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I thought Yom Kippur was over?!?!

Here’s another article that I wrote for the URJ.  I’ve already noticed some post-publishing typos… sssshhhh

http://blogs.rj.org/blog/2013/10/24/yom-kippur-torah-service-emulating-god/

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Forgive Me, Forgive Me Not

Ahhh…. the Hebrew month of Elul…. the time when we start to prepare our souls for the emotional roller-coaster known as the High Holidays. We have to get ready to celebrate, mourn, remember, and be renewed. That’s a lot to gear up for! Today is the 13th day of Elul, and according to the Blog Elul template, today is the day to think about forgiveness. Good. It’s an important thing to consider. We’ve all done things this year that we regret, and man… doesn’t it feel good when someone says those three precious words – “I forgive you.”?!?!

Well, to be perfectly honest, seeking out someone’s forgiveness is, in my opinion, a fully selfish act. Apologizing is kind. Apologizing is acknowledging a hurt that you’ve caused and it validates someone else’s feelings. Asking for forgiveness though… well, I’ve never really understood that.
If I have hurt you in some way, then I want to apologize for it. I want to make amends and acknowledge that you do not deserve to be treated that way. Asking you to forgive me, on the other hand…that’s about me. It’s like saying “ok… I know I did this really crummy thing to you, but… could you just do me a favor and tell me that I’m forgiven? Can you do that for me? It would really help me feel better about doing such a crummy thing…” Asking for forgiveness, in my opinion, is saying that I am concerned about my own conscience, my own feelings. Here’s a little secret about that – no one can clear your conscience but you.

Yes – it is important to forgive others. It is important for our own mental health and spiritual clarity to forgive those who have wronged us. It is often the only way to move on…. but forgiveness happens in the heart. Forgiveness benefits the forgiver. We shouldn’t need to seek out someone else’s approval in order to move on.

On Yom Kippur, when we ask God to “forgive us, pardon us, and grant us atonement” what I really believe that we are saying is “help me to find the inner strength to forgive myself, pardon myself, and therefore grant myself atonement…and help me to see that I am worthy of those things.” No one knows, other than you and your God, if you have done what needs to be done in order to make amends. We can’t rely upon others to tell us that we are ok. Frankly, once I know that I have done everything that I can to right a bad situation, it shouldn’t matter to me whether the other person forgives me or not. If that person chooses not to, well, then that’s going to weigh on his or her conscience, not mine.

We have all been told that it is easy to forgive others, but important to forgive ourselves. Yes. We must learn to forgive ourselves – for how we have wronged others and how we have wronged ourselves. Only we can truly judge our own moral character, and only we know if we are worthy of our own forgiveness.

And so – if, in this past year or in all of the years before, I have done something to hurt you, then I truly and sincerely apologize, but I do not ask your forgiveness…. I ask for my own.

Wishing you light and love.

I’ve Lost All Hope

Blog Elul is a fantastic concept, and a brilliant way to bring modern-day Jews together in a month that can be stressful, both physically and spiritually, for all of us. I knew that I would not be able to be a regular contributor to this effort, but I wanted to at least give my two cents. As I scanned the list of thought-provoking topics, one word jumped out at me – “hope.” When I saw that word, the first thing that came to my mind is the line:
Hope is a dangerous thing.
I don’t remember where I first heard that statement, and I’m fairly sure that it was intended as a warning, but this idea has stuck with me for a long time.
Hope is a dangerous thing.
I agree.
Hope is an intangible, somewhat undefinable, esoteric concept. It’s a word that we all use, and yet likely means something different to each of us. We are told not to lose hope, but not to get our hopes up, and that all we can do is hope. Hope is not a feeling, nor is it an action. Hope is just a thought, and most times, a fleeting one.

I know that sometimes it seems like hope is all that we have. When people are in desperate situations, with loved ones who are ill, or scraping their last dollars together to buy the basic necessities of life, I know that it can feel as though hope is the only thing that keeps the light shining on… but hope is inactive. Hope is just an idea, a passing thought sometimes. Hope can, and often does, breed despair, when the thing that we are hoping for doesn’t come to be. When we hope for something, it means that there is still a piece of lingering doubt inside of us. It’s kind of like we KNOW things probably won’t work out the way that we want, but we can still cling to some iota of hope. To me, that sounds like a whole lot of negativity, with a tiny slice of “but maybe.”

