Those of you that have spoken to me about authors know that I am very fond of the work of Rebecca Solnit. I am currently reading The Faraway Nearby. Those of you that know something about my spiritual life, know that I have a very deep connection to my Jewish roots, particularly with regard to its mystical teachings and perspectives. Recently, I experienced a wonderful interface between the two that, in the end, made me understand my role in the world more clearly. I'm going to try to share that with you.
First, please allow me to start by referencing the passages from The Faraway Nearby that set things whirling around in my mind and, eventually, in my soul. Solnit is talking about her take on on a fairy-tale:
- "The Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen's fairy-tale masterpiece "The Snow Queen" opens with the tale of a distorting mirror made by a troll who is the Devil. The mirror shows the trolls their own ugly view of the world, and they fly up above the earth to force the angels to see themselves in it, but drop the grinning mirror when they are en route, up high. It breaks into innumerable sharp fragments. The scattered splinters of glass find their way into people's eyes and make them see the world as the trolls see it, and some 'even got a little piece of mirror in their heart, and then it was quite dreadful. The heart would turn into a lump of ice.' It's a narcissist's and cynic's mirror that freezes the heart and distorts the world."
Just a couple of days ago was Rosh Hashanah. Most know this as the beginning of the Jewish New Year and, according to Jewish tradition, a time when God judges what kind of new year we will have coming to us. In fact, it represents much, much more. According to the mystical interpretation, it is also a remembrance of the beginning of the world and the reason why He created the world in the first place: Because "He desired kindness". So actually, the holiday is a time for us to remember who we really are at root and why we are here in the first place. The little pieces of cynicism and narcissism that enter us and obfuscate our vision and our mission and confuse our heart, and hide our goodness from us. So this a time to clear that all away, and it is a time for renewal of, and return to, our untainted selves.
Solnit continues the tale, telling of a boy named Kai that gets one of these distorting pieces in his heart, and then becomes totally entrapped by the Snow Queen and becomes lost to the world and those who knew him. But there was a girl named Gerda that loves Kai and misses him and weeps for him, and she sets out on a fantastical, impossible journey to rescue Kai. When Gerda finally catches up with Kai he is at the palace of the Snow Queen:
- "...the frozen Kai is playing the Ice Game of Reason with flat shards of ice. If he can organize them into a pattern that spells out 'eternity' he'll become free, but he never can. It's not reason or pattern but emotion that will free him, in the form of more tears from Gerda, whose grief makes him remember, so that he weeps out the speck of glass and is himself again. Weeping like ice melting, like winter snow turning into spring rivers, a spring that comes as grief, as waking up to suffering that is the beginning of doing something about it, weeping tears of affection and loss that are always hot and sometimes make roses grow."
I did a lot of crying the first day of Rosh Hashanah, particularly when I heard that clarion call to the heart we call Shofar, which pierced through every layer of my indifference, my coarseness, my resignation, my ego - and then went on to reach my heart, the Gerda within me that would not abandon me or write me off as a captive to the world of cynicism.
What I understood - both from Solnit's rendition of the story, as well as from my own internal experience - was this: I want to be neither a cynic nor a narcissist. I want, more than anything else, to weep out all the distortions that have entered my heart and warped my vision. I want to be pure again to see with eyes of innocence, and love with a full and open heart. I want to be whole and pure.
I know that there is no one-time fix. But I just might be able to find a process that can regularly, periodically clear the obstructions away, like a windshield wiper pushing aside newly fallen snow. As long as it doesn't get a chance to freeze onto the windshield, the wipers can do a pretty good job of clearing the snow and maintaining visibility. So what I am trying to find are those daily practices that will help clear things before the build-up even occurs.
I know that different people have different practices in this regard from painting to meditating to running to hiking to writing and many others. They are all good. For me, music is a very close friend that has always been there for me, to allow me to transcend myself.
And, if the build-up does occur anyway, I can remember. I can remember Gerda's tears, I can remember the cry of the Shofar. And I can try to remember the reason I was put here in the first place. Perhaps we can help each other remember what is good inside us.