White fire…

There is an idea in Judaism that you can find meaning in the Torah two ways: through the words themselves (black fire) as well as the space between words (white fire). Often the most interesting and meaningful interpretations come when readers go beyond the actual text and attempt to create their own understandings by imagining what else happened that isn’t actually written. It’s a kind of storytelling…

Right now I feel like I’m living in the white space of my life. I first had this thought while thinking about the day-to-day challenges of eating healthfully. In early September I started working with a nutritionist who looked carefully at how I was already eating and has been slowly guiding me towards making changes that I can live with for the rest of my life. By far the biggest change and challenge has come in how I snack. Before –> snacking = constantly and nonstop. Now –> I intentionally have three snacks a day. More importantly, this means that, theoretically at least, there are several hours a day when I’m not eating anything. And it is here, in those hours of not eating, that my battle to overcome my life-long weight issues really takes place. For I find that I can tell myself two stories in this white space. One story, the old story, is that immediate gratification is everything. That food is an acceptable remedy for anxiety, boredom and loneliness. And that it is okay for me to choose a pale existence. But a new story has been emerging, one of unlimited potential and power. And it goes like this – when I choose not to eat, not because of some rigid rule but because I just ate and I’m not hungry – I am choosing life. I know that sounds dramatic but I truly believe it to be true. Eating when I don’t need to allows me to mask difficult emotions, at least a little, and that is just enough to keep me complacent. Not grabbing food removes this protective layer. And only then, when I allow myself to wallow, does my self-survival mechanism kick in. I’m, regrettably, an insecure person but I’m also proud and I can beat myself up for only so long before I eventually say “enough”! Then I get energized and determined and decide to fight for myself and the life I want, for the type of person I know I can be and want to be.

But this idea of white space goes beyond food. I’m also between careers, in the pause between chapters of my working life. Lately I’ve been filling my head with lots of stories about what I’m not. It has been a difficult time. But I know that I have to endure this phase because as long as I don’t take any short-cuts, I will eventually find myself waiting at the bottom of these bleak thoughts to once again start fighting for myself. To be the champion of my light and not just my darkness.

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Superpowers…

Many months ago my trainer, K., accused me of acting like a victim. I was running on the treadmill and he was standing on the one next to me. He wanted me to increase the incline and I said “no,” that I didn’t want to chance hurting my knees. And that’s when he said it. Boy did I get pissed. I gave him an earful along the lines of “I know my body better than you do.” Here’s the thing though…he may have gotten it wrong on that particular occasion but, in general, I think he might be right. I think deep down I do allow myself to feel like a victim more than I care to admit. When faced with adversity, I sometimes succumb to feelings of hopelessness and passivity as opposed to all “fire in my belly” and I’ll figure this out, or show them, or by golly I will beat this. And that’s K’s superpower – with laser focus he can see the very characteristic that holds a person back from being her best self.

Remembering this interaction got me thinking…”What if each of us has a superpower?” So yesterday I decided to give my theory a trial run. I started thinking about my friend, BA, who I was getting ready to meet at the Beltline. This is what I asked myself, “What one thing is BA better at than almost anyone else?” And the answer came to me quickly – she is a fiercely loyal friend. She’s all in whether it’s helping me make a difficult decision; using her considerable journalistic and project management skills on my behalf as I grapple with what to do for the next chapter of my life; or simply getting angry because someone has hurt me. This is not to say that BA sugar-coat things but she is always there for me. BA’s superpower is definitely her loyalty.

So far so good. But for my superpower theory to hold up it must apply to me as well. This is a change in direction from my usual line of thinking which tends to focus more on things that I’m not such as not being much of a partier (meaning, no fun?) or not being someone who brims over with self-confidence. But if everyone has a superpower then I must too so what can it be? Never one to see my own positive attributes clearly, I decide to ask BA during lunch. Unfortunately, I don’t totally understand her response and am too embarrassed to ask her to clarify. (Please can you find another way to tell me how wonderful I am?) Something about my openness and willingness to be real, I think. I understand enough to know that I like it. And I understand enough to know that I recognize myself in her description, which is important to me. I also think back to a recent conversation I had with one of my former teachers. It was the first time we had seen each other since I left my position back in June as Religious School Director. She told me that she missed my positive energy on Sunday mornings. I like that too, a lot.

I need to better understand the nature of my superpower; doing so will allow me to share it more generously with the world. And thinking about it will be a good antidote for those times when my thoughts turn in a more self-critical direction. What’s your superpower?

