Carl Honore, the author of, In Praise of Slow shares this about his personal wake up call: When I caught myself admiring a book of one-minute bedtime stories (Snow White in 60 seconds!), I suddenly realised I was racing through my life instead of living it.
Everywhere you look these days there's something about the positive effects of gratitude. Gratitude makes you happier, improves your relationships, helps you sleep, make more money and have better sex (OK, I made that one up but just for fun googled it and saw that indeed there are many articles on this topic).
Along with exercise and meditation, gratitude is the new darling of the positive psychology world. Likewise, similar to exercise and meditation, we know being grateful is something we should do and feel bad about ourselves when we don't.
Many years ago when I was pregnant with my first child (he's now 16) I experienced an extreme version of this. For the first three months of my pregnancy I thew up at least 5 times a day. Everything smelled horrible to me - even my new husband. We were living in a caravan (a.k.a. trailer) in a small village in Israel with no car, no air-conditioning and no trees for shade. I sometimes would lay in a cold bathtub and cry. I was experiencing severe prenatal depression and for the first time in my life was having regular suicidal thoughts. It's hard to even come close to conveying with words how miserable I was almost every second of the day.
I also felt shame that I was not more grateful. Grateful to be newly married. Grateful for my home. Grateful for the life that was growing inside of me. It didn't help that I was living in a spiritual community whose guiding principle was Mitzvah Gedolah L'hiot B'simcha Tamid (It's a great Mitzvah/commandment to always be happy).
Our Rabbi got wind of my bad state and came to visit. I told him how horrible I felt that I was not more grateful and happy. In response, he shared with me a great piece of wisdom that I continue to use until today.
You don't have to be happy about throwing up, or happy about your husband smelling or even happy about things you think you should be happy about. But can you let yourself be happy about the things that you still enjoy?
Basically, can you let youself have the happiness that is still there?
There wasn't much that I felt happy about but there was one thing. Every day at around 3:00pm a patch of shade would start to appear in front of my friend and neighbor's caravan. I would drag myself outside and lay down in that shade. Every once in a while the wind would blow. It was my deepest pleasure. I started saying to myself, I like a cool breeze on a hot day ...I like a cool breeze on a hot day... and I would let myself feel that tiny bit of gratitude.
You see, gratitude is a feeling. Yes, there are things we can do to cultivate gratitude but you can't fake it. Either you feel it or you don't. But sometimes we also squash down the actual gratitude that we do feel because we are too busy feeling bad about the gratitude that we don't feel.
When we let ourselves feel the small bits of gratitude we flex that muscle. Yesterday, I was in the shower using the Trader Joe's brand three-in-one shampoo/conditioner/body-wash when I felt a wave of gratitude for how much I like this product and that I didn't need to buy three different bottles but just one (I hate clutter). Then I remembered how much I love the sample sized cups of coffee they have at Trader Joe's (like, an oddly disproportionate amount), that led me to being grateful for how friendly the employees are! I then felt grateful for the fact that we had the money to go grocery shopping which led to me feeling great gratitude toward my husband who has been working extremely hard lately working more than full time while I grow my coaching business.
But, you see, I didn't start out by feeling gratitude toward my husband. I started by feeling grateful for the three-in-one body-wash. Letting myself fully feel the graditude for the body-wash ultimately led to my gratitude for my husband. It's counterintuitive but we often have to let ourselves feel grateful for the small things that are genuinely giving us pleasure before we can move onto the bigger things.
This week I invite you to notice what you genuinely feel (in your body, not your mind) grateful for. Can you let yourself fully have that feeling? When you stay with that feeling what wants to happen? Does it want to grow? Does it make you feel gratitude toward other things?
Please, let me know how it goes! I can't wait to hear from you!
I can still remember my wonder and delight the first time I logged onto Facebook in 2009. I was so happy to see and interact with friends from around the world in such a simple and easy way. However, the honeymoon didn't last. I soon started to experience the dark side of Facebook: the comparison. It started slowly, but the intensity of comparison kept creeping up until, one look at friend's picture, taken at her atest marathon, could send me into a tailspin of feeling crappy about myself for an entire day. The more I liked, the less I liked myself.
