Strength starts with kindness

[Yesterday's Omer Counting Reflection]

A week devoted to our internal upright nature, the part of us that holds up rigorous standards, and seeks justice.

This is the week of g'vurah - the strong arm of our personalities.

The first day of every week of the Omer starts with chesed - loving-kindness.

When we start with kindness, our justice will be tempered with mercy.

When we start with love, our high standards will be softened with forgiveness.

When we start with compassion, our strict clinging to rules will be infused with a bending that is stronger than any easily snapped brittleness.

Let our strength be guided by love. 

The Practice of Kindness

"The appearance of things changes according to the emotions, and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves."
~ Khalil Gibran

On the Seventh Day of the Omer, doing in the area of loving-kindness, and on each week's seventh day, we work on the connection between theory and practice.

Bringing all our thoughts of loving-kindness into reality, into the world of malchut, the sphere in which all our thoughts get put into practice, requires us to recognize the goodness that we ourselves can author in reality.

We can act of out love , devotion, and kindness, when we connect with the boundless mystery within our hearts and souls that allows us to give and care for ourselves and others.

The Building Blocks of Kindness

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”  ~ C.G. Jung

Today, the Sixth Day of the Omer, is the day focused on yesod, balanced foundation and the interpreter of all those abstract ideas of the more profound mystical spheres into something practical.

How do we bring the idea of universal loving kindness into our minds as a "doing" instead of a "thinking" or "feeling"?

All actions start with a spark within us - even our on the spot reactions are rooted deeply inside. To consciously bring compassion and loving-kindness from our best selves into the world of action requires conscious balancing and internal negotiating - the job of that foundational interpreter, yesod.

A solid foundation takes an uneven footing on the earth to create a level place for a building and yesod helps us build a solid place within our minds to bring constructive and kind actions into the world.

Listen, learn, love

Hod - which is grace and smallness, humility, is our focus in the sphere of love and kindness today (we are leaving behind the fifth day of the Omer and entering the sixth tonight).

Humility can be a source of sympathy: "I can't possibly understand what's going on with someone else. I must silence all my voices to listen and understand who they are, what they feel, and what they need from me."

In order to be loving and compassionate we must meet people where they are, not where we think they are.

Listen and learn so that we can love. 

Loving Starts Within

On the Fourth Day of the Omer, as we think about netzach - the self at the center of things - in chesed - loving-kindness, I remember that I cannot give what I do not have.

Without caring about and for myself, I cannot offer caring to others.

Without loving something about myself, I cannot love others.

We begin with the self, and we must move on to love and care others from a foundation within.

Balanced Caring

The third day of the week focuses on the idea of tiferet - the harmony that comes when all things are balanced. Harmony in the area of loving-kindness - an important and occasionally subtle idea.

Devoting ourselves to caring for one another can drain our resources for self-care. When we work in a caring field - and probably every job today has an aspect of caring for one another - we can over-extend at the expense of other areas as well.

To find harmony as we care and devote ourselves to kindness is to understand that there is such a thing as too much. Giving until it hurts is not a solution.

Give, take stock, and take care, so that we can continue to be kind and loving another day.

Counting and Caring

Today is the First Day of the Omer, a Jewish period of counting and reflecting that connects the liberation of Passover to the receiving of the Covenant at Mount Sinai on Shavuot.

Each of the days of the seven weeks of the Counting have been given a theme by Jewish mystics. The first week and first day are both devoted to the idea of chesed in Hebrew, or loving-kindness, in English.

Just what is loving-kindness?

In the culture of the Jewish Bible, a colleague of mine, Rabbi Amy Scheinerman, pointed out that "love" can be better understood to be devotional loyalty - as in "You must love God" and describing that love by talking about upholding the Covenant between the Universe and the Jewish People.

So we can talk about chesed as noticing what the world and the people around us need most, and offering it with care and devotion, and with no expectation of compensation.

Let us all find a moment to realize the great caring accomplished for our souls, our friends and family, and our larger communities, when we give out of compassion and devotion.

Day Thirty-Six of the Omer

Chesed in Yesod - loving kindness in a solid foundation.

I like to hope that society will eventually recognize more fully that compassion is an essential element of civilization, and an expression of fairness as well - that is, establishing equal compassion to all peoples makes a society more fair.

Civil rights, marriage equality (which is a civil right), promotion of the full franchise (see the Daily Show's coverage of India) - these basic understandings of sharing space with our human companions and acknowledging their common humanity with our own make us civilized.

Compassion and kindness start a solid foundation so that it holds all who need to be a part of our project. Build sensibly, fairly, and include kindness.

Day Twenty-Nine of the Omer

Chesed in Hod - loving-kindness in grace.

We open up this week of the Omer focusing on humility, grace, and smallness. A week of remembering that the role of the pixel is both vital and beautiful in its importance and tininess.

How we interact with our environment may be an exercise in compassion. We are so small our impact seems negligible. Yet each of our infinitely tiny actions makes a difference, as we each contribute ripple effects that expand our smallness in all directions.

I work to be compassionate to the planet, to my neighbors, and to my family.