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Dead ends…

“The world is always rushing forward to teach us, and that the greatest thing we can do is to stand there, open and available, and be taught by it.” ~Dana Velden, Finding Yourself in the Kitchen

Today I went for a mid-afternoon walk at Mason Mill Park. It was fantastic outside; sunny, cool enough for a sweatshirt and really breezy. Not long into my walk I decided that today was the day to follow the newly paved spur off the well-trodden main path. I approached the new section with curiosity and excitement. (Truth be told, I was practically skipping!) I wondered how far this particular path would go and what it would feel like to walk (or run) its length. And I was quietly patting myself on the back thinking – “Yay you, trying something new”! So you can imagine my disappointment when the spur ended a relatively short distance from its starting point rather abruptly and unceremoniously by a large parking lot. Not what I was expecting or hoping for!

This is what I’m realizing. As I try to keep myself open to and pursue new experiences, not all of them will be positive or will resonate with me or will further my growth. Sometimes an experiment can be mildly interesting but ends up not having any lasting attraction for me. And that’s OK because all of it – the home runs and the dead ends and everything in between – are part of my journey.

 

 

 

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Yom Kippur…

“We’re all broken. That’s how the light gets in.” – Ernest Hemingway

Yom Kippur just ended and I’ve now been to temple four times in the last 11 days. This is a lot for me and not at all representative of my normal synagogue-attending behavior. But the High Holy Days are special and lately I’ve been thinking about how important it is to have rituals and celebrations so that certain days stand out and aren’t like all the other days of the year. Also, being a part of a community has really advanced in my hierarchy of important things to have in one’s life and attending services with hundreds of other people definitely qualifies as community, especially if you are fortunate to know many of the other congregants like I do since my synagogue was also my place of employment for 17 years.

I belong to a large congregation which makes us able to offer diverse worship experiences. So, just like you need to do a little advance planning to get the most out of a work conference or film festival, I spend time beforehand thinking about which experiences I am most likely to find meaningful. It is not as easy of a task as you might expect because each year I am a slightly different person from who I was the year before; consequently what I’m needing spiritually changes, but I do the best I can knowing that I can make different choices next year if I get it wrong this year.

Today I chose to skip the more traditional Yom Kippur services and instead went to an alternative afternoon service entitled “A Yom Kippur Service for Renewal of the Mind, Body and Spirit.” I’m so glad I did and here’s why:

  • Firstly, it was held in our chapel, a lovely intimate space with lots of natural light and warm wood.
  • Secondly, because this was a creative service, the readings and songs chosen were less beholden to traditional liturgy and therefore gave breathing room for alternative views of God. This was an enormous relief because it made it less necessary for me to engage in my usual internal process of translating the text in the prayerbook into words more in line with my own beliefs – a process that can feel at times like mental calisthenics.
  • And then there was the wonderful music, some familiar but mostly not. The cantor led us in a call and response which reminded me of how my yoga teacher, who loves chanting, would sometimes end our sessions. Later in the service we stood and sang a song of healing with our arms around our neighbors – hokey, I know, but powerful nonetheless.
  • Lastly, the service illuminated a contemporary understanding of the main theme of Yom Kippur which is atonement. I’ve long ago left behind my outrage at the presumption that I need to atone for my sins each year. Over time I’ve come to understand the more subtle ways that we veer from being our best selves and now I use this time of year to identify where the holes in my soul still are. This year my list isn’t particularly long but it is weighty. In the year ahead I want to be braver – to take more risks both with people and situations; and to be more mindful –  to be open to the daily opportunities to be fully present. Relatedly, I no longer want to act like I have all the time in the world because the simple truth is none of us do. And I want to figure out how to be more giving – not only to my family and friends but to society in general.

During the High Holy Days we’re urged to be vulnerable; to remove some of our protective layers; to be brutally honest about ourselves. But we do this is a loving and supportive environment, surrounded by both the weight of tradition and the belief that we are all capable of growing into our best selves.

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Endure the darkness…

Here in Atlanta you can feel the beginning of fall. The days are still warm but the mornings and evenings are more comfortable now. On some days, the sky is that deep blue that only happens when the humidity is low. Mowing after dinner is becoming less of an option as the hours of day light are noticeably diminishing and I’ve needed a sweatshirt, at least briefly, during several of my early morning walks. Best of all, there were several days in a row when I was able to turn off the air conditioning and open the windows wide to the fresh air. Fall is definitely my happy place. But there is something just a little bit sad about leaving the warm months behind and all the informality, spontaneity and freedom that summer implies.

