The Week in Hod

The Week in Hod

The sefirah of Hod.  The energies of Glory.  Five weeks gone. Walking through the desert.  This week was a roller coaster.  Felt like quitting early in the week.  Lost my way because I couldn’t comprehend the tree of life.  The result was frustration.  Frustration is a key, a hot button, something that when it gets pushed makes me want to escape. To leave.  To quit.  The moment of not-enoughness. I have been here alone before and left the journey, but I have someone who is keeping me accountable, my friend Katie in Los Angeles. We try and talk every night. I stay with it. Keep moving, breathing and meditating.  I see my pattern. I see my DNA. I see my life my, my memories and they all come into play.  Frustration and I am running. Frustration and I am throwing up my hands. I feel not smart enough, not evolved enough, not clever enough, not spiritual enough. Why bother it will all disappear anyway.  I fight through all that chatter inside my head.

I take action.  It helps.  I do research.  Find blogs and books, and in my search I find a few sentences that makes sense to me.  It changes the focus. It changes me. I look at the tree of life again and see the energy not running through a tree but running through a man, a human form…me.   The sefirot of Chesed and Guevara are the arms. The sefirot Netzach and Hod are the legs. The arms and legs all connected through the heart space of Tiferet. The energy flows again, the ideas flow again.  I am back and breathing.  The meditations this week are about form and physicality. The vessel. The vehicle. The host.  The name of God this week and last contained the word Tzeva-ot.  It means host.  My legs host me as I walk through this world, physically and spiritually.

My energy has increased this week. I am in the present. This week I have sat in cafes, written with other writers, been part of the creative process.  I have produced poetry and listened to warriors with pens, talented and brave.

Music carries me.  It has carried me in the past and it carries me now.

Playlist for the week

Day 29.  Chesed in Hod.  Spirit by Al Jarreau

(The embodiment of spirit.  The lovingkindness of Al Jarreau.  Have loved this song since I heard him sing it at the Bla Bla Cafe)

Day 30.  Gevurah in Hod.  The Shape I’m In by The Band

(“The world of form is confusing to us.” I am challenged as I walk this path.  My energy and physical being are in need of care.)

Day 31. Tiferet in Hod.  Heart of the Night by Poco

(The heart space in the midst of the wilderness.  This song give me hope.)

Day 32. Netzach in Hod.  Every Breath You Take by The Police

(Physical vitality is met at this sefirah. It all begins with breath.)

Day 33.  Hod in Hod.  Edge of Glory by Lady Gaga

(The celebration of Lag b’Omer.  This song rings with freedom, movement and joy. Could not think of a better song.)

Day 34. Yesod in Hod.  Here To Love You by The Doobie Brothers

(I am responsible for the love I give and the love I withhold.  Have always loved this song. Hod makes gratitude possible.)

Day 35. Malchut in Hod.  Walk of Life by Dire Straits

(The understand of sefirah, the way I walk in the world both physical and spiritually.  Moving to the beat.)

Zack Hoffman 2017

The Week of Netzach

The Week of Netzach

I have been challenged by my physicality this week.  My body slowing down.  Sensitive to food.   I am aware I eat too much sugar.  That when I eat fast food it affects my digestion.  My tinnitus is high and I am challenged to hear.  Insomnia haunts me.  I have weights by my bed to keep my muscles alive.  I am told to stretch before I get out of bed.  All the forms of my physicality  manifest around me.

Energy low and having to work to keep pushing through.  I feel the pain of the people in the desert moving forward.   Each day measuring energy and form.  The less I carry the better it is.  The more I open my heart and let go of anger and resentment the more energy I have.  Stacks of books I have yet to read.  Poetry I have yet to transpose.

Netzach, memories and music.  The second day takes me somewhere between judgement and music.  I listen to Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty”.  It reminds me of Reuben’s Steakhouse where Paragon (a local cover-band) played live music Wednesday thru Saturday nights and they would always close the night with that song.  Listening to the CD, the opening of the song is 30 seconds of silence waiting for the music to begin.  It’s a live recording.  In my mind, I can hear the shuffling of the waitresses and bartenders at Reuben’s, serving late night drinks.  The band tuning their instruments and chatter from the dancers on the floor.  The guitarist finally strumming out a downbeat and the opening chord hitting you like a body shot.   At the last break in the song the lead singer for Paragon would yell “Goodnight” and we knew it was last call.  I would walk in to Reuben’s sweaty from work, dance and drink.  I loved a waitress who worked there.  I wonder if she still has that picture of a movie star I gave her.

