Category Archives: Uncategorized

Thank You for Making Me Awkward

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“The preparations of the heart are man’s, but the answer of the tongue is from G-d” -Proverbs Chapter 16

A woman approached me at a recent social gathering. I’m somewhat reserved and I have to make a concerted effort to generate ‘small talk’. My favorite relationships develop organically through a professional environment (where conversation revolves around action and strategy) or simply with gregarious people who prefer to broach more substantial topics. Left to my own devices, I smile awkwardly and rack my brain to say something that isn’t weather-oriented (sports and headline news, two topics I observe being brought up casually, are not natural areas of interest for me- especially the former).

However, an almost magical transformation overcomes me when I represent an organization or am working in a particular role. I find plenty to say, feel comfortable shmoozing with a number of people, and enjoy the art of listening. It’s as if the role I am ‘playing’ offers me the right intention when speaking to people. With the right intention, speech is natural.

This may sound strange, but I’ve questioned people who seem to fly seamlessly in and out of light conversation. They know what joke to make to put the other person at ease, they’re quick to divulge about their personal lives, and they are connected to many people as a result. “How do you do it? Did you have to work on it or is it natural for you?”, I fire questions at social butterflies and they all respond with the same amused, “I just say hi“.

But then I found myself seeking a middle ground. One between the social butterflies and the wallflowers. I made the effort because I know it’s important to connect with others. I didn’t always have something to say but I’d confidently (sometimes faking it) wait for the moment- in a stranger’s presence even- for the conversation to pick up momentum. When it did, we’d chat and laugh until there was another lull. A somewhat clunky version of the social butterfly but still getting the job done, albeit slower.

I approached people who I would have previously panicked about not having anything to discuss. I embraced the awkwardness of the moment and let them be equally responsible in our connection. Something remarkable happened.

It turns out people enjoy talking. If you have a question about them, they often have an answer. If you probe deeper, many find it refreshing to go deeper with you.

Then I upgraded. I started asking myself everyday (or as often as I can), how can I give chizuk (strength) to another person. Suddenly, the conversations began to flow. There was so much to talk about and, more importantly, there was so much opportunity to listen. This question I asked myself has become addictive and a paradigm shift in the way I relate to others. I had prepared my heart and my tongue divinely followed.

I now have a role like I did in my professional conversations. That role is the michazek (strengthener). Not always and not when I need to receive but as often as I feel I can. Turns out, it brings me joy- it actually brings me more strength!

What a beautiful idea…one that can be implemented in difficult conversations with challenging people: “The preparations of the heart are man’s, but the answer of the tongue is from G-d” -Proverbs Chapter 16

Imagine the world around us if we all viewed our interactions with strangers, neighbors, friends and – even better!- family with this lens.

And so, in my haste to escape my awkwardness, I undervalued the road being awkward paved for me as a giver, as a ‘servant leader’, to others.

 

 

 

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I Steal Light!

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I have a few people that I steal from on a regular basis. There’s a man I know who is highly motivated, action-oriented, and wildly successful (financially). I seek him out to hear him talk- he loves to talk- and leave feeling energized, enthusiastic, and ready to DO. He radiates a unique light in this world and I get close enough to ignite.

I blatantly steal from him. He knows I do and doesn’t mind and we’re both happy.

There’s a woman who is very focused on her appearance. She spends hours on her hair, lotions, exercises, preparation of organic food. I never would have the time and I don’t want to spend my time on all things superficial. BUT, I do seek her out too. I find that just a few minutes with her leaves me charged to take better care of myself. I want to eat healthier, work out, and prioritize small doses of self-care. I feel like a queen on the outside and am motivated to behave royally on the inside.

I steal from her too. She is aware I do and actually enjoys that I appreciate this aspect of her!

I have a long list of people I steal from on a regular basis. The woman who is full of self-sacrifice when I want to build my generosity of spirit. The intellectual scholar when I want to strengthen my Torah knowledge and insights in the world. The social butterfly who has the charisma and gregarious nature to keep any party going.

My only hope? That my unique light will ignite someone else’s happiness, success, health, and spirituality.

