For the first time…

This morning, for the first time in a long time, I poured a cup of coffee for God.

I’ve been struggling lately, for good reason. This summer my stepmom was diagnosed with leukemia and my psyche was thrown off balance. I was so angry at the universe for throwing this at me, after the loss and stress of the past few years. I was heartbroken, that one more person I loved had to suffer this way. It all seemed so unfair. I don’t believe that “this happened for a reason,” and I definitely don’t believe that a supernatural force gave her cancer – I know human bodies are finite, fallible systems that sometimes fail and are nonetheless infinitely precious. Still, I was spiritually and emotionally thrown for a loop. I was crying every day. I was tired all the time. I was quick to anger and very slow to ask myself my “three magic questions” that always help me find my center. And worst of all, I couldn’t pray. I opened my heart, but no connection was felt. No flow poured through me.

Some of you may rightly think, “This sounds like depression.” I thought that too, and I did all the medically appropriate steps to take care of myself on that front. My doctor and I, though, felt that I was responding normally to an abnormally stressful period of time. My therapist has been amazing, and recently she suggested I start praying a simple mantra that the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh described in an interview with Oprah on Soul Sunday. It has four parts: “Darling, I am here for you.” “Darling, I know you are there and I am so happy.” “Darling, I know you are suffering and that is why I am here for you.” And, “Darling, I suffer. I am trying my best to practice. Please help me.” My therapist suggested I start with just the beginning of the first mantra, and turn to God (and myself) and say, “Darling, I am here.”

Starting this practice was profound. I am not even sure why. The truth is that in my work, there are many people who adore me, and there are many people who hate me — a rabbi becomes a good canvas on which to project one’s own feelings about God, pain, the world, and so much more. And for the past few weeks, people have been projecting a lot of anger and hate. I wasn’t in a strong enough place to protect myself from it, and their projections hurt. So speaking to myself and to God so lovingly was transformational. Darling, I am here. Darling, I am here. So simple, so true, so profound.

I also came to accept – again – that there is so much in this world that I cannot control. I can not control how other people act, how other people feel, how other people think. I can not control how other people interpret me or my words. I can not control how my stepmom responds to chemotherapy, how often my brother visits her, or where my dad and stepmom live. And unfortunately, I have put way too much energy into ALL of these things. What a waste! So in addition to my simple and profound mantra, I have also been working on accepting how helpless I am in the face of all these things.

Then last night I had a dream. I went to a swimming pool with a high school friend of mine. The patio surrounding the pool was filthy – dirt and trash and cigarette butts covered the ground. My friend asked me to grab some towels from the towel bin, but when I did so they too were dirtied from used cigarette butts. I asked the lifeguard (who was tan and buff and whose face was obscured) why he didn’t clean up all the trash, and he said, “I’d rather go swimming with you.” I nodded, and we got into the pool, and he held me in the crook of his arm. I floated, safe and deeply contented. The water was clean and clear, and the perfect temperature. I felt happier and safer than I have in a long time, and when I woke up, that feeling remained.

I think the patio of my dream is the world. I think the pool is the world, too. I think the lifeguard is God, the Universe, the Higher Power – whatever. God didn’t put the cigarettes butts all over – we did. It’s not God’s job to clean up the mess – it’s ours. But God wants to be with us, if we allow it. And when we do, it feels so safe. So empowering. So loving and loved. This dream was such a powerful illustration of “Darling, I am here.” Yes – here. And everywhere.

For a few months, the only prayer i have been able to say has been, “I am open,” and I’ve trusted that God was present. But I was not plugged in. My spirit was not charging. Today, I’m plugged in. Today, I am charging. Today, I poured a cup of coffee for God, and oh! It is so very very good. Darling, darling! I am here!