I breath, I meditate.  See what needs to be taken care of.  See the self-care that I need to invest in.  I play tennis, write, create, reach out to friends.  My world is large.  I marvel at how vivid a memory can be, all from the silence of a song.

The music this week made me dig and search.  Open my ears.  I danced.

Playlist for the week of Netzach

Day 22.  Chesed in Netzach.  Soul Meets Body by Death Cab for Cutie

(lyrics vibrate the meaning of the spiritual meeting the physical)

Day 23.  Guevara in Netzach.  Running On Empty by Jackson Browne

(the emptiness of “last call” energies I still carry in the desert)

Day 24. Tiferet in Netzach.  Love Will Keep Us Alive by the Eagles

(this song always awakens compassion and light)

Day 25. Netzach in Netzach.  Room To Move by John Mayall

(Endless possibilities, moving forward, dancing forward, past the half way point.)

Day 26.  Hod in Netzach.  Working on a Dream by Bruce Springsteen

(the struggle of bringing my dreams into physical reality, the energy of perseverance)

Day 27. Yesod in Netzach.  Life is a Highway by Tom Cochrane

(lyrics sing to me and shake the sefirah.  Dance of bringing our work in the world)

Day 28. Malchut in Netzach.  Changes by David Bowie

(Netzach’s challenge of facing my physical self at 67 years old)

 

What did you dance to?

 

Zack Hoffman 2017

The Week of Tiferet

The Week of Tiferet

The third week of the Omer is in Tiferet, the heart space.  Each day the meditations, realizations and conversation weave their way through me as I walk further into the desert.  The passing of souls and the pain of others bring me to tears this week.  I watch energy move.  I am grateful.

I light a candle and focus on the unspeakable name of God.  Yod Hey Vav Hey.   I breath into the heart space.  Nothing is perfect in meditation.  The only thing that has to be done is showing up and breathing.  All you need is the willingness to sit.  Sit in silence.  Sit and contemplate.  Sit and watch the inner mind movie play out in your head.  Sit and wait for the name of God to come back.  Sit and focus again.  Sit and the heart space lights up.  Yod Hey Vav Hey.

Selfcare makes my heart space lights up.  Sleep, sex, energy, and food challenge me.  There is no quick fix. I give myself the gift of going to see my massage therapist.  She moves the energies stuck in my body.  We heal ourselves and we heal each other.  I discover the little things are the big things.  Perfection is at times nothing more than sharing pizza and the NFL draft.   I show up for friends, I am hugged and greeted by smile.  People’s honesty brings tears to my eyes.  There is laughter and sorrow and I am in the middle of the boat.

The silhouette of Adonai can be seen in everyone.  Tselem is the Hebrew word for silhouette. Yod Hey Vav Hey.  Stack the letters on top of one another.  Take the Yod place it over the Hey, then the Vav and then over the other Hey.  It becomes person-like in form.  Tselem, the silhouette. The Yod is where the head is, the Hey is where the arms and shoulders are, the Vav is where the spine is, and the second Hey is where the legs and pelvis are.  My challenge was that I did not see people as the representation of the Tselem of Adonai but what my judgmental mind labeled them.  I am reminded to label everyone Yod Hey Vav Hey.

 

The music again was a joyous journey.  A deeper search further away from Mitzrayim.