You want to steal from my light? It’s yours for the taking.

It’s a Brand New Year, Baby

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Competitiveness. Infatuation. Greed. Vanity.

Do you know the famous story of the spider and King David? Young David is hiding in a cave from King Saul. He sees a spider and wonders why the Almighty bothered creating spiders at all. (I admit I’ve questioned their purpose at times!) Long story short, the spider saves David from Saul by spinning a web that covers the mouth of the cave. When King Saul approaches the cave, after being tipped off by a spy, he doesn’t even enter since he assumes that David would have broken the intricate web when going in to hide.

Spiders have a purpose in the world and sometimes their purpose is quite lofty.

Our inner ‘spiders’ (competitiveness, infatuation, vanity, and greed) can have a lofty purpose too. They can be the first steps in motivating us to accomplish great deeds.

Lately, I’ve been noticing the volume of people who are at a crossroads. They’re toying with new ideas for their careers, they’re ending relationships, some are feeling anxious about their future, others are experiencing the bittersweet flavor of closing one chapter and beginning the next.

We see that we need to make a change in our lives but we are masters of distraction and rationalization. We stay in the rut and we are sure that’s the most practical course of action.

But then…

We bump into a contemporary who seems to be running his life far more efficiently, happily, and successfully than us.

OR We are attracted to someone who appreciates achievements that we suddenly have energy to accomplish.

OR We look in the mirror or try on that outfit or step on the scale.

OR We want more attention, money, honor, affection, medals, degrees, accolades, or popularity.

Suddenly, we are able to update that resume, skip that dessert, set up that date, book that ticket. We are spontaneously and wholly motivated to accomplish what we were sure was impossible.

What about these negative traits and emotions that we’re capitalizing on to accomplish great things?

A Jewish perspective? Go for it. Seize the day. Just do it. Fake it ’til you make it. What begins with impure intentions can transition into idealistic ones.

So to those around me who feel that they are at a crossroads…and to me, who can appreciate downtime like a champ but knows the value of accomplishing.

DO. Do at all costs. Do ambitiously, boldly, and bravely. Use the hidden ‘spiders’ in yourself to haul your body off of the couch and accomplish.

It’s a brand new year, baby. Live greatly.

 

 

The Most Important Shoes

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I closed my eyes. Just for a second because I was driving. The kids were all speaking at the same time. One child was repeatedly asking me to pass a water bottle over to the backseat. The next one was explaining how he reached his ‘superstar’ status at school (a teacher’s recognition for good work) and interrupted himself to quiet his siblings down. The little one was very angry about her pacifier lying on the floor and was shrieking for it. I prayed that I could keep the wheel steady as I passed the water back two rows and grabbed the pacifier quickly thereafter (nearly dislocating my elbow). I popped the pacifier into my toddler’s mouth and now heard just one frustrated little voice.  I told my son to continue his story and to focus on me instead of the previous noise because I WAS listening.

I closed my eyes. Just for a second. I found myself wishing for a little quiet. I was tired after a long work day and in the mood to think. I wanted to mull over a conversation I’d had with an employee, figure out how to effectively support a friend in mourning, and make a mental to-do list for the following day. I wanted to plan out my evening action steps from calling a colleague back to packing lunches. I didn’t want to hear anymore whining or talking or demands. I almost voiced the thoughts running through my mind but then…

I closed my eyes. One last time. This time, when I opened them, I saw what I had missed. The little blessings in the backseat who needed me to be fully present in mind, body, and soul. The strategies, the analysis, the rushing would have to wait. Right then, I needed to be successful with my most important little clients. Success requires me to slow my mind and my pace (not my natural tempo) and smile or shake my head at the right times to listen wholly.

I am so tempted to become absorbed into every other arguably important task and overlook my most important ones. Not just the children but close relationships in general. Judaism asks us to fill the void that only we can fill first. In other words, if someone else can take the phone meeting but only you can visit your sick best friend to cheer her up, then the right path is clear. If someone else can do your laundry and prepare dinner but only you can help your niece with her homework, then your choice is simple. You are the only person who can fill your unique task. Let’s not lose sight of the most important shoes we need to fill: our own.