Thankfully, I was able to see that it was no longer a healthy choice for me, and in 2013, for my 41st birthday, I gave myself the gift of freedom from Facebook. I put my account into deep hibernation and it stayed that way for over three years. I didn't miss it.
ittle over a year ago, I launched my coaching practice. Feeling like it was necessary for running a business in these times, I returned to Facebook. Many good things have come of it. I've connected with some of my clients through Facebook. I've used it as a platform to share my writing. I've been able to see what's going on with old friends (and genuinely celebrate their successes) and have also made some new online friends that have really enriched my life.
The dark side of comparison didn't show up right away, but the creep has started again. It's not logical. I know that no one s really iving life as summed up by their posts. We all show a curated view of ourselves to the world. I’d love to be the curated me of my posts! And still, sometimes I can even compare myself with people who are posting about their own pain caused by comparing themselves to others. Seriously. That just happened last week.
It's time, again, for me to stop looking over the fence
at what seems greener
and to water my own damn grass.
For me, that means getting back to the basics of what supports my life. Taking the time to menu plan and prepare food that nourishes me and my family. Meditation. Exercise. Writing. Housekeepin. Offering maximum value to my current clients. Saving most of my likes for the amazing humans that are in my very own home.
I'm not wanting to go into deep hibernation, there are a bunch of positives that I don't want to lose. However, I have to be honest about my capacity for comparison and compassionately make a plan for healthy Facebook use (most likely one that includes an app to limit my access).
ver the next month I’ll be exploring more about how comparison affects our lives and how we can thrive in our own domain. But for now, I'd love to hear from you! How does social media fit into your life? What do you love about it? What are your challenges? How can you engage with social media in a way that feels healthy and supportive?
Do you think I’m a good dancer?
My daughter asked me this question as we were talking about signing her up for an after-school dance program.
There is no good answer to the am I good at... question. Often when parents tell their kids that they are good at something - it will have the exact opposite effect (because telling someone they are good at something does not create an internal sense of competency). Of course, you’re also not going to say - no, you are a terrible dancer and squash their opportunity to learn.
But, we adults, also ask ourselves the am I good at question all the time. In fact, the older we get the more we limit ourselves to doing only what we think we are good at.
I’d like to ban the question entirely and propose these instead:
Do you love it? Or is it really important to you?
Do you love it enough to put in the time you will need to improve? Even when it’s not so fun?
Are you willing to make mistakes?
Are you willing to be vulnerable and possibly look foolish?
I’ve been sharing my writing publically for a little over a year now and it’s one of the most vulnerable things that I've ever done. Wanting to be good at it, I recently took out a bunch of writing books from the library: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and On Writing Well by William Zissner. (A favorite, that I already own, is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield).
The main point of every one of these books is this: To become a better writer you have to write. Every day. Whether you like it or not. Sitting in front of the computer or paper feeling totally stuck for hours counts as writing. Because stuckness is part of the process. Crappy writing also counts as writing (phew).
This is not rocket science and holds true for any endeavor.
How do you become a meditator? You Meditate.
A runner? You run. A dancer? You dance.
So, if it’s that easy, why isn’t it that easy?
I think it’s because we paradoxically think too much of ourselves and not enough at the same time.
We think we should be somewhere further down the path than we already are (too much of ourselves) -and since we’re not where we think we should be we spend precious time feeling bad about it or just stop trying (not enough of ourselves).
I think this quote, often attributed to Bill Gates, sums it up:
Most people underestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a year.
I often feel like I should be able to sit down and write a blog post in one sitting. This is definitely not my reality. This post took a few hours of being stuck and a few more to write and edit. I'm also sure that once I send it out I'll find spelling mistakes and sentences that don't quite make sense.
And still, I’m a writer because I’m writing. I may never be good at it and I’m definitely not sure if I love it, but it somehow feels important to get my ideas on how to live a good life on paper. Writing reminds me of what's important - and I’ve heard from a few other people that it helps them too. For me, that’s worth it.
And as the Japanese proverb goes:
We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.
*The above picture is of one of my dearest friends, Ziesl, dancing in my kitchen on Purim.
In my last blog post I talked about how making a tiny goal can help you to fly under the radar of resistance (if you haven’t read it yet you can look here). I made the tiny goal to work on my blog for 30 minutes a day with almost no expectations that it will turn out well.
Here’s the thing: I wrote that blog post while my children were in camp (my husband and I were working at the same camp but we had a lot of free time to read, write etc). Once we all returned home, everything got thrown off. I didn’t write a thing for over a week. With each day that went by, it got a little harder get back with the program.
