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The Bliss Blog

The Bliss Blog

Rabbi Rami Shapiro

                                                        

                                                

I met Rabbi Rami Shapiro in the early 1990’s when he had the pulpit at Temple Beth Or in Miami, Florida. I could say that our paths crossed by Divine Design, since I walked into a book store and his book on 12 step recovery for those of the Jewish faith; with a title something like This Too Is The Path, if memory serves; fell off the shelf and into my waiting hands. My husband Michael and I had just moved to South Florida and were open to finding a spiritual home.  As I turned the book over and looked at the back, I saw that the synagogue was close by and knew we needed to attend services there. That we did for the few years that we lived in the area and I found a renewed and re-energized sense of my Jewish heritage. Part of the reason for that was that Rami wove rituals and shared his writings with the congregation that made it meaningful for this ‘spiritual gypsy’ who was exploring her own path. I am grateful that after all these years, we are still in touch.

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How do you live your bliss?

Joseph Campbell came up with this phrase, “follow your bliss” and I guess he meant something like “follow your passions,” which if we were really to do that, most of us would end up in jail. Living my legal bliss means devoting myself to the art and craft of writing. I make time to write almost every day, with the exception of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.

You are a rabbi and writer, speaker and pundit. How would define yourself?

You did a nice job with this. I would say I’m a talking head with keyboard capable fingers who is narcissistic enough to imagine that other people should know what I have to say regarding matters about which I may no more than they do. I hope that isn’t what is carved on my headstone. If it is, I will have myself cremated and my ashes scattered in a used bookstore so there is no place to write that epitaph.

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How would you describe your personal spiritual views and the ways in which it has evolved over the years?

When I was 16 I had what I imagine Zen Buddhists would call a kensho experience, a glimpse of reality without the filter of the egoic mind. From that I became convinced that there is only one reality, I call it God, and all life is an expression of it. This essentially panentheist position (all life is in God and is God) has stayed with me and defined by work as a rabbi every since. So, when it comes to spiritual views, no evolution here at all. Regarding how I live that experience, there has been much change. While Judaism remains my “mother-tongue” I have made a concerted effort to learn to speak a variety of religious languages and incorporate practices from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sufism into my daily life.

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What do you think it would take to allow for a greater sense of connection and unity within the context of religion, rather than the divisiveness that often comes part and parcel?

Religions are like competing sports teams playing the same game. The only difference is that competing religions, unlike NBA or NFL teams, think their game is somehow a true glimpse into the existential reality of human existence, and that playing for their particular team determines your fate in the next life or next world. As long as religions take the game and their team so seriously, they will be willing to kill and die for their particular team.

What needs to happen to end this is for people to realize that no one can own Truth, that all religions are, to use a Zen Buddhism metaphor, fingers pointing to the moon and not the moon itself, and that giving one another the finger is just not a satisfying spiritual practice.

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In other words people are going to have to vote with their feet and walk away from any religion that fails to revamp itself to better reflect the best of human thinking regarding science, sociology, anthropology, human rights, and ecological balance. We can’t expect religious leaders to change the game, they are profiting from it as it is. Change will only come when people are brave enough to admit that it is a game, and stop playing until it becomes more fulfilling.

Please speak about the Holy Rascals project.

People who dare to name the game and change it are what I call Holy Rascals. Many of them are “spiritual but not religious,” and many are religious in daring to ways redefining the ideas of their team to better reflect the truths of our time.?The Holy Rascals project seeks to introduce these people to the world through short videos, taped interviews, salon-like discussion groups that you can host in your home or at a library or community center, and, eventually, the Holy Rascals Rolling Wisdom Review, which travels the highways taking our videos, introductory pamphlets and seminars to libraries across North America. The more people learn about these incredible teachers the more their appreciation for religion and spirituality will increase, and their tolerance for religiously fueled violence will decrease.

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How can people get involved?

What we need are five things: money, eyeballs, more videos, host salons, and more money. While distribution of materials on the Internet is cheap, quality production is not. We have hours of tape on wonderful teachers and lack the funds to turn them into useable video. We have a team of people writing the brief introductions to individual Holy Rascals and lack the funds to pay the writers and produce the materials. Right now everyone is working for love, and while love is great, it doesn’t pay the mortgage.

So funds are number one. And number four. Number two is eyeballs—we want people to watch the videos we do have on-line (www.holyrascals.com), and to send the link to their friends, real and virtual. The more people who watch Holy Rascals videos the more people there are who might change the game.

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And we need people to share their Holy Rascals with us. Many people reading this interview know Holy Rascals, religious and spiritual teachers who are redefining faith for the 21st century. We want you get this folks on tape and send the material to use that we help others learn about them as well.

Lastly, we want people to host Holy Rascals parties. Invite a few friends to your home to watch our videos and discuss their reactions to what they saw. We spend lots of time talking about the irrelevant. Holy Rascals wants to deepen our conversations with one another so that we talk about the most relevant: what is life and how best to live it?

You inspire so many people, myself included. Who inspires you?