My Fear of Groundhog Day

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You wake up when the alarm begins to buzz. But you’re tired. You press the snooze button. You doze off only to be awoken again eight minutes later. That alarm clock of yours is persistent if nothing else.

Oh fine, you’ll get up. So you do. You wash your hands, your face, you use the bathroom, maybe you say a morning prayer, maybe you check your phone.

You get dressed, you give yourself one last look and have one lingering thought: Need. Coffee.

Some of you will splinter into a different phase of the morning but those of you with young children will pack lunchboxes and oversee wake up calls, some good dental hygiene, and offer encouragement (read: nagging) to get everyone dressed.

You pour cereal or coffee. Maybe you exercise. You hop in the car and drive to work or you drive the kids to school.

I could keep going through your day but in the interest of time, and because I think you get it, I’ll stop here.

This concept of living what’s essentially the Groundhog Day movie version of your life scares me to pieces. It always has – since I was a teenager and realized that people waste so much of their lives running on a metaphoric hamster’s wheel. Uninspired or dwelling on pettiness,  or just generally surviving their lives instead of living them.

But is my life any different than that? I wake up the same way you do. You could say we lead parallel lives with a few adjustments.

I saw a 30 Day Fitness Challenge video where people were tasked to do 100 push-ups for 30 days straight. Their journey of emotion- from frustration to exhilaration and back, from physical impossibility to a reality was fascinating. But even more impactful was, of course, the results.

We are all vulnerable in perceiving that our lives resemble the Groundhog Day movie. What differentiates this day from the last one is the effort I put in every single moment. To learn, to work, to be better each day. The moment I take to think through my attitude or speech and choose a higher road is the moment I am elevated to new heights.

Then, we can wake up, take in the newly elevated scenery, and unaided by an alarm, smile.

 

I Saved an Important Relationship This Week (you might want to print and get a snack for this one)

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We’ve discussed adult friendships here before. They continue to be a hazy topic for me. I don’t advocate throwing the term around liberally as Facebook would have us do. I subscribe to an ancient but relevant and wise school of thought that begs us to take friendships seriously. Rabbi Noach Weinberg zt’l expounds on this (**see footnote below) in the 48 Ways to Wisdom.

Here’s my recent “saga” that I never imagined possible at my age or stage of life.

There is a woman, I’ll call her Ariella, who I met in my broader global community. I liked her when we met and with time and varied interactions, I came to respect and admire her too. I learned that she is funny, sweet, smart, talented, and down-to-earth. What impressed me most about her was her devotion. She is devoted at all hours of the day and night to everything and everyone. You can call her on her ‘off hours’. You can speak with her and she won’t be too busy. She is supportive with no judgement, honest and truth-seeking, and open to growth. Yes, Ariella is special.

And…after a mere few YEARS, I dare say I felt close to her! Granted, we didn’t spend time together on weekends, spend hours shooting the breeze on the phone, or catch up over coffee but there was a safeness formed between us. She was the person I went to very often when I needed to hash something out or I just needed to feel understood.

Then, something happened. Arguably, the worst thing possible for a relationship.

I allowed myself to have an expectation.

Expectations are poison to relationships and we should ideally never expect anything of anyone. This was taught to me by Rav Yitzchak Berkovits shlita, my husband’s rebbe. I won’t soon forget our classroom filled with outraged women indignant and puzzled by how we could possibly not expect anything out of our closest family members!?

Rav Berkovits just smiled his signature smile and persisted in his contention that the only One we should really lean on was: The One.

At this point, eight years after I heard his words for the first time, I have come to believe that most expectations (I’m not able to say all yet!) are dangerous and even lethal.

But back to Ariella.

A group of women were having a girl’s night out and my name came up. Not in a good way. I’ll leave out the juicy details but Ariella participated in a negative discussion about me. I found out from a couple of women who were there as well and asked Ariella about it. She said that indeed she had participated in the conversation but didn’t mean anything in a malicious way.

