Tuesday, October 31, 2006

stumbling in the dark

How many times have you forgotten to turn on the bathroom light before shabbat started and found yourself stumbling to the toilet for the next 25 hours? It’s annoying, it’s unpleasant, but it’s manageable. Most of us know the routine with our eyes closed, we don’t fall in, we don’t miss, we don’t trip, we don’t drown.. Somehow we just turn off our conscious brain and manage on the part of the brain that works on habit, experience and faith!

That’s basically how I’ve been feeling - spiritually speaking - for the past few weeks; I’ve been stumbling in the dark.

For as long as I’ve been Torah observant, my behavior and my beliefs have been secured on two fronts - intellectual and emotional.

On the intellectual side, I've read books, asked questions, spoken to countless people and studied many years. Although I don’t believe there is 100% proof of anything, for many, many years I have felt confident that there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt regarding the existence of G-d and the Torah.

I’ve continued to question, but I’ve questioned from the inside out. I accept the premise that the Torah is valid and authentic and when inconsistencies arise I take for granted that the mistake is in my perception or in my understanding, and not in the Torah itself. That may seem like a cop-out to some, but it’s a choice we all make. No one can remain sitting on the edge, sometimes looking in, sometimes looking out.
You’re either IN the torah - looking outwards to the world and trying to make sense of the world according to the reality of the Torah
you're IN the world, looking outwards to the torah and trying to make the torah fit the reality of the world.
I made that choice years ago and since then I can honestly say that I have very rarely had real intellectual doubts regarding the truth of my chosen path.

My heart on the other hand, seems to work on a different track than my brain. Emotionally speaking, there have been times when I didn’t care what proof there was or wasn’t, my heart felt so connected to its source, my heart felt the presence of G-d so strongly and my tfilahs were so heartfelt, so sincere and so real that I had no doubts that they had been heard.

And so, throughout all these years, when questions would arise and make me intellectually doubt my beliefs, I’d quiet my brain and rely on my heart - my emotional experiences keeping me anchored. And, when my heart would shut down, and I couldn’t feel the connection - the intellectual reasoning would resonate in my mind and remind me why I had chosen this lifestyle.

Never did I envision that both of these powerhouses could collapse, simultaneously. Having felt secure in my beliefs for so many years, having overcome so many questions and doubts and internal discord, I thought I had finally reached a point where I had made peace with it all and could finally soar forwards…

And then it happened – and I literally felt the rug being pulled out from under me.

In the blink of an eye, my feelings and my thoughts, which had always kept me connected to G-d suddenly abandoned me. As my heart emptied itself of the feelings of attachment and gratitude, my mind filled up with uncertainties and doubts.
I suddenly felt like a baby thrown into an enormous pool of water, left to swim on his own.

I’ve done a lot of thinking since to try and understand what happenned, and to try and figure out how to handle it. One of the things I’ve realized is that there are actually three parts to me through which I connect to my Judaism, not two. I had always relied on my intellectual and emotional connections to Torah and it seems to me now that these two had suppressed the third – my soul. With my soul abandonned by its emotional and intellectual accomplices, I suddenly became aware of a force in me that I had not encountered in years. The energy that drove me when I was just learning about Judaism, before I felt its truth, and before I knew its truth suddenly reappeared. I've come to realize that these anchors that had been securing me down all along were apparently only confirmations of what I knew on a much deeper level.

It’s difficult to differentiate our minds, from our hearts and from our souls, they all combine to form our conscious experience and it was only through the ‘malfunction’ of some of these that I was able to reconnect with the other(s).

It’s still new to me. I still feel like I'm stumbling in the dark. I’m not sure how much I can trust my soul. I feel vulnerable, but it’s a power stronger than me, a power that seems to keep pushing me, whether I want it or not - and whether I understand it or not.

I often hear people who were born in observant homes say that they don’t know if they would become baalei teshuva if they had the choice. They haven’t gone through the kiruv system, they haven’t heard all the ‘intellectual’ proofs, and they haven’t had all the emotional highs.. and so they can’t pinpoint what it is that keeps them going.
I think this is what ive just discovered.
It’s a connection so subtle, but SO real. It’s one we have a really hard time describing or verbalizing, but it’s a link to reality we can’t deny.

Dovid from a gonzo state of mind wrote something beautiful in his blog today. He said: "Torah study draws the soul into this world by giving forms and definitions and physical experiences to its otherwise vast and intangible spirituality". Anyone who has studied Torah knows that it is more than an intellectual pursuit and/or an emotional exercise. It touches something much deeper, much more difficult to describe, but very powerfully felt.