Playlist for the week

Day 15.  Chesed in Tiferet.  Love Alive by Heart

(a beautiful message for compassion keeping my heart open)

Day 16.  Guevara in Tiferet.  Heart With No Companion by Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem

(the polarities of Leonard Cohen’s lyrics “with a heart so vast and shattered, it will reach you anywhere”)

Day 17. Tiferet in Tiferet.  This Little Light of Mine by Sam Cooke

(this song lights up my heart space)

Day 18. Netzach in Tiferet.  Love Vibration by Josh Rouse

(new music find, manifesting the vibrations of love)

Day 19.  Hod in Tiferet.  Dance Me To the End of Love by Madeleine Peyroux

(balance and imbalance is the dance we do.  My favorite cover of Leonard Cohen’s song)

Day 20. Yesod in Tiferet.  Yes We Can Can by Allen Toussaint

(bringing Compassion to all parts of the world and me)

Day 21. Malchut in Tiferet.  A Place in the World by Mary Chapin Carpenter

(walking in the desert, using my feet, looking for a place in the world)

What did you find?

Zack Hoffman 2017

The Week of Guevara

 

“We become better able to appreciate that our negative judgements keeps forms rigid.  Blessing allows flexibility.”  from “A Journey of Awakening” by Rabbi Ted Falcon.

This week I was challenged by my emotions.  Through it all life demonstrated friendship, family and gratitude.  I was humbled and took a risk.   This week in Guevara.

The desert is a hard place to be.  Once I get there I want it to be my home.  I cannot put down a structure in the sand.  I have to be ready to put my bedroll on my back and move.  Move like the light of the sefirot move through my body.   It is never easy.  I stood with all my broken parts.  I ran for cover, for numbness, for a chance not to feel my emotions, but they stood strong, not in judgement but in unity.  The energy moves through me.

This year I prepare to be unprepared.  More things are place in the desert.  I empty my life into the sand.  People, work, possessions, relationships, memories.   Initially I wanted to be anyone else but me.   The journey to wholeness is bringing parts of myself to connect human to human.

Stacks of headshots, tapes and cassettes and videos and mp3s.  Looking at all those things, pieces, places, parts of me I toss it all into the desert and I’m afraid to walk away.  It was a long journey and now I am ready to leave it in the desert.   Lovers would come and go from my life.  We all left unfulfilled.  I look at the judgment and negativity, it brings me pain.  I look at the grace I was given many years ago and it gives me hope.

I continue to find music to accompany me on this journey.  Pieces I have heard many time, some surprising me and new music I heard only this week.  I will be ready to dance.

 

Playlist for the Week of Guevara

 

Day 8.  Chesed in Guevara.  I Got a Feeling by the Beatles

(I struggle with my feelings as the Beatles struggled when they wrote this song)

Day 9.  Guevara in Guevara.  Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith

(allowing the energies of my emotions to arrive)

Day 10. Tiferet in Guevara.  Unchain my Heart by Ray Charles

(moving through my feelings in the heart space)

Day 11. Netzach in Guevara.  Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys

(the vibrations of emotions are the focus)

Day 12.  Hod in Guevara.  Learning How to Bend by Gary Allan

(negativity keeps me rigid and blessings make me flexible)

Day 13. Yesod in Guevara.  Letting Go by Wings

(accepting the self by letting go)

Day 14. Malchut in Guevara.  I Feel the Earth Move by Carol King

(the energy of bringing heaven and earth together)

 

What sings to you?

Zack Hoffman 2017

The Week of Chesed

Counting the Omer, the week of Chesed

(I am using Rabbi Ted Falcon’s book  “A Journey of Awakening” to count the Omer.  These are my reflections.)

I am challenged.  Stirred and shaken, I am asked to look at the energy of Lovingkindness for the week.  It travels through my body.  I am resistant.  I am asked to leave behind in the desert that which keeps me in slavery.  I am leaving behind my childhood abusers.  I am taking them from my consciousness, my life, my DNA and casting them out into the desert.  I imprison them naked and beaten in cages to perish in the desert.  There is no Lovingkindness.   My heart pounds as I dragged them out into the sand.  I am on the edge of the desert, I have not really left Mitzrayim.  I look back to see Egypt, still stuck, still no peace, still a slave.