Recently I came across this quote:

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” — Og Mandino

I’ve been aware lately that I need both – the light and the darkness. In particular, I’ve had days recently that were difficult, where I felt purposeless and aimless. When I’ve retreated into myself both literally and figuratively. But each and every time I read the above quote it reminds me to be patient and to understand that good work is being done, even and maybe especially, during those times when I feel that I’m searching for something that I can’t even name. I’ve made a commitment to myself to no longer live on automatic pilot but I’m still struggling to figure out what that looks like and feels like. The dark days are kind of like reset buttons…when I emerge I usually feel invigorated and optimistic and open. And that’s when I remember to feel gratitude and awe, to dream, and to create.

 

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Tears…

I know this probably sounds ridiculous but I want to have a “good” cry and I just can’t. I mean it; it has been years. I feel like I used to be able to cry at the drop of a hat – watching a sad movie, out of frustrating when my (then) husband didn’t understand me or wasn’t giving me what I needed, listening to a touching segment on the radio, or simply feeling strongly about anything. However, in the last five years alone I’ve lost both my parents, had disappointments, had to say goodbye to many people I care about, have dealt with the uncertainty of change and transition, and have come face-to-face with aging. And yet, no tears!

Long ago I heard that tears are a sign that you’ve touched upon some fundamental truth and I totally believe this to be true. So even though crying can at times be inconvenient (for example, while trying to explain to your boss why you deserve a raise), can appear a sign of weakness, or make you feel vulnerable, what can possibly be more human or important than feeling and expressing one’s truth?

Earlier this week I went to see a Polarity therapist for the first time. The surface reason for going was because I’ve been having chronic pain in my right shoulder and arm for the last few months and conventional medicine hasn’t helped yet. (The next step on that road is an MRI and possibly surgery so you can understand my hesitancy to continue in that direction.)  On a deeper level I’ve become curious about energy work and I’ve been trying, over these last many months, to follow anything that arouses my curiosity. Polarity therapy, from what I understand so far, is an intuitive process where the therapist works to release areas of energy blockage through hands-on touch therapy. As the therapist works, she occasionally speaks about what she’s discovering and invites you to share any feelings/thoughts/images that might occur. I was surprised by what came to me during our hour together and the quickness with which we got to some of my core issues. But the most surprising thing was how close I came to actually crying! When I mentioned how I’ve had this need to cry for so long but have been unable to do so, she said that in addition to tears being a wonderful release they also have a positive effect on your internal organs. It’s difficult for me to wrap my head around that idea but it kinda feels like it could be true.

Needless to say, I’ve made another appointment. Maybe I’ll get lucky both in terms of getting relief from my physical pain but also in my ability to let go and feel things I’ve clearly been keeping under lock and key. In the meantime, can anyone recommend a really sad movie or book? I mean it!

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Tattoo*…

At last! I’ve been wanting a tattoo for a really long time but have been at a loss as to what I want permanently inked on my body. (Maybe I have this whole thing backwards; maybe my desire for a tattoo should have flowed organically from a strong feeling about something or someone first. If so, oh well.)

So here’s the good news…yesterday while reading Outrageous Openness by Tosha Silver I came across the Sanskrit word aparagrapha. I was struck by the ability of this one word to communicate so much, both in terms of what I don’t want anymore and what I do want. Aparagrapha means “nongrasping.” It means giving up on the Western notion of always working hard and going after everything we want (or think we want) in a driven, tense way. Instead it means “moving through the world with an open hand, an open heart.” Doesn’t that make your entire body relax just a little?!

Tosha offers this prayer as a way to illuminate the meaning of aparagrapha:

Let what wants to come, come. Let what wants to go, go.

If it is mine, it will stay. If not, whatever is better will replace it.

I can think of only one area of my life where I consistently live this way and that is the writing of this blog. In the beginning, I created a long list of potential topics. Before too long, however, I left that list behind and just went about living. Every few days the need to express myself about something bubbles up. Let what wants to come, come.

The other prayer from Outrageous Openness that speaks to me right now is this one:

Infinite Spirit, send me a sign.

Show me the next best use of my gifts and talents.

Now that I finally know what I want, I have a decision to make in regards to getting a tatto. Do I wait to get the tattoo until I’m working again or do I do it now? The former choice is the financially prudent one but choosing to delay can also be a way of saying that I don’t trust that things are going to work out. Scarcity versus abundance. Holding on tightly (grasping) versus trusting that things will be ok (having an open heart). Can it be that simple?


*To my Jewish readers, my apologies if this post offends you. I know that many Jews believe that getting a tattoo is not in alignment with the teachings of the Torah. But I also know that there is disagreement among scholars about what is exactly prohibited. More importantly, as a progressive Jew, I believe in informed choice; in choosing the beliefs and practices that resonate with me.

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