Thursday, March 28, 2013

Accept the Invitation - Our First Seder

A few weeks before Passover, my family got invited to join friends at their seder.  In the past, my husband and I hosted the seder for our small extended family.  My husband and I had great expectations and dreams  hoped that our seder would be filled with deep meaning and joy.  With so many around the table who were interested in completing the seder rather than experiencing it, I often found myself rushing through so that I can get the dinner on the table, enjoy it for a few minutes, finish the meal, clean up so that everyone goes home and I can relax.

So when we got invited to our friends, we grabbed it.  For obvious reasons, the fact that I didn't have to host and prepare was enough to relieve any anxiety that had been racing through my veins.  But there was more.  As my friends and colleagues went crazy with stress to clean their kitchens and prepare for the holiday, I didn't have to do anything.  I felt free.

It was only after the seder that I realized how this experience has impacted me, transformed me and enlightened me.  At the same time, I was more in solution this year than I had been in previous years.  Here are a few ways that by doing things differently, I noticed an internal shift in my behavior and my mood.

  • I want to learn more about Judaism and can only do that by seeing how others live and practice their Judaism.  By sharing this seder with my friends, I was not only hungry for the food, but for every word that was spoken.  I didn't care what time it was, and frankly, even after the almost 5 hour seder, I could have stayed longer.  
  • Though my mother was invited, she decided not to come and told me to go to the seder with my friends.  My mother gave me a gift and I fully accepted.  We were having dinner with her the following evening and so I embraced our friends' invitation without guilt and was grateful to my mother for understanding what this meant to me.
  • With all this extra time, our family conversations were about the holiday, how we should observe and how to clean out the pantry (which we did - a first for our family).  My daughter, now in her bat-mitzvah year, wanted to experience the holiday through practice and though I was a little scared, we decided to do our best to make the experience meaningful rather than perfect.
Like the lessons of Passover, I feel liberated from my internal emotional enslavements of insecurity, anxiety, stress, anger and fear.  All those feelings that I had experienced in the past years are now replaced with excitement, curiosity, and joy.  

I wonder what next year will bring...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Longing for Connection

With Passover just days away and as my friends are furiously preparing their kitchens for the sacred ritual of cleansing their homes, I did a little spring cleaning of my own.  While I don't clean out my kitchen and adhere to the traditional rituals, I want to participate in some way to signify the holiday and do some good.

Giving away clothes is how the holiday manifests in my house.  I began with my drawers first, then my daughter's and next will be my son's.  There is great relief in giving away clothes.  Purging and cleansing offers satisfaction inwardly and outwardly.  Knowing that others will benefit from our give-aways is reward itself, but there is a quiet relief that I am experiencing as I remove the old clothes from our home.

This experience reminds me how lucky and grateful I am to have more than enough.   As my kids grow out of their clothes and I shift my favorites, it is the work of moving the clothes from our closet to the bags with my kids helping that makes the effort even more rewarding.  

But what happens when you want a spiritual and internal cleanse?  Without tangible evidence, how does this journey become real or complete?  How do we renew our faith, passion and commitment?

In our meditation class today, we discussed the importance of rituals and how some enhance the spiritual experience.  Two years ago, I was searching to feel more whole. My dad had passed away, there were some professional transitions, and I felt pulled towards my synagogue but couldn't connect to those who were more observant than me.  I am naturally optimistic, people would describe me as upbeat and I live in gratitude.  But during that time, I was feeling angry, sad, hurt and I imagine a bit lost.  

And then one day it happened.  I felt what others talked about and what I saw it their eyes - spiritual renewal.  My family had participated in our synagogue's family weekend in previous years and I had felt the pull before, but in the winter of 2011, I felt a new and more powerful connection. 

During that retreat, I attended a special service for morning prayers.  In the early morning of Shabbat, the Rabbi and the Cantor led us in beautiful meditative prayers that I had never experienced before.  In that service, I was renewed, grateful and I found something different that connected me to prayer. Whatever anger, sadness or confusion I was holding onto had been released...physically.  My clenched fists were now open palms, my mind was racing with new creative energy and my smile was sincere.  My heart was full and the entire weekend was magical.  

As soon I returned home, I shared my experience with will all that would listen.  After speaking to a friend with whom I had recently reconnected, she invited me to a meditation class at my synagogue...MY SYNAGOGUE!  An invitation from her to join her proved to be the place I had longed for and needed in my life.  Now fourteen months later, that meditation class is my ritual.  I am deeply committed to this class, this friendship and prayer circle with women (some men attend) that feeds my mind and my soul. 