I stay with the Omer.  Keep counting.  At times, I feel like a fraud but I keep breathing, keep meditating.  The energy swirling through me, challenging me.  Right shoulder into left shoulder. Then into my heart space.  The pictures of my tormentors shake me at midday.  I’m angry and confused.  I still have not moved deeply into the desert. I am on the skirt again. I am a slave again.  I have not let go of anything.  I am punishing, selfish and retaliatory.  I meditate.  Lovingkindness washes over me.  I awaken.  They are not my tormentors but Children of God.  I slowly walked to the cages and unlock them, give them clothes, water and food.  Show them to a beautiful rich Oasis.  The Oasis of Lovingkindness.  If they are not free I am not free.  The sefirah opens.  A parade of people are set free into the desert.  The Oasis of Lovingkindness waits for them.  Palm trees, shade, camels and goats, dates and fruit.  True abundance.  I watch my mother and father walk across the sand, smiling and waving.  I walk further into the desert.   I breath.  Shalom.

Music finds me.   The flow of energy for me has always had music to it.  I start to compile a playlist, one song for each day.  The wonderful thing about collecting music digitally is that I now have the library of a radio station on my computer.  The music of my youth.  Mostly from 1965 to 1985, but I have managed to keep up with times.  Jazz, rock, country, folk whatever music sings to me.  Now I begin a playlist for my journey.   At the end of the journey I will have a forty-nine-song playlist.

Here is the Playlist for Chesed.

Day 1. Chesed in Chesed…Beginnings by Chicago

(the lyrics “only the beginning of what I want to feel forever” jumped out)

Day 2. Gevurah in Chesed… More Love by Dixie Chicks

(beautiful song with strength, love and polarities)

Day 3. Tiferet in Chesed…Keep me in your Heart by Warren Zevon

(song of surrender and love)

Day 4. Netzach in Chesed… Express Yourself by Charles White and the Watts 103rd St. Band

(creative expression of lovingkindness)

Day 5. Hod in Chesed …Splendor by Tim Moyer

(New music for me.  Found this piece by searching the energy of the sefirah)

Day 6. Yesod in Chesed… Get Together by The Youngbloods

(My awakening was in the sixties)

Day 7. Malchut in Chesed… Higher Ground by Stevie Wonder

(Song of the sefirah that grounds me)

 

What music sings to you? What is your playlist?

Zack Hoffman    2017

 

 

Counting the Omer

Counting the Omer

“The tight or stuck places for which Mitzrayim (Egypt) is a metaphor exist within the self, to be discovered and released as we grow.  Spiritual awakening requires releasing ourselves from our inner enslavement to old patterns, old self-definitions, old beliefs.”

Rabbi Ted Falcon from “A Journey of Awakening”

I begin seven weeks of counting the Omer.  Meditating on the energies on the Kabbalistic tree of Life.  A tradition.  A ritual.  A companion to Passover.  Spiritually we have escaped Egypt, or Mitzrayim.  A place of stuckness.  Now we are in the desert.  For seven weeks, I will cross the desert to the promised land of freedom.  What do I bring with me?  What will I leave behind in the desert?  Will I leave behind stubbornness and procrastination?  Will I take with me an open heart?  I prepare, I write and still I am confused.  Slavery can be deceiving, like an old pair of slippers that are worn and eaten away, the fit is still comfortable, still familiar.  Freedom is the unknown, places that open the hole in the middle of my chest.  Do I brave the fear or cling to what is familiar but useless?

I want to leave behind loneliness, pack it up and bury it in the sand.  Pack up the addict that lurks in the shadows and whispers in my ear as sadness whispers in the other.  I will be surprised.  I will pack something I think I need and it will have to go.  I will rush back and uncover something I buried and take it with me again.  I will meditate on being human.  I will meditate on being free.  I will trudge the desert like my ancestors before me.

I will count the sheaves one at a time.  One sefriot at a time.  One meditation at a time. Watch the energy move through the tree of life.   Watch the energy move in and out of my body and breath.   I am familiar with that.  I am ready.  I have been here before.

Zack Hoffman 2017

 

Latkes as Love

My grandmother’s kitchen always felt safe.   If I was Quasimodo, I would not need to ring the bell in church steeple and yell “Sanctuary!”.  Sanctuary for me was sitting in a red vinyl chair in my grandmother’s kitchen on Glengary Avenue in Toronto.  My grandmother’s meals were always nurturing.  When I need comfort I immediately think of my grandmother’s meals.  The meal I still remember as being pure comfort was a small bowl of Lipton’s chicken noodle soup, followed by some green beans, followed by potato latkes.  There is no emptiness that that meal will not fill.  Not a permanent fix but for that moment in time; I am full, I am safe, I am loved.