Today, having been stripped of the comfort of my emotional attachment, and the security of my intellectual connection, I realize that this third, deeper, spiritual entity is what will really keep me connected and push me forward…until the light turns back on.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My days are so predictable and yet, every day, I seem to relive them as if i beleive something new is about to happen. I expect change, I anticipate some new discovery to transform the mundane agenda I should, by now, be accustomed to. I keep expecting the day to end differently..

I wake up in the morning with a fresh head and a hopeful heart. Regardless of how exhausted I am from the lack of sleep, I always feel that the day’s renewal affords me a panoply of fresh opportunities to look forward to. Once I'm showered and dressed, had my coffee and am ready to go, I feel ready to take on whatever challenges come my way - with a clear mind and strong determination.

But, as the day progresses, the challenges that come my way slowly start to take on the added weight of yesterday’s failures ... and tomorrow’s fears. The worrying and the anxiety begin to creep up on me, slowing me down, and gradually weighing me down.

I make lists, I plan ahead, I visualize and pray for the future - still somewhat hopeful that I have the ability and energy to make the changes necessary - to bring about success and not more disillusionment. I work hard, I believe and I pray, but regardless of how much I accomplish, it seems that as the day advances, the accomplishments get dwarfed by what has yet to be done.

By the time evening comes, all I want is to do crawl into a warm and safe place. I want to put it all behind me, and live in the moment. As the night comes and silence descends around me, solitude and stillness replace the commotion and cacophony of the day. What I crave at night is a place to let go of the day’s tension and pressures and inadequacies, but instead, as the eeriness of the night intensifies, so do the anxieties of tomorrow,
and tomorrow’s tomorrows.
I find myself wallowing in the disappointments and broken dreams, all alone, feeling more isolated and hopeless than I could have imagined possible early that morning.

My empty bed frightens me - all that cold unused space, mocking me - so I avoid it. I read, I think, I listen to music, I think, I write, I think. I try to distract myself and hope to avoid the swelling sadness and angst that threatens to engulf me.

I think
and think
and feel
and think

But this is a world of doing, what's the point?

The more I think the more I wish I could fall asleep.
The more I wish I were sleeping, the wider-awake I feel.

I watch the clock bring in the new day, as my eyes get heavy, and my brain continues to fry under the mounting pressures of the days to come.

Finally a moment of weakness overcomes me and I feel tired enough to collapse into bed.
I jump at the occasion.

I fall asleep.

Not more than 5 hours later, the radio blares, waking me up to a bright new morning, filled with hope and adventure.

I wont forget tomorrow morning, what tonight felt like. I’ll know what it felt like and why I felt it, but I wont feel it.
Maybe it was a bad day, i'll tell myself..but today.. TODAY, now that’s going to be a pretty good day!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

does He
from me?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

...oh really?

I have a plan - to go mad.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"Don’t go in the room! Let the baby cry, eventually she'll fall asleep. She just wants attention"
"He didn’t really hurt his knee, he's faking! He just wants attention"
"She’s not really that angry, she's being a drama queen! She always wants attention!"
"He didn’t want to die, it was a cry for help - he just wants attention"

We're told we shouldn’t feed this need for attention.
People need to grow up and toughen up!
They need to be independent, strong, and autonomous and the worst thing we can do is give them attention every time they call out for it.

If the baby's really scared, then mom can go in the room and calm her fears.
If the toddler really hurt his knee, then he can get a band aid or go to the doctor.
If the teenager truly has a reason to be angry, then we can talk about it.

If the suicide attempt succeeds.. then we can really bury the person...

If someone experiences real fear, real physical pain, real injustice.. then we agree that they deserve to be taken seriously - but if someone “just” wants attention, then we view it as a sign of weakness that needs to be ignored until it goes away.

The thing is, how often do we complain that G-d doesn’t seem to hear us or doesn’t make Himself be seen or felt? How often do wish that G-d or a teacher or a parent or a friend would just pat us on the back or reassure us. How much more would we be able to endure if we felt this presence tangibly?

We all knows G-d is there, we know He listens and feels and protects us.. and yet we cry when we feel that distance from him - but when someone needs attention, or they need to be reminded that someone is there listening, hearing, caring, we dismiss it “just” attention seeking.