On the other hand, belief is a powerful state of mind. When we believe that something is going to be, it can propel us into action to make sure that we get what we want. When we believe something in the very depths of our souls, it is very rare that we are wrong. We are intuitive creatures, and what goes on in our gut, those intense feelings of knowing, are feelings that we all can, and should, learn to trust. When people say to “expect the worst and hope for the best,” they might as well just say “prepare for the worst.” When we put ourselves in positions where we are ready, and waiting for the worst to happen, we pretty much say to the world around us “I want the worst to happen!!” Hoping for the best, getting our hopes up, while preparing for the worst most often just means that we’re going to be let down. Belief is strong. Belief begets action. Hope is weak. Hope is merely something to cling to instead of something to push us forward.

There are a lot of ills in our world. There are a lot of ills within each of us. Yet I don’t hope that we can find a way to improve, I know that we can. Each of us, in our own way, is capable of taking those first steps towards positive change – now, as we near our New Year, and always. I am not hopeful that we can all create the life that we want, I am not hopeful that we can all overcome the trials in our lives…I KNOW that we can.

I don’t hope…I believe.

L’Shana Tova – May we all have the strength to do away with hope, and just believe.

Aside

If I Had a Crystal Ball

Recently, someone asked me the dreaded question: “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” At first, I was mortified to realize that I have NO idea. I was upset with myself, because, well, how can you really expect to accomplish anything if you don’t have a plan or a vision? Here I am, the person who truly believes that we can create our own futures, the person who is certain that positive visualization can bring about our dreams, without any clue where I want to be in 10 years. It also made me seem (i think) sort of flaky and unambitious (ok – full disclosure – the question was asked on a first date, so there was that extra layer of discomfort and anxiety already there…and potentially some subtext to the question as well) and I was very concerned that not being able to answer just made me seem shallow.
So then I asked a number of you where you see yourselves in 10 years, and the answers (happy, living somewhere warm, retired, etc etc etc) were lovely, but quite unspecific… and I realized… most of us have no real idea where we see ourselves in 10 years. I have NO idea where I see myself in 10 years, and frankly, it doesn’t really matter. If you had asked me that question 10 years ago, I can say without hesitation that my answer would have looked NOTHING like where I am now – and where I am now is pretty great…
I know what I want to be doing right now. I know what I want to be doing tomorrow. I am fairly certain that I know what I want to be doing next month… but beyond that? I need to leave myself open to all of the exciting opportunities that may come along. I need to be able to close my eyes and take a leap – even if it is far off the path that I have begun to carve out for myself. That’s what makes life interesting and fun. Sure, I have dreams, but I’m not so tightly bound to them that I NEED them to happen. What I need is to be in the moment, and enjoy life as it happens… what happens next? I don’t know… but I can’t wait to find out!

You win some, you (almost) win some…

As many of you know, I entered a writing contest a few months ago through Moment Magazine.  I kind of stumbled upon it, found the topic interesting (the intersection of anxiety and Judaism) so I jotted down some ideas and sent it in.  I didn’t really take it all that seriously  – and didn’t think that anyone else did, either.  I thought that what I wrote was pretty good, but I didn’t exactly spend a whole lot of time on it…..

oops…

a few weeks later I saw a post of Facebook from Moment Magazine urging everyone to do their final edits and get their essays in.  Edits?  FINAL edits?  Um… I just wrote something, read it over once, corrected some grammar, and hit ‘send’.  On the online form.  Without even keeping a copy for myself.  Yikes!

Well, needless to say, I didn’t win.  I wasn’t a finalist.  I was given the honor though, of having an excerpt of my essay published in the Jan/Feb 2013 issue… which is pretty darned cool.  All of the winners and finalists also happen to be real-life published authors, so being chosen to have an excerpt included in the magazine feels pretty great.  I even emailed the contest folks and asked if they have the full text of my essay to send back to me.  Luckily for me, they sent it back right away…. so… if you’re interested…. here it is!  I’d love to hear what you think!