This is how life goes. It’s hard to get momentum because, well, life. Someone gets sick, there’s a holiday, you’re traveling - and it messes with your routine. As the saying goes, the only thing that is constant is change.
So knowing this, how do we ride the waves of this erratic ocean called life?
Here’s one life surfing move you might try - I’ll call it a comeback.
If you’ve ever been in a meditation class I’m sure you’ve heard instructions that go something like this: Stay with the breath as it comes in and out through your nose. When you find your mind wandering, simply come back to the breath. WHEN you find your mind wandering. Not IF. WHEN. That’s how the mind works. It wanders.
Our lives are like one big mindfulness practice. It wanders. Just come back. Easy, right?
Not so much. The comeback is simple move but humans are hella complicated. The main thing that gets in the way of us coming back is our negative self talk. Our mind clutter. Our stories. We tell ourselves if we were only more X, Y or Z we wouldn’t have to come back - we would just always be able to stay with. Don’t believe it.
The real challenge in meditation and in living a mindful life is NOT the capacity to stay with the breath, or your writing or whatever your goal is with no wandering - it’s to come back as quickly as you can without beating yourself up.
This week I tried a new practice that has been very helpful to me. When I find myself going down the path of negative self talk, as soon as I notice, I sweetly say to myself (like a mother with wide open arms to her child) it’s ok honey, just come back. Just come back.
If you find that the comeback is not enough, and you still have a goal, that you more often than not, can’t reach, then you might need to make some tweaks. Is the goal realistic (is it tiny enough)? What might need to change internally or externally to make reach your goal? What kind of support do you need?
In order for me to reach my goal of writing for 30 minutes a day it meant shifting my schedule.
When the kids are in school my normal routine is to wake up, walk the dog, make the beds, unload the dishwasher, deal with any breakfast mess and start a load of laundry. I like starting the morning with a clean house - it’s calming to me. And it helps me to write.
But that routine was not working with my kids home because, well, kids.
Luckily I have teenagers that never leave their beds before 10am (at the earliest) So I realized that I have to write before they wake up. I can do all of those cleaning things while they are awake but in order to write I need to have no interruptions.
This week has been a comeback week for me. I went to a Yoga class for the first time since I had my appendix out a year and a half ago. I went swimming three times. I’m writing. Not every day - which is still my goal - but most days.
Now, I’d love to hear from you!
What do you want to come back to? What story are you telling yourself that’s making it harder to come back? What tweaks can you make to get more support for your goals?
I have a constant flow of blog ideas every day. In my head, they’re all amazing. Want to know how many I’ve written in the past year? Eight.
In one word, here’s why: Resistance.
In his highly entertaining and spot-on book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield introduces the concept of Resistance with this
The Following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance:
1. The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or an creative art, however marginal or unconventional.
2. The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.
3. Any diet or health regimen.
4. Any program of spiritual advancement.
5. Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals.
He goes on, but you get the point.
Here’s how Resistance plays out in my relationship to writing:
First, I’ll do just about anything else I can besides sit down and write. Laundry? That sounds like fun! I’ll do that instead. Seriously.
Then, once I do get over that first mammoth hurdle, and actually do sit down to write, I often feel paralysed. I can barely tolerate getting through those first excruciating moments when I feel that gaping hole between my fantasy version of myself and the reality of how hard it is for me to write. Nothing comes out nearly as eloquently on paper as it is in my head. My words feel clunky. The message unclear.
Some of us can spend a lot of time in our heads fantasizing about our exceptional selves but our commitment to practicing often falls short of our fantasized self image. Grandiosity and Resistance go hand and hand.
In the coaching world, there’s a recommendation that often shows up: Make an ambitious goal. The basic reasoning is that the excitement and pull of that ambitious goal will help you overcome the resistance. “Shoot for the moon,” the saying goes. “Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
But I’ve found that often the opposite is true. Sometimes you have to make a small goal. Really small. So tiny that it totally flies under the radar of Resistance.
Here’s an example: Maybe you think of yourself as a yogini but never make it to yoga class? Decide instead to subscribe to a YouTube yoga class but don’t do that either? How about bending over to touch your toes a few times a day? Can you do that? It’s laughable right? We think we’re too good for toe-touching. Touch. Your. Damn. Toes.