Every small action still counts.

Day Twenty-Two of the Omer

[Applies to yesterday, from Tuesday night through Wednesday, May 6 - 7 - sorry for the delay!]

Chesed in Netzach - kindness and compassion in the ego everlasting.

My spiritual path often leads me into pendulum swings between devotion to self-care and selflessness. This week of the Omer asks us to explore Netzach, the sense of the eternal as personal, the notion that, with a little bit of ego, we can see the world as created entirely for ourselves.

With that message in one pocket, Jewish sages also remind us to keep the idea that we are nothing but dust and ashes in the other.

So I want to approach my self with compassion. If the things I care about are going to last, I need to treat them - ideas, emotions, people, my very self internally and externally - with kindness. Being kind to ourselves does not mean being selfish, it means that we need to see the bigger picture of our needs, both immediate and in the long term.

Day Fifteen of the Omer

Chesed in Tiferet - Compassion in harmoniously balanced beauty.

Our Omer Counting asks us to begin each of our value reflections with compassion and caring. Start with that, and then we have a chance of things working out.

Tiferet, like any representation of beauty, may be susceptible to being over-simplified. When we look at beauty starting with compassion, perhaps a vital aspect will be to kindly inject complexity.

"It's complicated" can be a way of implying something is beautiful in a way that can't be explained. We can offer complexity as a sign that we care, that we understand that the difficulties on the surface may be getting in the way of seeing the harmony within.

Kindness and complexity contribute to a deep sense of beauty.

Day Eight of the Omer

We begin the second week of the Omer today, thinking about the idea of gevurah, or "power" and "strictness", and we start with chesed, the element of kindness and compassion in the realm of strictness.

While these ideas form the ends of a spectrum - often described at each end as mercy and justice - caring and rigidity are intertwined as well. We aim to begin every act of power, every assertion of will, with an understanding that it should be for a greater good, a vision that includes kindness.

As a teacher and a parent I often err on the side of a stricter voice, even though I know that I must lead with compassion and caring. When I keep that kinder tone in the center, the firmness needed comes across all the better.

Day Seven of the Omer

Our final day in the week focusing on compassion and loving-kindness asks us to reflect on Malchut-Rulership - the mystical concept of the intersection between spirituality and action, where we put our principles into reality.

This morning I find myself reflecting on the cessation of acting as a reflection of compassion. Jews, and for that matter, Americans, love to shoot from the hip verbally - we like to respond quickly and definitively. I continue to work on thinking through my actions through a lens of caring before reacting. My silence may be the most compassionate response.

Day 43 of the Omer - kind actions

Chesed in Malchut - kindness and mercy in the dwelling presence of the universe.

We want to act, to make a difference. Let us find compassion for our acting - when we act not as well as we would like we can opt to forgive. When we do not act at all let us avoid blame and doubt.

Be kind and then do with kindness.

The last week of the Omer has begun!

Day 36 of the Omer - See kindly then build

Chesed in Yesod - loving kindness in foundation.

Before undertaking something from the bottom up, building solidly, we must see it through compassionate eyes.

A foundation stands well when started with the needs of others and the world in mind.

This is from Tuesday-Wednesday's Omer Count, catching up!

Day 29 of the Omer - Humility and Compassion

Chesed in Hod - compassion in awe and humility.

I find it easy to see compassion coming from our sense of smallness - this allows us to sympathize easily.

We must proceed cautiously lest we get swept up in sympathizing and lose our ability to help out.

We need compassion for ourselves when in the place of grace in our smallness, so that we can avoid powerlessness.

Happy return to Chesed day 1 of week 5!

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Day 22 of the Omer - Self through compassion

Chesed in Netzach - compassionate kindness in eternity of the self.

We can try to see the universe as centered on ourselves, we could be the pivot of all existence - this is the essence of Netzach, eternal victory.

Today, this week, it takes only a little sympathy and compassion to overwhelm all other sentiments as we grapple with tragedy in Boston.

So, Netzach will have to wait a little longer as we focus on coping and kindness. Or, we can see the greatest impact of our selves right now in the extension of care and support to those most in need at a trying time.

I contribute some of my self to Boston today.

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Day 15 of the Omer - See Beauty

Chesed in Tiferet - loving kindness and mercy in the perfection of beauty and balance.

Perfection and balance are seldom seen as the outcomes of kindness - discipline and rigor definitely, mercy comes less to mind.

So let us find the forgiveness and ease in ourselves that allows us to see beauty. Perfection results from perception as well as devotion.

In our aim to achieve beauty, let us also open ourselves to finding it.

Find beauty in the Counting!

Day 6 of the Omer

Yesod in Chesed - the bridge, or lens, or foundation, in compassion.

Yesod is where we start, a firm footing for our first step into exploring deeper meaning in our lives. It is the bridge to broad horizons from which we can see destinations and ideals.

In attempting to achieve kindness we must have a foot set on something solid as we extend our hand in assistance. Let us find our footing as the first part of reaching out to help.

Knowing something of our destination eases any journey, and traveling towards compassion still asks us to move in the direction of another.

Firm footing on all our journeys and countings!