Rituals are good.  Spirituality elevates our rituals and/or rituals bring us to spirituality.  Either way, as in those morning prayers, I am grateful for the awakening and the breath of G-d.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Comfort and Healing in a Book

There I humbly offered myself to God, as I then I understood Him, to do with me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under His care and direction. I admitted for the first time that of myself I was nothing; that without Him I was lost. I ruthlessly faced my sins and became willing to have my new-found Friend take them away, root and branch. I have not had a drink since.   My schoolmate visited me, and I fully acquainted him with my problems and deficiencies. We made a list of people I had hurt or toward whom I felt resentment. I expressed my entire willingness to approach these individuals, admitting my wrong. Never was I to be critical of them. I was to right all such matters to the utmost of my ability.  From Chapter 1, Bill's story.  Alcoholics Anonymous: the "Big Book" (The key text of Alcoholics Anonymous) (Kindle Locations 359-364). ignacio hills press (TM) and e-Pulp Adventures (TM). Kindle Edition. 

After my dad died, I read the Big Book.  As Dani Shapiro described in her book, "Devotion," I felt pushed to it.  I was drawn to the stories of those who had experienced such despair and worked their way back to live a happy, joyful, and productive life.

As I read every page, I was momentarily removed from my sadness and walked through the pain of another.  By doing this, it helped me get through my own painful months.

That was almost 3 years ago. Today, I still refer to the principles of the Big Book. With meditation and prayer, I try to minimize my resentments, frustrations and insecurities.  I am not a addict, nor do I consider myself "normal."  Like everyone, I have anxiety and stress that cause me to be short-tempered, irritable and sad.  The Big Book, along with other spiritual guides, remind me to be in service to others, forgive myself, love myself and be grateful for all the gifts in my life which are many.

As we move into Passover, it is these modern day enslavements that I will look to free myself.  For each day of Passover, I will select one emotional enslavement to write about in hope that by acknowledging it publicly, I will be free.

Shabbat Shalom and may you find peace and comfort from your community or even a good book.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Let Go, Be Free

Letting Go - MARCH 20
My heart is not proud, Adonai, and my eyes are not haughty; on things beyond my scope no more I brood. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child at its mother's breast; my soul is like a comforted child. PSALM 131:1-2

I have never imagined the psalmist as someone who is writing for the purpose of creating liturgical poetry. I know that the psalms, which were attributed to King David, were sung on the ancient Temple by the Levites. But I have always seen the psalmist as someone who is simply expressing emotion and writing for himself (or herself). This selection from the biblical book of Psalms offers us a lens through which we can navigate our daily life. In this poetry, the psalmist is suggesting what my wife, Sheryl, is fond of saying: "Control the controllable." In other words, recognize what is beyond your control, or "beyond your scope" in the language of the psalmist. Stop longing for things that are beyond you. Stop trying to fix things that you cannot. Just let them go. Spend your energy on those things that are within your orbit. Just let the rest go. That is what will bring you calm and tranquility. There is where you will find comfort and serenity.  (Kerry M. Olitzky. Life's Daily Blessings: Inspiring Reflections on Gratitude and Joy for Every Day, Based on Jewish Wisdom (pp. 72-73). Kindle Edition.)

Coincidence or not, this is exactly where I was today.  Feeling in the midst of chaos, I chose to only handle what I could. Years ago, I received great advice: "If you can't make a decision right now, then don't.  Either you will come to a decision or the universe will work it out for you."  I took that advice seriously ever since.  Letting go of the pressure to make the decision and having the freedom to allow the decision to come to you (either from within you or the universe) are true gifts.

And when I am in this chaos, I have learned to do something that is kind, compassionate and of service.  It allows me to get out of my own way and even see more clearly some of the solutions that could help lessen my chaotic life.  While impossible to always be in solution, I strive to speak and act with the conviction of finding a solution.  This effort may sometimes be difficult, but it is always authentic and often productive.

As I begin preparing emotionally for Passover, this week was what I will call the big cleanse.  It took a couple of weeks, but I feel that as I enter the holiday, I am free of silence when I needed a voice and free of fear when I needed courage.

Today ended up to be a great day  I am blessed to have family, friends and colleagues are true partners and guides on my journey.  May you walk in strength and partnership to achieve your goals... I did.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fill It With Love and Imagination

We are both speaking English and still not understanding one another.  I repeat myself again and then again.  The person I am speaking with also repeats and we go around in circles trying to make our points understood.  One of us gets louder, the other starts to walk away and we repeat this dance a few times as well.