Making a habit of touching your toes every single day is going to do a heck of a lot more for your flexibility than your big dreams of getting to the yoga class every day.
You may be the type of person who already does get to the yoga class every day (jealous!) but I bet there’s another place in your life where the force of Resistance is strong. A place where a tiny goal might be needed.
So, I’m going to try an experiment. My tiny goal is to write for 30 minutes a day (which is often the extent of my attention span) with almost no expectations that it will turn out well. If I do that, my hypothesis is, I will have enough material to send out a blog post twice a month. That’s it. Just a little something that I’m thinking about that may turn out to be helpful to you as well.
I’m also going to touch my toes.
Are you willing to do this experiment with me?
What’s one small goal that you can make? Please, don’t make it a big deal. Make it as tiny as you can possibly make it. And then do it. Do it today. Do it tomorrow. Do it the day after that.
I’d love to hear how it goes!
** I wrote this while all of my kids were at camp. Since they've returned home I've had to adjust my goals to match my new circumstances. You too can check in with your goals and see how realistic they are and then adjust accordingly.
“When your army has crossed the border, you should burn your boats and bridges, in order to make it clear to everybody that you have no hankering after home.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
A few weeks ago I burned 30 years of journals and letters.
I've been thinking about doing this for years but the final push was, strangely enough, a bad haircut.
The day before my youngest daughter's Bat Mitzvah, we went to get her hair cut. You know how it goes: you tell the hair dresser the style you want many times (hair kept as long as possible with an ombre dye). Said hair dresser assures you that she undersands and shows you over and over again how long your hair will be. An hour later you leave shell-shocked with a totally different haircut (in my daughter’s case four inches shorter than expected).
The next morning, my daughter's sadness about her hair set in, and her should've, could've mind loop began . . . I should've just had her dye my tips and not do an ombre, I could've just had it straightened, We shouldn't have paid her . . . A good chunk of her morning was spent imagining that she could somehow magically go into the past and make a better decision with a better outcome.
As an adult I I recognized the dead-end nature of this type of magical thinking. Not because I'm above it, but because I've spent much more time than I'd like to admit thinking about the past and imagining how things would be different if I had made different choices —but as I grow older I'm able to catch myself a little quicker each time.
So, I wondered, what can this bad haircut teach us about becoming an adult? How can I take this hard situation and turn it into a teaching and blessing for my daughter on the auspicious day of her Bat Mitzvah?
As I sat with those questions, these words came to me: walk away and don't look back.
There's a well-known biblical story about a character named Lot and his wife. We are told that a pair of immoral cities (Sodom and Gomorrah) are set to be destroyed because of their utter wickedness. A man named Lot, his two daughters, and his wife will be spared. They are able to quickly gather themselves and flee their home with two angels by their side. The angels make it clear that Lot’s family must hurry and that they are being spared a certain death.
And as they brought them out, one (angel) said, ‘Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away. (Genesis 19:17).
Lot's wife was unable to resist looking back and she was turned into a pillar of salt.
I know this to be true in my life as well. The more I'm thinking about the past, the more stuck I become.
I'm not saying that we can't be reflective or make amends — just that the bulk of our energy has to be oriented toward the present with future goals as our guiding light.
After my daughter had completed reading from the Torah at her Bat Mitzvah service I blessed her with all of my maternal love and wisdom to have vision that looks forward, instead of back.
As my daughter is moving into the beginning of her adulthood, I am also moving into a new phase of my life. I just turned 45 and have successfully raised all of my children to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah age. It feels big to me. The intensity of early child rearing has settled, and I have some ambitious projects that I'm excited to work on. I know that in order to succeed I have to bring all of my energy to this present moment. I'm ready to be a warrior in my own life.
For me that meant burning 30 years of journals and letters.
30 years of secrets, heartbreaks, yearnings, kvetches, prayers, dreams and grocery lists.
I had two friends with me to witness. I opened each journal and letter, read a piece aloud, and offered it onto the flames.
As I watched the papers burn, I said prayers that I learned from my teacher, Sara Yehudit Schneider:
After reading about a positive moment: Thank you for all the sweet experiences of my life but help me to stay in the present
And after the negative ones: Hashem (G-d) help me find a way of healing this memory, perhaps by just letting it go. In the mean time, help me to stay in the present
May it be so.