My reaction surprised me. I was thoroughly devastated. One of the few people in this world that I had opened myself up to as a confidante and (gasp!) FRIEND had betrayed me.

Ariella didn’t fully share my perspective on the incident because she felt that her intentions weren’t bad but she understood that she had hurt me and apologized.

To be fair, I’m not sure she realized how close I felt to her or how rare it is for me to call someone a friend. Our friendship was far more a reflection of her greatness than an effort made by me.

As you may know (or not!), I pride myself on personal development and I am passionate about inspiring others with Jewish ideals. I so badly wanted to transcend my feelings about what Ariella did. I wish I weren’t so HUMAN sometimes! I didn’t WANT to feel so hurt. I didn’t want to SHOW my hurt but I couldn’t seem to hide it either.

Subsequently, I put some emotional walls up with Ariella and committed to self-protection and not investing what was left of my precious time and energy only to be left embarrassingly wounded.

Ariella was very upset by this response but in her understanding, patient, and supportive way, she waited. (I told you she’s special!)

Then, a few nights ago, at around 2am when my mind was too active to sleep, I finally felt a clarity rush forward. A family friend who recently divorced had shared with me that her expectations of her spouse KILLED her marriage. She expected her husband not to stare at his iPhone (just one example) and to be more involved more with the children. By the end of her marriage, she didn’t recognize the angry, resentful, disappointed person she had become.

This woman opened up my eyes once again to the harm of expectations.

As I lay awake in bed, I had this epiphany. Ariella is a special person and precious to me. She is one of the few people I feel safe with. Yes, I was hurt and don’t agree with what she did but life is short and why would I want to push away a gem of a person and a relationship?

The following day, I contacted Ariella and apologized for taking so long to tell her that.

I felt that all my prayers to lift these feelings of intense hurt were granted and I was gifted with perspective and true forgiveness.

Friendships ARE hazy. They’re tough for me because they demand time and energy (so most relationships are cost prohibitive). But if I stumble upon one that I suspect to be real, I want to hold it dear to me. I aspire to be a good friend, a flexible, forgiving, understanding friend who is willing to get an emotional bruise for a human’s life blood: relationship and connection.

 

FOOTNOTE:

**Excerpt from 48 Ways at Aish.com

There was once a father and son who were discussing the topic of friendship.

The father said, “You know, son, it’s tough to make friends.”

The son said, “What do you mean, Dad? I have lots of friends.” “How many friends do you have,” the father asked?

The son thought for a long while and said, “I’ve counted them up. I must have 200 friends!” (and this is pre-Facebook!)

“200 friends? A young man like you?” said the father. “That’s amazing. I can’t believe it.”

“Why, Dad? How many friends do you have?”

“Me? My whole life I’ve worked really hard at it and I’ve only achieved half a friend.”

“But Dad, everybody likes you. You’re a wonderful man. What are you talking about – only a half a friend? And what is half a friend, anyway?”

“Look son, you have to know whether your friends are really your friends. A friend in need is a friend in deed. Why don’t you test it out and see if your friends are really friends?”

The father had an idea. Being that this story may have taken place during the Roman occupation of Israel, over 2000 years ago, you need to know that the Romans were especially stringent in law and order. If they caught a murderer or a thief, they’d mete out swift and harsh judgment. And they did the same to anyone thought to be an accomplice to the crime. They meant business.

“Here’s what you do,” the father suggested. “A goat’s blood resembles human blood. Take a goat, slaughter it and put it in a sack. Then at night, go to your friends and say, ‘You’ve got to help me. I went to a bar last night and had a little too much to drink. There was a guy there who started insulting me and we got into an argument. He took a swing at me, I took a swing back at him, the fight rolled into the street, and I hit him a little too hard and killed him. Now I’ve got to get rid of the body. Otherwise I’m a dead duck.’ Then ask your friends to help you get rid of the body.”

The son thought it was a great idea and he tried it out. Night after night, he took the sack of goat meat around to all his friends. It took him a couple of weeks and a few goats, but he got through his 200 friends.

