© 2020 Drew T. Noll

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Manna and the Mental Midget Opera


I haven't been able to sleep well this week. So many stresses have been building up over the past few months and it felt like this week was a kind of toxic crescendo in the opera of my life, but really… it was 'all' only in my mind. I have to ask, 'Just what is a mind good for anyways?' All it seems to do is to run away with the latest slop from whatever gutter it happens to be hovering next to. Controlling my thoughts has been such a battle lately. I have even been told recently by my loved-ones that 'all' I do is mope around, evidently consumed with the dread of whatever my mind was dumpster-diving to retrieve. Not so coincidentally, in the midst of the throes of 'just' such a raid, I happened to stumble upon an article that delved into the Jewish concept of why we experience pain and suffering, fortunately putting my mind at ease somewhat. I had been seriously contemplating chucking my kippah and, in the process, God out of the second story window of my ego's apartment complex. My mind was tripping me at every turn. No matter what I tried, no matter what I did to quiet the garbage chomping teeth that were gnashing across my vision, my awareness and sense of self, my mind would inevitably begin again and again, over and over…

Just to fall asleep at night, I would have to meditate on becoming the earth beneath me. I would visualize myself sinking into the bed, becoming one with the sheets and stuffing that supported me. I would will my mind to go as blank as the grass that had begun to reach up around me. The breeze would softly blow across my consciousness, with a sweet scent 'almost' hovering above me. I would become the earth and find myself free of the pains and problems that my mental midget opera insisted upon performing. I was free, but only until I awoke from the incessant bass drum pounding out its rhythm so severely that I had to catch my breath and sit up in bed, cold and clammy, to the nightmare of my conscious mind's intrusive insistence on oblivion. My mind would inevitably begin again and again, over and over…

I had, I think, my first truly Israeli experience today. You 'all know by now that I am a wet noodle when it comes to aggression. My entire life, for Heaven's sake, has been spent contemplating the nature of existence, the inherent nature of the problem of 'finite' in the grand scheme of things, large and small. Aggression, as opposed to this, has always been a thing of unsolicited abandon, the antithesis of the search for truth; or in other words — the ongoing search for God. Aggression has always been associated with pure survival on an instinctual level. To survive here in Israel, deep inside the absolute heart of the Middle East, aggression is the name of the game, whether you are driving, working, walking, or talking… But, surprisingly enough to Anglos like me, it can also embody a kind of a dark choreography of a commix-like ballet of culture. I found myself, today, having to step up and defend the honor of my wife and son, just like you may read about in pulp pyrography ad infinitum. I found that I had to get aggressive. Now, thinking back on it, I realize my mistake. I only 'rode' that particular wave, I only responded to the situation. Now, as I think back on it, I realize that I was trapped in that same dogmatic sense of self, causing my dreaded mind to inevitably begin again and again, over and over…

I think I will just breathe and sink into the sheets. I think I will just go to sleep and dream my very own controlled reality. In a dream I can be whatever I fancy, whatever I desire. It is kind of like in the desert with the Israelites, where Manna from Heaven fell for each individual's consumption, based solely on their merit. In the desert, a place of abandon and death, each individual was rewarded for his/her individual connection to the Creator. This is just like a dream, because in a dream we are removed from this world of action, this world of pain and suffering. In a dream we, at least, have the illusion of control… Hey, wait a second… When I am awake I also have this same exact illusion of control! So, why… then… does my mind take over and prevent me from a sense of completion, well-being, and peace? Why does my mind seem to have a mind of its own, taking me to places unspeakable? Why does my dreaded mind inevitably begin again and again, over and over…?

This week's parsha (Bechukotai, Leviticus 26:3-27:34) is penetrating in its ability to deal with that sense of dread and doom, causing one to mope around looking for some kind of escape from life's trials and tribulations. Much to my surprise, it contains a series of blessings and curses, of which only 11 are blessings and an astounding 36 are curses. Immediately I thought, "OK, there has to be some reason here… I mean, God loves us…, no? Why would God curse us so unfairly? Moreover, I read in a commentary on the parsha that King David himself wrote in Psalms 23:4, "Your staff and Your rod have comforted me." The commentary noted that it seemed strange that King David would use this type of metaphor to depict comfort, since staffs and rods are tools of pain and suffering. What is the deal here? Yeah, this line of reasoning goes on and on. In the Talmud (Brachot 5a), 'Rava explains that God smites His desired ones with pains and difficulties, as the verse says, "The one whom God desires is smitten with illness" (Isaiah 53:10).' And in Proverbs 3:12 it is written, "God chastises the one He loves, like a parent who desires the child" and in Psalms 94:10 it is written, "Fortunate is the one whom God afflicts with pains and suffering…" I was shocked. What is the deal here!? My mind is 'still' just rolling again and again, over and over…

Ok, since we are all being timed here on the things we do in this life, I will leave you with the bottom line: It seems that in order to grow as a human being we need to be challenged. The challenge is what defines us and creates movement. Comfort is not about sitting on the couch with a cold beer and a TV, as great as that sounds. That is just hibernation, just sleeping away the stresses of the day. 'Comfort' is having the actual knowledge that everything is going to be OK, that in the end we will all succeed in whatever endeavor that we charged ourselves with, once upon a time, while swimming in the protoplasmic entropy of our pre-lives. To be successful in the first place, we require a challenge in order to overcome. In the end, we will all have to just quiet our minds, allowing the wave of life to roll over us and pass us by, as we sink to the depths of the world and become One with it. In the end, we will no longer be capable of movement… or of growth. In the end… everything just stops.

Shabbat Shalom!