Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lessons in August and Welcome back September

 "August" - I needed to know what it meant.  It has been a very emotional month for me as I searched within myself for the answers to some questions.  These are the words that appeared when I searched Webster's Thesaurus.

distinguished, respected, eminent, venerable, hallowed, illustrious, prestigious, 
renowned, celebrated, honored, acclaimed, esteemed, exalted; great, important, 
lofty, noble; imposing, impressive, awe-inspiring, stately, grand, dignified

I was a bit surprised since these are not the words that I have been experiencing in the month.  If asked, I would have chosen words like vulnerable, raw, rustic, helpless, and soft.  August was always the month of dread - we didn't want summer to end, we didn't want school to begin.  August was also the sweet spot of the summer, forcing you to see the end of the fun and step into the next phase of your life.

And it did not fail me.  I did a lot of soul searching this month, deciding what is best for my family, looking to make decisions that are right for so many people (not an easy challenge).  I was at my most vulnerable, thinking and rethinking and overthinking all that could happen to my family if I did, if I didn't, if we did, if we didn't.

And then I asked for help.  Thanks to the guidance of good souls around me - I received the following advice  ( and I am paraphrasing as I heard it):

  • Don't worry so much about making the right decision, spend your time on how you will make the decision right.   (This spoke to me because I often think of decision as opportunities and not always as right or wrong.)
  • What does your mind, your heart, and/or your gut say?  Are all three voices aligned?
The final exercise that someone gave me was the following:  Pretend you are you a year from now, what letter would you write to your "today" self?  Here is what I wrote:

                           Dear Lori,
I am so happy that you made this decision - Good for you!! 
I know it wasn't easy, but I am so proud of you---

That letter I wrote to myself is now framed and will be sitting on my desk for quite awhile.  

So August turned out to be impressive, lofty, noble, grand and in my spiritual search, it has been quite awe-inspiring.  So thank you August for an intense, forceful, spirited and thought-provoking month.  I did more than survive it, I embraced it and held it close.  

Now in search of September and its meaning.  Happy September, may it be all you want in a month.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Learning with Rabbis - Today I Noticed

If you told me 20 years ago that I would be immersed in my synagogue, studying with Rabbis and even calling some of them friends (the real kind, not like on Facebook), I would have laughed and told you that you were crazy.  Luckily, this is what my life is today and for that I am extremely grateful.  As we say in meditation, today I noticed.

First, a little background: I would periodically attend shul because my kids attended the adjoining school and my husband worked at the school as well.  It was my obligation to show up for my family and to participate in all the required activities.  I enjoyed many of them, but I began to notice that I didn't have my own relationship with the shul, school and Rabbis.  Then my dad died, and then my father-in-law died and through the shiva minyans, I saw that I was part of a beautiful community.  (Shiva brings out the best in a community).  I began to be drawn in, but without regularity.  And then it happened.  At a Shabbaton, Rabbi Kligfeld and the then Cantor Magda Fishman gave the most beautiful and thoughtful morning prayers service.  They discussed them, we sang them - no we chanted them and it was transformative. I physically felt different and I told my husband later that I now understood what people meant by a powerful meditative experience.

Within a week of that Shabbaton, my friend told me about a meditation service at my shul ( I had no idea) and I didn't miss a beat, "I will be there."  From the first meditation and learning experience with Rabbi Ruth Sohn, I knew that this is where I had to be.  That was 2 years and 9 months ago (but who is counting).  I rarely miss it.  In fact, I have even led some.  Each week brings me closer to Judaism and to ritual.  There is still a lot to learn, but I can definitely say that I have my own beautiful and rewarding partnership with my shul.

So why did I notice this morning?  Because today was a 2 parter.  I went to my regular meditation minyan Rabbi Ruth Sohn and then attended a Torah study with Rabbi Adam Kligfeld.  Both experiences were fulfilling in ways I wasn't expecting and again, thanks to meditation I noticed.

