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.

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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.

It’s Not Enough: In Pursuit of a Life on Fire

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You may have a nice job, good friends, and a happy family life. You may be fortunate enough to peer out of your bedroom window as the sun peeks out in the early morning. You might be blessed to have health, a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food in your belly. Still, it won’t be enough.

If we stop a moment, the reality that we need more sets in. Practice gratitude by counting all the wonderful gifts you were given. That helps. But, most days, you need more.

A teenager with good grades, good looks, and good fun will need more just as a senior living in a retirement community enjoying the golden years needs more too.

What’s the more?

What are we searching for? Why are we empty?

We crave a life on fire.

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We desire to live in an inspired, meaningful way. We want lives that are rich with cause, depth, importance. We want to impact. We want to mean something.

How do we live a life on fire?

I marvel at my powerhouse friends and family who do great big things with their lives. They start organizations. They  travel globally to share a message. They help thousands of people through unconditional support with a wide open heart, broad smile, and sparkle in their eyes.

How can we make every moment count? What can we do to uplift ourselves and those around us? What do we need to build to be worthy of living a life on fire?

Maybe nothing.

Maybe, we just need to audit our current lives and see what needs are right in front of us. Everything that has led up to this moment, this very moment, was by design. We are walking through a movie set, characters intentionally placed just so, backdrop calculated by a masterful Director. We are just asked to look around, take it all in, and react.

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What is being asked of us? Something needs our attention and only we can figure out what that is. A difficult relative. Financial strain. Worries about health. A void in some area. There is a lesson buried underneath our individual worlds and we can uncover it when we live our fiery lives with our eyes wide open.

What does my life demand of me right now vs. what do I feel like doing? If we go through each day in pursuit of truth, working on ourselves, wanting to help the world – no matter the home, the family, the career- life will be more than enough. We will live a life on fire and set the world ablaze.

My Mikvah Day

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“As soon as my husband sees this brooch on me, he knows not to touch.” She smiles at us, adjusting her short brown wig and straightening her suit, having just shared an intimate secret with a group of fifty teenage girls. I did not relate to this woman. I didn’t relate to how old she was. I didn’t relate to how formal she seemed. She would never understand me and I would never understand her. She was trying. She really was. A rite of passage, my high school class had the opportunity to hear a crash course on Jewish intimacy. Our prim and proper educator began the lesson declaring that “orthodox Jewish women are not frigid. On the contrary…”

While this was one class I actually found interesting, there was definitely a disconnect for me. Looking back, I realize now that a school administrator must have decided that if our class never heard another word of Jewish education again, at least we would know the bare-bones-basics of Jewish family purity.

Very quickly, in case you’re unfamiliar, Jewish tradition teaches that a husband and wife should abstain from intimate physical touch for about two weeks out of a month. There are many reasons for this, and one important aspect is keeping the romantic excitement fresh for both partners.

“We have a honeymoon every month”, she smiled again. Oh no. This was too good. I couldn’t bear it; how awkward this monologue was to hear and yet I was fascinated. A car wreck. I couldn’t turn away. It got worse as a nervy girl raised her hand and asked questions that she hoped would scare our teacher away. As much as I’d love to share her questions here, I just can’t bring myself to do it. (I didn’t know I could still blush!) To our lecturer’s credit, she plowed through every question with as much grace as she could muster.

As an adult, I applaud this woman who bravely presented us with information that surely would make most uncomfortable given the forum. But, to be honest, I don’t think the goals of inspiring and educating us on the laws of family purity were accomplished.

I have found myself interacting with a variety of women in frank conversation about these laws and the monthly visit to a mikvah (Jewish ritual bath). Recently, a friend of mine decided to dip in the mikvah for the first time in years as she prays for fertility. This special ritual has the power to unleash miraculous blessings and her effort to transcend her normal modus operandi seems equally supernatural.

One topic I hear a lot about these days is the importance of self-care. Ladies! Don’t neglect yourselves! So many preach and quite rightfully so. We (females) work from early morning until late at night. We do for others because we are hard-wired to serve as amateur psychologists, coaches, nurses, teachers, philanthropists, healers, you name it. You don’t need to be a mother to nurture the world.

I’m one of those women that would benefit from more self-care. Let’s get real, flopping on the sofa from exhaustion does NOT qualify.

