The Pickle Jar

I think in metaphors.  It’s just the way my brain works. My newest insight is that of the pickle jar.

I and many others are desperately awaiting the arrival of the Messiah, that person who will be able to illuminate the world with the Truth. We are very close. Jewish sources tell us that we are on the heels of the Messiah.
I even have my outfit picked out that I will wear when this glorious day arrives. It is hanging on the door of my closet. I try to live each day as the 12th of Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith states “I believe by complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he tarry in waiting, in spite of that, I will still wait expectantly for him each day that he will come.”

But what will it take for us to get there?  Last, my then 11 year old son Zvi were talking on Tisha B’Av, the day of mourning for the loss of the Holy Temple (due to baseless hatred) and the countless other losses and tragedies that the Jewish people have experienced on that day over the course of Jewish history.  I said to him “Zvi, God willing, next year, Moshiach will have already arrived and we will be dancing and eating instead of crying and fasting on Tisha B’Av.”  Without skipping a beat, Zvi said to me “Mommy, I don’t think it is ‘God Willing” but ‘Us Willing.'”

I think Zvi is right. Judaism understands that God created humans with free choice. The ability to choose between good and evil, between caring and apathy, between baseless respect and baseless hatred, between life and death.  Can God override our choices, of course….its God we are talking about. Perhaps, however, God wants us to make a choice to bring the Messiah. God is willing, but are we?

Here is where the pickle jar comes in.  I was thinking the other day how it often takes several people to open the pickle jar.  One person tries and after futile attempts asks someone else to try. They try but it doesn’t budge. So the next person tries and boom….it opens. And that person seems like they are the strong one that was able to open the jar.  Really though, it was each person putting in their effort that contributed to the pickle jar finally opening. It took everyone’s contribution to make it work.

For Moshiach to come it will take ALL OF US.  No matter where a person falls on the spectrum of Judaism, we are all part of the whole that is needed to bring True enlightenment, world peace, clarity.  Don’t we all want that? Don’t we all want a world where we put our energy into love rather than hate, seeing the commonalities rather than the differences, working together rather than feeling that others are a threat?  Jewish sources tell us that when the second Holy Temple was destroyed, the Shechina “Divine Presence” left and went inside each person. Look inside. Ask yourself “How can I contribute to peace on earth? How can I grow just a little bit in the direction of clarity and Truth? What can I do to make this happen?”  Perhaps we all need to willing, and together we can allow Moshiach to “open the jar,”  please God, may it be very very soon.

Us Willing: Words of Comfort for Shabbat Nachamu

While I am disappointed that yet another Tisha B’Av came around and it was still a day of mourning and fasting instead of a day of celebration which it will be when Moshiach comes and the Holy Temple is finally rebuilt. Instead, I spent this last Sunday fasting and crying. Crying because all of the pain and suffering that we go though today, is only due to the loss of the Holy Temple.  I heard an amazing talk by Chevi Garfinkel where she said that if a person lost their father (G-d forbid) before they were born, then it is really, really hard for them to truly know what they are missing. This is precisely what it is like for all of us! None of us lived during the First or Second Temple, where G-d’s Presence was SO OBVIOUS!!! Therefore, we don’t even know what we are missing!!! I happen to relate to this in a big way, as my father was diagnosed with cancer when I was 5 months old and he died when I was 6 months old. I am told that he hardly held me because he was afraid that the radiation treatments he was receiving would somehow poison me.  So even though I was blessed to have a step-father from the age of 4 years old, I cannot really comprehend what I lost. We don’t even  know what we lost….However, we DO KNOW HOW TO GET IT BACK!!!

We are told that the Second Temple was destroyed by the baseless hatred that the Jews had for each other. Last time I checked, we still have that!  You know the saying, “Anyone who is more religious than me is a meshugena, and anyone who is less religious than me is a gentile.”  We judge in our minds and with our words, and we keep doing this, until a tragedy hits us (G-d forbid), and we pull together as one people with one heart.  That last’s a while and then we go back to our old ways.

