Shema! Wake up!

| musings, stories |

This morning, and for the last few days, I’ve been feeling fairly uninspired. It isn’t depression or even sadness, but a sort of dullness where I have trouble connecting to anything or anybody in a rich and profound way.  I think in the movie Office Space it’s referred to as “case of the Mondays.” Those of us who work in offices – even for jobs we love- might experience it quite a bit.

This morning I got to thinking – what if this moment – with all its dullness and fluorescent-light-blasé normality – what if this is it? No other moment than this? This is my life? Usually, my inner mind yells back, “Nooo! Not THIS moment! How about when I was deep in a meditation, or said something I thought was smart, or feeling in love with the world? THOSE can be the moments that define my life – not this one! I want “real life” to be when I look good, feel fit, and walk around with a bouncy smile like a person in one of those Prozac ads (after they get on Prozac, of course).

At the entrance of the Brooklyn Zen Center (where the JMC meets), there is a large wooden board called a Han. As one of the Zen Center’s Sangha members, Adam, explained to me, the Han gets struck before zazen to let everyone know it’s time to sit. There are words written on the Han, and although I don’t remember them exactly, they say something along the lines of, “Life and death are of supreme importance. Time passes by swiftly and opportunity is lost.
Wake up! Wake up! Do not waste this life!”

Those words are so alarming! Maybe I’m a sucker for exclamations and the imperative voice, but every time I see the words on the Han or hear it’s loud “clack clack” as it’s hit, I wonder, am I awake? Am I living the life I should be? Am I here in this moment?

It also reminds me of the urgent language of Judaism’s central prayer, the Shema. “HEAR O Israel! YHWH Your God, YHWH is ONE!” How many millions of times have I said this prayer without hearing its underlying intensity? Like the Han, this prayer is an alarm clock, telling us to clean out our ears and  listen to the deepest truth that every moment and every thing and every person is part and parcel of the one that is God. Or, God is part and parcel of the one that is everything.

As David Carasso noted in his recent article*, in Hebrew, the Shema is also a Haiku, with a 5-7-5 syllable structure and a profound and yet simple message.

In my case, that message is that THIS moment of my life is not only real, it is all I have. These dull moments of staring at a computer or out the window – these days in my cubicle or greeting people on the elevator -this is it. This is God. This is everything.

*Thanks for the article tip, Len!