It’s Dirty Work But We’ve All Got to Do It.
We have mud! Still.
This summer my husband and I took a wonderful road trip through Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Washington. It was all we hoped for; wandering in and out of small towns and across our beautiful country. Yet, like most road trips, there is always some adventure that, while in the moment cuts the excitement, turns into a funny and warm memory. For us, this adventure involved Moab, Utah and red mud. Lots of mud. And our car stuck in it.
Eight weeks later, we still find bits of mud in the car. It emerges from tiny crevices. There is still a thin, almost transparent coating of red dust on the floor of the car. Will a complete car detailing get rid of all of it? How long will it continue to reappear?
Elul, and this period of recounting and reflection, is the time for thinking about all the other types of mud we have in our lives – that stuff that sticks to us, gnaws at us, makes us feel un-whole. That stuff we want to get rid of so we can really start the year off with a clean slate. That stuff we want to wash away: the wrongs we’ve done, the wrongs done to us that still hurt, the behaviors or attitudes we want to change, the old patterns that don’t serve us well anymore…
This kind of “mud” is even harder to get rid of. It is not necessarily intuitive. Its something we have to learn how to do. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi tells a story about teaching a young girl about forgiveness.
The girl asked him, “How do you do it?”
Reb Zalman reflects on her question, thinking, “it was as if nobody had ever shown her how to do forgiving.”
So, he said to her, “Could you imagine that you have a beautiful shiny white dress on, and here comes this big clump of mud and dirties it? You would want to clean it off, wouldn’t you?”
“Oh, yes,” she said.
“Could you imagine then, instead of the mud being on the outside on your dress, the mud is in your heart?”
“And being angry with people and not forgiving them is like mud on your heart.”
“I’d sure want to get rid of that,” she said.
“OK, how are you going to go about doing that?”
Reb Zalman then suggests that “she close her eyes, raise up her hands in her imagination, and draw down some golden light and let it flow over that mud on her heart until it was all washed away. In this way, she really understood forgiving.”
In Moab, as my husband and I finally pulled back onto paved road after 24 hours in the mud the wheels were shaking as we accelerated. The mud, caked on like clay, was effecting the axles. Just like the young girl in Reb Zalman’s story, we too needed to learn how to get rid of the mud. “Get that car washed, and you’ll be fine,” was the advice we got from some of the locals.
If only it were as easy as getting car wash. Letting go of hurt feelings, changing those comforting-yet-not-healthy behaviors, and recognizing when pride and ego lead to hurting others take more than just meditation and prayer and visualization. It takes support from loved ones. It takes patience and discipline. It takes faith in one’s own ability to grow and become a better person. And it takes time.
That thin, almost transparent coating of red dust might remain there for a while. But eventually, it will wash away.