Getting Down to the Heart of the Matter...
I’ve been composing again. With intention.
Funny how life comes full circle. A musician whose love of music led her to become a dancer. A dancer whose yearning for more physicality led her to become a devout yoga practitioner. And that love of yoga and philosophy led her back to music, woven together with a commitment to progressive Judaism, always grappling for the perfect blend and balance between modernity and tradition.
When I started to work on this new musical project (a yoga-centric collection of Hebrew “mantras”), my first task was to identify poignant pieces of Jewish texts that inspired me, texts that I thought would speak to others.
This is one of the very first passages that grabbed me:
Create me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
--Psalm 51:12 (Lev tahor b’rah li Elohim, v’ruach nachon chadash b’kirbi)
Such a magnificent piece of text. On a completely practical level, it met all my requirements. All of the words were (relatively) easy to pronounce, On a deeper level, the message of the text is profound, combining the physicality and spirituality of the heart center.
Truth: much of what inspires me to compose comes from a place which I don’t fully understand. But often the passages that speak to me do so because of deeply personal experiences.
So too with this snippet of Jewish wisdom. While I initially connected to it because of its spiritual message, it also served as a poignant reminder that the physical state of one’s heart is of vital importance to one’s ability to serve God.
I was only eleven years old the first time I visited the cardiologist, and I was diagnosed with a mild but annoying heart condition. Plagued by random bouts of palpitations throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was monitored regularly but continued to remain physically active without restraint, and my doctors insisted that I become even more active than I already was and to focus more on healthy eating. The high blood pressure didn’t kick in until I was about 36. Luckily, I had already acclimated to healthy lifestyle, and with the assistance of a cadre of medical professionals I managed to stay pretty healthy for a long time.
Until I got sick.
Until I got scared.
It was a mild episode, but because of my history and relatively young age, the doctors decided to dig deep into my files and order semi-invasive tests. For a while I felt that my whole life revolved around visits to a variety of physicians who never quite got to the bottom of the mystery.
Ultimately, the results were to simply adjust the dosage of a particular medication, along with strong encouragement to continue to eat well and to maintain my cardio-vascular routine. I was also instructed to reduce stress by deepening my yoga and meditation practices.
I share this information with reluctance. After all, it is not my intention to be perceived as physically broken or damaged. But over the years as I have watched seemingly healthy adults suffer from similar episodes, including some who died in the prime of their lives, I feel compelled more than ever to offer my story. I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. Because of early diagnosis and pretty consistent care throughout my life, I’ve attained a higher than average level of physical health despite whatever physical challenges exist. And I think on a grand level, all of these collective experiences have inspired me to engage in mind-body-soul-spirit work in order to help others to acknowledge the undeniable connection between physicality and spirituality.
The occasion of the secular new year is a fascinating phenomenon—especially for those of us who celebrate multiple new years. Unlike Rosh Hashanah—where we clean our spiritual slate, the secular new year often inspires us to clean our physical beings. The bottom line is that we simply cannot serve God without a heart that is both spiritually clean physically healthy. We are all in search of a “lev tahor”— a pure heart —and a “ruach nachon”—a steadfast spirit.
There are those among us who use the secular new year to adopt resolutions; perhaps to become healthier, to exercise more, or to make significant spiritual and/or physical changes in our lives. There are those of us who loathe the idea of making such resolutions. My favorite New Year’s meme quips, “I don’t call them New Year’s Resolutions. I prefer the term, ‘casual promises to myself that I’m under no legal obligation to fulfill…’”
I think I fall squarely between the lovers and the haters. While there is no need to wait for December 31st to make momentous changes in terms of the way we treat our bodies, it never hurts to have a bit of extra motivation, and to be surrounded by countless others who take on the commitment to making more healthy choices.
As the process of composing this new album draws to a close, I feel especially grateful to continue the journey and to teach Torah through music, words, and movement. I am blessed with the opportunity to develop authentic relationships with those who are also on the path to spiritual and physical wellness.
May we be all be blessed with pure hearts and steadfast spirits as we move into 2017 together.