As you might guess, not one wanted anything to do with him. They understood that he wasn’t responsible, that the other fellow started the fight, but they didn’t want any part of it.

Finally, the son came back to his father and said, “Dad, I guess you’re right. My friends aren’t such good friends. How about your half-a-friend? Maybe he’ll help.”

The father said, “Sure, try him out. Go to his house, and tell him you’re Chaim’s son. Tell him what happened, and see whether he helps you.”

That night the son knocked at his father’s friend’s door.

“Who’s there?” a frightened voice asked.

“It’s Chaim’s son.”

“Oh, Chaim’s son! Come in. What can I do for you?”

The son told him the whole story about the bar and the fight and the body.

“Well, really, I shouldn’t help you, but what can I do, you’re Chaim’s son?”

He took the boy out in the backyard. They dug a hole and buried the sack.

“Now go back home. Stay out of the bars. If somebody insults you, just keep quiet. But most of all, forget you ever met me.”

The son went back to his father and said, “Dad, why do you call him a half-a-friend? He’s the only one who helped me!”

“What did he say to you?”

“He said, ‘Really I shouldn’t help you, but you’re Chaim’s son, what can I do?'”

“That’s half a friend,” said the father. “Somebody who pauses and says, ‘Really I shouldn’t do this.’ That’s a half a friend.”

“Then Dad, what’s a real friend?”

So, his father told him this next story (cited in Shtei Yados) which will help us answer our last question.

Two young men had grown up together and become very close friends. They were living at a time when the Roman Empire was split into two parts – one half controlled by an emperor in Rome and the other half ruled by an emperor in Syria. After each of the friends married, one moved to Rome and the other moved to Syria. Together they started an import-export business, and though they lived far apart, they remained very close friends.

One time, when the fellow from Rome was visiting in Syria, someone accused him of being a spy for Rome and plotting against the emperor. He was an innocent man – it was just a vicious rumor. So, they brought him to the Syrian Emperor, and he was subsequently sentenced to death.

When he was being led out to his execution, he was asked if he had any last requests. The accused man pleaded: “Please, I’m an innocent man, but I can’t prove it. So, if I’m going to die, at least let me go back to Rome first, settle my affairs, and say goodbye to my family. They don’t know my business, like who owes me money, where all my goods are. Let me just go back to Rome, put my affairs in order, and then I’ll come back and you can execute me.”

The Emperor laughed at him. “What are you, crazy? You think we’d let you go? What possible guarantee will we have that you’re going to come back?”

The Jew said, “Wait. I have a friend here in Syria who will stand in for me. He’ll be my guarantor. If I don’t come back, you can kill him instead.”

The Emperor was intrigued. “This I’ve got to see. Okay, bring in your friend.”

The fellow from Syria was called in. Sure enough, he agreed without hesitation to take the Roman Jew’s place in prison, and to be killed in his stead if the friend did not return.

The Emperor was so startled by this arrangement that he agreed to let the Roman Jew go. “I’ll give you 60 days. Put your affairs in order. If you’re not back by the dawn of the 60th day, your friend is dead.”

Off went the Roman Jew, racing back to his family to say goodbye and to put his affairs in order. After a lot of tears and goodbyes, he started back in plenty of time before the 60 days were up.

These were the days of sailing galleys, and sometimes you could sit for days waiting for the right wind to come up. As luck would have it, there was no wind for several days, the sailboat was delayed, and by the time the Jew arrived in Syria, dawn of the 60th day was breaking.

As agreed, the jailers took out the fellow from Syria for the execution. In those days, an execution was a gala affair, and early in the morning the crowds began to gather. Finally, as they were just about to perform the execution, the fellow from Rome came running in. “Wait! Stop! I’m back. Don’t kill him. I’m the real prisoner!”

The executioner let the fellow from Syria go and was about to take the Jew from Rome in his place. “Wait a minute,” the reprieved guarantor argued. “You can’t kill him. His time limit was up. I’m the guarantor. You’ve got to kill me instead!”

The two friends were equally adamant. “Kill me instead!” “No, kill me!” The executioner didn’t know what to do. The crowd was in an uproar, watching them fight it out.

