This guest post is the D’var Torah that CBI member and cantorial soloist Ziva Larson offered at Shabbat Morning Services on Saturday, February 25, 2023.
Here’s a short video message from Rabbi Rachel. You can watch it / listen to it here, or, if you prefer, you can read the text below.
I’m here because I wanted to say hi and that I’m thinking of you.
It was a joy to be with many of you during the Days of Awe in various ways — on Zoom, and via Facebook live, and for our socially distant and masked Tashlich service on the suspension bridge. It was a joy to sing with you and pray with you and mark that holy season with you. And it was a joy to be with you on Zoom during Sukkot! And now we’re in the quiet season, the open space after all of the fall holidays, like the silence that falls after a song.
I continue to hold every one of you in my prayers and in my heart.
I know that many of us are feeling increased anxiety these days.
Sometimes we can look at our anxiety and think: okay, that’s just my brain, doing what brains do. And sometimes we look at the world around us, and anxiety feels like a reasonable response!
I read in the Washington Post recently that while every presidential election feels important, this one may feel uniquely so — and a lot of people, on both sides, fear that America’s future is dark if the other side wins. That’s a difficult and scary place to be.
Meanwhile, around the nation the pandemic is worsening. Record numbers of new infections have been reported in several states, and the country as a whole recently broke our record for most cases reported in a single day — not a record that anyone wanted to break.
Anxiety makes sense. And… it can also really get in the way of our ability to live.
So I wanted to share a small meditative practice
One thing that can help, when we’re in the grip of anxiety, is to notice it and name it. “Oh right: this feeling is anxiety.” Naming it distances it, a bit. It’s a feeling; it’s an experience; but it’s not ME, it’s not who I am. If it’s just a feeling, and not my essential self, then that means it comes and it goes. It isn’t forever.
Once we’ve named the feeling as anxiety, we can breathe in, and on the exhale, let breath flow out with the intention of letting go of the anxiety, too. Slow, deep breaths can help regulate the body, and because we’re integrated beings, helping the body helps the heart and mind and spirit, too. Breathing in, feeling the inhale; breathing out, letting go.
And sometimes it helps to find a physical sensation to hold on to, to shift focus away from the anxiety. Pick up a pebble or a seashell, and hold it in your hand and really feel its surface. Or touch a mint or rosemary plant and bring the scent to your face and breathe it in. (A drop of essential oil can serve that purpose too.)
I’ve been taking a lot of comfort lately in the rhythms of time that were here long before this pandemic election season, and will be here long after. Watching the trees put on their autumn show. Lighting Shabbat candles every Friday night. I hope there’s comfort for you also in the rhythms of the seasons and in the Jewish ways we mark and sanctify time.
As always, I’m here if you want to talk, and I hope to see you on Zoom soon. Thank you for being a part of CBI.
If the mindfulness practice here speaks to you, you might also enjoy Rabbi Jay Michaelson’s teaching Mindfulness of Cortisol.