I’m writing this on Day 67 of Shelter In Place. We’ve emerged from the shock of exponential transmission into the confusion of so-called “opening the economy,” never mind our state of readiness.
It’s also Day 43 of counting the Omer. In Kabbalistic Judaism, seven sephirot – manifestations of God – are included in the counting of the Omer: one for each week, and one for each day of the week. Originally, this practice was connected to the seven-week harvest of grain; now it’s associated with a spiritual harvest.
Jewish mysticism holds that the sephirot are represented in the Tree of Life and are conceptually mapped onto the human body. In this schema, complementary characteristics are on opposite sides of the body, while the traits that integrate them are in the center line.
In this way, the warm, soft, encompassing energy of lovingkindness (Chesed, right arm) is counter-weighted by structure, strength, containment, and discipline (Gevurah, left arm); together they are integrated in beauty, harmony, and balance (Tiferet, sternum). Similarly, the quality of Netzach, which can be interpreted as endurance, perseverance, success and willfulness, is embodied in the right leg; while Hod, which means humility, submission, acceptance, and letting go, is in the left leg. Blending the two is Yesod, referring to foundation, bonding, connection, relationship, sensuality and sexuality; it is centered in the belly or lower abdomen.
Tuning in to these qualities and to the interplay between them has helped me hold onto myself through the pandemic. Yes, we have to endure for the long haul; we must succeed! Paradoxically, in order to persevere in this way, we must submit to the reality we’re living in. We must balance our willfulness with acceptance, and in this way build our foundation, our center. Often the balance points feel just like equanimity.
In these pandemic days, I find my equanimity in balancing the different aspects of divinity. Early on, I was gushing with chesed, concern for medically and economically vulnerable friends and family almost overwhelming me. The economic impact immediately concerned me and I wanted to help wherever and however I could. Then my gevurah kicked in – my go-to quality – pushing me to establish a budget and a schedule. Sometimes the structure kicks in first: when my fear makes me too boundaried, too rigid – especially about sanitizing — I need to breathe into a softer, more loving place inside myself.
I can be quite willful, and I have the perseverance to hunker down for quite a long time. Yet I’ll have to soften, to yield and accept: soon my son will come home from college. In his love for me, he will want to meet my standards for socially distancing/sheltering-in-place. I also know that it’s unrealistic to expect a gregarious twenty-two year old to completely sequester himself from his friends for months on end. Willfulness and acceptance will meet in the middle in relationship.
To the extent that I go looking for equanimity, I find it in the quiet of early morning. In the cool air and lightening sky, I inspect our garden.
The seeds I harvested in 2017 from the Thai basil plants at our old house have become seedlings; I put them in larger pots last week. Back in Richmond, I had created an herb spiral, with a statuette of Quan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion, at its crown, surrounded by lemongrass and Thai basil. (Quan Yin developed a crack around her neck the same winter my neck was fused — talk about compassion!)
Some mornings, I harvest our garden’s
output: lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, chard, and phenomenal strawberries are available now. I’m always awe-struck by my strawberries, by the fact that this glistening, red vessel of tastiness grew to such perfection under my green thumb. I feel my heart fill with joy for the present moment, then I pop one in my mouth and let the flavorful sweetness fill my being.