In the margins of the book I'm reading, I just wrote "WHAT?"

Marc Gafni, in the Mystery of Love, one of the most absorbing books I've ever read, made the statement that when we love deeply, "ego boundaries dissolve, self is expanded to include other, and the true intimacy of shared identity is achieved."

Okay so far.

Then he wrote, This "beloved could be a man or a woman, a child, a community, a vocation, location, animal, or cause."

That's when I screeched to a halt and put a couple of question marks in the margin of the book. An animal can be part of my identity ? A location? 

Within seconds, though, I followed my marginal scribbles with this sentence, "OMG, I kind of get myself now."

Because I'm able to love and connect deeply, I form dynamic bonds that seem a bit odd at first. No, wait, they seem odd all the time. For example, how can the mountains actually seem part of my identity? I understand that I'm a writer, rather than someone who writes. I understand that I've already formed an identity as a rabbi, before I've even received smicha (ordination). But I'm at one with my dogs? I share an identity with Damsi and Tinus? Really?

Oddly enough, I had just been looking back through a journal from a decade ago in which I first felt I could no longer leave the mountains when I came here to write and enjoy spiritual retreats, because it felt like I was leaving my soul behind. I wrote that because my husband didn't want to move here, I'd have to figure out a way to split my time between the place where different parts of my soul lived. Over the years, I'd written literally hundreds of pages about how alive I felt as I hiked the Rockies, of how I sobbed when I set out on my first hike, overwhelmed by the throbbing beauty, and of how I'd cry much of my drive home, taking weeks to recover and resume my routine.

I always felt a little crazy for this.

But Gafni believes, correctly, that everything we love becomes a part of our soul. My pets that have died don't simply live on in my memory, they helped create something of who I am, becoming part of my soul. I had a relationship with them, I loved them, made sacrifices for them, took care of them. I do that with the dogs I care for now, also. The deer in the forest that makes up my back yard, and the elk, during their rutting season, when I spend hours sitting in the forest just listening and watching, these creatures have all created this space of wonder and awe in me. IN me. They are part of me. I am a different person because of my encounters with these animals.

The beauty and serenity and solitude I find in the mountains isn't simply me loving nature; it's nature affecting who I am as a person. The groups of friends and communities of which I've been part - I haven't moved on; I've taken them with me in this astonishing manner by letting them penetrate and expand who I am as a human being. Gafni's statement even helped me understand that when I've formed vivid emotional attachments to men outside of my marriage, a reality I've always felt profoundly guilty for, that it's truly okay. They, too, have affected my life and shaped my very soul. They, too, have helped create me.

Gafni refers to eros as "Hebrew tantra", but I refer to it as da'at, the noun that defies translation, but alludes to the most profound, mysterious intimacy known to humans. When two humans yada (verb form) each other, they aren't merely having sex, they are intertwined in every way imaginable. That's why casual sexual encounters have always left me, eventually, feeling empty and unfulfilled. There was nothing erotic about them. It was sex.

Eros isn't  sexual, says, Gafni, although it can be expressed sexually. Eros is the desire that springs us into life when we encounter anything that's authentically beautiful and with which we form intense bonds that eventually shape who we're becoming. Long before I read Gafni's book, I had written an article published in the now defunct magazine Mars Hill Review, in which I discussed this same topic. While they were open-minded enough to let me make my case for the holiness of Eros, when I attempted to weave it into other articles, editors consistently changed the word "eros" to "connection" or "desire" or one of a dozen words to avoid what they saw as a "loaded" word. I was always disappointed but amenable.

Now I'm not. Rather than let someone tame my vocabulary and personality, my hope is to take a quality that's been misunderstood, mislabeled and suppressed and feel and live it to the fullest.

As part of my rabbinical studies, I was required to attend four weeks at a program called DLTI, The Davvenen Leadership Training Institute, in which we, as students, created and led services with other students. After one maariv (evening) service, in which we incorporated a song I'd written about nightfall, in which I'd used the word "ravished" (one of my very favorite words) to describe how I feel about evening and darkness, one of my co-leaders slipped me a note. "I adore your loving, creative and deeply erotic nature," she wrote.

Oh thank you my friend!!

To exude all three of these attributes is something to which I aspire.

I'm ready to walk passionately into this coming week.

Meri

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