Days of Awe
Days of Awe
My Mussar chevruta (group of study buddies) is studying “awe” this month, coinciding with the Jewish calendar, the ten Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. My practice, I said, would be to challenge myself to find awe in the everyday experiences of life.
On Yom Kippur, I promised to drop Irv off at the pool for a swim after services at Beth Evergreen. Since I was fasting, I thought a better decision for me was a slow, solo, contemplative hike around Evergreen Lake.
Inspired by the morning prayers and in an ‘altered state’ due to my empty stomach, I began my unhurried, intentional walk around the lake. I spotted a few paddle boarders in the water and stopped to watch. One was lying on her board, basking in the sunshine. Another paddled slowly, moving gracefully across the calm lake. I found awe in the peacefulness of their movements.
As I continued around the lake, tall grasses and cat tails waving in the gentle breeze beckoned me to a side path I hadn’t noticed before. I was the only traveler on the narrow gravel walkway that meandered along a shallow stream. A short way down, I heard the sounds of rushing water and noticed that the stream was making its way over a stack of stones. A pink rock on the side of the babbling brook invited me to sit down and observe – to be awed by the simple beauty of the natural world.
Idly I plucked a long blade of grass and tossed it into the stream. It traveled a short distance, then got caught up on a rock, swirling round and round, unable to move on. Fascinated, I picked another stalk, this time throwing it toward the middle of the narrow waterway. Unfettered by rocks, this one disappeared downstream with little effort. Another toss. The third blade got caught on a stone jutting out of the water, then freed itself and continued floating away.
Awesome, I thought. A metaphor for life.
Sometimes, it’s smooth sailing. I can just go with the flow, trusting the universe to carry me rather than struggling to control everything. I thought of the quote I read from a Sherpa about why it’s easy for him to climb the mountain with a heavy pack on his back. The answer: He lets the mountain carry him rather than trying to fight or conquer the mountain. I adapted this mantra for my swimming. When I don’t struggle against the water and instead think of the water as carrying me, I am a better swimmer. I also use the mantra when having a hard time writing – let the words flow.
Yet at other times, I get caught between a rock and a hard spot, and I spin my wheels. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” (A quote sometimes attributed to Einstein.) How many times do I turn the door knob the same way and expect a door to open? How often do I get frustrated with my computer and punch random keys to no avail? At a recent gathering of our chevruta, I brought my laptop, so one of our members could Zoom in. We sat outside, surrounded by towering pines. But I was not focused on the beautiful environment because I was fighting with my computer. I couldn’t get out of my granddaughter’s email account and into my own. I kept pushing random keys, muttering under my breath. I didn’t ask for help, just kept digging myself into a deeper hole. As I got more and more irate, I looked up and noticed everyone else had temporarily disappeared into the building. They were giving me space to get my world under control. I finally got the task accomplished, but not without showing my lack of patience and even greater lack of skill. It was not a good start to the evening for me.
I contrast that with my experience yesterday morning. I took a break from writing to participate in a Silver Sneakers online exercise class. The teacher, T, a sassy Southern woman, couldn’t get her music to play. There were 460 or so participants waiting to exercise with her. Yet rather than get frustrated and angry, T kept her composure the whole time she fiddled with her computer. “Let me try something else,” she said with a smile. Voila! Music! T was like the third blade of grass, getting stuck, then getting free. It was a valuable lesson for me: When I get stuck, approach the situation with calm. Pause. Take a deep breath. Look for alternative solutions. The music will play again, and my journey will continue if I take my time, pay attention and be intentional.
A babbling brook. Three blades of grass. Three different results. Finding awe and learning lessons from nature by paying attention to the small things. A fitting end to the Days of Awe.