Friday, September 29, 2006

Yom Kippur is almost here and I’ve been thinking a lot about the changes I’d like to make in the coming year. Of course we all know about the whole ‘new years resolution' phenomenon –you have big plans, you want big changes, you make big promises, and right after new year’s you forget them.. in a big way!
We all know what the solution to that is – baby steps!
But just like anything else, it’s easier said than done!
So here are mookie's** steps to a successful babystepalicious Yom Kippur!

1. Find an area in your life that is important to you, and that affects you on a regular basis and that you would like to improve, something that will stay current and fresh in your mind so that you dont wake up three months later and realize you forgot your resolution!

2. Find a mitzvah that is related to that area. This isn’t the time to start looking for obscure chumras – find an obligation, that’s relevant, mandatory and feasible.

3. Now break that mitzvah/obligation down into small components.
Take one of those components, and divide it into smaller parts
Break one of those small parts into even tinier steps.
Take one of those tiny steps and split it up into teeny weeny baby steps.
Pick one baby step.
Assuming this is something you should be doing every day or a few times a day/week/month, pick a time/space that you will stick to it and make a commitment to it.

4. Make yourself a minimum commitment - this is very very very important. Whatever you decided to take on, make a mazimum and a minimum commitment , and take on yourself to try to reach your maximum, but never to go below your minimum.

5. Finally, on yom kipur (or any other time!) make a commitment to this new baby step!

Ok, so let me give an example –

1.GOAL: developing a stronger connection/relatioship with g-d.

2. Making a commitment to working on a richer personal relationship with g-d is a HUGE undertaking. Its abstract, its big and its intimidating.. where does one even start!?
No relationship is possible without open communication and so praying is a good place to start. Start talking to Him!

So now it's time to formulate a plan on how to achieve the goal.
Taking on praying 3 times a day, every day, for the rest of our lives, with kavana.. is.. NOT realistic. We've all tried it..
That’s where baby stepping in comes in.

3. goal : Pray with kavana (every day, every prayer!)
- Pray one day a week with kavana
- Pray one prayer - on one day in the week, with kavana
- Pray one paragraph of one prayer on one day in the week with kavana

4. And finally – make a maximum and a minimum. There are times when we feel strong, more inspired, more connected and we soar spiritually, and there are other times when we can hardly drag ourselves through the bare minimum. We have to be realistic and realize those will both happen in the year to come, and for the rest of our lives, and so we need to take them into consideration when formulating our plan of action. A maximum in this case could be praying the first paragraph, of every prayer, every day, with kavana; and a minimum could mean doing it once a week, or once a month.
No one can decide for someone else what is feasible or what is reasonable. Its important to be spiritually self aware – and to develop that skill – so that we can made decisions that help us grow, and not g-d forbid drag us down in guilt and ineptness.

So, to summarize – the more general goal is to connect to hashem, and the more specific goal is to pray with kavana. On good days and good weeks we commit to do this on a daily basis, but we keep into consideration the possibility of a bad, weak, lazy, disconnected day, or week or month, where we commit to never miss at least one prayer with kavana in the week – no matter what!

This step is the most important, because it gives us the space to manoeuvre, to be flexible, and to learn to listen to ourselves. Pushing ourselves beyond our limits will only lead to a burnout. The problem that often happens is that we make huge commitments and then slowly start to falter because we didn’t consider the possibilities of not being able to do it on certain days or under certain circumstances. We end up feeling guilty, turning our back on g-d, disconnecting…If we plan ahead for that, what happens is that on our weakest days, we still have a plan B and so we always end up achieving something, we never feel like we failed. We just worked within the lazier end of the spectrum as opposed to the super turbo inspired end. When we’re not down anymore, we don’t have the added baggage of guilt to deal with, and we can just jump back up to our maximum.

I’ve found that this really helps me learn to listen how I feel, and where I am in my connection to G-d, and how much I’m capable of. It helps me not compare myself to others, or to put pressure I can’t handle with. I develop my own personal spiritual spectrum of capabilities and work within it.

5. If I follow these steps, and make a serious commitment, there’s a good chance that at the end of the year I’ve made praying with kavana a regular part of my spiritual experience. Maybe not every prayer, or every day.. but its always there in the bakground, motivating me.

