Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Four Corners Meditation

"All things have one root."
--Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

Just before I left for Yom Kippur services at Mishkan this morning, I sat down in front of my computer to submit an application for yet another faculty position. Even though I knew it was Yom Kippur, I told myself that I had to do it today -- yesterday a friend had already contacted her friends on the search committee at that university to tell them nice things about me. I was afraid that her words would be forgotten by the time the committee received my application, unless I submitted the application online today. There was also a big part of me that thought with no accompanying irony, "They're scientists. They won't understand if I wait until after Yom Kippur."

They're scientists; they won't understand.

Like in all other Yom Kippur services, we said the Shema prayer, in which we affirm God's unity. But we prepared for the affirmation by doing a brief meditation that brought to light exactly how my thought process this morning had failed both me and the school to which I'd sent my application. The Rabbi asked us to take the four corners of our prayer shawls and bring them together to hold in one hand. She said this was meant to remind us of the disparate parts of ourselves, the parts that seem to be opposing one another but nonetheless co-exist. Her point was that each of these parts are a facet of the gem of ourselves, reflecting God. These parts are not struggling to be resolved, the "best" ones eventually overtaking their opposites. Instead, they are meant to to form a messy unity inside of us.

I am a scientist. Do I understand?

Do I understand how I can feel so open-hearted toward God and also enjoy working in a field that reduces God to seizures in the temporal lobe? Do I understand how I can be skeptical about post-hoc analyses and not blink an eye when the Rabbi discusses with us what God "wants?" Do I understand how I can be annoyed with other scientists who have faith in outdated methods and at the same time, sure, let's read Torah?

Nope. I don't understand any of that, and the meditation didn't help.

What I did understand during my four-corners-of-ourselves meditation is that I have been dreaming of being a research scientist, a tenured professor, since I was ten years old. When I was ten, I imagined myself in a lab coat, walking around lab benches, checking my work. Everything was in its place, including my identity as a talented and insightful scientist. Of course, in those fantasies I was male. What else? I did say research scientist, right?

That image came back to me during my meditation -- the image of myself as a research scientist, and my assumption, even present at ten years old, that if I wanted this dream to come true, I'd have to be a radically different person. There was something not quite right about a female kind of person being a scientist. So I tweaked the image a bit and it fit. Sort of.

But of course it didn't, and it still doesn't. It's not that being a research scientist doesn't fit, that's perfect for me. I love the interplay with the mysteries of the universe, faith and non-stop empiricism all in one. What doesn't fit is the need to hide all the stuff I thought I had to hide in order to get a job. It's the other three corners of my prayer shawl.

I'm a woman, I'm open-hearted with God, and I'm so so flawed. By hiding those parts -- actually some of the best parts of me -- I've fallen into the trap set by my 10-year old self. That 10-year old didn't know any better, but I do now. It's terrifying, but it's finally clear to me that the job I end up getting by presenting my whole self to some fortunate search committee is the job that I'll keep, love, and excel at for a very long time.

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