Wishing you light and love!

 

 

I have never sat comfortably in a chair for an extended period of time. Sure, I’ve relaxed, I’ve lounged, I’ve hung out, but it’s always been relatively short-lived. Inevitably, each time that I sink back into a comfortable position, the moment comes when I sit upright, plant my feet, and prepare. What am I preparing for? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe I’m bored, maybe my to-do list starts to run through my head, maybe there’s some Jewish guilt about taking time for myself, or maybe I just get restless. Maybe. Or maybe it’s something more, something stronger, something so deeply ingrained in me that I don’t even notice it most of the time.

My grandparents survived the Shoah. Like many of our beloved family members, their story is one of fear, horror, strength, courage, and resilience. I grew up hearing bits and pieces of their past, but for the most part they tried to shield us kids from the details. We lived comfortable, blessed lives, and yet the one thing that they couldn’t shield us from was, what I call, “the hum.” The best way that I can explain the hum is that it is this underlying buzz of muted anxiety, rarely discussed, but ever-present. My grandmother, who has lived in Canada for 60 years, still needs to be cajoled into putting on her seat belt every time she gets into a car, and when she sits in a chair, there it is. She sits on the edge, readying herself to jump up if need be. The Gestapo isn’t coming. She knows that. We all know that… but the thought of being stuck, unable to escape at a moment’s notice is unbearable to her. That anxiety is always there, it’s the hum.

All of us feel the hum. No matter how safe we are, no matter how happy or secure, there is a hum, an anxiety that can be traced back to those frightening days in Poland – even for those of us who have never had to live through such atrocities. The hum is our legacy, it is our reminder, and our story… and so when I sit on the edge of my seat, or subconsciously scan a room for exits, I can laugh at myself for this silly, knee-jerk reaction, and I can also notice it, pause, and know that I will never forget.

 

Aside

Rules Are Made To…

I’ve noticed lately that I have a pattern.  I get really into something – a hobby, a lifestyle, a morning routine, and it lasts for a while, but then I move on.  I’ve been like this for my whole life, and this is a pattern that I’ve always criticized myself for.  I always thought that I was being lazy, non-committal, weak.  I thought that it was a sign of having poor discipline, of being unreliable, or simply incapable of sticking to anything.  In fact, the only routine that I’ve  ever stuck to, is the one in which I start something, put it away for a while, and then beat myself up about it.  Any routine that includes admonishing myself – well, that I can do!

So I’ve been thinking about this.  Why do I get so annoyed and disappointed with myself?  Why do I seem to think that any new thing I try has to be “my thing” for the rest of my life?  Is the problem that I don’t like commitment, or is the problem that I want something to stick forever and then I get upset at myself when I lose interest?

Well, I think that the answer is in understanding the essence of life in general.  The thing that makes life beautiful is that it’s a journey, right?  We’re supposed to move forwards and backwards, side to side, up and down.  That’s freedom.  That’s growth.  So doing something for a while, then stopping?  Well, that’s just another path on the journey.

Many of you know that I was really into running for a while.  Once again I thought “Ok.  THIS is going to be my thing!”  I ran 3-5 times a week, entered races, did special training, and really enjoyed it.  Well, I haven’t gone for a run in a few weeks, and BOY have I been criticizing myself for it!  I’ve told myself that I’m lazy, that I’m giving up, that I’ve completely ruined any forward momentum that I had in my running and that I’ve thrown away months of training.  I even convinced myself that I was going to lose the respect of people around me if they found out that I had stopped…. hmmmm… talk like that is certainly going to make it very difficult to start up again if I ever want to, wont it?  Why did I stop?  Honestly, because I just haven’t felt like running.  No bigger reason than that – I haven’t felt like it.