Finally, the Emperor stepped in. In wonder and amazement, he turned to the two of them and said, “I’ll let both of you go free on one condition. That you make me your third friend!”

That’s friendship. That’s true unity.

That’s why the same verse that says, “Love your neighbor,” also says “I am God.” Unity and friendship among God’s children is so precious that God says, so to speak, “If you love each other, I want to be your third friend.” That means if we’re united, we have the power of God behind us.

Unity is so precious to God that even when we are not as good as we should be, our unity allows us to achieve far more than any one holy, talented, or great individual could possibly achieve alone. In sports, we call it, “teamwork.” Teams with unusual selflessness and chemistry often topple opponents with greater raw skill and power.

In life, we call it “love.”

We see examples of this in Jewish history. Ahab – despite the fact that he was an evil king – was more successful in battle than any other king the Jewish people ever had. Why? Because he benefited from exceptional unity among the Jewish populace. God granted the Jews military success, despite the sinister intentions of their leader. Unity is the quality God wants most for all His children. Simply put, when we are united, God is our “third friend.”

Infighting and strife amongst us is therefore our most insidious and debilitating enemy. Disharmony prevents us from being a predominant force, and reduces us to an impotent collection of self-absorbed individuals.

If we’re united, the Almighty is with us. If we’re divided, we’re on our own.

It’s called, “the power of Love.”

Who makes you feel small?

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There is always someone. He may be overt or she may be surreptitious and not even realize she’s doing it. You may cross paths casually or in a corporate setting or you may see one another everyday at home.

Everyone has someone that makes them feel small. Or something. The high school reunion, the report card, the play date at the park, the scale, the business meeting, the rejection letter.

It’s the way they talk about their kids as if your fertility challenge just doesn’t exist. It’s the dialogue about a client that you personally brought in but it’s as if you had no role in the pitch. It’s the pain you feel when you see someone you knew from long ago and your failures seem to be printed on your forehead.

This someone or something is smoke and mirrors. The mirror is, of course, a reflection of your feelings about yourself. The smoke is the voice in your mind pulling you down, way down.

For me? It’s that woman who smiles as if she cares and speaks in a clipped tone. I tell myself she is not judging me but feel inexplicably smaller when she’s around. She seems to know everyone and be an expert at everything. She explains that she avoids apologies because people need to take ownership of their own feelings. She’ll just be sorry for them that they feel that way. She is always composed.

I have to look again. Again and again. If I don’t want to feel small, if I don’t want to BE small, I need to halt the negative voice. I need to remind myself that it’s smoke and mirrors.

There’s an idea is psychology that the people who appear in our dreams are really parts of ourselves. What if this was true of real life? If everyone around you, or your perception of them, was actually just a projection of you?

Maybe it is. Maybe your relationship with your family, friends, and community are reflections of how you feel about yourself. Maybe your relationship with the groups of people who stand for despicable things are reflections of parts of yourself that you hate most. One thing is certain. If you feel small, it’s not about her and it’s not about him.

It’s about you.

The million dollar question is how do you overcome it?

The answer is simple and intuitive. Change the script.

Peel back the superficial conclusions you drew. Reveal the areas of that person or group of people or that situation to discover their vulnerabilities and fears. They have them too. What are they? Stunningly, you will start to feel empathy for that person. You will find common ground.

Best of all, you will become an expanded version of yourself. You will be great. You will be BIG. No more pettiness for you- not about them and not about you. You will be big in the presence of everyone and everything. You will never be made to feel small again.

 

Just Hold On

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Sometimes, I get bored, tired, or spontaneously unmotivated.

I need something or someone to ignite my passion toward self-development. I have many goals in many areas from homemaking to career. Do you know how together I would feel if I could just take the kids’ old small clothes out of their closets, organize the junk drawer, and have my car radio fixed?

Some days, I’m pumped to exercise, eat vegetables, drink water, and moisturize. Other days, I want to change the world for the better and make significant positive global impact NOW. I want to run a home where I really RUN my home, y’know? A home where I’m nurturing, guiding, supportive, firm, fair, consistent. The type of home that runs seamlessly.

