Friday, August 30, 2013

Seasonal - Like Fruit and Vegetables

This is my favorite time of year.  Despite today's sweltering temperatures, I love the Fall.  Spending my elementary school years in New York, I still remember the excitement of "back to school" shopping, new school supplies and the subtle drop in temperature that made me feel better about ending my summer.  The truth is that I don't remember enjoying summer as a kid.  I didn't like going to camp which is shocking because I love it as an adult.

After my parents moved to Los Angeles when I was eleven, I went to camp for one summer and then finally convinced my parents to never send me back.  Since the age 13, I was loyal summer school kid hanging out with all the other kids that stayed home.  I have no real memories of summer joy, summer fun, or summer vacation.

This year when my kids and husband went back to school, the shift in my mood was so dramatic that I thought about my emotions and if they are seasonal.  My friend once told me about "seasonal depression" which I totally believe (whether there is a study or not).  Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly referred to as SAD) is what happens when people experience a mood disorder during certain times of the year.  I guess mine is summer.

Today, I am looking ahead.  My head is spinning with all the possibilities for the coming year.  I feel as though I have been reborn, renewed and the fog of the summer blues is gone.  With this new awareness, I will think of ways to combat the summer blues next year.

I am simply grateful for the routine of the school year which is where I thrive.  Routine allows me to focus and offers me a structure to be productive.  With school starting and celebrating the Jewish New Year next week, I feel very blessed and will hold onto this feeling so that when summer comes around again, I will remember my favorite lesson, "This too shall pass."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Who Do You Think You Are - Best Show on Television

One of my favorite shows on television right now is "Who Do You Think You Are?"  To watch individuals look deep into their family history unsure of what will be revealed has been both enjoyable and inspirational.   Each episode tells the story of a celebrity who has a particular question about their ancestors.  What I love most is the celebrity's emotional reaction and surprise when secrets from the past   give him or her a new perspective on their present.  Here are some of my favorite moments:

In season 1, Emmitt Smith looks into his family's roots and finds links to white ancestors deep in the south.  What he also finds are his family's slavery registry in a book numbered 22 which is the number he wore on his football jersey.

In season 2, Rashida Jones - Having already been made aware of her father's family history, Rashida explores her mother's Jewish family history which included family loss during World War II.  What moved me so much about this episode was Rashida's own realization that she is incredibly blessed and lucky to be alive.  Both family histories include great sadness and stories of survival.  Her families (on either side) could have been among those who had been killed either because of the color of their skin or their religious beliefs.

In season 3, Chelsea Handler bravely searches for her the stories about her German grandparents.  Raised Jewish, Chelsea wondered if her grandfather had ties to the Nazi party.    I admire Chelsea's bravery to do this search in such a public way.  To stand up and admit that your family can be part of one of the darkest times in modern history showed great courage and I applaud and thank her for letting us share her journey.

Thank you Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky for such a wonderful show.  I learn something from each story and I look forward to what comes next.  Keep up the great work.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Being in Two (or More) Places at Once

I can't be in two places at one time.  Right?  We have all used this phrase to share frustration or disappointment when life events conflict, family obligations coincide with something we really want to do or distance prevents us from attending an event far away when we need to be close to home.

But what about spiritually?   In the course of a day, I am happy, sad, fulfilled, empty, energized, burnt out, and (fill in the blank).   And then feelings get all mixed up and my mind and heart race to try to make sense of the conflicting emotions.  Best example is feeling two emotions so deeply that I physically react to both - laughing while I am crying or crying while I'm laughing.  After my father passed away, I had never experienced sadness like it before.   Several times I noticed that in this most vulnerable state, other emotions are equally heightened.  As community members came to our shiva, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.  Witnessing sincere loving kindness and comfort led me to a more spiritual place.  As my friends cared for me, our conversations had to be truthful because I found that in this new spirituality, I could not fake it.  At the shiva, we shared wonderful stories about my dad, some about his childhood, and some funny stories about when I was a kid.  With each giggle, came a tear of sorrow.  With every genuine smile evoked from memory, came tears of loss.

