In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Moshe decides to allow a reconnaissance mission with a team of scouts, one person from each tribe, to scope out the Promised Land while the rest of the Jewish people stay in the desert. It says, “You shall see what [kind of] land it is, and the people who inhabit it.” They are tasked with finding out if there are few people or many, what kind of infrastructure they live in, if the soil is fertile or not, are there trees, etc.
This troop goes out and sees that the land is indeed fertile and lush, like they were promised, but also they see the land is inhabited with, among others, giants. When they come back to give a report back to the people, ten of the twelve scouts not only focus on these giants, they go on to conjecture that the Jewish people would be destroyed by them.
The Jewish people start to panic and curse their fate and the forces that brought them there, crying out that they were led out of Egypt to die and should appoint a new leader to direct them back to Egypt. At this point in our story, G-d decides that these people continue to lack faith in the promises made to them despite all the miracles shown thus far, and decides that none (with minor exceptions) of these naysayers will get to enter the Promised Land of milk, honey, and, well… giants.
While reading this text, I couldn’t help but feel swept along with the increasing pace of anxiety and fear that grew out of this well-intentioned venture. Instead of bringing back information, the scouts brought with them their judgments about what they saw and shared their fears with the rest of the people, and that fear multiplied from there. So often, this is what can happen with the path that our thoughts can take. We start with a small thought or feeling and then our mind begins to build a story: I feel sad, I’ll never be a happy person, and I’ll die alone; or that person didn’t smile when they said hello to me, they must dislike me, and I’m not worthy of love. Our thoughts can snowball, inflating our worry, discomfort, or unease into a giant, built with so much fear that we cannot see past it to appreciate the rest of the scenery of flowing milk and honey.
Meditation provides us with a practice that can help us not to get carried so far into the stories our minds weave. By holding the intention to return to our breath, we can interrupt the chain of thinking paints these vivid and troubling pictures. By building mindfulness, we can observe how our minds can easily follow a chain of thoughts that we can get trapped in. With practice, we can begin to see the multifaceted landscape of our own minds with greater clarity and less judgment.
For our kavanah, or intention, for this week, let us continue to work to come back to this breath, this moment, where we haven’t actually had to battle any giants yet, where we are just sitting, gathering information, with an eye on the horizon of our Promised Land.