And you know what? I think it’s absolutely ok.  Running was something that I did for a while.  It’s something that I”m probably going to do again… but it’s not something that’s been making my soul sing lately, so it was time to put it aside for a while.  It’s nothing bigger than that.  It doesn’t mean that I’m any better or worse of a person than when I was running.  It doesn’t mean that I”m all of a sudden a weak, lazy, unreliable person.  It just means that there are other ways I prefer to spend my time right now… what’s wrong with that?

Some people thrive on routine – and I do as well, to some extent.  But I also know that when I FORCE myself to do something every single day, or even every – other day, I stop enjoying it.  It becomes an obligation, a burden. I feel chained to the schedule that I’ve made and the requirements that I’ve imposed upon myself, and then I feel as though I’ve lost my freedom (even though I’m the one who made the rules to begin with!)  I love taking my 20 minutes in the morning of quiet, meditation time, and have tried to make it a daily practice.  When I miss a day I feel guilty, and I have convinced myself that I wont reap the full benefits of meditation if I don’t do it every day.  How silly is that?  Sure, it would be great to meditate every morning, but am I really going to suffer if I miss a day?  Ok, I might be a little less centered that day, but am I going to miss the enlightenment train completely because of it?  These are the mental chains that I”ve created for myself, and it’s time to break out of them (I wonder if meditation can help with that… heh heh heh…).  Some days it feels better to watch the news or read my email for 20 minutes than it does to meditate… and that’s ok too.

Now, of course, there is something to be said for creating habits and having discipline.  I have a great deal of respect for people that can do something every day, or stick to a schedule for months or years at a time without fail.  That takes great strength and will, and I think it’s incredibly admirable… it’s just not me.  I’m not saying that I’m only ever going to do things that feel good and that I’m going to completely eschew anything that’s uncomfortable or I don’t “feel like” doing.  I’m still a responsible person with obligations and commitments.  I just also have to learn to choose doing what I want to do over what I “should” do.   I mean, really, who said I “should’?  Typically, it’s just an arbitrary restriction that I’ve put on myself, that doesn’t serve any purpose except for making me feel bad if I mess up.

Look – I’m not talking about being unhealthy here.  Eating Twinkies.. oops, I mean, Mars Bars (they’re still in business, right?) constantly and avoiding all forms of physical activity for months at a time might feel good in the moment, but that’s just irresponsible.  And really – it might feel good in the moment, but would ultimately make me very sick and depressed – so forget that idea.  What I’m talking about is being less strict with the rules that I create for myself, and allowing myself to truly enjoy my life… listen to my body, listen to my spirit, and do the things that feel good and right, not just because some schedule I’ve made said that I should.

Part of this issue is also about the label.  It feels good to say that I am a fill-in-the-blank.  I think we all want to have some sense of identity, don’t we?  Well – maybe I don’t need the label – I don’t need to be a “runner”  I don’t need to be a “blogger” or a “meditate-r.” I do it when it feels good to do.  I don’t when it doesn’t.  I don’t think that makes me a quitter, I think it makes me human… which is a fill-in-the-blank label that I can wear proudly.

I love rules.  I love making them, I love following them.  Something about them makes me feel secure, orderly and like I know the “right” thing to do.  Maybe, though, I’ve been too strict with my own rules, and have only caused myself more anxiety and guilt.  Maybe the only rule should be, that every day… every single day… I live my life as best as I can.  Maybe that includes a run.  Maybe that includes meditating.  Maybe it includes zoning out in front of the TV for the Today Show instead.   I also really like patterns – they are predictable and reliable… but every once in a while there is a break in a pattern, a different colored bead, or a note in the music that you don’t expect, and those are the moments that make life beautiful, unpredictable, and very special.

Wishing you light, love, and freedom

Why I LOVE my life (or, I COULD complain, but what’s the point?)

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written anything… and trust me, I have a number of subjects that I’d like to discuss… but today isn’t the day for any of that.  There is a major storm about to hit the East Coast and many of the people that I love the most in this world are terrified.  I’m terrified for them.  The uncertainty, the last-minute scrambling for supplies, the feeling that life has simply stopped and all that they can do is wait.  It’s overwhelming – and most of them are really taking it in stride, and even cracking jokes.  Amazing.