It is unavoidable.  Our life is very busy and if we want to stay present then we must be aware of all the emotions that can be evoked from a single interaction.  So, all of of the following are some conflicting emotions that I have experienced at the same time.

  • During an argument with my husband, he can still make me laugh. 
  • Sometimes when I am afraid, I find my greatest courage.
  • I can feel alone in a crowded room.
  • I can feel fully loved and connected even when I am alone.
Meditation offers clarity, authenticity and the process to help navigate my spiritual journey.  Awareness allows me to be thoughtful and kind to myself in the search for truth.  My commitment to learning gives me the opportunity to review and take an account of my efforts.  By doing so, I am deepening my own power of prayer and am in a more meaningful spiritual place (or places).

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Meditation Brings New Perspective

In our weekly Torah study class, I learn to take lessons from the past and apply them to my own life.  These opportunities help me to live a fuller and richer life.  As an example, in today's meditation, I have two significant moments that allow me to shift my perspective.

First, while trying to quiet my mind, a person in my thoughts really wants my attention.   It is hard to stop him from intruding my mind, so instead, I visualize that I give him a slight push to sit down at the table to join the meditation.  The imagery allows me to move his energy aside for that moment.  I feel calmer and in control.  My mind and my breath make a significant shift.

Next, as I go deeper into meditation, I began to think about transitions.  We all have them, good or bad, joyous or sad.  The past few years, I experienced a number of personal and professional transitions, and in the sadder moments thought, "Why is this happening TO me?"  Today, I visualize one of the transitions happening and I am there watching it like a passing car or train.  I was able to separate myself from the transitions of life because they will continue to happen and I may or may not be on that train.

One last thought, even if the transition impacts my life, I am part of the flow, like a passenger on the train.  What I am not is the target or victim.  I can't control the transition or its timing AND I can control my behavior, my compassion, my understanding, and now embrace the situation with love. 

This is what I learned today.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Praying in English

For years, when I attended services, I followed along using the little Hebrew I knew.  Most of my praying in Hebrew was from memory, singing an old song I held in the depths of my brain.  Lately, I have been feeling like an imposter.  I don't know Hebrew and I try to manage both my frustration and sadness because I cannot understand what is happening when everyone is saying when they are praying.

Over the past year, I deepened my connection through meditation and by reading many of the stories of the Torah in English.  It was the only way that I  could learn what the weekly portion was about so that I can participate in our study sessions.  Following my morning Shabbat meditation, I found myself more  often walking into services to hear the Rabbi's sermon.

I needed to manage my discomfort while sitting in synagogue.  One day, I decided, even if I could read the Hebrew, I still didn't understand what I was singing, praying and reading.  It was that moment I decided while I was listening to the community sing and pray (which I love), I would follow along and pray and read in English.  I woke up that day to the beautiful translations of the Hebrew prayers.  For instance, the translation of the Amidah connects me to my ancestors by sharing G-d's love and commitment.

"Praised are You Adonai, our G-d and G-d of our ancestors, G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, great, mighty, awesome, exalted G-d who bestows lovingkindness, Creator of all.  Your remember the pious deeds of our ancestors and will send a redeemer to their children's children because of Your loving nature."

And later on,

"Your love sustains the living, Your great mercies give life to the dead.  Your support the falling, heal the ailing, free the fettered.  You keep Your faith with those who sleep in dust.  Whose power can compare with Yours? You are Master of life and death and deliverance."

As we come to the New Year, my commitment for this next year is to learn these prayers in English in order to understand the power of my own prayer.  I have always felt a deep and spiritual connection to G-d through Judaism.  Rather than feeling like the one who doesn't know or can't, I will embrace the prayers through the language I do know.  This experience has already made my Shabbat mornings richer and more meaningful.

Perhaps over time, I will continue to study Hebrew, but for now as my daughter told me a few weeks ago, "Mommy, you know the right amount."   I enter the synagogue with greater comfort and confidence.  I feel a part of the community and blessed to pray and learn with them.