My mikvah day is the one day a month that’s about me. While the children are taken care of by my husband (standard procedure), I slowly and deliberately groom myself from head to toe. I cleanse my skin, take a long shower and bath, file my nails, and enjoy some quiet. What a treat. The term “detox” comes to mind. I would never in a million years allow myself this luxury if it weren’t a Torah commandment.

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After I spend over an hour giving myself a spa-like experience, I emerge from my bathroom a queen. I say goodbye to my family and whisk off to the mikvah, a spiritual spa and physical oasis. Dipping three times, I immerse fully in the water focusing my mind and heart on Godliness.

I share these waters with all women who came before  me and all who come after me.  In this way, I am connected to the well-intentioned teacher who was hoping I would buy in to her joy. Ultimately I did.

I haven’t even discussed the details or benefits of the two weeks of togetherness or two weeks of abstinence. We haven’t gotten to the part where the ebb and flow of a marriage’s physical cadence gets to match its emotional rhythm. I’m speaking only about the mikvah day because there is so much depth and spirituality in that day alone.

For many, the mikvah ritual is highly foreign and fraught with anxiety and misconceptions. I can understand the resistance to something so different. At the same time, as a “regular” mikvah dipper, I can easily see its rewards and am eager to share that joy with others (hopefully in a way that feels relevant and approachable unlike my teenage perception of the educator).

To think that the vast majority of Jewish women don’t opt in to this day is a loss- pure and simple.  It’s our personal day for transformation and spirituality.  Women are entitled to this day. It is our birthright. It is a gift.

 

 

Where The Riches Are

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I took a bite of the steaming hot, four-cheese pasta I had ordered in mid-town Manhattan and nodded my head. Yes, I agreed with my friend sitting across from me, this was too delicious to be true. We were out for a girls lunch. A work/pleasure hybrid of a lunch break as my companion was evolving in her Judaism and wanted to talk about her next steps in learning and growth. She was pretty, composed, and very down-to-earth. I had liked her the minute we met weeks before at an outreach event I helped run in NYC. We were about the same age and instantly hit it off with easy conversation that balanced giggles with depth.

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A little background for the buildup. While I’m pretty grounded, I have this weird sixth sense and I believe that I see people’s auras…just a little bit. Just sometimes. The color, the energy. It doesn’t happen often but I have experienced the phenomenon. (Oy. If I’ve freaked you out and you want to stop reading, I totally get it.) Once, many years ago, I told my roommate in school that a black energy appeared to be radiating from her. The words tumbled out of my mouth and I realized mid-stream how strange and offensive they sounded. She got very quiet but spoke after a few moments. “I was institutionalized”.  Then quiet again. Gulp. I wasn’t prepared for that. Since then, I’m more cautious about sharing my observations though I still get into trouble occasionally.

I share this with you because I felt I really had a grasp on my lunch date’s energy. She was admirably calm. She was patient and it was as if nothing could phase or stress her. She spoke deliberately and slowly; she paused before answering. She was like… a warm blue. (In contrast, I speak quickly and often kick myself mid-sentence for not filtering more. Over the years, I’ve conditioned myself to lock my jaw shut and pad my responses with “Can I process that and get back to you in the next couple of days?” I have yet to regret that answer and use it liberally to ensure that I am thoughtful and not rushed.) I digress but don’t worry, the bombshell is coming.

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So there we were, indulging in carbs, enjoying girl talk, speaking of personal development and lofty ideals when my friend cleared her throat. She wanted to confide in me about something from her past. Of course, I gladly obliged and assured her that my lips were sealed. Whatever she wanted to tell me surely wouldn’t shock me. I knew my friend was on her journey in spirituality and connection to Judaism. It was clear that she hadn’t been particularly sheltered though she came from a solid family and a good home. Whatever was in her past couldn’t be so bad.

Then, with her reflective, collected disposition, she described how she became addicted to cocaine and battled to stay clean. She had a stint in rehab and was a real ‘mess’ (her word) through college. I used up every bit of control I had to show no signs of shock. I knew addiction existed and I had met addicts before but her? I just couldn’t reconcile it. How could this composed, even sophisticated, soft-spoken young woman have such a dark, out of control side? I thought to myself, maybe I don’t know her that well. Perhaps she was unstable? Could it be?

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“I hope I haven’t changed the way you look at me”, she said. I vigorously shook my head and worked hard to convince both of us that she hadn’t. As I walked to the subway from the restaurant, I reminded myself that an addiction shouldn’t define a person and that her future wasn’t hinged on her past.

