Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lost and Found

In meditation class this morning, I experienced a past memory as if I was in the moment.  The rain outside and the voice of our meditation guide helped me go deeper inside myself to an uncomfortable time in my life.  My college years were not those romantic or enlightening as in the movies, I struggled throughout the five long years trying to “find myself” and to “become someone.”  My friends made it look so easy and we never spoke of our insecurities or fears of what we may or may not become. 

When this memory would pop up in the past, I would push it away.  Today, I allowed the feelings and memory to stay with me and as I meditated, I embraced the younger me and accepted the difficult journey that I had long regretted and resented. 

In our Torah study following mediation, we discussed how the weekly Torah portion refers to Jacob at the end of his life by both names Jacob and Israel.  Our discussion was rich with our own personal experiences and thoughts.  Using Rabbi Shefa Gold’s commentary as our guide , we looked at the Israel and Jacob to describe those two parts of ourselves.

 “Looking at your own Jacob, you might find certain qualities that seem to be wired into your personality.  You might be a worrier or you might be impatient, argumentative, controlling or manipulative.  When you begin to have experiences of expanded consciousness, you are given the name “Israel” and you take on a spiritual practice that proceeds from that new identity.  But “Jacob” never really goes away.  Through our practice learn how to manage that worrier, that impatient one, that manipulator.  After many years of committed practice I realize that the voices of Jacob-within-us may never be entirely silenced, but as the Israel-in-us grows, those Jacob voices lose their power to compel and we are no longer tricked or trapped by their arguments.

When I receive the blessing of the knowledge of where Jacob lives within me, then I can recognize his voice and gently refuse his advice, looking instead to Israel, for wisdom, passion and courage for my journey.” (Torah Journeys, page 59)

I am no longer that lost college student.  I have found great learning, achievements and successes in my life.  And I am blessed to have found this incredible meditation class filled with women who are my partners in my spiritual and intellectual growth.   In my prayers and actions, I will strive to be Israel and know that sometimes I am Jacob. 

Shabbat Shalom.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Twinning Builds Friendship

When my family life spills into my professional life (or vice versa), the experience is simple gratitude. Earlier this month, my daughter and her class participated in their twinning program with their new friends from their partnership school in Israel. As a professional, I have bragged about this program and its benefits to the families and the community. Now as a parent, I witnessed the true meaning of developing friendships and educational partnerships with kids, parents and teachers in Israel. On all levels, I was thrilled and overwhelmed by the experience - friend to friend, parent to parent, and institution to institution.

The Jewish Federation, my employer, asked me to write about it. Below is a brief look at our experience. Thank you to all who make this experience possible for my kids, and the other schools that participate.

Twinning Builds Friendship

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Take a Drive - Find a Solution

Life has problems; I can’t get away from them.  One way I deal with them is to think of solutions with no drama.  Driving a car is a great metaphor for solving a problem.  Here are some ways to find solutions.
  • Go straight through and don’t look back.  This is the fastest way to deal with it.
  • Go slow and be careful.  Watch where you are going and adjust to the situation as it progresses.
  • Ride the turns and don’t let them make you sick.
  • Stop when you need to take a rest.
  • If you don’t know what direction to go, then don’t go any further.  I once got great advice, “If you don’t know what decision to make, then don’t make it.  Either the answer will come to you or the universe will work it out for you.”  I always loved that advice.
  • Love the car you have and don’t compare to others.  Another great piece of advice I was given once was this – “You can always compare your life to someone else’s.  Someone will always be richer, poorer, happier, sadder, thinner, fatter, taller or shorter.  Cherish what you have.    
I don’t have it all figured out, but I do like to drive.  When I need to think, there is nothing like a long drive to help me process my thoughts.  It is peaceful, relaxing and rejuvenating at the same time.  A change of scenery allows me to see my problems from a new perspective. 

Wishing you ease in finding solutions…

Monday, December 24, 2012

Real Life is Magical

Why?  Does there have to be a reason for everything?  I typically believe that there are no coincidences, everything has meaning.  Why is news delivered on a certain day?  Why do we run into someone we haven’t seen years?  And what do these moments mean to you or to me? 

With New Year’s coming up and my big birthday around the corner, I am torn between knowing for sure that each moment has deeper meaning and not caring what each moment means so I can be fully present to appreciate it.  Even as I write this on Christmas Eve, I wonder what magic is happening to all the families celebrating the holiday.  I know that real life can be magical and it is all up to us to bring joy and comfort to those who need it.  And for us the magic happens when we are alone and in despair and those we need show up to comfort us.

When you can, help those in need.  When you are struggling, let those who love you help.

And that is the meaning of life.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

You be You and I’ll be Me.

So much of our society is built on advertisers promoting products that will make us better, thinner, happier, faster, richer, sexier and smarter. Most of these products simply leave us with less money.  Advertisers do not care about our mental health or emotional well-being, they want us to be lost and in need of their products.

NO MORE!  I will no longer compare myself to anyone.  My life is mine and it is great.  And when times are tough, they are my struggles and my family and friends have been there to help. 