I lived in Los Angeles but at the end of the summer I would usually fly to Toronto and spend six weeks with my grandmother.  Usually the six weeks before school started.    On arriving at my grandmother’s house there would be latkes and baked rice pudding.  All the unhappiness of the past ten months would melt away in the safety of my Grandmother’s kitchen and an outpouring of food.

Sometimes after coming in from playing in the park, I would be met by a large stack of potatoes and a peeler.  My Grandmother preparing rice pudding or veranchicas, she needed help with the potatoes.  Then I was given the rectangular metal grater and was instructed to “shraboon” (the Yiddish word for grate).   I would grate the potatoes and try not to add too much of my knuckle skin or blood.

At the ripe old age of 19, standing in my grandmother’s kitchen, I had a moment of clarity.  If I wanted to have latkes more than the once a year I came to Toronto I was going to have to make them for myself.   I turned to my grandmother was drinking a cup of Red Rose tea and said, “Granny can you give me the recipe for latkes?”  My grandmother looked at me and she said, “There’s no recipe?  I will make them and you can watch me.”  We prepared some potatoes and then she turned to me, smiled and said “Sharboon!”.  There were no measuring tools, no cups or teaspoons.  Breadcrumbs were measured by the handfuls, and the same hand was used to measure out a small mounds of pepper and salt in the middle of my grandmother’s hand.   She separated the egg yokes and beat the whites so when the eggs were added to the potato mixture it would make it all fluffier.  I admit in my recipe I have dropped the ball with beating the egg whites and I have improved on the grating of the potatoes by using my Cuisinart mini food processor.  I push a button that says “chop” and say “Shraboon!”.

In a few days it will Passover.  I love this holiday.  The message of freedom from bondage. That we were slaves and live in Egypt (Mitzryim) which literally means “a place of stuckness”.  Where do I now still live in slavery?  Am I ready to pack up and walk toward freedom?  What do I leave behind?  What do I take with me?   I will always pack a few potatoes, some eggs, onion, breadcrumbs and my Grandmother’s love.

There is a Universal Spirituality  Seder with Rabbi Ted Falcon on Wednesday April 12th.  One of my favorite things to do.  There is a link in case you want to join me and we can break matzo together.

Happy Passover.

March 28th 2017

I am sitting at the kitchen table of my cousin’s home in Nanoose Bay, British Columbia watching Spring and Winter battle for dominance through the wind and clouds.

Tomorrow is my 67th Birthday.  It is quiet and reflective. No wild party.  No DJ is being hired so I can rock out to Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels singing “Devil with the Blue Dress”.  It will come and go and hopefully there will be no blazing cake that might need a fire extinguisher.   Perhaps a corned beef on rye!  Strange now that the gift I think of giving myself is a professional hair trimmer for the hair growing uncontrollably around my ears.  These are the things I think about, that and how long will me knees last me playing “old man” tennis.

Yesterday I found an old book of poems.  One I had loved.  One I had lost.  I found “Selected Poems from 1956 to 1968” by Leonard Cohen.   Out of print, it had disappeared from my life over a decade ago.  It was given to me by a woman who I loved deeply when I was 19 years old.  My own fears, insecurity and the fact she lived 3000 miles away broke us apart.  I was not very good at carrying on a friendship with those I had loved, but I did carry that book with me for over thirty years.  From apartment to apartment, across borders and state lines, on planes and in cars.  Where ever I landed and had a bookshelf it would sit.

Then it was lost, by time or carelessness or by some absent minded borrower.  Yesterday I found it again.  On a dusty shelf of a large Thrift Store in downtown Parksville.  It flew into my hand and I was out the door after paying on three dollars for my birthday treasure.  The cover was worn and faded, just as I remembered it.

My cousin said to me, “It is bashert!”.  In Yiddish it means my destiny or fate.

I don’t know about that but it was good to visit with my old friend Leonard Cohen, who I only met on the pages of this book.  He inspired me to write poetry, to risk, to talk honestly.  I mourned his death last year.  Thank you Leonard for your music and your words.  And thank you to the Love who put the book in my hands so many years ago.