Being a child of the 70s, I’ve always loved Free to Be You and Me!*
This feminist manifesto, in the form of children’s entertainment, was created by actress and writer, Marlo Thomas, for her niece, in order to refute the gender stereotypes expressed in children's media of the period.
It teaches us things like it’s all right to cry, boys can have dolls and girls can choose if, when and who they marry (even if their father is a king) etc.
I love every quirky bell-bottomed and afro-ed bit of it except one poem called The Sun and The Moon.
It goes like this:
The sun is filled with shining light
It blazes far and wide
The moon reflects the sunshine back
But has no light inside.
I think I'd rather be the Sun
That shines so bold and bright
Than be the Moon, that only glows
With someone else's light.
My understanding of the poem’s message to girls is this: don’t just take on the role of supporting the men in your life - whether that be at home or at work - you have a light of your own - let is shine! Great message, right? Well, kind of.
While I’m in full support of women’s equal rights and equal pay (and can't believe we're still fighting for it today!) I think that the glorification of sun culture over moon culture comes with real costs.
Let me explain. In Jewish thought the Sun is associated with masculine energy and the moon with feminine (I believe that is true for many other spiritual teachings as well).
The sun is a constant shining force, while the moon moves through cycles.
We live in a culture that does not value the more feminine cycle. We are bombarded with messages every day that tell us we have to be “on” all the time. There’s one ad campaign by Ray Ban glasses that epitomizes this glorification of sun culture. The ad always features a person doing something incredibly bold, wearing sunglasses of course, with a caption that says NEVER HIDE. Being an introvert that sounds like a nightmare to me.
The truth is, whether you identify as an introvert or extrovert, a man or woman or somewhere else on the continuum, all human beings go through cycles. As we get to know and honor those cycles, we also grow in our capacity to have compassion for and connection to ourselves, others and to the Divine.
In my coaching sessions I use the Hakomi Sensitivity Cycle to help my clients understand their cycles and find out where they get stuck along the way.
The cycle, when working smoothly, goes like this:
Person becomes aware (gets clarity) concerning his/her/their own essential situation and needs.
Is able to take appropriate action based on this clarity.
Experiences satisfaction as a result of successful action.
Able to rest and regenerate in order to become aware and clear about what is needed next (return to step 1) (half moon waning)
However, often because of core limiting beliefs, we can get tripped up along the way. Some people struggle with clarity (Insight Barrier), for others it may be easy to become clear but hard to take action (Response Barrier), or they might find taking actions easy but they never feel satisfied (Nourishment Barrier), and for most of us (in our go, go, go culture) have a very hard time resting (Completion Barrier).
In my coaching sessions I use the sensitivity cycle as a diagnostic tool to help clients discover where they may be experiencing a barrier (getting stuck) along the way and work compassionately together to help create new possibilities for change and growth.
Ready to try applying the sensitivity cycle to your own life?
Here’s an exercise that you can try this week: Pick one simple problem in your life (like, I’m hungry!) then get clear (I want to eat a burrito, with black beans and green salsa), take action (make it or go to your favorite burrito hub), take the time to feel satisfied (yum!) and then take a moment - could even be one minute to rest before you get clear about what you want to do next.
As always, I’d love to hear from you! Is this a helpful way to explore your own cycles? Did you try the exercise? Where are you most likely to run into a barrier?
*If you are not familiar with Free to Be You and Me check out this gem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUpLiJfV4_A
The past week has kicked my ass.
A week ago a stomach bug and a nasty virus took down three out of five in our house. I got both. The virus is still hanging on (just to me!) and today I had to get a chest X-ray to check for pneumonia (thankfully, I just found out that the X-rays came back normal).
This week happened to also be a week when I had a bunch of clients - the most since launching my coaching practice in August. Yay!
A little background: It took me a REALLY long time to get to where I am professionally. Last year it finally came to a point where I felt like, if I don't start doing the work that I feel called to do I'm going to die!
The combination between how much I love my work and how much I hate disappoint people makes cancelling on clients excruciating for me. Nevertheless, I cancelled my Thursday and Sunday appointments.
