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Happy New Year, Indeed

Dr. David Fialk, Editor / Publisher

Last night was the beginning of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, literally, "the head of the year". A little before it did, as the sun was setting, I made my way across town to the rabbi's house, having been invited to a celebratory dinner, along with 50 other people.

Getting attention

There, at one of the four long tables set up on the patio, an 80-year-old acquaintance, B., sat down next to me, asking me how I was. "Fine," I answered, but not being the sort to leave it at that, and by way of making conversation, I began to elaborate more meaningfully; "Attention is a hierarchical function; we choose what to notice. For example, right now you are paying attention to me, and not the children making noise over there."

B. objected, "What's wrong with paying attention to children? I like kids." Not having implied that there was anything wrong with paying attention to kids, not wanting to discuss childhood at that moment, I continued to expound my very brief idea: "Attention is hierarchical. What we notice determines our reality." Maybe it was my tone, but at this B. objected again, admonishing me, "Let's not get preachy."

Now, we were at the rabbi's house, a house that frequently doubles as a synagogue. And, we were attending a religious celebration. So, everyone present had the well-founded expectation that at some point in the evening things were going to get preachy.

On this solid ground, I explained to B. that preachiness was, at least in part, the point of the evening, and finished my thought: "Attention is hierarchical. What we notice determines our reality. Luckily I'm getting much better at directing my attention." That said, I asked him about his lady-friend.

People were still arriving, and four of them sat down on my other side, two couples, one in their twenties and one in their sixties, all seemingly related. My friend S. arrived with his daughter and, everyone squeezing a bit closer together, pulled up chairs, separating me from B.

It's all about me

The matriarch of the group of four soon announced that they had traveled 38 hours to be there. On behalf of those in attendance, I thanked them for their efforts. She went on to declare "We're here, because her [the yet-unnamed young lady's] father lives in Mexico City." Unable to grasp the import of what she was saying, I none-the-less proposed a toast to the seemingly fortuitous placement of the sire. She went on that she and the young lady had never met before. With all these disjoint facts being thrown at me, I was feeling like I was in a quiz show, some weird version of What's My Line, when she added another yet irrelevant clue, correcting herself, "Well, we have met on Zoom." My puzzlement ("What the hell is she talking about?") must have become visible, because, at that point, the younger man in her party, her son as it turned out, sitting farthest down the table from me, compassionately broke in informing me that he had just married the young, yet-unnamed, lady.

The matriarch's riddle resolved, I wished the new couple congratulations, "Mazel tov. Mazel tov," and addressing myself to S., discreetly observed that this woman, the matriarch, had been speaking backwards, "Certainly, the place to start the story would have been, 'My son just married this young lady.' That should have been the lead. And she makes it all about her." After some hearty laughter at the irony of the situation, S. added, "Yes, and now she has invited herself along on the couple's honeymoon."

Heads or tails

A short while later, after we made the blessing over the wine and broke bread, the rabbi observed the Rosh Hashanah tradition of eating the head of a fish. This custom, a head for the "Head of the Year," reminds us to "Be the head, and not the tail." New year, whatever your persuasion is a time of resolutions. The ritual of the fish head advises us to intelligently choose and follow through on these new resolutions, instead of being led along mindlessly like a tail.

I see S. infrequently. A film director, he is completely occupied with developing his next projects. He does, however read these, my weekly articles, and so has the ongoing glimpse into my inner world that they provide... as do you, dear reader. After proclaiming me a poet and praising my "evolution," he went on to offer some criticism of my advocacy for internet project, my vision for community-based, non-commercial internet.

S., who is doing his own fundraising, said, "People are so caught up in the clown-show that is today's media that they cannot imagine a healthier, more civil, more rational alternative. There are many rich people who would love to support your project, but they haven't thought things out like you have. You should not be frustrated with them. They don't yet understand what you are advocating. You have to explain it better."

The horse before the cart

In a certain way, I am just as self-centered as last night's matriarch. I am very self-referential. I keep asking myself: Why am I having this experience? How does this person reflect my inner world? What am I supposed to learn from this?

Then, in my analogy about the head and the tail, I have perhaps not been fair to the backside. After all, the tail does have its virtue. It propels, pushing things along. Of course, if you don't know where you are going, if the head isn't leading the way, all that flapping is in vain, or worse, takes you in the wrong direction.

I admit that, like last night's matriarch, I have been talking backwards, with my thoughts not in order, my ducks not in line. So too, in some significant way(s) I am just as distracted as my 80-year-old acquaintance. I had been forcing things, swimming against the current, then wondering why I was not making any progress.

But attention is hierarchical, and, directing it self-referentially, I notice that my frustration is not new. It precedes my internet project by years... decades. The frustration, my oldest acquaintance, comes from inside me. Having "not learned the lesson of [my] history [I've been] doomed to repeat it," repeatedly.

Stumbling blocks and stepping stones

But, luckily I'm getting much better at directing my attention. The magic is that when I notice this frustration, this vestige of my unresolved childhood, emotional trauma, and give it compassionate, respectful space here on this page, then I stop having to act the frustration out in my life.

"You find, paradoxically, that what you have been running away from turns out to be the source of your authentic being." - James Hillman, Dean of the Zurich Jung School

When I get the rhythm right, stumbling blocks transform into stepping stones, thoughts gel, explanations become honed. Sometimes painfully, I've been reordering the jumble, and have gotten to the point where, now, the pieces have started falling into place by themselves. The cart finally behind the horse, the journey has begun in earnest.

It's only been 24 hours, but so far, it's been a great new year... indeed.


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