On Sunday afternoon, as I started preparing food to break the fast several hours later, I said to my 11-yr-old:

“Zvi, G-d willing next year we will be dancing and feasting on Tisha B’Av instead of crying and fasting.”

He said the following to me:

“Mommy, we should not say ‘G-d willing,’ but instead we should say ‘US willing!’  G-d is ready to bring Moshiach and to rebuild the Temple. It is up to US to stop the baseless hatred!  It is up to US!”

This Shabbat, the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av is called “Shabbat Nachamu,” “The Shabbat of Comfort.”  It is called this because the first sentence of the Haftorah has the words “comfort, comfort.”  However, I believe that we can also take comfort in the FACT that we have the answer in our very hands and WE CAN DO IT!!!  Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein said in a beautiful Tisha B’Av talk that we need to stop pointing OUT and start pointing UP! I would add that in addition to pointing UP, we must also point IN. As my Rav, Rabbi Joey Friedman says (paraphrasing, but it’s pretty close), “Our job is to perfect ourselves. And that is a FULL TIME JOB! So if I am really doing MY job, I will be way to busy to judge others!”

Let’s take comfort in knowing that G-d is ready NOW.

US WILLING, we will be too!

Mental Health Insights From Parshat Chukat: There Is Always More to Know

This week’s parsha can be very perplexing. We are given a set of commandments called “chukim” (as opposed to those that are known as “mishpatim.”) The Talmud defines mishpatim as laws that “if they had not been written, reason would require that they be written.” Essentially, even if God hadn’t had commanded them, human beings would have recognized the need for them anyway: they make sense!  On the other hand, the Talmud says that “Chok implies something that is nothing but a decree by command of the king.”  These laws, such as pushing a cow over the side of the mountain and burning its ashes, or the prohibition of wearing garments that are made of both linen and wool, do not make any sense at all! Chukim seem completely irrational.

The Rambam, however tells us that if any of the chukim seem irrational, it is merely due to “either to the deficiency of our knowledge or the weakness of our intellect.” Whoa! That is pretty strong language!  Rambam states clearly that every single commandment (both positive and negative) has purpose, however, in some cases the usefulness of the commandment is generally evident, and these are called “judgements” (mishpatim). In other cases, however, the usefulness is generally unclear, and these are called “statutes” (chukim).

What we must know is that all of the mitzvot have reasons, however their reasons are not always known to us!

I don’t know about you, but so often in my personal life I cannot make sense of what is going on. No matter how hard I try, it just doesn’t make sense. So I keep trying to the point where I am figuratively (or literally!) banging my head against a wall! What about the ongoing violence in Israel and the UN’s response? What about the 2016 election? Does any of it make sense?

I think we can learn some powerful lessons from this parsha.

The TRUTH is (you can disagree if you want, but I know it is true!), that while we human beings are by definition limited, we must realize that every single person is created and powered by the Ultimate Source of Knowledge.  It’s the difference between limiting myself by getting caught up in “personal thought” (“I know everything there is to know” or at the very least “I will figure it out!”) and the reality that I am always (as in never-gonna-not-be!) connected to the Boundless Power and Source of Wisdom, and it is by looking towards that Source that something fresh and new get in.

You don’t have to believe me. Try it for yourself!

Mental Health Insights From the Parsha: Korach: Don’t Always Act on Your Thinking

The story of Korach is fascinating! And it is no wonder that it takes place right after Parsha Shelach, the parsha of “the spies.” The Jewish people were at a low point; the current generation would not be able to enter the Land of Israel as a result of the bad report that the spies brought back.

Korach was annoyed that Moshe appointed himself the leader of the Jewish people and made his brother Aaron the high priest. He also felt slighted that he was not appointed the leader of the tribe of Levi, and his cousin was instead. HE wanted to be the leader, HE wanted to be able to have the closeness to God that Moshe had.
Korach gathers over 200 men and leads a revolt again Moshe. As a result if the revolt, Korach and the others are swallowed up by the earth.

There are several important insights from this parsha that point to the keys to mental health.