An important point to remember, is that any behavior we want to correct isnt something we stopped doing or dropped over night. Chances are we used to abide by a mitzvah and one day we got lazy and did it with less enthusiasm, then on another day we forgot completely, then we skipped it for a week.. we baby stepped out of it.. and so we need to baby step back into it.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not
fear the results of a hundred battles.” Sun Tzu

I wish you all tons of clarity in finding the area, and the baby step you want to work on. The idea of baby stepping is that no step, no mitzvah, no part of a mitvah, no character trait.. nothing is too small to work on.. but in the long run the habits change and the resolutions

"Says HaKadosh Baruch Hu to Yisrael, My children, open for Me one opening of teshuva the size of an eye of a needle, and I shall open for you openings that wagons and cars can pass through (Shir Hashirim Rabba 5:2)."

Chatima tova!

** mookie's steps.. gleaned from the teachings of her amazing rabbis and rebbetzins (Rabbi Bear, Rabbi Kelemen, Rabbi Chalkowski.. and the list goes on!)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

..she'yikartu oyveinu...

Saturday morning, 1st day of Rosh Hashana, we get to shul and we start hearing the rumor..
Bin Laden is dead!! He died of typhus!
My first thought is.. it’s the LEEKS.
Just the night before we ate leeks and dates, and other fruits and vegetables with a blessing asking for our enemies to be destroyed, and all I can think is.. wow it worked!

All of rosh hashana none of us could check the news and so we celebrated the rest of the holiday believing that maybe, just maybe our rosh hashana fruits and vegetables killed America’s most wanted. We did what the USA wasn’t able to do with its 25 million (billion? gazillion?) dollars, and we did it with produce!!

Well it turns out they were just rumors, leeked to the French news, and none of it has been confirmed..
I still believe our leeks are way more powerful than America’s weapons, but I guess we’ll have to wait a little longer before we can prove it!

David Letterman -Top Ten Signs Osama Bin Laden Isn't Really Dead

10. He's appearing in Atlantic City this weekend with Tony Danza

9. He's been updating his MySpace page all week

8. Called Mike and the Mad Dog this afternoon to complain about the Giants

7. He's captain of the Muslim team on the all new "Survivor"

6. New issue of "People" has photos of him canoodling with Nicole Richie

5. Empty case of Yoo-Hoo was recently discovered in lawless border region of Afghanistan

4. Spotted at Al-Qaeda's annual "Lunatic Father-Son Cookout"

3. During Fashion Week, he unveiled his fall line of turbans

2. Why do you think Whitney and Bobby split?

1. New tape featuring Osama declaring Jihad on tainted spinach

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

blank canvas

All difficult things have their origin in that which is easy, and great things in that which is small-Lao-Tzu; All glory comes from daring to begin.-Eugene F. Ware; The distance is nothing; it's only the first step that is difficult.-Marquise du Deffand; Nobody is ever met at the airport when beginning a new adventure. It's just not done.-Elizabeth Warnock Fernea; The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning.-Ivy Baker Priest;Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning.-John Henry Cardinal Newman; Genuine beginnings begin within us, even when they are brought to our attention by external opportunities.-William Bridges; For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.- Ernest Hemingway; The beginning is the most important part of the work.-Plato; Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.-Lewis Carroll; The excitement, the true excitement, was always in starting again. Nothing's worse than an accomplished task, a realized dream.-Marilyn Harris; The greatest masterpieces were once only pigments on a palette.-Henry S. Hoskins; A hard beginning maketh a good ending.-John Heywood; He has half the deed done who has made a beginning.-Horace; He who chooses the beginning of a road chooses the place it leads to. It is the means that determine the end.-Harry Emerson Fosdick; A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.-Lao-Tsu; The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.-Chinese proverb; Kol hatchalot kashot; The secret to a rich life is to have more beginnings than endings.-Dave Weinbaum; Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.-St. Francis of Assisi;Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.-Martin Luther King Jr.; We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day.-Edith Lovejoy Pierce; When there is a start to be made, don't step over! Start where you are.-Edgar Cayce; There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth...not going all the way, and not starting.- Buddha; The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are; The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are; The indispensable first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.-Ben Stein; Begin; to begin is half the work. Let half still remain; again begin this, and thou wilt have finished.-Decimus Magnus Ausonius; What's well begun, is half done.-Horace; You can learn new things at any time in your life if you're willing to be a beginner. If you actually learn to like being a beginner, the whole world opens up to you.-Barbara Sher; That's what learning is. You suddenly understand something you understood all your life, but in a new way.-Doris Lessing.