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That is flattering and disturbing at the same time. I don’t think of myself as being an inspiration, and if I did I’d have to stop acting like the jerk I really am, and that I am not prepared to do. So stop letting me inspire you. As to who inspires me—Holy Rascals. People like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Krishnamurti, Toni Packer, and Alan Watts who were bold enough to question their respective worlds and free themselves from the condition those worlds demanded.

Your mind seems to be endlessly creative. How many books have you written to date? Any others in the works?

All minds are endlessly creative. That is why it is so hard to meditate. We are always creating something in our minds. Soap operas mostly, but there is an art to that deserving of respect. I have written and have been lucky enough to publish over two dozen books. This year my new translation and commentary to the Book of Proverbs is coming out from Skylight Paths, and the first two of a series of books called Rabbi Rami Guides are being published by Spirituality & Health: Rabbi Rami’s Guide to God, and Rabbi Rami’s Guide to Forgiveness. As for the near future I am working a book with my son, Aaron, on writing as a spiritual practice, a book on grace in Judaism, a translation from the French of Love of Eternal Wisdom, a Catholic text written in the 18th century, and more volumes of the Rabbi Rami Guides. And I continue to blog (www.rabbirami.blogspot.com) and to write my column in Spirituality and Health magazine, Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveller.

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That’s the near term. Long term I plan to die. Hopefully in peace.

How can we make spirituality relevant while maintaining seeds of tradition?

Let me reframe this. The goal isn’t to make spirituality relevant, but to make our lives relevant. Spirituality is a tool. A hammer is relevant if we need to pound a nail. Otherwise it just hangs on the shop wall. Spirituality will be relevant when we live in ways that make it useful. For example, if I want to peer beyond the veil of my egoic bullshit and see what is so in and of itself, meditation becomes relevant. If I want to slip from the ordinary to the ecstatic and discover that the ordinary is anything but ordinary, chanting, especially kirtan or call and response chanting in any of its forms—Hindu, Jewish, and Sufi, to name but three—is relevant. Similarly if we want to live justly and compassionately religion (when seen as means, a tool, and not an end in itself as most religious leaders would have us believe) has much to offer.

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The point is to change ourselves rather than our traditions. If you are a mess, changing clothes will do nothing to change that. A new coat of paint over a rotting wood house will not improve the quality of the house. Changing religious forms while maintaining the narrow egoic bias will make the changes both superficial and ultimately meaningless.

 

Decide what kind of person you want to be, then explore religious and spiritual means for helping you achieve that goal. But don’t imagine that this is the end of the matter. Both Osama bin Laden and Mahatma Gandhi were religious people. A hammer can nail a spike into a home or palm. Religion and spirituality are only as good as the people who wield them. Become good, work at being better, insist that religion serve that end, and we may all come through the madness of modernity with our heads, hearts, and hands open to the wonder, grace, and love that is life lived at its best and most free.

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The Gratitude Power Workbook

                                                                                      

If there is an address at which I would most desire to live, it would have gratitude in the street name, since I have discovered that the road to a life of pleasure and passion, purpose and love, success and service, is paved with appreciation.  That is one of the many reasons I enjoyed reading a sweet little book called The Gratitude Power Workbook, written by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons. These two authors, conscious entrepreneurs and journalists have also penned the best seller Living Life As A Thank You.

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It is based on the concept that the essence of gratitude touches on every aspect of our existence and that the book itself is timely, because people are becoming aware of how very much there is for which they can express thanks. Rather than focusing on what is wrong, the authors encourage readers to turn their attention to what is right. The rewards are endless. They speak of the idea that being grateful, leads to being ‘greatful’.

It is a user friendly guide with exercises that the authors declare are ‘road tested’, so that they are not pie in the sky ideals, but grounded in practical reality. They encourage surrounding yourself with grateful people, since like attracts like. It contains ideas such as using visual cues to be aware of gratitude moments, making gratitude lists, setting intention with clarity, meditation on that which to say thanks, dooodlng, chanting, prayer, creating a gratitude dream board, as well as collecting and giving away gratitude rocks.

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Sprinkled throughout are inspiring quotes and anecdotes that beckon personal inquiry and room to journal your own  ideas. Written in purple and orange ink that feels vibrant and energizing, this book is an important call to action for anyone who wants to live a life , according to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa by which “The winds of grace blow all the time. All we need do is set our sails.”

 www.vivaeditions.com

 One of my favorite gratitude songs  Kind and Generous by Natalie Merchant http://youtu.be/rdG618TMc5E

 

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Preparation

                                                 

 

Saw this quote today from Oprah (the one-named wonder who has become synonymous with reinvention, re-creation and transformation)

“Nothing about my life is lucky. Nothing. A lot of grace, a lot of blessings, a lot of divine order, but I don’t believe in luck. For me, luck is preparation meeting the moment of opportunity. There is no luck without you being prepared to handle that moment of opportunity. Every single thing that has ever happened in your life is preparing you for the moment that is to come.”