Even on tired days, like today, when I didn’t do much. I spent a couple of hours in the office and played with my children. I will spare you what I made for dinner because chummus and string cheese aren’t especially impressive. I’m drained from nothing and exhausted physically for no reason. I should go to sleep but need to hoard my sacred awake ‘Me Time’ that my mother explained to me long ago but makes far more sense now. Even on a day like today. I want it all.

But how do I accomplish with all of my inconsistency? Sometimes I focus on one area of my life and other times my brain is in a fog? How will I make substantial progress at this pace?

Rav Yitzchak Berkovits, shlita, shared that on days when we are either unmotivated and lazy or, Heaven forbid, anguished and depressed….our job is to simply hold on. We must hold on to everything we built prior to this day. Don’t let go, don’t fall. Show up to the 30 minute workout, show up to work, show up to learn, show up to pray, show up for the people in your life. Focus your ounces of energy on just holding on.

Then, when those brilliant days of energy and passion gift themselves to you…RUN with them. Take huge and high leaps and don’t look back because there will be rainy days when all you’ll have the strength to do is hold on.

There is a school of thought that teaches us to implement small, consistent improvements in order to make progress in life and these two pieces of advice live harmoniously in my mind. I do that too. Life is more like a heartbeat than a slope, there are ups and downs. And on a day like today, a good and blessed day, when my eyelids weigh heavily but I refuse to give in to sleep, I just hold on.

Mourning with Purpose

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Tonight begins a major fast day on the Jewish calendar when we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple. Part of our commemoration of this period is the act of feeling deep sadness that we, as a people, are so far from our essential selves and G-d.

While we read the horrific news in Israel of innocent people recently slain in their own home among other atrocities, some of us feel ironically further from the tragic pain we are supposed to embrace during this time. From a global perspective, it is clear that we are in a state of disconnection, loss, and mourning. But what about our own personal perspective? What ‘first world problem’ could we possibly face that would ever provoke such a dramatic reaction?

All sadness is rooted in an estrangement of some kind. In the words of Lamentations, the text read ritually tonight, it says poetically, ‘On these things, I cry. My eyes, my eyes pour down tears. Because You are far from me.’ Traditionally that “You” refers to our Higher Power, the Creator that put us into this world alone- just me- and will take us out alone- just me. We may think our family and friends can hold us up and support us, but in the end, it’s just us individually all by ourselves.

We know that every human being in this world has a soul and that soul is created in G-d’s image. So, the pain a person feels can also be an estrangement from his/her essential selves.

We live in an age that reflects a genuine obsession with the Self. We compare ourselves to the perfection we see online in social media. We see how ambitious, happy, rich, powerful, fulfilled, noticed, intelligent, beautiful, or athletic someone else is and feel bad about ourselves. Sometimes we turn on our partner or other people close to us who don’t measure up to Internet Perfection. We feel alone, distant from our true selves, distant from anyone around us or anyThing Higher.

Self-care is a term that is less a fad and more a descriptive reality. We live in a profitable time (200% more profitable in contrast to our Boomer parents according to a Pew 2015 study) for those who dedicate their lives to one-on-one coaching in fitness/nutrition, business, and general living. The Selfie is the photo of ourselves that requires a substantial number of ‘views’ and ‘likes’ to feel important. We drip with desperation to be loved, to be recognized, to feel special.

The faster we run toward self-obsession, the further we run away from our essential selves. Our fragility and low self-worth is not something we boast about on Facebook, but it is something we live with day to day. Our lives are filled with blessings and we sit, afraid and anxious, about our next move. What will people say? Will I be praised? How do I measure up to everyone else?

I speak from personal experience, one that is very much a present journey. But the Jewish way to mourn is my teacher. We mourn our deep disconnection from our Essential Selves and, consequently, a Higher Power. So, to a generation of self-centered beautiful people, with perfect lighting and all the right filters, embrace the lows, embrace the pain, embrace the sadness. We must fully commit to our mourning, so we can finally be attached to our True selves, and rejoice.