By Monday I decided that I had rested enough and that I just needed to tough it up and see my clients. But that decision was not based on reality. It wasn't based on checking in with my body to see how I was actually doing - because I was still really sick. The decision was made by a little voice in my head that I'll call the "Judgemental Taskmaster" (JT for short). JT never misses an opportunity to tell me that my self worth is directly related to my productivity - and she's really convincing. She says things like, "if you cancel on this client she's never going to come back to you" or "or cancelling clients means you don't have what it takes to succeed". Yeah, she's kind of a bitch - and I bet she might visit you sometimes as well.
Last night with the onset of a fever my body repeated her very clear message: You need to rest! So I'm listening. I cancelled clients again. I'm surrendering.
I had a sweet text conversation with one of my clients today. She's a new client that I'm very excited to meet and who I've had to cancel on twice in the past week. Here's what I said: "Even though I'm disappointed that our meeting has been pushed off several times, I hope that I'm modeling self care". Turns out she is also trying to have more self care in her life (funny, how that works, right?). When we can really be with ourselves in a way that is vulnerable and compassionate it paves the way for others to be that way as well.
I'm not saying that we should never push ourselves. There are plenty of things that only come into this world with a good push (like the obvious one!). But all mamas know that after childbirth, there needs to come rest. There's a popular idiom that says, live like there's no tomorrow! That's a good thing to do when you are in push mode. But sometimes we have to live (and rest) like there are plenty of tomorrows. To trust that self care I do now is only making a stronger foundation for the actions that I will take after I've healed - no matter how long that takes.
It's not always easy to know when to rest and when to push and I will continue to write about this and explore it from different angles. However, one thing is clear: don't let the Judgemental Taskmaster (or whatever your own version of fear based decison making is) drive the bus.
Much LOVE to you!
I’ve thought about an interaction I saw over a decade ago hundreds of times.
A young girl, no more than 10 years old, and her mother were standing a few feet back from the coffee shop counter discussing what drink she would order.
When the girl made up her mind, her mom encouraged her to go up to the counter by herself and order the drink.
The girl gave her mom a look that said, “No way, I’m not going to do that!”
I don’t know about you, but I remember vividly the anxiety produced by having to go up to an adult I didn’t know, and ask for something. It wasn’t easy. In fact, sometimes it’s still not easy!
The girl hesitated, but the mom was steadfast and insisted that she go by herself. On her way to the counter the girl looked back once more.
Her mom stayed put, smiled, and simply said, “You can do this! You can do hard things!”
The girl made it to the counter, ordered her drink and looked back to see her mom’s huge smile, supporting her from a distance.
Unbeknownst to either of them, tears welled up in my eyes. I felt like this moment perfectly encapsulated what it means to give support. This was the kind of support that I craved in my life and this was the kind of support I wanted to offer to those around me.
The mom was not telling her how easy it was or that she was silly to be nervous - she knew it would be at the edge of her daughter’s comfort zone, but she also wasn’t jumping in to rescue her.
She said, I understand that this is hard, I believe that you can do it, and I’m going to be standing right here supporting you.
I’m now offering this quality of support to you.
Support to bravely and compassionately live at your edge - whether it be by navigating the murky inner territory of emotions or taking the next action to create a life that feels more nourishing and satisfying.
Now is the time. You can do this! You can do hard things!
Love to you!
Last week I asked my friends on Facebook a question: Have I ever shared some words of wisdom that you remember and use in your life?
I’ve been thinking about one of the answers I got all week - it was about a cure for constipation.
Spiritual constipation, that is.
I once told a friend that I was feeling “spiritually constipated” and that a book of personal prayers, called Likutei Tefillot, written by Rebbe Natan of Breslov (the main disciple of the Rebbe Nachman the Chassidic master of Breslov) helped my prayer to flow again. Turns out it worked for him as well!
It was amazing to be reminded of a powerful tool that I hadn’t thought about in a very long time and it got me wondering… What exactly did I find helpful about this book?
The answer that I arrived at was - start where you are.
The basic format of Rebbe Natan’s prayers is this, “G-d! This is where I am in my life! This is the direction that I want to go! Can you help me, please?”
I think that so often we get stuck because we want to skip over that that first part of taking an honest look at and fully accepting, “this is where I am in my life”. Why is that so important? Well, that’s because that’s actually where you are!
You can’t get directions to where you want to go unless you know your starting point!
Tonight starts the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees. It is said, on this day, the sap begins to flow in the trees. For many of us, the ground and trees are covered in snow - it’s hard to see any movement, let alone, growth out there!