First, Korach was all about ME! Today we might say he had a “selfie” mentality! He was caught up in HIS thoughts about how things should be, the titles HE should be given, and wanting for HIMSELF what someone else had (ie. Moshe’s unique relationship with Hashem). He could not see that everyone had their part to play, and Moshe’s was different from his. He literally got swallowed up by his own personal thought.

Lesson #1: When I am caught up in personal thought, I am innocently cutting myself off from divine wisdom.
This happened to me just yesterday, in synagogue of all places! There I was basking in the spirituality of Shabbat, feeling the reality of the Presence of God, when two women in the row in front of me started talking. Sure, they were whispering, but no matter the whisper, it was very distracting as they kept turning back and forth to each other.. They are ruining MY davening (praying), I thought to myself. I like these young women, but it took everything for me to hold myself back from shooshing them or giving them a dirty look (a big no-no in our shul). I went from feeling in the Presence of God to the presence of ME-MYSELF-AND-I! Yes, we are not supposed to talk in shul unless we are talking to God or it has something to do with the service. Nevertheless, I was wrapped up in ME, and how they were ruining MY experience, and thus, I felt completely disconnected. Good thing I had the presence of mind to just move my seat. It’s funny, sometimes the talking just roles off my shoulders, but for some reason, it really bothered me yesterday, so I knew the reaction was really all about ME and that limited me. In reflecting on it now, I bet if the thought occurred to me that perhaps one of them was having a hard time and was getting support from her friend, I might have actually been more connected instead of disconnected….hmm…

Secondly, the Jewish people were at such a low. Although had just spent a year witness to countless miracles such as the splitting of the sea, water coming from a rock, manna falling from the sky, they knew that they would not get to merit to enter Israel and instead would die in the desert. Korach took advantage of their low mental state and got them to buy into his plan. This decision they each made cost them their lives.

Lesson #2: Making big decisions when you are in a low mental state is not a good idea! We make all sorts of bad decisions when they are not thinking clearly. People will quit jobs, yell at their kids, fight with their spouses, have affairs, even murder. I remember several years ago I was going through a low state-of-mind period and my thoughts took me to the “good idea” to sell my thriving business. I was feeling overwhelmed with the responsibilities of working and family and I thought that this was the right decision. No one could convince me otherwise (more about that later), and it seemed like a good idea at the time.  While I eventually could see the Divine plan in making that decision (details for another blog post), I painfully regretted it for several years!  When we are in a low state, it is as if clouds are covering the sun, and it looks like the clouds are the reality. We need to know that the sun is ALWAYS there, but we can’t see them until the clouds pass; which they always do! Making big decisions when our thinking is “cloudy” might not be the ideal time.

Lesson #3: When you are in low state, you are very susceptible to more negative thinking. They bought into Korach’s negativity. So instead of getting interested in the negative thinking and taking it seriously, let it pass. Don’t add fuel to the fire, so to speak. Who you surround yourself with is really important. When I am in a bad place, hanging around people who are negative just digs my negative thinking deeper and deeper. Of course I am also totally capable of spiraling down in my own head when I am in a low state (you know the old saying “staying in your head when you are in a low state is like driving through a bad neighborhood…don’t go in there alone!) Having people in our lives who practice gratitude, and look to raise people up is a much better idea than hanging around complainers.

The third thing to note from this parsha is Aaron’s response to Korach. Korach is all riled up and Aaron says……NOTHING.  Aaron does not respond. Why? Because when someone is all caught up in their own personal thought and thereby lots of feelings such as anger, resentment, jealousy, etc., there is nothing you can really say to the person until their thinking settles a bit (which is always will if we leave it alone and let it do its thing). Aaron says nothing because he knew that at that moment, nothing he said would be heard by Korach.

Lesson #3: When someone is in a state of anger, and the like, trying to have a rational conversation with them is almost always futile. Wait until their mind settles (which it will eventually), as they have a much better chance of seeing it then. A couple of weeks ago I was in a bad mood. I was feeling overwhelmed and cranky, and I was not fun to be around. I got into an argument with one of my children and they very respectfully said to me “Mommy, you are in a low state right now, so I am not going to talk to you now,” and she walked away.  I was annoyed, but you know where she learned that? From me and Seth! She was right. Nothing she was going to say was going to be “right” and I was “whirling” in my own negative thinking. She intuitively knew that eventually the whirling would settle down, and I then we could have a conversation, and I would have a fresh perspective.