Fortunately, my friend didn’t vanish from my life. We actually grew closer and stayed in touch for many years. I absolutely adore her and she has taught me a lot about how complex human beings truly are. Looking back, I so admire her confidence that day. She fully accepted herself and felt comfortable to talk about choices that would bring most people shame. Since then, she’s married and had many children. I wonder if she would tell anyone what she told me all those years ago but it doesn’t matter. She has a depth of self-acceptance that most of us would and should envy. Perhaps hitting rock bottom and having to climb out of that pit builds self-acceptance.

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Fast forward ten years to the opposite scenario. I was working on campus and had developed a relationship with one of our students. She was a sorority girl who would do coffee with me from time to time. She joined our weekly learning program. Her etiquette was always on point. Based on her Facebook profile, she seemed to have an exciting party life but never spoke of it to me. I always had the sense that she was holding back in the hopes of making a good impression.

One day, after about a year, she and I met at the Starbucks on campus. I could see she was going through something but didn’t want to share. In the hopes of convincing her of the importance of vulnerability, I said to her, “Y’know…you don’t have to be perfect all the time. That must be really draining.” She started crying despite valiant efforts of staying composed. Suddenly, she was mortified that she had dropped her guard, apologized profusely, and excused herself. This poor young woman really wanted to reach out, she spent so much energy acting like everything was okay, and she just couldn’t make peace with herself. She couldn’t accept that she was flawed, like the rest of us.

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I’ve quoted this line before but it bears repeating. My very favorite verse of all time from the Torah is one pertaining to offerings. While I can’t say all laws of korbanos (ritual offerings) are my favorite area of Judaism to explore, this particular point is so profound that (even) I cling on to it. All meal offerings, the Torah demands, must be offered with salt and not honey or yeast (Vayikra 2:11-2:13). Yeast inflates and honey sweetens. G-d doesn’t need us to offer falsely inflated or sweetened versions of our true selves. Rather, we are required to use salt, something that brings out the natural flavors and preserves. (Rabbi Mordechai Gifter)

What a gift. G-d, who is perfect by definition, is requiring us to be as we were created. Flawed. Broken. Vulnerable. Makes sense. After all, He created us that way. But why?? Why can’t we achieve perfection? Why can’t I love myself…once I’m perfect?

The whole point of this life, the one that begins the moment we are born and ends the moment we die is our quest for correction, our journey to perfection. I’m awed by people who try to make an impact and be an “influencer” under the guise of perfection. I have no desire to emulate that. I want to embrace this life, accept every part of myself, and understand that the creased, bent, and fractured pieces are where the riches are.

Adult Friendships

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Some friends and I in Jerusalem, 2011 (I’m on the far left)

Well, this is embarrassing. For years, I’ve been telling a few choice family members and acquaintances that I find it extremely difficult to establish friendships as an adult. Sometimes, I smile facetiously and announce that I have no friends at all and sometimes, on a good day, I concede that perhaps I have one or two. I must be the only person in the world who feels this way because, so often, listeners respond with an air of disdain. It’s as if they’re thinking: Sorry that you have this problem. Luckily, we don’t.

What was easy at 13 seems so daunting at 33. Do friendships have an expiration date? How much investment is required in a friendship? If we talk this much, share this much, connect this much…are we friends??

How did I have so many friends before adulthood? For me, adulthood began when I got my first full-time job in New York at 21 years old. Before that, I was able to prioritize friendships above all else with nearly endless time and care. Once I began working, I just didn’t have the energy to stay awake late with a friend on the phone. I was too tired to go out with friends unless it was the weekend or a special occasion.  I would often get home from work very late and the thought of using up my little downtime on socializing was too much to bear. I just wasn’t interested. After all, I had to wake up the next morning and work a long day! I was leading a very full life, albeit alone.

Marriage and children only served to reinforce my challenge. Today, now that I work full-time while juggling a young family, I’m thankful for a bathroom break undisturbed (still a rare occurrence). Showering and sitting down for a meal are luxuries. I don’t walk into a store unless it’s for groceries (don’t worry too much though, Amazon has cured me of my other shopping needs). Friends?? Impossible!

But maybe we need to define our terms before I write myself off as a recluse. What are friends anyway? Are they the people who will bail you out of jail or pick you up from the hospital? I would argue that any kind soul would do that for you, friend or foe. Here are three reasons you may call someone a friend and a little push back on that definition from yours truly.

You’re friends because of….