In the past, I would write resolutions that were about doing more and being better, but they never focused on creating quality moments.  Now, when I write, it is from my heart and soul.  When I read, I make my choices based on what I want to learn, not what the media think I should be reading.   Now my resolutions are tasks that I can accomplish, and making time for friends that I don’t get to see, helping my family to achieve their goals, and celebrating as often as possible.

The most important resolution is to continue being me.   Happy 2013!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Change the Dream, Find Your Spirit

It occurred to me the other day that I have been chasing the wrong dreams.  While society continues to remind me to strive for a better me, I fight the repetition of messages, “Buy new clothes, buy new make-up, look younger, look thinner, be taller, color your hair, straighten your hair, add volume to your hair.”

NO MORE!  I have refocused my dreams to match my energy and spirit.  Working from the inside out, I am putting my energy into my love of family, community and God.  In all three, I see beauty, I see strength, and I see what more I want to do. 
In my new dreams, I am creative and writing to inspire; I am strong and creating solutions with partners; And my faith grows as I continue to meditate and study Torah.

59 days until I turn 50.  As my dreams become clearer, my anxiety lessens, my fear dissipates and my heart soars.  Maybe 50 won’t be so bad.  Looks like I need to plan a party.
As we end 2012, may we all find and follow our dreams in 2013 and beyond.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Power of Prayer

In the past 24 hours, along with all of us, I was moved by the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  The loss of life is devastating and the confusion of it all only compounds the enormous sadness of it all.    As I pray for those who were killed on Friday and for their families, these lyrics sung by Marius from Les Miserables are particularly haunting to me. 

“There's a grief that can't be spoken
There's a pain goes on and on

Phantom faces at the window
Phantom shadows on the floor
Empty chairs at empty tables
Where my friends will meet no more.”

Eight months ago, I wrote the following words about prayer.  As my friends and I shared our sadness and disgust for these events, I thought I would share this again. 

Pray.  Right now. Take five minutes, less even and pray for someone you know. If you are uncomfortable with the word pray, then I suggest you simply think about some who is struggling. Many times we think of the strangers who are poverty stricken in another country, but right now, I am asking you to think about someone you know who is having a difficult time. This practice has helped me in the following ways:

Perspective – By taking a moment to offer a prayer for someone who is struggling, you step away from your own chaos. By thinking of another person, your heart and mind can reboot.

Reduce Anxiety – By offering prayers for another, you can stop thinking about your concerns and take a few deep breaths. This allows you to recognize that perhaps your problems are solvable.

Community – My favorite part of this practice is the immediate feeling that I am not alone. When offering a prayer to another, you are no longer alone. Whether they know it or not, the spirit or of the prayer connects you to the one in need.

And finally, there is simple joy in acting with love and kindness. Again, whether you share your prayer and thoughts or not, creating a moment in your day that is dedicated to someone else will refresh your spirit.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Countdown to New Years - Purpose, Not Resolution

Today – December 11, 2012; Tomorrow – 20 days until New Years.  For the first time, I know exactly what I want my purpose to be.  In the past, I filled out a list so that I can “try” to make my life better.  As I got older, the list was still filled with hopes, but it was far more about me than what others thought I should be or do.

Now, my list is clear.  I leave very little room for error and the list is often filled with actual tasks rather than hopes or ideas.  Therefore, in the spirit of Chanukah, here are my first 8 actions that will appear on my 2013 Purpose List.

1.      Continue Tennis lessons and graduate to next level

2.      Continue writing blog and explore new writing opportunities

3.      Those I promised to have over, make the date with them.  And don’t invite people without making the date.  I am really sincere when I tell people that I want to have them over and then life gets in the way and I am overwhelmed with my limited time.

4.      Date Night with another couple.  Perry and I have really enjoyed sitting together with another couple and getting a chance to talk without interruptions from the kids. 

5.      Family Play dates.  Perry and I meet many friends through our kids and often, we rush a conversation at school or a party.  We would like to spend quality time with one family at a time.

6.      Walk/Meditate/Pray – I put all three of these together to highlight that I will slow down, breathe and speak to G-d.  My life moves very fast and 2013 is expected to be a sprint.  With a trips to Israel and New York already in the first half of the calendar, Maddy’s bat mitzvah will be here quickly and start the second half of the year with a bang.

7.      Laugh a lot with my kids.  Really – this is easier said than done.  With all the activities and stresses in my life, I need to put this on the list to remind me that I want to laugh with them to help balance the energy in our home.

8.      Give greater focus to solving problems.  While I want to make powerful and quick decisions, I want to be sure that I have the appropriate solution.  In many cases, I don’t believe in right or wrong, I believe there are several options to solving a problem.  To develop the best solution, I need to be more thoughtful, compassion and maybe even strategic.

With 20 days to get, I’ll consider this my first draft.  The official 2013 Purpose List will be revealed by January 3.  If you write a Purpose List, make it real and focus on the activities or efforts that force you to be fully present.  It will make all the difference in your growth.

