Ancient of Days

yogiAt the ALEPH Kallah, I attended the first session of the Saging workshop, taught by Annie Klein and Rabbi Richard Simon.

On that first day, we were invited to journey into active imagination to meet our Atik Yamim, Ancient of Days.

Reb Zalman calls the Atik Yamim an archetypal aspect of Divinity. Atik Yamim captures a human sense of infinity, the wisdom that comes from having seen it all. Each of us imagines the Atik Yamim with a unique face drawn from our own personal symbol system.

During my imaginative journey, I saw the Atik Yamim as a team of two elders, my late mother Ruthie and my late cat Yogi.

I asked them, “What qualities should I develop for the journey ahead?” Of course they gave me two contradictory answers.

“Love,” said Yogi. “Meet everything that comes your way with full acceptance.”

“Boundaries,” said Mom. “Take care of yourself and speak up when things aren’t right.”

Two teachings. Two teachers. Two inner guides.

The Zohar says: God manifests differently in each generation, depending on that generation’s spiritual needs. My experience says: Atik Yamim manifests differently in each situation, depending on the guidance I need.

Mom and Yogi were real life teachers; I internalized their wisdom long ago. They live on in my imagination as personal symbols. They emerge upon invitation, as ideal shapes that my older, wiser self might take; shapes in the image of Atik Yamim, One who has seen it all.

At the Kallah, I also attended a workshop on the Piaceztner Rebbe, led by Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener. After a few minutes, I got involved in helping an older woman wind through the crowd seated on the floor, and, I confess, lost track of the workshop’s conceptual thread. But no matter! Because the one thread I followed led to the Minotaur’s den and back out again.

As R. Andrea spoke of finding God through reflection on our own spiritual qualities, she said, “shame protects you.” And I wondered, how does shame protect you? Feeling ashamed of who you are opens you to terrible suffering; that’s not what R. Andrea means. Feeling ashamed of an action may protect you from repeating it. But the context of self-reflection suggests that R. Andrea had something deeper in mind.

To help me think this through, I found a concrete example of something that brings me to shame. Almost forty years ago, before I had reached the age of discernment, before I could make educated guesses about moral character, I said something ordinary…to the wrong person, and harm resulted. Yes, the perpetrators served time; the victims are flourishing; everyone’s life has long since moved on.

And yet I am still ashamed. No amount of reflection dissipates the shame; nothing can explain it away.

Shame is a judgment offered by my older self who has seen and knows so much more.

Shame reassures me that an older, wiser self is always just around the corner.

Shame proves that I grow in wisdom and discernment, embracing higher standards for love and boundaries.

Shame teaches that the Atik Yamim, a potential for future wisdom, is always with me.

Atik Yamim manifests differently in each situation, depending on the guidance I need.

Thank you to all my teachers.

  1. There is so much to be learned from pain. The greatest of all is the healing power of Gods love. Thank you Rabbi Laura, one of my teachers.

  2. Thank you, Reb Laura, for putting the comforting face of discernment, of Atik Yamin, on this painful emotion — for us and for yourself
    Sending sweet shabbat forest breeze your way.

  3. Thank you Reb Laura for sharing this and for being so real. I learn so much from what you learn and share.

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