There is so much more we can learn from this parsha but I will end with this: It is a FACT that were all created and are sustained by the Source of everything. We are never disconnected from that Source, we only THINK we are.

 

Lessons From a Bike Ride

Last week I went into Performance Bicycle to see if we could somehow make my 22 year old bike somewhat comfortable for me to ride. So I got a much-needed new seat, and had it raised a bunch. I also had them put on clip-in pedals. Of course I have only “clipped-in” to a stationary spin bike before, so when the guy told me to test it out by riding around the store, I ended up falling over into a display rack!

Viola, an earth-mother looking woman said “That shouldn’t of happened. I would have coached you differently. When they bring the bike back to the front of the store (there was an issue with the pedal), I will coach you on how to get on. So she did, and I didn’t fall into the display! She is such a fabulous, supportive coach, and she gave me the confidence to ride. She also told me that she leads a women’s ride every Sunday morning at 9am from the store.  So I planned to ride this morning.  I was so excited!

When I arrived, I learned that “Vi” (Viola for short) was out of town and that Dave would be leading the ride. I was quite disappointed at first, but I am very grateful actually.

Dave arrived with his wife Susan and their bicycle-built-for-two. Susan was disabled and walked with the kind of crutches that go around your wrist. Dave took one crutch at a time as Susan mounted the bike, and he slipped the crutches on either side of the basket at the front of the bike, and secured them with a bungie cord. I said “You have that down to a science!” And Dave replied “Well you would think after all of these years we would!”

So it was just me and them, and since I am relatively new at riding we decided to do an easy ride along the trail down to REI on Platte River. When we got there we parked our bikes and shmoozed for a while. Dave asked me if I had any questions about the ride, so we talked about how to know when to switch gears, and reviewed clipping out when stopping (I guess I should admit here that on Friday afternoon when I biked over to the library, I fell into a pole because I didn’t clip out fast enough!)  We talked about my triathlon last week and the blog post I ended up writing about it. (You can read it in the archives if you missed it.)

Then I learned about by riding coaches. Dave is a Vietnam veteran and came to Colorado to ski after his tour. He met Susan while she was “adaptive” skiing, as she has been disabled since birth. I had imagined that she had been able-bodied and got hurt in a biking accident. But I was wrong.  She has been doing adaptive sports for a long time. They met and got married and had a daughter who is now 30.  Dave is retired from the RTD and Susan is retired from being a case worker for people with disabilities. Susan used to ride her own bike, but they prefer to ride tandem now. They recently completed the “Five Boroughs” bike race in New York.

When we got back to the store, Susan said that she would love to get my blog posts. We chatted a bit and I said how I was so excited to finally enjoy bike riding. It was never really that appealing to me, but with the new seat and terrific coaches, I can see this going somewhere! I told her that it took me a while to fall in love with running, but I love it now, and she said

“I can’t imagine why anyone would NOT love running if they could.”

That stopped me in my tracks. It is so easy to take so many things for granted, and then complain about things too! I told her that as Jews, we have blessings that we say each day on the ordinary things in life, such having a straight spine, eyes that can see, feet that walk, elimination (as in bathroom). Susan never had the option to run, yet she has made the absolute best of what she COULD do.

I thought I was going for a bike ride today. Instead I got a big dose of gratitude, to God for my able body, to Dave, for his sacrifice for our country, for Susan for teaching me the power of human resilience.

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Dave and Susan

This entry was posted on July 3, 2016. 1 Comment

Parsha Shelach: “What You Think Is What You See, and What You See is What You Get!”

Torah Insights for Mental Wellbeing: Parsha Shelach
What You Think is What You See, and What You See is What You Get!