Its a new beginning, time to ctrl-alt-delete
and start fresh.
I just want to thank you all for the advice, entertainment and listening ear you've provided and I look forward to a new blogalicious year!

Wishing you all a powerful new beginning and
a happy new year filled with
strength, clarity, health and revealed blessings!

ktiva v'chatima tova

Saturday, September 16, 2006

unexpected countdown

5:15 p.m. : This week Shabbat started with an unexpected adventure I really could have done without.
I had plans to spend Shabbat in the country. I didn’t get the directions until a few minutes before I took the road but I assumed it would take about 45 min to an hour to get there. I knew Shabbat started around 7:00/7:15 and I figured leaving at 5:15 would give me sufficient time to arrive. I knew I was in a bit of a rush, but I never expected that I might not make it. Those things just don’t happen – at least not outside of Hannoch Teller books. I took the road, not anticipating the intensity of the Friday afternoon, peak-hour traffic congestion I found myself trapped in.

6:04 p.m.: Inching along the traffic, by 6:04 I was just getting on the bridge – the bridge that's barely 10 miles from my house. I was starting to get worried. I told myself I still had an hour before sunset, and I probably had another 35 minutes of driving. I’d make it, but it would be close. I did my makeup in the car; I got all my stuff ready , assuming I'd arrive at the last minute.

6:24 p.m.: Just a few miles past the bridge and still stuck in traffic. My panic was increasing exponentially. I don’t own a cell phone but thankfully my mom had convinced me to take one – just in case –. I called home, trying to sound calm and asked my dad if he thought I’d make it. I still didn’t think I wouldn’t, I just needed a little reassurance. I asked him to get onto mapquest and check exactly how far I was, and to tell me what time Shabbat started at exactly. I figured once I had facts and he’d tell me it was fine, I’d feel much better.
This is where I got the real shock.
He told me the complete trip was 76.53 miles and I was about 20.6 miles into the trip. I had approximately 56 miles left – and then he told me Shabbat started at 6:50, with the 18 minutes factored in, I had 38 minutes left.
38 minutes to drive 56 miles on a traffic jammed highway, in the middle of the country.
PANIC set in.
I felt my head spinning.. what.. do.. I .. do??? I yelled!
My dad was trying to stay calm; my mom was getting slightly hysterical in the background.
WHAT DO I DO?!!?! Will I make it?! Where do I go??
At this point he started to sound worried and told me there was no way I‘d make it. Even if I could do 56 miles in 38 minutes, there was NO way I’d make it with the traffic ahead. The car just wasn’t budging. By then I was hysterical, breaking into cold sweat, my head spinning, my mouth dry, my sense of clarity completely vanished.
Again I yelled: TELL ME WHAT TO DO, I’m really scared!!
My dad told me to just get off the highway and look for a sign back home and take it. But, even that didn’t make sense. It had taken me over an hour to drive those 20 miles; I’d never make it back home in half an hour. By then my mom grabbed the phone and just told me to get off the highway, wherever I was, and try my best to get back.

My dad is the calm, logical one, my mom is the more emotional one, but when push comes to shove, her panic transforms into faith, whereas my dad’s clear appraisal of the facts leads him to panic. She told me I’d make it, and not to worry and she’d stay on the phone with me until I did. I couldn’t think clear, I couldn’t see clear, I was just running on her faith. The fear wasn’t only not havnig where to spend shabbat, the fear was also of getting stuck all alone, in the middle of nowhere.
I took the first exit I saw and found myself driving into even more rural land. All I saw were empty fields, tractors and greenhouses.
Not a soul in sight.

6:30 p.m. : The tranquility and serenity of the sun setting on a Friday afternoon driving around farmland was in complete contradiction with the utter panic and anxiety I was feeling. My mom kept calm and just kept repeating, just look for a road out, you’ll be fine, you have time. I knew I didn’t, there was no way I had enough time, let alone time to get lost, but I had no choice but to believe her. I drove around a few more minutes and finally found myself back on the highway back home.

6:40 p.m.: Back on the road, in the right direction and only 20 miles from home; I could potentially make it...if I could fly over the traffic. At this point my mother’s faith was starting to seep in and I told myself I was out of the country, I was on my way back to city and worse case scenario, I’d leave my car and walk the 20 miles.