But the trees know the secret of starting where they are - and the slow movement of the sap today will lead to the beautiful growth that we will see this spring and summer.
Now I want to hear from you!
Where are you?
Where do you want to go?
What kind of support would be most helpful?
Speaking of support - Look out for a very special offer on Tuesday (February 14, 2017) for 10 coaching sessions at an unbelieveable price!
Many blessings to you!
One of the most powerful moments of communal prayer during the Jewish year is when we gather together for the Kol Nidre service on the night of Yom Kippur. Jews, notoriously known for showing up late for services, scramble to get to Shul on time to hear the soul touching Kol Nidre melody.
For a moment I want to draw attention to what the Shaliach Tzibbur (prayer leader) says right before Kol Nidre.
עַל דַּעַת הַמָּקוֹם וְעַל דַּעַת הַקָּהָל בִּישִׁיבָה שֶׁל מַעְלָה וּבִישִׁיבָה שֶׁל מַטָּה אָנוּ מַתִּירִין
לְהִתְפַּלֵּל עִם הָעֲבַרְיָנִים:
With the consent of HaMakom (G-d’s name literally meaning The Place) and with consent of the community, in the Supernal Yeshiva and the Terrestrial Yeshiva we give permission to pray with the transgressors.
In essence we are all transgressors - we all have those places in our lives where we clearly missed the mark- it’s part of our humanity. Part of Yom Kippur is about looking at those dark corners of our lives that we really prefer were not there and to seek rectification and forgiveness.
Sometimes this gets really tricky - often it happens that when we are in our places of deepest challenge we want to hide from others - literally, we don’t want others to see us.
However, this one line that starts off our holiest day of the year is telling us the opposite is true - it’s telling us, you have permission to pray together - because you are definitely not alone.
Whatever problem you are dealing with (whether it’s a bad choice you made, some words you wish you could take back or a health issue that’s beyond your control), right now there are millions of other people dealing with the same exact thing. Maybe even billions.
I want to offer you a simple practice that I learned from Pema Chodron that can help you tap into the deep healing that comes from being connected to other humans whether they are sitting right next to you or on the other side of the world. It’s called Just like me and here’s how it works: (For those of you who engage in formal prayer on Yom Kippur the Vidui or confessional service is a perfect time to do this!)
First, let yourself get clear on the challenge you are working with. I’ll use saying some words you wish you could take back as an example because it’s something almost all of us deal with from time to time.
I close my eyes, put my hand on my heart and say: Just like me, there are millions of people around the world who said something they wish they could take back.
Or: Just like me there are millions of parents around the world who were not patient with their children today.
As I say that, I let myself feel tenderness in my heart for the human condition. I send out my love and compassion to the millions of people around the world that need it. And as I send it out, my level of love, compassion and forgiveness for myself also swells.
This is not about letting ourselves off the hook for poor behaviour but about having tenderness for the human condition which allows us to soften, deepen our connections to each other and find healing.
There’s a lot of pain and suffering in the world. Let’s dedicate ourselves to making our little corners of the world a little bit better - We can start with bad neighborhoods in our own minds.
Because if we don’t do it, who will?
It’s the Hebrew month of Elul - the month before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, the shofars are blowing and talk of Teshuva (spiritual returning to G-d) is in the air!
If you’re reading this, I bet you’re the type of person who has worked on yourself a lot.
Me too. A ton.
My middle-school self would KILL me for doing this, but here’s proof from my first journal:
It’s January 13, 1986. (New Year’s resolution time!) I’m 13 years old.
These are the points about myself that I really HATE:
Hair that’s too thick and puffs up
Make problems worse than they really are
I then go on to list a bunch of upbeat possible solutions such as: Learn makeup techniques!, Be optimistic!, Laugh off your problems!
There’s all the classic Jewish middle-school girl problems, plus some mature (I think!) insight into some of my deeper issues.
But the thing that was really causing all of my troubles was hiding in plain sight.
Yup, you guessed it: HATE, or more specifically (and more toxic): SELF-HATE.
Fueled by self-hatred I continued “working on myself” for a very long time.
The truth is that hate can be a powerful fuel for working on yourself - at least for a short time. Until everything collapses.