In this week’s Torah portion, “Shelach” or “Shelach Lecha,” the Jewish people are just about to enter the Land of Israel. However, they were hesitant to go (for a myriad of reasons, the Rabbis tell us), so Moshe sends 12 of the leaders of the generation to scout out the land and to bring back a report of their findings. Forty days later they returned.

Ten of the men came back in a panic. While they did say that the land was flowing with milk and honey, they added “However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.” They were certain there was no way they could conquer the land: “We were like grasshoppers in our eyes and so we were in their eyes!”  They spent the night wailing, saying that they would be better off going back to Egypt! Only two of the men, Joshua and Caleb came back with a positive report, that the land was magnificent and although the people appeared strong, they knew that they had God on their side, and would be successful.

Due to the negative report by the 10, the Jewish people had to wander in the wilderness (not a desert, contrary to some translations) for another forty years. A whole new generation would be the ones to first to enter the Land of Israel. Wow! Quite a consequence.

I believe the Torah is giving us a powerful lesson about human nature and a secret to mental health.

Think about it….the Jews had witnessed the the 10 Plagues, the splitting of the sea, the Revelation at Mount Sinai, enough water to drink that came from a rock, manna falling from the sky, and when they got tired of the manna, an overabundance of quail shows up! After all of these miracles, why would they doubt G0d’s ability to help them conquer the land?

Although God had freed the Jews from the physical slavery of Egypt, perhaps the Jews had not freed themselves of mental slavery. How could it be that 12 people see the same thing, yet 10 come back in a panic, and 2 come with no worries at all?

Perhaps this is what was going on: The 10 were in fear (for a myriad of reasons) before they ever went to scout out the land. What they saw was 100% filtered through the lens of their thinking. They thought fear, they saw and felt fear, then they acted on the fear with a bad report, panic, gossip, and even a desire to go back to slavery. Clearly they were not THINKING clearly.

THOUGHT – FEELINGS – BEHAVIOR

On the other hand… Caleb and Joshua simply went to get the facts. Perhaps their prior factual experience with the miracles listed above gave them confidence. What they saw was 100% filtered through the lens of their thinking. They thought they would be successful, they saw and felt the ability to be successful, then they acted on their confidence with a good report and faith that all would be ok.

Here’s the deal. We are all human. We all have thoughts all day long. All kinds of thoughts. What we think comes to life via our senses and therefore we feel our thinking visually, emotionally, physically. What we think in the moment brings our moment to moment version of reality.  Our reality changes based on our thinking in the moment. (This is why, for example, it is possible on one day to think you can’t wait until your kids turn 18, and the next day you cry because they are growing up so fast!)

Here is the secret: From cradle to grave we will be thinking beings. God gave us our feelings to help us navigate.  Our feelings give us a clue as to whether the thinking we are feeling is credible information that can be trusted or just some mental trash floating by. What if we didn’t have to act on everything we thought and felt? What if panic, anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, being judgmental, putting ourselves or others down, etc. are all forms of a mental railroad crossing sign trying to convey the message:

STOP! WAIT FOR THE TRAIN TO PASS!

Every train has a caboose, and every train of thought has one too.

The mistake these 10 leaders made was believing their thinking. Unfortunately, because they acted on their thinking, they had to wait forty years. It was a new generation of Jews who got to scout out the Land. And they returned with a good report. Same land. Different report. What made the difference? Their thinking. Now, you might be thinking, “Hey, maybe certain people are just more positive than others. Maybe that’s why Joshua and Caleb didn’t have a problem.”  Our sages tell us that Caleb was actually worried that he might be swayed by the power of the others’ fears, and instead of focusing on their fear, during their journey he chose to stop in Chevron to pray by the graves of our ancestors. To get quiet inside. To get clarity.

We cannot stop the fact that we will have lots and lots of thoughts, and those thoughts will look real. It’s part of being human. However, when we get visibility to the fact that:

  1. The reality we are experiencing moment to moment is always our personal version of reality based on our thinking,
  2. Our feeling state gives us an indication of the quality of our thinking in the moment, and
  3. We don’t have to act on everything we think….