  1. I am no longer afraid of that voice telling me I don't know enough Hebrew, Torah, or Talmud.  The truth is clear - I don't, so that is why I want to know more.  But it is not about whether I know enough compared to others, it is about my own comfort level in the group and honestly, I just love listening to the discussion.  I chime in when I can and appreciate all the different thoughts and ideas that are voiced.
  2. Rabbis (at least mine) are very kind.  They appreciate all who show up to learn and say thank you when you share an idea.  "Glad you brought that up."  "Thank you for sharing."  
  3. When I leave shul, I am aware of how these lessons will carry me through my week.  And I look forward to returning the following week.
  4. I have started attending Friday night services.  I still feel like the least experienced participant in the room, but again, I don't care.  The singing and the teaching from the Rabbi helps me end my week and think about Shabbat as more than just Saturday morning services.
  5. I am grateful to all who meditated and studied today - I loved every minute with you.  Your presence is also why today was so special.
Looking forward to more and more.  Wishing you all a week of learning and noticing.  And if you want, join us at Temple Beth Am.  

Sunday, August 3, 2014

My Perfect Day - Visitors Day at Camp

I know what you are thinking - "just a long drive for a brief visit; it is hot; other than seeing our kid, what else should I be doing and did I bring everything she asked for?"

I admit it; I was not looking forward to the experience.  Of course, I want to see my daughter, her friends, meet her counselors and hear all the stories that she didn't include in her letters AND I was so worried about the heat, the drive, the time going too quickly and then the part about leaving her.

But that didn't happen today.  Today was different.  Though my husband and I arrived on one of the last buses, our daughter greeted us with pure joy as if camp was her own home.  She completely embodied, "Welcome to my home."  We found a place to have our picnic, and before we even begun our meal/snacks, she was sharing stories, introducing friends and so truly grateful to be with us.  Her smile never left her face.  Her confidence shined through every action and she also showed great compassion during a few significant moments in the day.

So what is so special about Camp Ramah?  I can only share what I witnessed today.  My daughter and others are immersed in beautiful balance of friendship and spirituality.  While I realize this is not everyone's experience, she and her friends are always happy to see each other, even when I know that they had only been apart for less than an hour.  Where is G-d in this?  For my daughter who is sometimes searching, G-d is definitely at Ramah.  Her soul is richer and her curiosity and commitment to engaging in this religious exploration is with great determination and joy.

As we left today, my daughter and I were both fine, happy to go back to our remaining days apart.  While my husband and I drove home, tears came to my eyes when I realized how often my daughter will look back on this summer as one of her best.  You can feel it and now I understand again why she referred to Camp Ramah as her "Garden of Eden," and her "paradise" last year in her bat mitzvah drash (I've included the link below if you want to read it).

My Daughter Wants To Be More Like Eve

The tears in my eyes also reflected how true her words remain a year later.  She may not realize it, but it is not lost on me.  I am so proud of her.  I am so glad that she made the decision to go to this camp and allow herself to experience all that it has to offer.  She has deepened her friendships as well as her own search for her spirituality.

This will definitely be filed under "Best Days" file.  And boy, did I need this one.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Living in a Puzzle - A Poem Inspired by Morning Meditation

I'm living in a puzzle
some pieces do not fit.

I'm looking for answers
and only have questions.

I'm hungry to learn
and can't ever feel full.

I wonder where I am 
even when I am still.

Sadness is only one feeling
Confusion and fear are there too.

My smile comes back slowly
when true love shows up.

Love revealed in family and friends,
and in kindness from a community of strangers.

How can I find peace in discomfort?
Only when I walk on my path with 
love, compassion and strength.

I will walk in the world to find peace 
for myself and for others.



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Where is Our Hope?

During meditation today, we were guided through a beautiful practice to focus on kindness and compassion for ourselves and others.  It is not easy.   Too often our lives are so busy we are unable to find the few minutes to breathe.  Today was different, more intense than I have felt in weeks.  So much sadness in the world and so many near and far are suffering.  Does it matter who suffers more?

A few words come to mind - useless, powerless, helpless.  So much to fix in the world and as I work every day to live in solution, these days it is hard to find any answers.  How do you deal with sadness on a personal level and on a global level.  Every day there are reports of more terrible news, more frightening and more depressing than the day before.

How do we explain such atrocities to our children?  A plane is blown up in the sky - all innocent victims of war.  What words do I choose to express such horror?  Innocent people die every day.   Soldiers try to protect civilians - sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail.  Where is hope?  Where are the Martin Luther Kings or the Ghandis of our time?  Where are they?  Who are they?  Do they walk among us?  Are they even born yet?  And if they are, as parents and professionals are we nurturing them to be great leaders?