  1. Shared interest, stage of life, or community. Examples: We both have babies and we spend lots of time together on the playground. We love sports and play basketball every morning. We are next door neighbors. In all three cases, these friendships likely take up most of our quota for “friend time” and, I would argue, count the least. Why? Because they’re dependent on something external to exist. Judaism teaches that a love dependent on something is only as strong as that thing. Move out of your neighborhood, stop playing basketball, no longer go to the park and your friendship will disappear.
  2. History. I have friends who I rarely/never speak to but love and they have a special place in my heart. We went to school together or we spent summers together, we talked and talked, sometimes about nothing and other times about everything. While these friends are very important to me, many of them play a big role in my rear-view mirror but don’t really know me as I am today. If I was in trouble, I wouldn’t call them because there’s a lack of familiarity with our adult versions of each other. I have tried to rekindle these friendship over the years and end up awkwardly stumbling in and out of connection.
  3. A safe space. These are the friends that we can really spill to, feel safe with, and share our innermost thoughts without fear of being judged. This category is the one I am most inclined to give credit. There’s just one problem. In a time when privacy is as undervalued as it is today (how many times have you signed off on the privacy terms and conditions of your favorite app?), we may indeed feel “safe” with any supportive, open people in our lives. Also, feeling safe or confident to share is a function of our own self-confidence and not a reflection of friendship necessarily. I have seen some gut-wrenching posts on Facebook and I continue to be surprised by people’s raw vulnerability on scaled social media sites.

You may disagree with me and consider any of the above definitions as entirely reasonable. If that’s the case, I too have friends (yay!).

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Two special friends who visited me in San Diego, 2007 (I’m on the far left again)

Until I have an intuitive understanding, I will have to rely on my intellectual understanding of how the Torah defines friendship. Judaism has a lot to say on the subject but the most compelling teaching, for me, is the story of David and Yonatan. Yonatan was the son of King Saul whereas David was just a young shepherd from a large family who became prominent through a remarkable series of events. Their backgrounds had no overlap, they didn’t have similar interests, yet the Mishna describes their friendship as loyal and devoted, dependent on nothing, and everlasting. Even more remarkable was that Yonatan was the heir to his father’s throne but David took it over- a move that should have made Yonatan jealous and yet he was entirely supportive.

So the Torah defines friendship in very simple terms.

Friendship is simply an outpouring of constant love and loyalty. It may start out as connecting with someone because you both love golf, attend the same school, or share cubicle space. But that does not make a friendship. Spilling your deepest, darkest secrets doesn’t make a friendship either. Being friends with someone in your childhood or teenage years of angst is also not the magic bullet.

The answer comes down to the question: Will you allow your relationship with this person to exist superficially or will you opt to go “all in” and choose to care for him/her deeply? Do you choose to love that person? Do you choose to help that person and invest in that person? Will you allow them to help you?

The lesson for me is that friendship is a choice to prioritize a person outside of myself or my family. In this light, I am starting to wonder if maybe I have more friends than I thought.

It’s Not About Me (but I think it is)

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I really should make a video about this because I love telling the story. I laugh every time (horrified). There I was, in downtown Jerusalem, enjoying frozen yogurt with my sister, who was visiting me for the week. Somehow the cold stuff that was meant for my mouth lands on my skirt. The nearest paper towel was a good 50 feet away back in the yogurt store.

As I walk, holding my skirt,  a man sitting on the ground gesticulates at me. Embarrassed, I react in a broken Hebrew, “I know, I know. there’s a stain on my skirt. Don’t worry, I’m going to clean it now.” He doesn’t respond so I hurry past  him.

Two minutes later, my skirt is drenched but clean. I turn around and find my sister laughing. “What’s so funny?” I smile wanting in on the joke. She says, “Rachel! That man wasn’t pointing at your skirt! He was holding out his hand for charity!”.

I take a moment to process what she tells me. I am mortified by how preoccupied I was with my Number One Focus- me! I laughed, shocked by my own behavior.

Thankfully, my quick-thinking, generous sister had already offered the bewildered man a few shekalim (Israeli money) for his trouble so there was nothing left for me to do but reflect on my own self-absorption. My little splotch compared to his challenges? I was too wrapped up in my spilled snack to think about his empty stomach? Our minds are so fixated on our own personal narratives that we end up missing out on so much color and character, pain and joy, richness and texture from the the world around us.

