The First Steps in Teshuva: A Process of Deep Return/Rebalancing/Centering
by Carola de Vries Robles --from "Can We Invite God in Again? Hashpa’ah After the Holocaust", Seeking & Soaring: Jewish Approaches to Spiritual Direction (2009: Reclaiming Judaism Press)
I developed a centering exercise which has basic steps that can be reformulated or modulated for different circumstances. Certain “steps” need more practice, yet all the steps together keep the Shekhinah alive. Here are the steps:
“When ahavat Yisrael (love of the people of Israel) is in the hearts of the Jewish people...the heart of God, the Shekhinah, is also healthy.” ---[Tanya, Iggeret HaKodesh (The Holy Epistle), Chap. 31]
Step 1. Here we ask: “Where do you go inwardly, to be your self, to be safe, at home, at peace, whole? What is your safe-space, your refuge?”
Exploring this “realm of consciousness” is often very revealing. Childhood memories, unrecognized preferences, loves and secrets become conscious.
Offering images, verses and stories from the tradition, from liturgy, psalms, TaNaCH, Shabbat and holiday practices, brings alive the sense of a safe space, a sense of God’s Presence, where one can “taste and see that God is good” [Psalm 34:9]. With this wisdom, the invitation is to create your own centering image/words, an abiding in God’s Presence.
Suggestions for words to chant are: “Atah seter li – You are my refuge,”[Psalm 32:7] “Adonai li, v’lo ira – You are my God, so I will not fear,” [Jewish liturgy, ff. Psalm 118:6 ]“ruah” – Spirit,” breathing; meditating on the Tetragrammaton, the four letter Name; the Adon olam – Threshold of Eternity, Ribbono shel olam – Master of the Universe/Eternity, Ad olam atta El – Forever You are God [Psalm 90:2] , Barukh shem kevod malkhuto l’olam va’ed – Blessed be the Glorious Name of [God’s] Domain for ever and ever…, etc. [Jewish liturgy]
To make a safe space, sometimes we chant or sing these lines, but sometimes we search for a shiviti (art which includes or invokes the Tetragrammaton) for contemplation, or make a shiviti for ourselves, or find a another representation of our sense of Beauty/Truth/Goodness.
Finding an uncontaminated space, a place of safety is not an easy thing for people who identify with trauma. Finding an ideal parental archetype is not self-evident either, surely not with European Jews or with others who have so many broken family relationships. Sometimes a person’s God-ideals or ordinary pleasant experiences in nature have to be re-created in order to make the God-field real.
Step 2. Here we ask: What is the Face of unconditional love? Do you know a Jewish person who embodies unconditional love for you? How does it taste to receive unconditional love? If there is no experience in real life with Jewish heroes or a mensch, search for one in your past, in Torah, in books, among historical figures, teachers, special people you have known, and in storiesof tzaddikim (righteous people)—bring them alive, loving you.
It was a shocking experience for me to find out that many, many soul searchers have not have had a personal connection with unconditional love from a Jewish parent or person in their lives.....so I had to help them find the face of unconditional lovecoming from within a Jewish source. Why be part of a tribe, if one is not lovingly seen and welcomed??? “You are Loved!” It may take a while to be able to receive and absorb this, to trust it and later contain it.
When a client has a weak love flow, I suggest they learn practices to receive comfort, to feel oneself as forgiven, to work on increasing a healthy self-love in order to say “no” and stay true to oneself.
Step 3. Here we ask: What needs to be seen and relinquished?
We carry the past in our cells and genes. The historical dimension, including many pasts with traumas, suffering
s, exiles and liberations, are all imprinted in us. The past can imprison us. We are born in a historical setting and marinated in unfinished, incomplete, unspoken dramas. We are sensitive to dynamics of events, circumstances and the behavior of people we ourselves in fact may never have experienced. Fear and brokenness reinforce the building of false -selves. That is not who we really are. Love and longing for wholeness and goodness bring us back to a deeper, more truthful Self. Along this soul journey, we allow “karmic cleansing” to happen. That can take many forms…
A trip to Auschwitz, watching Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah television series, visiting the Jewish museum built by Daniel Libeskind in Berlin, going through immersions in a mikvah (ritual bath), daring to open the locked box with letters and photos of our family who did not return from the Shoah and other traumas, too many to name here, can become a healing element in the soul’s development and spiritual guidance trajectory.
Discriminative awareness needs to be developed and a quality of bearing witness cultivated. One helps the client to discern what needs to be seen, what needs to be released, what needs to be set free, what needs to be stopped, and to be dis-identified from. A learning “to be human against all odds.” (Frederick Frank)
Step 4. Know you can touch your Jewishness from the inside out. However lost, broken and disconnected you may seem, however far away from tradition and transmission you may be, you can return to the Source and let the waters of life bring you alive!
“Seeds of holiness are nurtured with joy, not despair” Reb Nachman
“Do not forget to water the Tree,” says a father on his deathbed to his son in a story from Reb Nahman. Become active, remain connected to your inner path, nourish your soul, question and learn, keep going. Develop a personal discipline of “watering the Tree of Life.”
Step 5. Find your soul’s purpose. What does your heart know? Now. Can you say “Hineni, here I am!?” Do you have a Jewish name or want one? Where do you come from? Where are you going? May you be blessed with fellow travelers on your journey. And, “Let the future pull you” (to invoke Reb Zalman’s saying).
“As we bless the Source of Life, so are we blessed.” Faith Rogow
Step 6. Find a Name or Image of God you can work with, live with and be grounded in. And let us answer "na’asseh v’nishma- let us do and listen.”
May the longing for wholeness be kept alive! Dream, imagine and bring about justice, love, beauty, truth, etc., in your doing, feeling, thinking and being. May Goodness live through you. May God be with you...and may we, the larger we, have the courage to act. It is through our choices and deeds that we come closer to God and the God-field.
This page is a small segment from the article "Can We Invite God in Again? Hashpa’ah After the Shoah (Holocaust)" in Seeking & Soaring: Jewish Approaches to Spiritual Direction (2009: Reclaiming Judaism Press) Meaningful, relevant and useful. BUY NOW