Can you see how much more control we could have over our actions? The secret to mental health is not to try to  feel good all of the time or to never make mistakes.

The secret to mental health is:

  1. Knowing that we do not need to avoid or be afraid of our feelings (they are only the multimedia version of our moment-to-moment thinking), and
  2. Knowing that we often will act on faulty thinking because it will appear to be so real!

Through this Parsha, the Torah teaches us that we can navigate this world with a little more confidence and a little less fear.

Unexpected Life Lessons From My Triathlon

This was not my first triathlon. It was actually my 4th.  It was Seth’s second, and since it had been a couple of years since our last one, we put ourselves in the “beginners” group. Our group was the last wave to begin, and wetsuits on, at the foot of the Boulder Reservoir, we were waiting for the horn to blow. As we were all waiting, a bunch of rafts were put in the water. Each raft had a child in it. One child had cerebral palsy, one had muscular dystrophy…You get the picture.  They were part of My Team Triumph. I asked an observer who was wearing a My Team Triumph tshirt what the organization was about. They give kids, teens, and adults who have disabilities the opportunity to experience endurance sports. Each raft was pulled by a swimmer attached to it. Each bike was attached to a trailer with a person inside and the bike rider pulled them along as they rode, and each runner pushed the person in a jogger. I was so moved that I started crying. So did the lady.

Then the swim was about to start and I had a little voice inside of me saying “why are you at the front of the group. You should go towards the back.” But I ignored the voice and the horn blew and off we all went into the water.

A few meters in and I started to feel suffocated. Between the constriction of the wet suit and the amount of people on my tail and passing me, I was overwhelmed. I saw a lifeguard on a small raft and swam over to him to catch my breath. I started to unzip my wetsuit as I felt like I couldnt breathe.

Then we heard the sounds a woman calling for assistance. It was her first triathlon and she started to panic in the water. So we swam over to Jackie (I asked her name) and (I like to think) I helped to calm her down. She was so mad at herself for not being able to do it. I told her it was normal to feel frustrated, and that it was also a huge accomplishment just to sign up for the race! We hung out holding onto the raft for a few minutes and I was starting to think that I might be able to continue the swim, when the triathlon staff told the lifeguard we had to come to the shore. It was too late to continue, and we had to hand over our chips, as we were disqualified from the race.

I told Jackie I felt like crying. She did too. I cried for about 10 seconds as I let the feeling wash over me.  Then it was gone.  I asked Jackie if she wanted to do the bike and run with me (we just wouldn’t be officially timed) and she said that she would find her friends and go with them. I told her that I hoped she wouldn’t be too hard on herself.

When I got to the shore the triathlon staffwoman said to me “Is that a skirt you are wearing over your wetsuit?” I said “Yes, I am Jewish and observe the laws of modesty.” I wasn’t sure how it would go over with her, but a big smile spread over her face.

I went to transition, got that awful wetsuit off and got my bike gear on. Seth came through having just finished the swim, I told him I freaked out but would continue on. “See you at the finish line” I said as I knew that he would finish before me and be there waiting for me when I came in!

So here are some lessons that I learned or was reminded of today. I am sure there are more, but here is what comes to mind and in no particular order:

  1. We can only “tri” our best. Results are not up to us.
  2. People come in all shapes and sizes and can do triathlons.
  3. People of all ages can do triathlons.
  4. You can be 79 and finish a triathlon (yes, there was a 79 year old woman in the race!)
  5. You can do an triathlon in a skirt (I got lots of compliments, by the way).
  6. Get a good bike seat.
  7. Never take your health for granted.
  8. We are each on our own journey.
  9. Always cheer people on.
  10. My anxiety eased when I focused on helping someone else.
  11.  Everyone has insecurities.
  12. When you are speeding down a hill on a bike, take a moment to enjoy the thrill of being alive!
  13. Just like you have to shift gears on a bike depending on the ups and downs, you have to shift gears in life depending on the ups and down.
  14. Swimming, biking or running slower so you can pull or push a fellow human being who can’t, is better than any personal record anyday!
  15. Listen to that little voice inside. It is usually right.