Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Beyond Coping - to Transformation

by Rabbi Katy Allen
[Note: This essay was first published on the Hebrew College website here on March 3, 2020.]

We live embedded in a web of many kinds of sacred texts. The texts of our tradition are sacred. But so are the “texts” of our lives and the “texts” of the Earth. So are the “texts” of our communities.

A childhood memory of playing with friends in a stream. The experience of sitting beside a loved one as their life draws to an end. A stone. A song. A beloved book from childhood, shared deeply and intimately with family members over the years.

All these and so much more are sacred texts. And when we pull these text out into the light, notice them, take time to turn them and turn them again in our hands, our minds, or our souls, and when we then weave them all together, suddenly something new emerges. Unexpectedly, a new story, a new vision, an insight, a fresh way of understanding takes shape, and with it comes deepening wisdom and an opening of the heart.

Over the years, I have discovered for myself the power of interconnections, that reciting the Shema outdoors is a totally different experience for me than indoors. Connecting a Jewish text to a story of my family deepens the meaning of that story, bringing with it the power of transformation.

It is this power of interconnection, bringing sacred texts to family stories, that decades later enabled me to finally grieve my father, who had died when I was 25, in a meaningful and healing way.

Today, the communal losses are constant, overwhelming and increasing. We are living not only with our inevitable personal losses, but with all the devastation happening around us, at an ever-increasing speed. Australia is burning. Pacific island nations are vanishing from the map. Refugees around the world and at home are fleeing drought or flood. Lyme disease, EEE, coronavirus – dread diseases appear and spread. Dictators are thriving. Injustice is rampant. The existential threat of a non-livable planet looms.

The situation, globally, nationally, locally, and personally, calls us to explore and develop new psychological and spiritual tools.

What is a person with a heart supposed to do? How can we remain compassionate and open to the pain of the world without becoming immobilized by despair or fatigue? Eco-despair, eco-depression, eco-anxiety, and eco-grief areall real. There’s even a new word, solastalgia, to describe our lived experience of environmental changes we perceive as negative. With so much happening around us, how do we not succumb to despair?

We all have tools for coping and growth. Most likely, we have found strength in a time of personal loss or trauma. Now is the time for us to examine those, bring them to our forefront, and transfer our existing processes to the communal losses and trauma we are experiencing today.

I’ve designed a course, Loss and Transformation: Maintaining Hope when Optimism Is Elusive, to help participants understand and employ their existing spiritual and emotional tools for maintaining strength, courage and hope, as well as to build new ones.

Our lives are filled with mystery and with numberless texts. I invite you to join me on an exploration into that mystery and those texts.

Note: I will be teaching the course “Loss and Transformation” beginning March 19, 2020 as part of Hebrew College’s Open Circle Jewish Learning program. This class will be online. Register here. Cost is $60.

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