—being there, being present. I was motivated anew and started to participate in healing services for homeless people in my community in order to be a witness to their lives, to their small steps to heal, to be present as they were receiving some comfort and momentary relief during the service in which I participated. One homeless woman said to me — “it mattered to me that you were here”  that comment committed me to be there regularly.

My involvement with a Jewish inmate (writing him for 9 years of his incarceration) meant helping him in a variety of ways in his re-entry into society after years of extreme deprivation of basic human decency, civility and concern, and consequently, he lacked the life skills that would enable him in succeeding. Being his "big sister" and listening to him and his travails and providing some financial assistance gave him an opportunity to acclimate somewhat to life on the outside ("I am physically out of prison but my mind is still shackled from the abuses"). There are few Schweitzers and Paul Farmers capable of performing their amazingly impactful service to humanity but there are endless opportunities to alleviate the hopelessness and abject suffering of individuals in our midst. We can offer a smile, and heartfelt caring that expresses joy when good things happen to them and offering advice and empathy when the challenges cannot be faced alone-- communicating that "I am here now with you on your journey as you face and cope with life's extreme difficulties." 

Participating in a weekly Buddhist meditation group adds to my sense of teshuvah, as it prepares me to practice deep listening, offering new ways to respond with compassion and kindness and caring by being mindfully present. My deep seated Jewish values and traditions inform how I address the pressing societal ills and illusive peace as I learn again and again to be present a little more each year.

Maxine Lyons, retired community educator, is currently CMM (Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries) board member and co-chair of CMM's RUAH Spirituality Programs, active participant in the ALEPH prison pen pal program ("connecting Jews on the outside with Jews on the inside"), member of Temple Beth Zion, Brookline, and joyful wife of 37 years and mother of two accomplished and wonderful thirty somethings.

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