Uman is the most magnificent mindfuck in the world. Everything you know about how things are “supposed” to work are suspended in favor of something far more holy and chaotic and unknown. Time ceases to exist. Asking people about specific logistics becomes this big joke. You ask someone where is this, or what time does that happen, and he just smiles and shakes his head and says, “listen, you’re in Uman now…”
Which means, You’re exactly where you need to be right now, asking me this question and hearing this answer, because everything is the most beautiful and heartbreaking test from above. But you can do it. The collected experiences of your life have prepared you and led you up to this very moment. The question is (always) “Are you able to TRUST that you’re here for a reason, and are you willing to look for the divine in this moment?”
So if that means you gotta pray, go pray. If you need to yell, YELL! If you need to cry, mamash break yourself open and let it all out. If you just need to wander from minyan to dance party in the streets to another minyan to plumbing the depths of another’s soul in the cafeteria, you do you.
The comforting fact is that you made it. Rebbe Nachman says if you come to me (him) on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year), say these 10 psalms, and give a little charity, he’ll reach down into hell and pull you out of it by your payes. Meaning to say, he’s got your back no matter how low you’ve fallen and how incapable of getting back up you think you are. Which is kind of awesome. You’ve got THE spiritual grandmaster looking out for you and sticking up for you in the face of the worst of the worst. And what this causes is being emboldened to really dig up and reveal that deep awful shit you are afraid to confront about yourself, because you know you have Rabbenu in your corner. Which is also kind of awesome, but in this soul-crushing gut-wrenching sort of way.
So Uman is
1. totally awesome
2. really fucking hard
But i’ve never felt more alive. I mean really alive, like I was feeling the fullness of my life. I was as strong and courageous as ever to really see who I am, good and bad. I cried a lot. Out of ecstasy and out of pain. I felt an almost crippling loneliness that would then be overturned by a chance encounter with an old friend or new holy soul who wanted to help me out and give me strength and make me smile. I got robbed. I got sick. I mourned a friend who took her life a week before I left. I was the recipient of some of the greatest acts of chesed. A total stranger I had just met at a Phish show and then on the plane to Ukraine paid for my housing.
What really got me through everything, and what taught me so many lessons, was remembering that I wasn’t actually ever alone. I’m not just talking about God. Or Rebbe Nachman. Or even all the mystic madmen running around Uman with me. The most beautiful people in the world, who I’m so blessed to call my friends and family, were there with me every step of the way. In total secrecy, they raised the funds for me to get there, and then, on my birthday, surprised me with the greatest display of love and kindness I have ever known. When things got hard, I just remembered that I was being carried/propelled forward by a ton of love from so many friends. And when things weren’t hard, when everything felt just right and all was open to me, I thought about how much I wanted them to be experiencing this with me, and how all this was due to their efforts, and oh my god I fucking love them so much they sent me to Uman!
A teaching I “randomly” learned right before I left was all about un-learning everything you know if you want to get somewhere. How in order to arrive at the place you want to get to the most, you need to forget everything you think you know about yourself and about the world. What (I think) Rebbe Nachman is saying is if you really want to BE there, you can’t think you know anything about that place, because then you’re just waiting for it to look like what you think it is supposed to look like. And then you’re not really there. You’re in your mental image of the place, and there is no excitement or newness or growth there. You already know everything about it. It can’t be a “promised” land, because there is no promise of anything more than what you think is already there. So forget everything. Be there. Allow it to show you so much more than you ever knew was possible.
And that’s Uman. Whether you like it or not, Uman is going to force you to un-learn yourself. You’ll come out holier, better, way more confused, and potentially less interested in getting anywhere at a specific time. But you may now be able to answer that question, the one about trusting that you’re here for a reason, that there is holiness hiding here. And, whether you like it or not, you’ll know you need to go back next year.