This is a scene out of my life.  And so I don't think I'm crazy, I'm hoping this is a scene out of your life as well.

But then I come home and I'm lucky enough to get spend a time with my family.  And the conversation changes to one fillled with imagination as I put my son to sleep.  At six, he is sweet, full of love and has a deep connection of G-d.  This was our moment tonight:

Me - Good night , see you in the morning.
E - come snuggle with me.
Me - Two minutes, you have to go to sleep, you got up early today.
E - Early?  Are you mad or proud?
Me - I am always proud of you.
E - Even on Thursday?
Me - Every day.   I am the luckiest mom.
E - I am the luckiest son!  I love you as much as G-d.
Me - Wow!  As much as G-d.  That is a lot.
E - He is like my third parent.  Well, he is like... I don't want to say.  
Me - What is it?
E - I don't want to say because they are not there.   
Me - You mean your grandfathers. (His grandfathers have passed away)
E - Yes.  G-d is like my grandfathers because he is old.
Me - Well, maybe you can imagine that your grandfathers are with G-d.
E - Okay.
Me - Okay, now time for bed.

E and I both spoke English with a whole lot of love and G-d mixed in.  I am grateful for my faith and values that allow me to appreciate the joy and grace of this conversation with my son.  

Hope your day is filled with conversations filled with love and imagination.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Love, Respect, Create

Several times this week, I noticed how many differing opinions were voiced either publicly or in private conversations, but all were based on "us vs. them."  I felt it more this week as I watched the news and even in my own conversations with friends, colleagues and teachers.

Women vs Women and Women vs Men - With Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In," it stirred quite the conversation among my peers and of course, all over the news.  (Disclaimer: I have not read the book.)  Last year, my organization had Gloria Steinem come speak and it was clear that with 500 women in the room, all could not collectively share gratitude for what Gloria had done for women.  Some women were quick to criticize her for her speech, her politics, and even her clothes.  And now, the same happens to Sheryl Sandberg.  And there are the rest of us, the "regular, non-famous, working every day" women who have been discussing this for years.  My colleagues and I manage to lean on each other so that when we are around the table, our best self promotes those equally who work hard and with a generous spirit.  And we are not always perfect.  The frustrations of the workplace can hinder creativity and productivity.  However, in my experience creativity is sparked by men and women.   I have been led by great men and women and have always worked along jealous men and women as well.  Both genders exhibit strong qualities and also have weaknesses.  Working together, we can enhance everyone's strengths and not let the weaknesses deter us.  After reading Carol Dweck's book Mindset, top leaders can be either gender and what makes them a top leader is how they lead, nurture and inspire their employees to foster creativity, teamwork and productivity. 

Faithful vs Non-Believers - As I continue to deepen my spirituality and am no longer a non-believer, I clearly see there are two sides on this.  My routine for the past year has been to participate in my meditation class on Saturday and watch Super Soul Sunday on every weekend.  I have taken an interest in documentaries with these themes including the late Debbie Ford's The Shadow Effect, Jenny Phillips' The Dhamma Brothers and Beth Toni Kruvant's Heart of Stone.  I also read Daily Gratitude books by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, blogs by Rabbi Mark Borovitz, Rabbi Shefa Gold, Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, and have learned with Rabbi Ruth Sohn, Rabbi Arielle Hanien, Rabbi Sara Zacharia and Rabbi Jill Zimmerman and many others.  Each of these teachers have their own powerful perspective which I greatly admire.  By doing this, I have learned to incorporate compassion, gratitude, kindness, and mindfulness into more of my daily life.  This journey has no end.  Everyone is on their own path and walking at their own pace.  Sometimes I am ahead and sometimes I am behind.  As Dr. Brene Brown said today on Super Soul Sunday, "Being authentic takes work every day."  Like Goldilocks, some pieces of my learning is too much, some not enough, but I have learned that while on this journey, if you are trying and learning, then you are just right.

While I encourage everyone to continue the conversation with kindness and compassion, I also encourage to take action with mindfulness and loving attention.  We need to continue to see positive change being made for women in every area and men and women are both responsible for making those changes.  I hope people bring more faith into their lives if they want it.  Regardless, I hope that people of faith and non-believers continue their own conversations so that we are all part of one community. 

This is my pray for this week - Love one another, respect each other's work and create more positive environments at home and at work.  Wishing you a beautiful week.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Resolution - Worth the Wait

As the week ends, the heaviness of my heart and the non-stop anxious voice in my head seem to be subsiding.  I am smiling.  I am breathing better.  I am healing by reacting with confidence and strength. I behaved so that I could be kind and do the right thing.  With my family, my friends and my colleagues, I searched for truth and those who stood by me helped me every step of the way.