The Relationship Chronicles: Musings on True Stories of Difficult Friendships and Relationships — Part One: Rebecca

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We’ve all experienced a friend or relative who sapped us of our energy. Perhaps manipulative, self-centered, controlling or a lethal combination, we are faced with a choice: navigate through the relationship or leave it. While cutting ties with a difficult person sounds tempting, sometimes it’s impractical or simply not the best option. During a particularly busy year of changing careers, moving, and pregnancy, I found myself in a constant state of exhaustion. The following year, I had a new baby (took a one week maternity leave) and began a second job on the side. Those two years, while highly meaningful and rewarding, were my “turbo-speed years”. Alone time was scarce and moments of relaxation seemed non-existent. I didn’t want to talk on the phone. I didn’t want to go out at night. I certainly didn’t want to host anyone.

Before those two turbo-speed years began, my old friend, Rebecca, had expressed a certain level of frustration and disappointment in me. I didn’t call her regularly, I should visit more, I wasn’t making enough of an effort investing in our friendship. It was difficult for me to meet her expectations because I was working, had young children, and, by nature, craved alone time. Can you imagine what happened to our friendship during the turbo-speed years? She felt that I had completely abandoned her and neglected our friendship. I found myself constantly apologizing and dreading seeing her phone number on my caller ID. Ironically, I invested even less of myself as I begun to associate our contact with negativity. The friendship went from cherished to tiring to extremely difficult.

When Rebecca and I did talk, I found myself trying to check our conversation off of a box on my imaginary to-do list. I would navigate the conversation according to her needs. What did Rebecca want to talk about? How was she doing? How could I help? Rebecca began to complain that I never vented or shared with her the way she did with me. She wanted the friendship to be mutual and reciprocal instead of one-sided. I didn’t have clarity at the time but I now understand that the kind of support I was looking for was someone who would give me space with compassion, and without judgement.

Eventually, Rebecca called it quits on our friendship. I didn’t ask her to reconsider since I knew I wouldn’t be able to meet her needs. Also, the chronic exhaustion of juggling different areas of my life weighed on me when I wanted to pick up the phone. After a while, I texted her briefly to see if she was interested in a dating a guy I knew and she texted me “Shana Tova” before the Jewish New Year. I felt apprehensive when contacting her given everything that happened but I really missed her and our friendship. We had been through formative years together, really knew each other, and genuinely cared for one another.

Recently, I reached out to Rebecca in the hopes that we could just move forward. Connection and friendship are rare treasures and I’m reluctant to sever ties with someone who shares so much history with me. One trait that I admire (and contend with) in Rebecca is her clarity about life in general. I live in a world of gray while Rebecca lives in a world of black and white. There’s always a right or wrong way of reacting. People are good or bad. Relationships are on or off. Rebecca’s perception of our friendship is that it’s memory of the past.

My and Rebecca’s story is one of two self-centered perspectives and unfair expectations. The Jewish perspective of a loving relationship is that it’s a center-point for giving. Two individuals intersect in the spaces they can give to one another. For example, a person might enter marriage in order to receive affection, admiration, and adoration from someone else. However, when approached with the Jewish perspective on relationships, a person will embark on marriage as an opportunity to give more wholly. So often, relationships boil down to how you celebrated my birthday, how you make me feel, and what kind of assistance- emotional, financial, or otherwise- you can offer me. While these might feel like the hallmarks of a happy relationship, the focus is supposed to be reversed. What can I do to give him or her pleasure? How can I best support him or her?

Expectation creeps into almost every relationship and suddenly we find ourselves focused on how others aren’t coming through for us in the way we want or need. If my needs aren’t met, why bother hanging around? 

I don’t want to live that way because intellectually I know it’s wrong and intuitively I know how great it feels to be in a giving relationship. Ultimately, no matter how Rebecca feels (sad, angry, apathetic), I have no plans to dwell in dark places. Life is too short and we don’t know where it will take us. There is one place I always intend to be though: Connected to her despite all of my glorious limitations.