7:05 p.m.: I won’t hold you in suspense, thank G-d, I made it. I arrived at home a couple of minutes before shabbat started. I barely stopped the car and ran into the house.

Try explaining to someone who doesn’t keep Shabbat how excruciatingly frightening it is to be stuck too far from home, trapped on a highway, in the middle of the country, minutes before sunset on a Friday. Forget challah and wine, forget kosher food, forget good company – how does one not panic not knowing where they will sleep or remain for the next 24 hours. Do you knock at the farmer’s house and ask him to spend the night there? The farmer who’s probably never met a Jew and wont understand why you’re there? Never mind the dangers involved! Do you keep driving and break Shabbat? Do you stop the car on the highway and walk.. and walk.. and walk.. on a rural highway? It's amazing to think that something so abstract and intangible as shabbat could cause such intense emotions. The fear and anxiety I felt was SO real and so palpable, it blows my mind.

I break into a cold sweat trying to imagine what would have happened if I had kept driving, or gotten lost on the way. I honestly don’t know what I would have done. I always thought that if G-d forbid I found myself in such a situation, I would simply park the car and walk to the closest place I could spend Shabbat. I’ll be honest though, when all I could see were greenhouses, tractors, and traffic in all directions, I couldn’t imagine stopping.
I couldn’t imagine driving and I couldn’t imagine stopping.
What would you have done?

Monday, September 11, 2006

I have a really hard time disagreeing with someone I just met, especially someone from the opposite gender, and especially when I’m trying to impress them. In order to have good discussion and for interesting thinking to develop there needs to be an exchange of ideas - even conflicting ideas. In order for critical thinking to occur there needs to be a diversity of views and opinions, and when I meet someone new, for example on a date, I have a really hard time truly expressing my views if they conflict with the other person’s. The problem is that the other person doesn’t get to hear my real opinions, he doesn’t get to see that I’m passionate about my convictions, he doesn’t get to meet the real me. In a way I feel like I dumb myself down in order to seem more agreeable, I come across less opinionated – but the kind of man I want to marry doesn’t want an agreeable, docile, passive woman!

The more I date, the more I put effort into not falling into that trap. I try to politely disagree, I attempt to put forth my ideas in a non confrontational manner, but I always feel like in the end I tend to agree or at least come across as if I’m considering a new way of seeing things, when in fact, I rarely get convinced that easily. I find that it takes away from the quality of the date, it takes away from the depth of the discussion and it takes away from the sincerity of the conversation... but I can’t seem to change that behavior.

It occurred to me yesterday that part of the reason why its so comfortable being accepting of another's views is that it in essence protects us. If I believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, that each opinion is equally valid and that there is truth to be found in every belief then I am basically ensuring that my views and my thoughts wont be judged too harshly. If you can’t be wrong.. then I cant be wrong either.. and that’s comforting. When you meet someone new, the last thing you want to do is get into an argument with them. You don’t want them to attack you or your views, you don’t want them to judge you too soon based on a belief you hold and it becomes even more tempting to appease them and come across more agreeable.

The safer I feel, and the more comfortable I get, the more I am able to take a chance and risk being wrong, the more vulnerable I am willing to become. My friends and family will attest that I have NO reservations about expressing my opinions around them. I’ll argue, I’ll yell, I’ll debate until I’m blue in the face. I’ll try my hardest to prove them 100% wrong. The reason I can do that is because even if they end up proving me wrong, it will be ok. They wont judge me. They like me and value me and they will continue to accept me, realizing I’m human and humans make mistakes or faulty judgements. Their acceptance and appreciation of me is much greater than this one argument. On the other hand, it’s much more difficult to allow yourself to be vulnerable on a date, or when meeting someone new. They will judge you, and they will take their limited perception of you and generalize it and that’s too big a risk to take when you’re meeting someone new. And so, consciously or not, I end being much more agreeable and much more ‘open minded’ on these occasions. I think it’s especially unfortunate because it’s specifically when you meet someone new, and more particularly on a date, when you are presenting yourself as someone’s potential spouse that you want to be yourself and want them to see the true you - conflicting views and all.

I’m curious to hear what you guys think.
Do any of you have suggestions on how to deal with this?
I’m also curious, is this a gender related thing or a personality related thing?
Do women feel that they tend to be more agreeable in new and uncomfortable situations than in general?
Do men find themselves falling into this trap also?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


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