In Kerry M. Olitzky's Life's Daily Blessings: Inspiring Reflections on Gratitude and Joy for Every Day, Based on Jewish Wisdom (p. 47). Kindle Edition, I read the passage for February, 18th, my birthday.  It seemed fitting.  This week, I worked on mending my world.  I solved problems, I reconnected with family and friends and I spoke truth with kindness and love.  I let go of anger, confusion and anxiety. Situations that caused me anxiety, I can now look forward to with excitement.

Mending the World 
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, 
for giving us the opportunity to mend the world. RABBI RON KLOTZ 

While this is not a traditional blessing-that is, not one of the list of blessings penned by the Rabbis to be among the one hundred that are to be said each day-it certainly contains what might be called traditional sentiments. We are each obligated to help repair the brokenness in the world, and in others. Of course, we may be simply motivated to do so because it is the right thing to do. But we also want to recognize that when we do so, we are contributing to God's work in the world. In repairing what is broken and working to bring perfection back to the world by healing it and those who inhabit it, we are acting as channels through which God's presence flows into the world. The blessing that Rabbi Klotz wrote acknowledges the sacredness of such an act. It is a privilege to join with God in order to fix what is broken in the world. But the world is not alone in its need of repair. When we contribute to fixing the world, we often end up healing what may be broken in ourselves.

What I noticed in all this is that when I responded with truth, I was genuine and vulnerable.  What I got in return was love, truth, comfort, and even some surprises from those who haven't shown up before.  Earlier in the I didn't see the resolution.  Now, it is crystal clear and it was worth the wait.

I am entering Shabbat with great joy and looking forward to my meditation class with my friends.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Speak Up and Say Something Nice

In the past few days, I have noticed how often people choose to criticize rather than promote.  Among family, friends and professionals, optimism takes a backseat to cynicism.  As an optimist, solution finder, and high energy laugh out loud spirit, I am saddened when I feel alone as I raise up against those  who want to disagree all the time.

At a recent lunch, I asked someone to advocate in an upcoming meeting.  He didn't think it was necessary because it goes without saying how much he supports this issue.  It was at that moment that I realized that those who stay silent think we all know what they are thinking.

Please, SPEAK UP!

We don't know what your are thinking.  For years, I have encouraged people to thank, express gratitude and offer positive feedback so that people know how they have impacted you.  There is no greater gift to another than sharing with them how much a moment with them touched your life.

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky's books have helped me during some of the darker times in my life.  Here is today's excerpt.

March 13 - The Wisdom of Silence: Silence is a fence for wisdom. PIRKEI AVOT 3:13
We usually think about fences as protective devices. They protect what is inside them from whatever or whoever is outside. But fences work in two ways. They prevent what is inside from getting outside. In some cases, one fence is not enough. In prisons, for example, one fence prevents prisoners from reaching the second fence. The Rabbis of Pirkei Avot are constructing yet another kind of fence-a fence of silence. This fence may prevent wisdom from escaping. It is also suggesting that too many words can have a deleterious effect on wisdom. If wisdom is gained through reflecting on our experiences, then we have to be quiet enough to listen to what the experience is teaching us.

If wisdom is gained through reflecting on our experiences, then we have to be quiet enough to listen to what the experience is teaching us. Then after we realize what we have learned, we can offer a blessing of thanks to our teacher, whoever that may be, and to God for giving us the ability to discern it.

Kerry M. Olitzky. Life's Daily Blessings: Inspiring Reflections on Gratitude and Joy for Every Day, Based on Jewish Wisdom (Kindle Location 653). Kindle Edition.

As I have struggled these past few days with having so much on my plate and worrying about how I will get it all done, my family, friends and colleagues have shown extraordinary kindness and have reached out to comfort me.  I recognize that as true love and friendship.  And while I sit and deal with my every day anxieties, I know that there are so many who are in far greater pain than I and that I never forget.

Thank you for reading my blog, sharing your thoughts with me and showing me kindness when I need it most.  As with the last post, I feel better already.

Sweet dreams...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Problems + Solutions = Life

My mind is completely scrambled right now... ever feel that way?  I have issues weighing on my mind that I am unable to resolve for a variety of reasons - mainly because they involve others to help settle the situations.

