The Place Where We Are Right
by Yehuda Amichai
From the place where we are right/ flowers will never grow/ in the Spring.
The place where we are right/ is hard and trampled/ like a yard.
But doubts and loves/ dig up the world /like a mole, a plough./ And a whisper will be heard in the place/where the ruined/ house once stood.
Some Jews lift their Seder plates above their heads — even hitting their heads — to enact leaving Egypt. As Rabba Tamar Elad-Applebaum said earlier this week, “We cannot leave Egypt with our heads.” (And probably not receive the Torah either!) In our sometimes upside-down world, we are taught that we can acquire safety and even freedom through knowing, through having, through achieving. We are on the great journey home to reclaim the fullness of our being and the manifestation of our gifts in and to the world.
Leaving our heads behind reminds me of giving birth. The Children of Israel leaving Egypt is a collective birth through crossing the Sea. Nachshon Ben Aminadav had to enter the sea up to his nostrils until it parted. That is “not knowing” in extremis. When I gave birth, I was breathing and heaving deep sounds and then again and again, breathing and bellowing deep sounds. Anytime I actually thought about what was happening or felt the pain in my mind, it was totally unbearable. It was only when I made a loop through my breath and my sound, breath and sound, that I could be with what was happening. This was not a task for the mind.
The way that we learn some of our deepest lessons and that we expand in freedom is to let go of what we think we know and to try not to make sense of the situation we are in according to earlier paradigms. This letting go of mind is the only way that we can allow in new thinking and new learning. If we try to fit everything that happens into the old paradigms then we will never learn anything new. But for some of us — especially those of us who have oriented ourselves in the world through knowing and understanding — staying in that place of not knowing can be excruciating.
My crucible experience of “not-knowing” happened at an exquisite retreat honoring the Sacred Feminine with Anna Davidovich called, “The Unveiled.” As well as sharing in sacred circle, each woman was witnessed in a strong rite of passage. In my rite, an embodied experience of tenderness and sweetness was revealed to me unlike something I had ever tasted. Anna said to me after my rite, “Don’t try to make sense of this. You’ve never been here before.” I took what she said very seriously. Every time my mind went to try and work out what was happening, I brought my attention back to my breath. I was super-vigilant and conscientious. I did not let my mind make sense of what was happening. And then an incredible thing happened. It was as if the center of my being shifted from my head to my belly.
I had tried to feel safe in the world by always trying to make sense of things. However the price of needing to understand and being unwilling to be confused, is that everything that happens we just place within a paradigm that fits what we know. Nothing can ever change or crack our holding place, unless we are willing to allow ourselves to “not-know.” It’s really like jumping off one river bank and being in the air until you land on the opposite bank. When we can allow ourselves to “not-know,” then we also grow new paradigms of possibility. Our ideas about life, love, healing and people expand and are enriched.
In fact, any time we listen to another person, it’s a challenge and an invitation to really listen and not fit what is being said into a paradigm that we think we already know. This is one of the challenges of my work with Encounter, where we take Jewish leaders to Palestinian communities in the West Bank to hear about life on the ground and local initiatives for social and political change. How do we put in place structures so that we can have new thoughts and ask new questions, rather than just slotting in all new experiences into our already pre-fabricated ideas and thoughts?
May we allow our paradigms to continue to be broken and remade, and in so doing, actualize our own freedom- and be allies for the freedom of all people.