Be Weird, My Friends
NO BOUNDARIES. That’s what the bumper sticker on the highway said.
Conversely, people often say they need healthy boundaries. What does that mean?
“Healthy boundaries” usually implies well-defined, impermeable lines, but boundaries are often a place of exchange or transition.
We see this in nature. The richest diversity of life is most often in the transition zones between habitats or biomes. If you want to see more beings, more critters, find this liminal zone. (Thanks to a new teacher, Ian Sanderson, here in Colorado for this insight).
What about boundaries or transition zones in our lives? They are often disconcerting, but after the fact we see how fertile they were. Perhaps Toirah might have something to say about this? Well, not directly, but I’ll come up with something.
Leviticus dictates situations where someone is sent “outside the camp.” This is not a banishment though, not a severing from the community. There is still relationship with the camp and community. One is not sent out fully into the wilderness (like the “scapegoat”), but is sent to the edge of and exposed to wilderness or wildness. It is a liminal, vulnerable place, but also a place of exchange of information or learning from two biomes, so to speak.
The person returns to the camp with grand ritual and sacrificial “sin” offerings. I think differently though (as may be obvious by now). I think of these offerings as gifts of lessons or new insights from the edge, the liminal space between the wild unknown and the camp. What is to be learned out there? The ritualized return is a reintegration of the person back into community with their new wisdom or perspective. Perhaps these sections in Torah are, in fact, more about the quality of reentry with offerings from the wild edge rather than about the reason for sending someone out, which is the typical focus.
Many traditions consider this liminality, being betwixt and between, as a positive thing. Michael Meade talks about the definition of weird in ancient Welsh as having a foot in both worlds. The islamic notion of darwish is being on the threshold of worlds.
Our own boundaries are not as distinct as we typically think. We are in continuous exchange and communication with the world. David Abram has written an entire book about this riffing on phenomenological thinking of Merleau-Ponty. We often say we breathe in what the trees breathe out and vice versa.
This is all heady stuff, but we can see it playing out in our own lives. At least I can see it in my life. My greatest growth, particularly spiritual growth, has been when I cross boundaries or come through liminal or transitional times. By the way, the Hebrew translation of the word “Hebrew” (i.e., Ivri) is from the root to cross over, and Rabbi Gershon Winkler has said that we Jews are in our essence boundary crossers. I like to say the sweat lodge has made me a “better Jew.” It helped me to see the wisdom of my tradition from a new perspective, making my connection to it deeper and more intimate.
Now, I’m not saying it’s easy. Being on the edge in a liminal place in life can feel unsettling. Where do you belong? Which way should you go? But there are lessons that are available to us in these times, if we can open to them, from the intermingling of the two worlds. Of course, even the confusion or not-knowing itself can be a source of learning. One teaching about such moments that my first spiritual director gifted me with, and that I share at every opportunity is just to stay curious (thank you, Ori). Step into the witness.
I most recently felt such liminality after returning from a Soulcraft intensive in the San Juan mountains in SW Colorado. It was five days of deep connection to Mother Nature, of forest time and inter-being with the forest and the land. The location was mesmerizingly beautiful — rich, vibrant aspen forests with the largest aspen trees I’ve ever seen; wild roses, green gentians, and columbines boldly and boastfully spreading their petals to say “Look at me!;” and the carpet of deep green, feathery Osha all at the base of Shandoka, the Weather Maker. Adding to the magic of the place, it was snowing aspen seeds! I learned some things, or as the mystic poet Kabir said, “Brother, I’ve seen some astonishing sights.”
Returning to the highway speeds, straight lines and four walls of “civilization” (“domestication” might be more accurate, but that’s another blog) was difficult to process. How do I integrate and live the teaching from those days, from the forest? Were they real? Realizing now that I was in a liminal space and somewhat disoriented, betwixt and between, I can hold that forest time and still be in the “real” world (I’ll avoid debating which world is real for now). I can take the lessons from outside the community back as an offering to my community.
And I can be proudly weird.
Brother, I’ve Seen Some
Translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
Brother, I’ve seen some
A lion keeping watch
Over pasturing cows;
A mother delivered
After her son was;
A guru prostrated
Before his disciple;
A cat carrying away
Driving a bullock-cart;
A buffalo going out to graze,
Sitting on a horse;
A tree with its branches in the earth,
Its roots in the sky;
A tree with flowering roots.
This verse, says Kabir,
Is your key to the universe.
If you can figure it out.