On a recent trip to Berlin, we visited the Wannsee Conference Center where Nazi officials discussed the implementation of Final Solution.  It was one of the most disturbing experiences because it is a reminder of such murderous hate.  I felt the hate as if the memory was alive in the house.  I thought no amount of sage could ever cleanse these walls.  As I walked around, I was nauseous and dizzy.  Someone asked if I was all right.  I looked at him in the eyes, "No, " I said, "Being here is making me sick.  This hate still exists today."  I was scared for my children.  As a Jewish parent, there are still people who hate me for my religion.  And now as I watch the news about Israel and the anti-Israel/anti-Jewish protests around the world, I am sickened by the hate and anguish.

Lately, I have been drawn to comic book hero movies.  I'm sure it is no coincidence that in my feelings of sadness, worry and confusion, I'm finding comfort in superheroes who are super strong, deeply compassionate and saving the world by destroying evil.  The movies give good and evil such clarity.

My intention this week is to walk in the power that we hold for love, compassion, truth and healing. My hope is not in a superhero, but rather in the existence of great leaders in our community, in our nation, and worldwide.




Saturday, May 24, 2014

Lessons on Meditation - The Gift of Being Together

Over two years ago, I began my journey of meditation when I bravely walked into new group I found through a friend.  The group was at my shul, right in the building that I had prayed, celebrated and mourned.  There it was and by the time I finished the meditation, I knew something was different.  In the past 2 years, I don't think I have missed more than a handful of Shabbat mornings.

Today, I did want to sleep in, but I know better.  It was another extraordinary experience.  Two new guides who both brought great learning and safety to the group.  Our group is typically led by Rabbi Ruth Sohn, but when she is away, we each volunteer to teach and lead the group in a meaningful discussion.

Today, there were tears, some for missing loved ones, some for celebrating new paths and some for the journeys and goals that had been accomplished.

As we discussed the Torah portion, B'midar, we all shared our personal experiences and in two random instances, we took a moment to celebrate of our participants who were celebrating a significant milestone.  Randomness feels like magic.  I didn't see it coming, but the impact of the two moments felt so rich with that tingle, it is what transforms our conference room into holy space.   And I am sure that I saw a twinkle in the eyes of our speakers.

In Chapter 2 of B'midbar, it states, "The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: The Israelits shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance."  Our guide shared this midrash, also explained in the Etz Chaim, "A person's identity consists of three elements: the self (the standard), the family (the ancestral banners), and the community (the Tent of Meeting).  Over the past two years, I don't ever remember reading this phrase with such clarity as I did today.  This is what we strive to achieve for ourselves, for our families and for our community.  And in the past few days, I have thought about how to deepen my commitment to myself, to my family and to the community.  My spiritual growth over the past few years has been transformative and continues.

Today is not a new year, nor a Jewish holiday, or even some commercial national holiday, and yet, it is Shabbat and I get to renew my commitments, continue to learn to create my standard (self) and work to build positive relationships with my family and be active in my community to give back and share our life events.

Yesterday, I read this from Restful Reflections, p. 113, Acquisitions, by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky
"With all your getting, get understanding." Proverbs 4:7

...Some things can be acquired only by learning through our experience with living.  And these things are not acquired overnight.  They take time, as we take hold of them little by little.
So the writers of the Book of Proverbs advise us to change our focus.  Stop buying things.  Instead, get understanding.  It's good advice to sleep on. 

Stuff is not the answer to my happiness and growth, it is through understanding that will allow me to know myself, connect with my family and my community.

Sweet dreams,

Friday, May 23, 2014

Blessings of friendship and community

Over the past few months, I have relied on my friends, my family, teachers, counselors, and even some experts to help us through some tricky situations.  I am not alone even though it sometimes feels like it.  I am not alone because I have friends who send me one line emails - "Are you okay?"  I am not alone because when I reach out to ask someone to check in on my kids or my husband, I know it will be done because I am part of a community that responds with an update, "I saw Maddy and she was reading a book, I saw Elliot and he as playing gaga, or I saw Perry today and gave him a birthday hug.

Thank you everyone for loving us and making sure that we know you are there.  I am not alone because I have wonderful friends who help me be a better woman, wife, parent and in return I stand with you too!

Enjoy this post from last year about how my friends and I all help each other navigate the roads of Parentwood.

http://lorictessel.blogspot.com/2013/05/communal-parenting.html

Shabbat Shalom,

Lori