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I’ve come to see that thinking the world revolves around me is a recipe for misery. Why does my colleague hate me? Why did that driver cut me off? Why is my friend not calling me ? Maybe, just maybe, the answer has absolutely nothing to do with me.

Now, I’m well aware that I write this in an age when the “selfie” is a socially acceptable photograph to share with thousands of strangers. Sales revenue for the selfie-stick back in 2014 was about $6 million. If our self-absorption is so blatant on the outside, imagine the monster within.

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I attended a workshop on running a home with happiness and energy a few years ago. The teacher shared an insight that sticks with me today. People who are masters of their study don’t ask themselves how they can appear to be masters. They just are. For example, an authentic community leader doesn’t ponder on what clothes best position him/her for leadership. Rather the lenses are pointed outward. How can I better serve these people?

Our Patriarch, Abraham, reversed human nature. Usually, we concern ourselves with our own physical and emotional well-being. Am I hungry? Thirsty? Hot? Cold? Tired? Sick? Sad? Happy? When we think of others, by default, we consider their spiritual well-being. She really shouldn’t talk like that. He has an anger issue! I guess they don’t keep kosher- a shame! Incredibly, Abraham did the opposite. He worried about his own spiritual health and took care of others’ physical and emotional well-being. Even when in tremendous physical pain, he hosted guests with gusto that most of us can only dream to attain.

Bishvili Nivra HaOlam The world was created just for me. V’Anochi Afar V’Efer I am but dust and ashes. In a world where self-absorption is the new normal and our minds are programmed to focus on ourselves, it is critical that we re-calibrate. Let’s together turn our attention outward and invest in the needs of others. The others in our home, the others in our community, the others in our world.

Made or Broken: We didn’t sign up for this life. Now what?

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Made or Broken: We didn’t sign up for this life. Now what?

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I was the only woman in an office filled with rabbis when the phone rang. Someone was calling. I picked up the phone.

At 23 years old, my job was to create inspiring programs for Jewish women on the Upper West Side (I was elated). The caller was female and would only speak to a woman. She sounded upset and I wanted to help. I’ve replayed that call many times in my mind over the last decade and know that the responsible thing to do would have been to ask someone older and wiser to call her back. Luckily, I was irresponsible.

Sarah was brought up in a religious home. She was a sweet little girl with her family and a good student in school. She was kind to others and had friends. As she got older, she volunteered in after school activities. She knew that she was a “good girl” and expected to have a good life in return for her efforts. Sadly, in her teenage years, she was exposed to an adult male character who was no good at all. Following high school, when she traveled to Israel for her gap year, she experienced another negative incident.

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Sarah was a good girl and wanted a good life so she tried to shake off her unpleasant encounters. At 21, she was set up with a nice Jewish boy and married him. They had a few children and she tried to build her home and move on with her life. Despite her best efforts and what should have been a happy stage in her life, she felt trapped in her pain and sadness.

Why had God put her in a position to suffer? She was a good girl, after all.

Despite my youth, I knew to validate Sarah’s pain and listen. When she was finished, I told her what I was sure she already knew. Life is not meant to be a stroll in the park. We’re here to work. Life is full of pleasures and we should savor every one but we are meant to climb and develop, rung by rung, to reach the greatest heights we can reach. At times, those rungs come in the form of painful circumstances. We are made or broken by those circumstances.

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She asked what happens if that’s not the kind of life she signed up for? It was not the life she wanted. She preferred to follow the rules and, in exchange, be granted shelter from sadness, anger, and pain. She came into this world with an expectation of an unspoken deal with her Creator. If she’s obedient, then she’s protected from heartache.

We spoke for a long time and ended up keeping in touch for years. I relate to Sarah in that we both share a false expectation. The human experience seems to be hard-wired with a cycle of process, milestone, and then process again. We think we have everything figured out and in that very moment of confidence, the rug is pulled out from underneath, leaving us disoriented and forced to adjust to a new reality. It often comes as a shock and just as often humbles us to our core. I would argue that the rug-pulling may be for the express purpose of jarring us from our feelings of security, confidence, and (perhaps) complacency.

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So many examples come to mind.

  1. Dating- You work so hard to meet The One. When you do, no matter your education, a part of you is sure you’ll ride off into the distance together. Details for the ride are fuzzy. GPS not included.
  2. Parenting- You spend your childhood (just me?) sure you will be the best parent. Then you have a child and realize you are clueless and the most knowledgeable experts in the world have less insight than you do about your child. (Note: That shouldn’t stop us from consulting them).
  3. Personal Development- I finally figured out how to be a good person after years of study and practice only to realize that I’ve mastered an exceptionally narrow lane and I have miles to go.
  4. Reputation- After significant effort invested in community service or professional endeavors, I make a mistake or suffer a humiliation in the presence of others.