Now let me tell you something – the absolutely worst thing that’s happened to me this past week?  I had to exchange my summer blankets for my winter comforter.  Yup.  That’s my biggest problem.  I don’t like cold, my body has negative reactions to the cold, and it is now officially cold here.  Boo hoo.

As some of you know, I’ve had a bit of a tough go of things the past few months – no, nothing major, but my emotional well being wasn’t exactly top-notch.  To put it simply, I’ve had a hard time seeing how beautifully blessed my life is.  I see it now… and I’d like to tell you about it (if you’ll be so kind as to indulge me).

So here it is – why I LOVE my life:

My job is NOT a job.  It is a calling.  It is one little piece of repairing our world.  Everything that I do, even the mundane, “annoying” tasks are all a part of a bigger picture of filling people’s lives (and my own) with community, connection, and blessings.  wow.

My home is beautiful.  It’s small, it’s expensive, the smoke alarm goes off every time I turn on the oven, and I love it.  It’s mine (for now).  I have a warm place to sleep, a cold place to keep my vegetables, walls covered in pictures, and a place to park my car (oh ya… my car.  it works.  that’s enough for me!)

My friends and family are fantastic.  Yes, 98% of them live nowhere near me, and that makes me very sad sometimes, but they’re there, just a text or call away.  They are supportive, funny, interesting and fun.  Sometimes they’re hard on me… because they love me – what more could a girl want?

My body works, and it works well.  I can run, dance, sing, hug, and laugh really REALLY loudly.  I may not looooooooooove how it looks… oh well.  I love what it can do, and frankly, I use my body far more often than I look at it, so really, it’s all good.  As long as I treat myself well, eat well, rest well, move well, and get massages (yes – I do believe that massage is vital to health… more on that some other time!), then I’m doing great.

My life in general is pretty awesome.  There are a lot of fun things that I want to do, and for the most part, I do them.  I go to shows and concerts, I read, I talk to people and I serve.  Would it be nice to have someone at my side for all those things?  Sure… but just because I don’t have someone right now doesn’t mean that I’m not going to do those things.  There’s so much living to be done, and it’s all beautiful.

In my last blog post, I talked about pain, and why we feel pain.  I talked about the ego and how we need to take greater care of our inner child.  I also said that we need to be able to sit with the pain, because it will never pass if we don’t acknowledge it.  Beautiful lives are full of pain – and the pain can show us and teach us things that can make our lives even more beautiful.

Every minute of every day we have a choice – see the beauty, feel the blessings, or don’t.  My life is truly, magnificently blessed. So is yours – it’s all about perspective.  Ok ok, so maybe the boy I like doesn’t like me back, or maybe I don’t get to see my friends and family nearly as much as I’d like, but there are blessings in that as well.

It takes a lot of courage to live a beautiful life.  The world around us teaches that we’re supposed to work work work and strive strive strive for beauty and blessings.  It’s supposed to be hard, and man – aren’t there just so many crappy things to complain about?  Yup.  Sounds to me like a recipe for MISSING IT ALL.  Get bogged down in how things SHOULD or COULD be, or see how incredible they really are now.  I believe in miracles and I believe in the beauty and love that is ALREADY here.  I also believe that seeing the blessings now, feeling the joy now, and appreciating my life NOW will only bring about more blessings, more joy, and more love.  It ain’t easy, but man… it’s SO good.

To my friends on the east coast – I love you and I’m thinking about you.  I’m sending you love – I hope that you can feel it.  Try, if you can, to find the blessings in all of this – even if the blessing is just a little bit more time to rest… a blessing many of us could use!

For the rest of us – love now, be joyful now, smile now. Sure you can complain, whine, be angry or even depressed – that’s all part of life, and we NEED to do those things in order to acknowledge what isn’t working… and then… do something different.  Make your own list of why you love your life.  We are all so supremely blessed, and it’s wonderful to be able to see those blessings.  Try it.  You just might find that there’s so much to love.

Wishing you light, love, and blessings.