October 8, 2021 / 2 Cheshvan, 5782

What Is Essential?

Genesis 6:9-11:32

journeys of lifetimes
discern what is essential
bring what sustains us

The second Torah reading coincided with my second Shabbes in Gandoca, the small village on the Caribbean coast where I have come to live with an extended family during my Shmitah journey. On Erev Shabbes of Parashat Noach, a huge rainstorm beat down all night long and continued throughout the next day. I wondered what the next forty days and nights would bring! I tried to imagine what it would be like if it rained like that for the next forty days and nights …

I reflected on Noach packing up all of the animals, two by two, and trying to discern what was essential to take on the ark; trying to figure out what he needed to keep safe for sustaining the world after the deluge that was to come. I imagine that he must have wanted to scoop up everything! Everything that made up his world that he could not imagine living without or leaving behind. Maybe even inconsequential stuff, not knowing what the future might hold.

For us, discerning what is essential is an ongoing process, not a one-time task. What may have been essential for one part of the journey, may no longer serve us. What we thought we understood in a particular way may have shifted. What we had a place for at one time, we may no longer have room for. What once stood at the center of our lives, may be now sidelined.

When packing for my 3-week wellness retreat last summer, I considered what was essential to bring. I tried to pack only what I thought that I would need for the retreat. I limited my baggage to a small wheeled-suitcase and a small duffle bag. At that point, I thought that I would only be away for three weeks.

When plans shifted at the end of the retreat, and I extended my stay in Costa Rica, what I considered essential to keep with me also shifted. I tried to think about not only what items I would need or not need going forward but, also, I took into consideration how heavy was the load I was carrying. The day after arriving in Nosara, I packed up a box to ship home clothes I had for colder weather and papers I no longer needed. Dead weight. I needed to let go of everything weighing me down. Everything that was no longer essential.

Two weeks later, I sent another package home with my non-working laptop and other non-essential items. Items that had become obsolete on my continuing journey.

And as I was considering what clothing and other items were essential and not essential for the journey ahead, I also wondered more broadly about what felt essential to my life at that point in time. Questions arose such as: What is essential that I do now, at this stage of my life? What do I still need to do in this lifetime that feels essential? What is the essence of what I have to offer–where are my gifts needed and best suited? What is the essence of what I need to sustain my physical health and well-being? And how can I keep peeling away layers of “extra stuff” and let go of all but the essential … and get down to the core of my being? To my essence.

To get down to the lowest body mass I need—letting go of all eating that is not essential. Not just going with the flow of three meals/day. Really tuning in to what fuel my body needs, and when. I feel that I have been carrying around a body too large for my frame or comfort for way too many years. I, literally, was so weighted down and so detached from my essential being, that moving through life came to feel so arduous for me. I felt detached from the essence of my life.

I left all of my jewelry and makeup at home. To be fair, I don’t generally wear much jewelry or makeup or anyway, though I do like to wear earrings often. I didn’t set out on this journey not intending to wear any jewelry for a year, but now I am taking it up as a mindfulness practice in this Shmitah year … to let all non-essential adornment lie fallow. To just go with the basics. My basic body, just as it is. Just as it came into the world and will some day leave this world. Unadorned. Un-madeup. Unencumbered. Un-weighted down.

Nothing extra. Nothing that is not absolutely needed for survival. Just the essential. I’m curious to find out what that will look and feel like.




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