Joyful Practice, Practice, Practice- Way Past Carnegie Hall

Dear Friends (from Rabbi Arthur Waskow),

A visitor, poring with a puzzled face over an arcane map, stops a New Yorker on the street: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"

Says the world-weary New Yorker: "Practice, practice, practice!"

How do you heal a riven heart, a broken soul? Everyone who has explored the spiritual path knows: "Practice, practice, practice!" (Daily meditation, perhaps. Or putting on t'fillin. Or speaking, shouting, to God in the open fields, like the Bratzlaver Rebbe. Or fasting for Ramadan. -- .)

And how to heal the wounded world? – Ahhh, there we are less likely to answer: "Practice, practice, practice!"

But in the weekend workshop at Elat Chayyim that I co-led with Rabbi Sheila Weinberg, a workshop dedicated to connecting spiritual growth with tikkun olam, healing the world, we literally used "practice" as one of our tools toward change.

Sheila used the many tools she has shaped for at least a decade to encourage the participants to connect their innards with the Breath of Life, the Majesty of the universe, the Unity. Silence. Deep davvening. Walks in the beauty of the earth around us, within us. Chanting. Guidance of how to integrate such practices into our lives.

I brought into that arena also some of what I have been exploring. How to see the Faces of God in the circle of the prayer group, and the green faces of God just outside the window. How to understand the Unity of Sh'ma and the "doorways" in time and space and attitude that arise in the three paragraphs of the traditional recitation of Sh'ma..

And then we did something different. I had been casting about for some way to do as much "practice" in the world of tikkun olam, healing the world, as these practices above do in the world of tikkun ha'lev, healing the heart.

I thought to actually do a gentle public action: leafleting motorists at a gasoline service station near Elat Chayyim. Leaflets criticizing not the drivers, not the service station, but the Oil system that had driven gasoline prices so high, is poisoning the earth, and drove us to send our kids to die in Iraq.

But just as we were about to announce and organize this "practice," my mind and heart recoiled.

We had not let the gas station know ahead of time. Nor the police. Nor the board and director of Elat Chayyim, who might get blamed for this adventure.

So we decided to run a "practice," a role-play. Not at the gas station but at Elat Chayyim itself, we would try this out.

Some of the workshoppers volunteered to be drivers, some to leaflet them, some to be police, some to be the Elat Chayyim board, one to be the gas station owner.

We began. Some of the "drivers" were mildly upset to be accosted with leaflets; others agreed that gas prices were terrible, and heating-oil prices likely to worsen in the winter crunch.

Then some of the leafletters got bored. Didn't people realize this was about the life and death of the planet? So they sat down in front of the autos.

Now the drivers got angry. Homes to get to, people to meet. They shouted. One went to call the cops; another, the gas-station owner.

The owner came out. One of the sit-downers said the magic words: "Nonviolent resistance."

"Ohh," said the owner in a strong Hindi accent. "This was the teaching of my beloved guru, Gandhiji himself. Let us talk."

And the police showed up.

"Yes, you’re right, they said. "Gas prices, oil prices, terrible. But really, you can't keep these drivers from moving!"

So the sit-downers moved, and the drivers left, clutching their leaflets and promising to write Congress about global scorching and Big Oil.

Then we reflected on this process, this "practice."

First of all, we enjoyed ourselves. Funny, not grim.

And everyone learned. We learned more of the facts about oil, Iraq, global scorching. We learned more about impatience in action, and obligations among activists. We learned more about walking in each other's shoes.
We learned more about learning, preparing for "the real thing."

This is a "practice" that I recommend.

Three things to keep in mind: (1) For this to work, someone needs to have enough information ahead of time to brief the role-players to carry out their roles. (2) There needs to be time afterward to reflect on what has happened. (3) Ideally, make arrangements for the "real thing" to happen after the role-players have learned their way into the practice.

And I welcome you to a workshop on JUNE 8-11 at Elat Chayyim, to address again, in different ways, the interweave of healing the heart and healing the world. Call 1800/398-2630 and ask for Jonathan, to get more information.

Shalom, Arthur

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director
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