Zack Hoffman 2017

Having It Out With God

(note: I read this piece at our Writer’s Readout in March.  We only have 5 minutes to read so I wanted to put the completed writing up.)

 

Having it out with God.

I am crawling out of my skin.  I have been sober for 4 months and now there is no block…no buffer…no end to my pain.  I understand the reason but reason doesn’t remove the pain.  I have been numb for 20 years and now I am raw.   I turn to my therapist, we talk but I am still in pain.  It is then I go to see my spiritual advisor.  Everyone should have a spiritual advisor.  Mine has tattoos, wears a leather jacket, used to deal heroin, rides a motorcycle.  Usually these things would scare me but he has a light in his eyes.  A kind of light I want.  He talks about serenity and breathing.  He listens to me when I speak.  Except I don’t speak, I unload.

He smiles, takes a deep breath and says, “You need help, and unfortunately it’s more help than I can give you.   You need to ask someone else for help.”

Who do I ask?

“You are going to have to ask God for help.”

And I felt like the guy on a rope hanging off a cliff.  The guy is screaming “help me! help me!” and he hears a voice, “Yes my child, I am God I will help you”

“Help me God”

“Yes my child .,.just let go of the rope”

( a long pause)

Is there anybody else up there?

Not God. Not that bullshit.  They tried to sell me God, when I was a child but after a while, after disappointment, after fear, after betrayal, after feeling like a thunderbolt was being thrown in my general direction on a daily basis, after all of it, I look up, I was on my knees looking up for God, kneeling by my bed needy, hopeful, discouraged, and I looked up and I saw only ceiling. There was no God. And now you tell me I have to seek God for help.  He’s not up there! And if he is he doesn’t give a shit about me. No not God. Not the God that sent the Laughing man and Mr. Cinnamon. No Way!

My spiritual advisor takes another deep breath, he looks at me and he said, “you need to go somewhere. You need to go somewhere deserted.  A mountain, a Valley, a desert.   Somewhere with space, somewhere where you can be alone, just you and God, and then you can have it out with God once and for all.  You can yell scream kick punch do whatever you want.   But when you’re finished you have to listen to what God has to say.”

Well that sounded good to me. Me against God. Mano-a-deity. Me against the capital italics Him.  Me against the myth that there actually is something out there.

So I found a mountain and I got a backpack. And I started to prepare myself. Started to get ready for a 10 round no holds barred winner take all battle with the supreme being.

Cue the Rocky music and the training montage.  Now it’s an out of shape Jewish Rocky, and I have Mick with me.  He’s training me to be an atheist. And I am doing sit-ups with the works of Voltaire and the Communist manifesto strapped to my chest.

I am memorizing quotes like:

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime; give a man religion and he will die praying for a fish.”

I grunt and snarl as the training heats up.  I start to jog up the mountain with quotes from Bernard Shaw and Mark Twain and Gene Roddenberry.  And I keep moving up the mountain slowly methodically waiting for a chance to knock God on his eternal ass.   Because I was pissed.  All the events in my life where I felt abandoned and betrayed flickered one after another like an illuminated scrapbook.  I was ready to confront this God of theirs.   I am ready, I am abstinent, I am clear, I am clean.  I have nothing but a backpack and I take that to the top of the mountain.

It is quiet and the clouds roll through the top of the mountain like fog.

In a clearing I see the ring.

I climb in.

Start to dance.

Show off a few moves with a couple of quotes about the nonexistence of the supreme Being.  I’m getting myself pumped up I am ready.

The microphone drops from the sky and the announcers voice begins, “Ladies and Gentlemen. Beings and creatures. All life on the planet. We are here tonight for 10 round battle for self-determination. For a final solution. For an answer to “is there or isn’t there”.  For the Enlightenment of the soul. Let’s introduce our fighters.   Let’s meet the challenger first. In this corner. Masticator, Hunter gatherer, prone to fits of depression, anger, low self-esteem, warlike behavior, selfishness, self-indulgence, masturbation fornication defecation a flesh bag of meat, once exiled from the Garden of Eden it’s the one the only man.