I’m really glossing over these big categories but you catch my gist.

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Sometimes, nothing goes wrong but the things that were supposed to go right just never happen. We wake up and look at our lives through the eyes of our past selves. This is NOT what I signed up for. 

If you’re reading this – or if you’re not reading this- you did NOT sign up for your life. You were supposed to have kids by now. You weren’t supposed to get divorced. You were supposed to have a great job that you love. You weren’t supposed to be this old. Your finances were supposed to be better. You weren’t supposed to suffer with physical pain or illness.

So what now?

Dear family, friends, and me: Our lives are not what we signed up for but they are exactly what we need. Your life is tailor-made for what you need right now. The big gaping holes and the terrible messes are by design. So what is life asking of you right now? What are you supposed to be doing?

Maybe you need to focus on healing. Maybe you need to focus on sharing. Perhaps more time doing and less time thinking (perhaps more time thinking and less time doing). Move faster. Invest more. Slow down. Be deliberate. Whatever circumstance you have in front of you, there is something important being asked of you. Someone is calling.

Pick up the phone.

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Why I Get Depressed & How I Feel Better

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I’ll conveniently skip over my gross neglect of nearly two years and get right down to it. You know the thing that gets so many people down? We go through phases (if not longer) of sadness, low self-esteem, and feeling lost. Sometimes there’s a reason and other times, it’s foggy. On this eve of Cyber Monday, I’d like to make a suggestion. Perhaps Thanksgiving weekend is the quintessence of what plagues us.

I hate to pin this on Thanksgiving. I, for one, love Thanksgiving. As an orthodox Jew, Thanksgiving embodies a value that defines the Jewish people- gratitude. As a matter of fact, the Hebrew word for Jew is Yehudi. The Hebrew root of Yehudi means thankfulness. I love the opportunity to be grateful in a country that has allowed me to connect with God as a Jew. (Side note: the irony that the patriotic and unifying holiday of Thanksgiving almost immediately followed an especially divisive election is not lost on me.)

So, I hate to pin this on Thanksgiving BUT consider this: Thanksgiving weekend begins with a shortened Wednesday of school or work for many. A break! A rest! A respite! Following that, Thursday brings a smorgasbord of delicacies from roasted turkey to mashed potatoes to a variety of pies. Oh, the eating! Many spend the afternoon flip-flopping between assuming the couch potato position in front of a televised football game or in a justifiable food coma. Just as a turkey-induced sleep threatens to become permanent, we are motivated out of bed by Black Friday. Ah, Black Friday. Who doesn’t love a good sale? Friday, for the die-hard shoppers begins early with a strong latte and ends late with a severely depleted bank account. On Saturday and Sunday, we begin pre-shopping for Cyber Monday, the Digital World’s parallel creation to Black Friday. I received an email on Sunday suggesting I urgently begin shopping NOW since by the time Monday actually begins, many items will be sold out (the horror!).

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To wrap up, there’s an inordinate amount of eating, napping, and shopping. Outrageously excessive. If this weekend came but once a year and was an isolated incident, I wouldn’t be concerned. I write because Thanksgiving weekend is a mere culmination of a general culture that considers consumerism to be a lifestyle.

We feel low because we can’t stop consuming. We feel depressed because we can’t stop consuming. We feel unproductive, unaccomplished, and incapable…because? You guessed it. We can’t stop consuming!

How do we climb out of our depression?

It’s actually simple. We just need to start DOING. Imagine giving instead of receiving! Creating instead of devouring! Take me for example. I just need to get up and write the blog post I procrastinated for two years. Alternatively, I can clean my room or even my inbox. Last resort, I can call a friend or feed my children (joking. sort of.) I just start doing something. Anything. Immediately.

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Sometimes, we need to pick ourselves up by our post-Thanksgiving fat pants, and DO. Self-correct and adjust as necessary but go directly to ‘DO’ mode before we become too bloated  and lazy to move.

I made a joke to a friend that I feel better eating my chocolate when I see her facebook photos of marathon running. While I perhaps won’t sign up for the next 5k run, I hope to keep moving, working, giving, and not waste a precious moment.