Last Thursday night at The Soul Center, Andrea Lieber asked us if our souls were summer-ready. Her brilliant question flipped a script, which many of us have internalized, about going on a crash diet to look a certain way in a bathing suit and reminded us that our souls need far more care and attention than our appearance. That evening I remembered another unrealistic summer expectation I’ve carried inside since third or fourth grade. Every school year, I thought, I should come back from summer break looking noticeably different. I felt I needed a deep tan, a new hairstyle, better clothes, or some other perceptible marker of self expression. At least a pair of shoes. I remember some classmates returning almost unrecognizably taller or more stylish. 40-something years later, summer still exerts a subtle pressure on me to change somehow and then to show up as an upgraded version of myself in the fall.
We know (as the great Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote) that wherever you go, there you are. At the end of every summer, we are in fact the same people who we were in the spring. Real change is about recognizing unhelpful patterning, finding alternate paths, accepting real limitations, forgiving our own resistance, and supporting our goals with new habits. And I really believe that growth and change are super important as long as we are realistic about what they entail. If we go on a weight loss diet, our weight usually boomerangs back to where it began, or higher. If we get new clothes for fall, they might be itchy. Quitting something cold turkey can trigger other addictions.
Wanting to do something differently is a good signal that it’s time for necessary changes. But in so many ways our essence remains the same, even when external events shape our lives. We are holy fireflies; we illuminate tiny radii of God’s infinite universe for short moments. We can imprint ourselves onto this world through love or art or good deeds (or their destructive opposites) to varying degrees, but we ourselves don’t change very much at all.
However, I know of two big exceptions where we have so much room for growth: self-awareness and awareness of God’s presence. Prayer is one of the best ways that I know to pursue both. Liturgy such as the Kaddish telescopes between God’s greatness and the limitations of our vocabulary to describe it. It’s a litany of the ways God is praised, elevated, lauded, uplifted, honored, etc, but then it says “way above all the prayers and all the songs”
לְעֵֽלָּא מִן כָּל בִּרְכָתָא וְשִׁירָתָא
Le’ela min kol birchata v’shirata
It’s my favorite line because I believe we can recognize ourselves in this tension. We’re the words and we’re beyond the words. Even in our imperfections, our souls are far beyond attempts to change. The mindful focus of prayer and meditation holds us in a tricky balance between striving and acceptance.
This summer, The Soul Center is planning a variety of opportunities for focus, growth, and connection. Join us for paddleboard yoga, vegan cuisine, mixology, Zentangling, gratitude practices, prayer, and Torah study. I’m so excited to see you at these events. Our souls are indeed ready for summer!!!!
Want to talk about shoes, prayer, or imperfection? Me too. Email me and let’s meet for coffee or go for a walk or sit on the comfy couches of The Soul Center.
From my soul to yours,