Sunday, March 15, 2009

Practicing Compassion, Forgiveness and Patience

This weekend I attended a meditation shabbaton (or retreat) with Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. She teaches mindfulness meditation through Jewish practice and prayer. I have to admit that this is not the sort of thing I would likely have spent a whole weekend doing in my life before Ezra. But I have found that through loss we also find growth, and I find myself doing and trying all sorts of new things, like my new found love of accupuncture (this from a woman who is terrified of needles) or practicing meditation (this from a woman who usually needs to be busy or on the go at all times). The theme for the weekend was Compassion and Healing, and it just seemed like where I needed to be.

The weekend was structured as a series of services that were really groupings of guided meditation exercises. The themes were drawn from this week's Torah portion where God's attributes are named...Compassion, Forgiveness, Patience among others.

Friday Rabbi Sheila acknowledged how hard mindfulness meditation can be. People imagine that you meditate and your mind takes you to a beach with palm trees and warm sun. But sometimes, she said, meditation is like being in a phone booth with someone talking on a bull horn. Sometimes being alone with your thoughts is hard.

Rabbi Sheila taught that the attributes of God are really attributes we should practice in ourselves. In this week's Torah portion, after Moses receives the Ten Commandments, he asks to see the face of God -- God says no, that Moses will die if he sees God's face, though he allows Moses to see his back. Rabbi Sheila shared a reading (by someone I cannot remember) which says trying to see the face of God is like trying to bite your own teeth, like sniffing your own nose. It cannot be done. God is us. And we are God.

And so Friday and Saturday I spent hours creating space in mind for what these attributes mean for me right now. Compassion. Why is it easier for me to be compassionate with others than with myself? Forgiveness. Can I really forgive myself for losing Ezra? Can I forgive the many friends and family who have been unwilling or unable to be fully present in the face of such devasation? Patience. How can I learn to be patient with myself when the despair overwhelms? Creating the space for these thoughts became overwhelming at times, and the lump in my throat grew and the tears fell.

The week that Ezra died, I wrote a poem which ends:

So now as we recite the Kaddish in your memory each night;
The words of the prayer stick in my throat so tight.
How many times have I said this prayer for the dead?
But I just cannot stand the prayer being read.

Ezra, I never expected to say Kaddish for you;
I just want you here to hold and rock and coo.
Daddy and I just want you know;
That we miss you terribly and love you so.

These last 6 1/2 months, saying Kaddish hasn't gotten any easier. The words still stick in my throat, and it is rare that I can finish the prayer before the tears well over. Our congregation has a tradition where those that are saying Kaddish stand and say the person's name they are remembering out loud before the prayer is said. Just saying Ezra's name in this context brings a lump to my throat. I have been saying this prayer my whole life, for my grandparents and other ancestors...but how is it possible I now say Kaddish for my son?

The other hard part about saying the Kaddish is that it isn't a prayer about death at all, it is an affirmation of God: Let God's name be made great and holy in the world that was created as God willed, it begins. It is also a prayer about peace: May the one who creates harmony above, make peace for us and for all Israel, and for all who dwell on earth, it ends. It has been a struggle to find affirmation or peace in the wake of a loss so devastating and traumatic.

During Saturday's meditations, the emotions became overwhelming and the tears began to fall long before we reached the Kaddish toward the end of the service. By the time we were saying the prayer, the tears had turned to sobs, the wailing of my soul that I've only experienced since Ezra. A kind woman offered a tissue, another rubbed my back. But the flood gates had opened.

And then something amazing happened. As the service ended, we were all asked to gather standing in the center. Still teary eyed, I lingered on the outer part of the circle, but was quickly pulled to the center by one of the women who had led the prayer service one of the nights we sat shivah. There in the center, still crying, I was literally held by community, arms of strangers wrapped around me, beautiful prayers being said. This is what it means to practice compassion I realized, to be held by strangers and friends, to be in a space where the tears can fall, to be allowed to speak my son's name. This is what it means to practice the attributes of God.


Rach said...

Holding you every day, from afar. xxx

PS - (the word verification for this comment is 'sister' - and I guess we all are in the new 'family' in which we belong)

Hope's Mama said...


Lindsay said...

I am so glad that you recieved this wonderful affirmation of love, and the power of compassion.
I send you love on your healing journey...

Sara said...

Meditation can open up so much. I hope you continue to practice compassion, forgiveness, and patience toward yourself, and to be nurtured and supported by your community.

Dani819 said...

This is the only concept of G_d that has ever made sense to me- the strength and energy that arise when people join together in the common pursuit of healing and compassion. So glad you got to experience that this weekend.

angie said...

sometimes i think being compassionate to ourselves is the hardest practice. beautiful post. it sounds like a healing retreat. sending you much love, angie

ps. my word verification was unwimpy. unwimpy, indeed.

Carly Marie said...

This last paragraph - wow Sarah. So beautiful.

When I was reading your post I thought to myself how I have distanced myself lately from the church that I go to. I find it hard to praise God after knowing the horror that happens in this world.

However I think I need to be back there at Church. I need people to pray for me and my aching heart. I know I get so much support in blog land but I really do need help in my physical world. I know that it is crucial.

I love God - but I will admit that it isnt easy for me to love Him.

I am so, so happy that you were held in such a loving experience and place. You deserve it. I miss your son with you x


CLC said...

The image of you being held in that circle brings tears to my eyes. I am glad you had this experience.

aliza said...

so beautiful sarah
i too was in tears reading about you being held in that circle, letting your soul wail and being supported by community

erica said...

I'm so glad you had this.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Sarah, I'm crying imagining surronded by all that sadness and love. Love you so much.

Paige said...

I haven't said Kaddish yet for Cayden, and don't imagine how I will every be able to do so without tears. So much of jewish liturgy doesn't fit with how I'm feeling right now. I understand completely your feelings about the actual words of the Kaddish, not seeing peace and affirmation.

What an incredible feeling to be held and held up in a circle of loving arms. I'm so happy that you got to feel that this this weekend. Thinking of you and of Ezra tonight.

Gal aka SuperMommy said...

That is gorgeous, Sarah. I have tears in my eyes feeling and imagining you in the center of that beautiful circle of compassion...

Funsize said...

I've always liked the practice of saying Kaddish. My parents raised me Mormon, my husband grew up Catholic. The Mormons don't have any rituals like Kaddish, they focus (as must Christian religions do) that they're in a better place where, and my son will never feel any pain or hurt. My son was baptized Catholic by his daddy after he was born, and for his funeral there were women who said prayers for him on every rosary bead. They focus more on the life after, rather than those who were left behind to grieve. Kaddish, to me, focuses on both the bereaved and the ones who passed. I wish other religions did this too.

I'm so glad you got this experience.


Lani said...

that is beautiful sarah. i love that everyone held you. just as we are all holding you from across the world.
this was really helpful for me to read to, about the practice of compassion, forgiveness and patience. with this mess, these are the things that will get us through.
i can't imagine ever saying kaddish for silas, but i guess one day i will. i too believed it was only for my grandparents. the thought of it brings me to tears.
thinking of you guys always.

Dalene said...

This is a really beautiful picture in mind. It's wonderful that you have such support from your community.