My hands fly in the air I dance. Moving back and forth in the ring there is silence. A wind howls through the mountains. Nothingness. Emptiness. Silence. I stopped dancing and move back to the corner and wait.

The announcer speaks again,

“And in this corner the being who is supreme. The spark of all life. Holy one of being. His name has echoed through the world in 100 different languages. Energy of prayer. Praise for the ruler of all rulers. Mother. Father. Brother. Sister. Friend. Beloved. The Clear Channel of all energy.  The great creator.  The universal presence. The one, the only God.”

Voices begin singing, chanting. Choruses of Ohmmm and Ahmmm and shalom fill my ears.  A thousand birds fly overhead singing praise, and the animals are shouting and roaring.   Crackling lightning and thunder, the clouds part and the sun shines.  Then there is an eerie silence.  The clouds again begin to move across the mountain top.

I looked across the ring and I could almost see a figure but no, there was nothing there. There was a light. And the light seemed to move. There were no referees. No ring girls in bikinis carrying signs. No one was in my corner or in the Deity’s corner either, just the light shifted back and forth and suddenly there was a bell.  A clear Bell, the bell I was waiting for.  I saw nothing from the other corner so moved in that direction, the direction of the fog and light.  I move from my corner and started to raise my fist, raise my fist to smack God right into oblivion.  In a millisecond I was hit,  hit with a wave.  A wave that picked me up like a tsunami.  A wave that exploded across my whole body and I was powerless, motionless, frozen and in slow motion I started to fall forward toward the mat.  I’m falling forward but I heard a sound, a sound that engulfs me as I continued to fall. I slam against the mat and hear a word. It was clear and distinct and overwhelming.  The word was “Love”.

It was an instant but I am down and I am out .  I lay on the ground surrounded by silence.   I don’t know how long I was out, the ring had disappeared there was only the mountain and my backpack.  My consciousness came back and all I could do was honor the promise that I made.  I closed my eyes and I listened.  All I could hear was the echoing in my head, one word rattling around that had brought me to my knees, took me down to the mat, all I could hear was “love”.

I have encountered God on my terms and now I must walk down the mountain.  Walk down the mountain and surrender one foot in front of the other.  The war is over and I have lost.  All I can do is surrender to an open heart, to risk, to reach, to work, to fail, to succeed one foot in front of the other.
The battle has not scarred me.

I do not limp away from God after the confrontation head hung and feet shuffling.

The encounter doesn’t take my pride, my esteem, my worth, my joy.

I am not possessed, wildly shouting and speaking in tongues.

The encounter doesn’t ruin me, shame me, humiliate me.

I do not walk away from God bloodied or bruised.

I do not walk away from God broken or disabled.

I do not walk away from God with clenched fists or a broken heart.

I do not walk away from God.

I walk away with God.

Zack Hoffman 2017

Smoking While Sober

Smoking While Sober

For me, the first addiction was cigarettes.  Nicotine.  I was sixteen years old when I started in earnest.  Inhaling the smoke, stuffing down the feelings even then at 16.  The brand I started with was True cigarettes.  They were trendy cigarettes in the late 60’s. True had a plastic tip.  My best friend smoked Tareyton which had the charcoal filter.  My mother smoked Marlboro Gold 100’s in the crush proof pack.  I know that because I used to steal them.  I have smoked pretty much everything in the tobacco world.  From Shermans and the French Gauloises to Drum, Dutch roll your own shag tobacco and the worst being Silons from Israel.  Silon means “jet” in Hebrew and you could get ten packs of Silon a week on the kibbutz.   Non-filtered tobacco that would get you coughing you lungs out in no time at all.   At the end of my smoking career I was smoking Camel Lights filtered in a crush proof pack.

“Switching seats on the Titanic” is a phrase you hear a lot in recovery programs. What it means is there are primary and secondary addictions.  If you’re abstaining from alcohol another addiction will usually raise its ugly head.   Like the game Whack-a-mole.  Whack!  After drugs and alcohol it was smoking.  Whack!  When I first got sober I was probably smoking between 10 and 15 cigarettes a day.  Almost a pack but not quite.  By the time I have had nine months of sobriety I was closing in on two packs a day.  This was insane because I use my voice to make my living.