Make it real; Make it yours.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Work That is Timeless

2013 is 22 days away and when it arrives I will take a deep breath.  This year has been one of learning, writing, reading, sharing, laughing, crying and a lot more.  I have learned so much and have worked hard to be in solution as often as possible.   As the film “Les Miserables” is about open in theatres, it makes me think about the impact we have on each other, the community and the world. 

Les Miserables is one of my favorite stories of all time.  I have seen the musical 10 times, read the book, and listened to the music from the show about 4000 times.  I believe that it was my driving music for my brief commute to work for over a year.  Jean Valjean embodies love, redemption and courage.  When his life is turned by the love and respect shown to him by the priest , I know that anything is possible.  When he tells Fantine on her deathbed that he alone will care for her daughter Cosette, I know that true love and commitment is real.  Javert is the most beautifully flawed character.  As he clings to his ideals and values, he gets lost and is unable to see the humanity in front of him.   His suicide scene is filled with tragic passion and despair.

Like Jonathan Larson’s “Rent,” this story has touched so many.  And yet, Victor Hugo had no idea when he wrote this extraordinary book that it would become one of the most successful books, films and musicals of all time.  As I watch both “Les Miserables” and “Rent” again and again (and I do), I always take a moment to think about the authors and give gratitude to them.  Victor Hugo died over 100 years ago and yet his story is timeless.  Jonathan Larson died only days from seeing his work become successful.  His music tells the most beautiful story of love and friendship.

These are just two examples of greatness and I can list others in politics, business or science.  Those who came before us worked so hard to create lasting solutions for the problems of their time.  We are the beneficiary of those brilliant minds.  In this coming year, I will remember to give gratitude to them and remember what we do here today can last for years to come.  It is worth working hard to make life better for us today and for those who will follow.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Meditation for Chanukah

In celebration of Chanukah, I wish you all eight nights of joy, laughter, deep connection, and hope you are surrounded by many loved ones.  I know that holidays can be stressful and can cause anxiety.  This Chanukah, I offer these opportunities to meditate in order of elevate your experience.

5 minute mediation – Find a quiet spot.  As you breathe in – think happiness.  As you breathe out, think sadness.  Repeat these.  If other words help your breathing, you can use them.    Strength/Weakness, Love/Hate, Compassion/Indifference. 

10 minute meditation – Find a quiet spot.  Begin breathing and visualize a safe and comforting place.   Breathe slowly.  Begin an exercise of blessing yourself with thoughts of kindness, strength, compassion and peace.  Then bless others with thoughts of kindness, strength, strength, compassion and peace.

30 minute – Find a quiet spot.  Select a piece of music that is peaceful and calming.  Breathe deeply and slowly.  Envision a beautiful spot for you to focus.  Imagine a flickering candle.  Let its imaginary flame light you up inside and warm your soul.  Allow your body to relax and check in with your body for any aches and pains.  Don’t ignore them, embrace them and own them.  As your mind wanders, return to the flame or your beautiful spot.

Meditation stops my world fom going crazy for a few minutes.  You may find your meditation in different ways – a walk, a run, reading, or playing tennis.   Choose something you enjoy that forces you to focus on it so that you have a few moments to get back to yourself. 



Saturday, December 1, 2012

Compassion is a Tourist Attraction

A tourist takes a photo of a police officer giving a homeless man some boots and the photo goes viral.  Is compassion for the very poor so unique to us that we have to photograph the experience to keep it as a fond memory?  When I saw the photo, like others, I thought the photo was touching and the officer should be acknowledged and applauded.  After that, I felt guilty and sad that this act of kindness had to be documented like a rare sighting of the comet.  Next, I thought about my vacation photos compared to this photographer.  My vacation albums include photos of trips to the zoo, museum visits, meals with friends and not one of random acts of kindness.  I congratulate this photographer for noticing the moment and sharing it with the world.   Lastly, isn’t there something more we should do for this homeless man than just socks and boots?  Why is there no concern for the homeless man after the he receives his new footwear?  It is freezing and he likely needs more than just boots.  And if there is more concern, why isn’t that news?

We live in the comfort of our homes with all our stuff and are constantly told from advertisers that we need more. I am grateful for all the gifts in my life and even my problems are luxurious. Should I get a new lap top, I’ll need a new car soon, where should my kids go to school, and should we go to Target or Costco? I may stress about these questions, but I know that I am very lucky. Perhaps I am overly sensitive right now because we are in the holiday season and being bombarded with ads and the pressure to buy gifts whether we need them or not.   Movies are written and songs are sung about paying it forward, loving another, and forgiveness and yet, we can’t fix the ills of our society.  However, we have figured out how to build bigger homes, visit more vacation spots, buy faster cars and more electronics and when we dine in restaurants, we are served more than we can consume.  This happens all while so many go without.  
I am imperfect and not as spiritually elevated as some of my friends.  Still, this month I will donate food and clothes because I have more than enough.   Maybe others will do the same.   And maybe our leaders will be inspired to find the answer to helping those without homes, clothes and food.