While I try to be strong and confident in my decision making, today was one of those days that at every turn a decision could not be made.  I consider myself a problem solver and not just the kind that solves your problems, I really like to solve my problems - big or small.  I don't like to hang onto problems for too long because I can feel them taking a toll on my body.

Today I have a list of things that I am worried about, sad about, confused about, mad about and wondering how am I going to do it all.  I'm sure that after writing this post and getting a good night sleep, I will feel better tomorrow.  Oh and I will solve some of the minor issues so that I can  feel a sense of accomplishment (which is very important to me - see an earlier post).

Even now, as I write this post on my new laptop that I bought for my birthday and I am planning to organize my life in a new way.  That is a goal of mine for the next 10 years - to get organized in a way that includes a regular routine, a clean home, to give away all in my home that we do not even touch and continue meditation, write, be with my friends and still go on dates with my husband.

One of the books on my nightstand is "The Happiness Project," by Gretchen Rubin.  Honestly, I bought the book on title alone.  And then, as I read more and more, Gretchen Rubin's life became a study for me of how I can enhance my own life.  She is an excellent writer and her methods for bringing happiness in my life are simple.  Simple is good.  One task at a time and hold yourself accountable - this I can do.

Another book I just read that made an impact is "Devotion," by Dani Shapiro.  Dani writes how she had this feeling of being pushed in a certain direction and that is exactly how I feel.  I used to worry where I was going and I would panic if I didn't have the map.  Devotion made me realize that I am not alone in this world.  Which is why as I finish this post, I can breathe now because all these things that are thrown at me by the people around me, the universe or G-d, I can handle even if I have to shed a few tears.

Wishing everyone a better tomorrow,


Monday, March 4, 2013

Welcome to 100!

In celebration of reaching my goal of writing 100 posts for my blog, #100 will be written with only 100 words. Starting now:

I started over a year ago as a journal to document the year leading to my 50th birthday.  Here are some things I’ve learned:

  • Writing is a good thing.
  • It helped me find my voice in other areas of my life.
  • It gave me confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
  • People are kind.
  • Gratitude was a regular theme.
  • I wrote for me and appreciated that others were reading.
  • I tried to be honest.

Thank you.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Accomplishment – Big or Small Makes a Difference

In my search for happiness, peace, contentment, joy, or (fill in the blank), the one word that I keep coming back to is “accomplishment.”  There is no greater feeling than when I have accomplished a task.  It is what drives me to do better, work harder, and frankly, be happier.  Even writing this post, I will feel better, have some joy and happiness when it is completed.

As I reflect on how I have improved my work habits over the past 20 years, it is clear that the reason I love the “to do” list is so that I can cross things off the list.  Isn’t that the whole purpose of a “to do” list?  With a recent change in my job description and the New Year, I had an opportunity to upgrade my personal work system.  I realized that this improved system allows me to see my accomplishments whether it is a small task or a big project.  And yes, this makes me happier at work.

At home, things have changed quite a bit.  In the past 2 weeks, our family lost our nanny of 12 years.  In all these years, I have said that she took great care of my kids and even better care of me.  In these last 2 weeks, I realize how spoiled I was and how grateful I am that I had someone taking care of our house as well as our children.  My husband and I have been working together to maintain some sanity as we begin our search for a new housekeeper.  What I know keeps me sane is to do at least 2 things in my home every day – make the beds and clean the kitchen.  If I can accomplish these things, I feel better, not necessarily happier since we have the rest of the house to worry about, but at least I have a small sense of accomplishment.

Reading is also something that gives me great satisfaction.  In the past couple of years, I have made an effort to select books that I want to read.  I’m not reading books just because they are on the top 10 list or on some celebrity’s reading list, instead I have roamed aisles or surfed the internet looking for books that inspire me.  It is true that I take recommendations from friends and colleagues that I respect and in doing so, I have learned so much.  I have also chosen books that in either fiction or non-fiction have a message of empowerment, strength, and spirituality.

And lastly, cooking has given me an almost therapeutic sense of accomplishment.  I have thought this now for many years.  The rhythmic cutting and preparing of ingredients has taught me to focus on one thing at a time, the measurement of ingredients has taught me to follow instructions and with every cooking class I take, I am willing to take new risks in the kitchen so that I actually feel as though I was taught to cook rather than simply mimicking my teachers’ recipes.

Think about how you measure your accomplishments – big and small.  Even the smallest accomplishment can make a difference in your mood and can inspire others to do the same. 

And if you are wondering, I feel happy that I wrote this post and I feel a great sense of accomplishment.  Hope you have enjoyed it.