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As I considered how this has played out in my life, I think back to the times when I resisted taking action that I knew could move me along in certain areas. I delayed, dragged my feet, dug in my heels for fear of both failure and success. Yesterday, while sitting in my office, I looked over at the photo I keep there of my 22 year old self. Long chocolate/auburn highlighted hair streaming down courduroy covered shoulders as I sat perched on a stool. This 52 year old elfin-shorn haired woman is amazed at how naive this younger version of me was, how much she still had to learn. It is a bridge I have crossed from where I was to where I am and as I gaze backward across the span, I marvel.

The dialog between us went something like this:  “Do you have any clue what it’s going to take for you to span 3 decades? The loves and losses, the confusion and challenges, the dark nights of the soul, the triumphs and travels, the people you will encounter.”  to which she responded “Bring it on!”  Then I asked her to consider what would have happened had she chosen a different career path; such as journalism, rather than psychology and social work. She shrugged and answered that had she made that selection, my life would have taken a whole ‘nother turn and I might not have had the deeply fulfilling spiritual experiences that have so enriched me and continue to influence my writing. Heck, I might not be writing this right now. Because I pursued a BA in Psychology at Glassboro State College, I worked at a counseling center called Together Inc. and met people who have been some of the deepest delights in my life, introducing me to all kinds of creative and spiritual practices. All these years later, we are still dear friends.  AND because I went there, I met my friend Albert Borris who encouraged me to go to Outward Bound  in 1981. He has gone as well, a few times over the years and knew how powerful it would be for me. There I learned how to make positive changes in my life, rather than complaining over what wasn’t as I would have it be.

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Because I engaged in those practices, I opened to spiritual guidance and listened to the “Voice” that led me to forgo a trip to Russia in 1986 and instead, go to Philadelphia to hear Ram Dass speak. That night, I met the man who was to become my husband and with whom I published Visions Magazine for 10 years. As a result, I had the extreme joy of interviewing hundreds of transformational speakers, teachers, healers, performers, peace and social justice activists. Since we sold the publication in 1998, six months prior to Michael’s death, I have been a free-lance journalist and have waltzed through open doors that have me writing about even more movers and shakers; including His Holiness The Dalai Lama.

Because I went to grad school at Rutgers and earned my MSW, I have been able to serve many thousands of people as a social worker and now teach continuing ed classes for others in the field.

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Because of Michael’s passing, I learned one of the most epic lessons ever “Everyone in your life is on loan to you.”, so I appreciate them all. I welcome new friends and never know how someone who enters will enhance and enliven it. I call them overlapping soul circles and laugh when I realize that because I met particular people who knows how many years ago, I am enjoying the sensual delights of listening to a CD sent by a musician I met at a party, or indulging in a decadent treat with a new friend, or taking a heart opening class  or wearing a piece of jewelry received as a gift, or reading an inspiring book written by an author I happened to encounter on facebook, or being in a drumming circle or walking through a park, or splashing in the ocean.

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When I have resisted change symbolically kicking and screaming, I have to ask myself why, since it is inevitable and when I haven’t received that which I thought I wanted, it has indeed prepared me for something even more marvelous. I have been increasingly willing to do the leg work to accomplish my goals and see my visions come to fruition. Everything from shedding weight, to completing my book, from cleaning my Jeep to weeding the garden and doing the laundry. I am totally open to doing the prep work/play to gather in the abundant harvest.

What seeds have you planted?

What harvest do you want to gather?

What bridges have you crossed?

What spans still await?

 

 http://youtu.be/hpTJzl7nleI  The Secret of Life by James Taylor

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That I Would Be Good

 

                                                                           Oval Framed Mirror clipart

Even the most confident among us sometimes gaze into the mirror of our souls or the reflective glass and are harshly critical of the one who peers back at us. As much as I know I am perfectly imperfect or imperfectly perfect, (just like you:) the monkey mind sometimes grabs ahold of my heart and ain’t about to let go without a tussle.  She tells me things like I will never be, do, or have my heart’s desires, and attempts to convince me that things are moving way too slowly. And then I hear this song and am instantly reminded of what is so…that I am and we are beautiful creations of the One who has divine design in mind. It brought my attention to a time in my life when I had a conversation with a friend who encouraged me to take inventory of all that I had accomplished in the previous 10 years as if I was looking at someone else’s life.  In that way, I could, with relative objectivity, be amazed by it, rather than judgmental that is still wasn’t ‘enough’. Does this sound familiar to you as well?

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I invite you to make that same list.  What experiences have you had that (despite what your inner critic would have you believe) tell you with undeniable clarity and certainty, that you are succesful?

What if you knew that good enough was good enough and that you were acceptable AS IS even as you endeavored to stretch and grow?

That I Would Be Good

by Alanis Morisette

That I would be good
Even if I did nothing
That I would be good
Even if I got a thumbs-down
That I would be good
If I got and stayed sick
That I would be good
Even if I gained ten pounds

That I would be fine
Even if I went bankrupt
That I would be good
If I lost my hair and my youth
That I would be great
If I was no longer queen
That I would be grand
If I was not all-knowing

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That I would be loved
Even when I numb myself
That I would be good
Even when I’m overwhelmed
That I would be loved
Even when I was fuming
That I would be good
Even if I was clingy

That I would be good
Even if I lost sanity
That I would be good
With or without you

 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=44TRkB9dxvE

 

 

 

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