When I got sober I thought a lot of things would immediately happen which didn’t.  I thought I would get a new girlfriend, large sums of money, my career in show business would return.  I got none of that.  What I got was clarity. “What a rook!” I thought to myself.  I get clarity.  I felt like I had somehow been cheated.  I got clarity, showing me that I make my living with my voice and either I want to use my voice for the rest of my life or I’m full of crap.  I can continue smoking and ruining my voice and lungs or I can see smoking for what it is, a secondary addiction.  At a year and a half into my sobriety I quit smoking.  The clarity is that I can apply the same tools I used to keep me off drugs and alcohol.

Anyone can quit smoking.  It’s not easy but it is simple.  Once you have gone 72 hours without nicotine the physical addiction is gone. The rest is all mental.   My ritual in the morning for the past year and a half was to get down on my knees and ask God to relieve me from the obsession of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine.  I didn’t think God would mind if I added one more thing, which I did.  “Dear God. Please help me live this day without drugs alcohol and tobacco. Your will not mine be done.”  That was the prayer but then I needed action. I was taught that, “Faith without works is dead”.   I went to work.  I did two things right away.  I bought organic cinnamon sticks.  I needed something to handle the oral and tactile part of smoking.  Cinnamon sticks filled the bill.   They were the size and shape of cigarettes and you can put them in your mouth, and because they are hollow and you can take a drag on them just like a cigarette.  You could hold them between your fingers exactly like you did with the cigarette.  This works for the physical and tactical manifestation of the cigarette.

The second thing I did was get a large glass jar.  I was spending five dollars a day on cigarettes so I put five dollars a day in the jar.  Here was the deal that I made with myself.   If I fell off the wagon and went back to smoking cigarettes then I would have to toss a match into the jar and burn up all that money because that’s what I was doing by smoking: burning up money.  Within two weeks the jar was cram jammed with a lot of cash.   Now in the 12 step program I was working you got rewarded.   You got chips for 30, 60 and 90 days of abstinence.  I was going to use that glass jar and all that cash to create a rewards system too.  I would buy something for myself at 30, 60 and 90 days and stick the receipt in the glass jar.  I would get something nicer for six months and 9 months.   When I had a year without smoking I would take myself on a vacation.   At 30 days I bought a very thick beautiful plush terrycloth bathrobe, and I put the receipt in the jar along with the remaining money.  At 60 days high end Cologne and at 90 days shirts and slacks.  At six months I put a new sound system in my car.   When I had a year off cigarettes I took a first-class vacation to Palm Springs California.

It wasn’t always easy but it was enlightening.  At 30 days off of cigarettes I was driving a friend to the airport.  On the way back I was listening to Stevie Wonder’s song “Heaven Is Ten Zillion Light Years Away”.  About a minute into the song I was sobbing.  It’s a good song but I think it had more to do with the fact that I had spent years stuffing my feeling and now they were surfacing.  At times all it needed was a little push by Stevie Wonder.

Another time I was upset because someone wasn’t doing what I wanted them to do.  Imagine that!  I was angry.  Later that evening I was with my friend Jan (who smoked) and I said to her, “How many cigarettes do you have on you?”  Not if I could have one but how many because I need to know if I need to stop and get a carton because I was still angry and wanted to smoke that anger away.  That was the kind of addict I was.  A carton!  Her answer was “three” and I had a moment of clarity.  There it is again “Clarity”.  It wasn’t about the cigarettes, it was about the fact I was spiritually unfit.  I was angry, resentful, I was powerless and I wanted to stuff my feelings.  Then I saw cigarettes, not as a nicotine delivery device but a spiritual thermometer.  I was able to stop and take my temperature.  To breath and turn it over.  To let go and let Jan have her cigarettes.

One foot in front of the other, one breath at a time, I have walked into a place of self-care.   The good news is that you get your feelings back, the bad news is that you get your feelings back.  These feelings of joy and anger, peace and jealousy, love and fear at times feel like a rollercoaster ride. The alternative is numbness.  I willingly purchase another ticket for the next ride.

 

Zack Hoffman 2017