You can push yourself, and will yourself, and overcome, and fight, fight, fight to make the changes in your life that will finally let you be “good enough”, but as long as it’s fueled by self-hate it will be exhausting, short lived, and just a plain old lie.
You can not hate yourself into becoming the person you want to be.
It’s time to do some Teshuva on our Teshuva. I think I can help.
I’d like to offer you some simple, easy steps to help infuse your Teshuva process with mindfulness, compassion, empowerment and self-love. I want to share with you how you can make the shift from working on yourself to working with yourself.
The King is in the Field.
Before you even start thinking of doing Teshuva you have to know this: Everything that we need in order to feel close to Hashem (G-d, The Divine) is here, right now - at this moment. This is true always - and in Elul, Hashem’s closeness and compassion are particularly potent. Our tradition teaches that in Elul the King is in the field - not far off in some lofty palace. So before you move on to the next step - say these words to yourself: Hashem can meet me exactly where I am! Then, just stay put for a moment.
Got it? If so, you can move on to the next step. If not, please, please, please, with a lot of kindness and gentleness toward yourself, go back to the field. Take your time - Hashem is not going anywhere and the next step will be here as soon as you are ready!
Step Away From the Chet.
As Rambam lays out for us in Hilchot Teshuva, the first thing we must do in our teshuva process is to abandon the chet. יעזוב החוטא חטאו - Yaazov ha’ choteh cheto - The sinner will abandon his sin.
(Chet is often translated as sin in English - from now on I’m going to stick with the Hebrew and define it as the negative thought, speech or action that blocks Hashem from our lives.)
The most basic way to understand abandoning the chet is this: You can’t do Teshuva on the thing until you actually stop doing the thing!
That’s a no-brainer, right? Just step away from the chet. But the truth is, the things that most of us want to do Teshuva on are deeper and more habitual than that.
For lasting change, just as important as stepping away from the physical action, is stepping away from our emotional attachment that causes us to over-identify with the chet.
For example, negative self-talk is one sure sign that you are over-identifying with the chet.
If you are saying things like, I’m so stupid, I’m so disorganized, I have no self control, or I can’t believe I @#$%&*$ did that - again! - it’s time to step away.
So how do we do this? One way is through Mindfulness.
Mindfulness, in this context, is when we access our higher awareness to study automatic/habitual behavior.
For example, you’ve been breathing all day - it just happens automatically.
Now, take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your nose - keeping your attention on the air coming in and out at the tip of your nose. (Really, go back and do that.)
Now you are the one who breathes and the one who is watching the breathing. The first one is our automatic/habitual self, the second our mindful self.
There’s the part of you that gets angry (automatic/habitual) and there’s also the mindful/higher/aspirational part of yourself that doesn’t want to lash out in anger any more. When we identify more with our higher selves than our habitual selves, change can happen.
Here’s one easy way that you can integrate mindfulness into your life: Set a timer to go off every hour (I use an app called Repeat Timer). Each time the timer goes off, have a mindful moment.
Take three deep breaths in and out - through your nose - (like we talked about above), and then ask yourself, What’s the most important thing I could be doing right now to connect with my higher/aspirational self? This simple practice can help you step away from the automatic/habitual and increase your capacity for mindfulness.
With regular practice, we can use mindfulness both to recognize anger (or whatever you are dealing with) as soon as it creeps up on us and to stop it before the habitual negative thought, speech or action happens.
This stepping-away is essential to change - because if we don’t step away from the chet in a mindful way we’ll end up stepping away through our addiction of choice.
That means, when we are overly identified with our chet it triggers our shame - which becomes so unbearable we turn toward our addiction of choice (food, internet, alchohol, etc.) in order to get the distance we truly need. When we step away through addiction we’re saying that we can’t bear to look at the situation at all.
However, when we step away from the chet in a mindful way we can get a good look at it and get a clear picture of what needs to shift. It’s like one of those paintings that just looks like a bunch of dots up close, but when you backup you can actually see the bigger picture.
Stepping away allows us to look at things that would otherwise be too painful to look at.
Please remember that mindfulness is a practice - not a do-it-and-be-done type of thing. Spiritual growth is not a linear process! Our only job is to notice when we’ve gone off the path and to come back on as soon as we can!
When we approach Teshuva in this kinder and gentler way we can make changes that rest on the sturdy ground of self love and feeling loved by Hashem, not the fragile foundation of self hate.