Rabbi Kelemen writes in his book To Kindle a Soul:
"Parents sometimes worry that attentive parenting undermines independence and confidence. The opposite is true, however, "children who experience consistent and considerable gratification of needs in the early stages do not become 'spoiled and dependent' writes Dr Terry Levy. "They become more independent, self-asured, and confident." [...]

Children cry less frequently and for shorter duration after their first 9 months when caregivers respond promptly during the child’s first nine months.
conversely, children who do not receive enough attention early on tend to be clingy, suffer from separation anxiety, and respond with panic when pushed to explore the world or when left in the hands of unfamiliar caregivers.” (page 104)

"Ignoring a child’s night time cries might eventually produce quiet, but it does not cultivate security"" (page 107)

He is referring to the idea of letting a baby cry when we put him to sleep, as some suggest -
but I think this applies throughout life.
When babies are left alone, in the dark, and and they start getting drowsy and find themselves all alone, it's normal for them to be afraid. Their memories and senses are not very developed and they suddenly find themselves in a dark room, all alone, very disoriented.
So they cry.
They cry for attention.
And what do the 'experts' suggest? Leave them alone until they stop crying.
The crying eventually stops..but has the fear gone away? Do they feel any more secure?

The same applies to adults, I believe.
We act out and want attention when we feel insecure, afraid, and alone. A baby can’t verbalize that anxiety, and although we have the verbal skills, very often, neither can we.

We need attention because we feel a lack.
Something is missing and we can’t find the words or the behaviour to express it.

A baby cries.
A teenager rebels.
And as adults we find a multitude of behaviours that we have learned will get us the attention we need.

Attention in itself may not have any intrinsic value, but giving it to someone who is in need of security, approval, acceptance, affection, empathy, nurturing … indirectly leads them to feel those things.

No one wants to feel abandoned. Teaching a baby that his cries at night will be left unheard creates a sense of abandonment. When a spouse ignores the cries of attention of their loved one, when a parent ignores a child’s needs for attention, when a teacher ignores the acting out of a student.. we create fearful, insecure, needy people who constantly fear abandonment.

Sometimes people don’t have the answers or the solutions to our problems. They cant fix what’s broken or make whatever is hurting go away. They can’t necessarily make sense of the chaos in us and they cant get rid of the fear eating us up, or the guilt smothering us - but they can pay attention. They can reassure us and make us feel heard, maybe even understood.
A lot of times that’s all we need to feel reenergized.

Most of the answers are found inside us, but we cant tap into them because we're so busy fighting off whatever demons we believe are after us. If we don’t feel alone, and we are given the attention we crave, often that will be enough to make us feel secure enough so we can forget the imaginary demons and focus on finding the truths inside us.

excellent example of a father paying proper attention.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I’ve decided that the absolute worst part of a blind date is the 10-minute period before the actual meeting.

It’s excruciatingly painful.

It used to be that I’d worry all day long before a date. I’d worry about what to wear, I’d worry about what he would be like and what we would talk about … until I realized that it was silly to worry since dates usually turn out fine – and until I actually meet him I don’t have anything tangible to worry about. At worst it's two wasted hours and at best i get to spend an interesting evening having stimulating conversation with a booooy (actually, at best, ill meet my husband!!)

Then I used to worry on the actual date – I’d worry about what to say and what not to say, I’d worry about what he meant or what he thought I meant. I’d worry about figuring out how soon was too soon to leave and whether I was being interesting enough. Of course I’d worry about not being flirty enough or about being too flirty. Eventually even those worries disappeared as I came to the realization that I just had to be myself and try to go with the flow. With the right person, all those things would just fall into place, and the truth is, if I want to marry this person I'd better be honest and real.

Finally I used to worry about what would happen AFTER the date – would he say nice things about me? Would he want to go out again? What did he say? What did he mean? But yet again I realized it was pointless. The truth is that It's much less disturbing to get rejected then to have to make the decision to reject someone (and then worry night after night about having made the wrong decision.)

So now all that’s left is that 10 minute period before the date…

Why in the world is it so dreadfully painful watching the minutes pass so agonizingly slow!?!?

It occurred to me that it cant possibly be the fear that my date will be so horrendously unattractive because firstly such a thing has never happened to me and secondly how many people do I find so hideous that I cant bare the thought of sitting across the table from them for 2 hours!
It can’t be the thought that the date will be SO boring that I can’t imagine how I’ll get through the evening. I’ve been through way more boring situations.

What about the imminent date causes me such nausea and anxiety?

After going through the list of what it can’t possibly be, it finally dawned on me what IT IS.

It’s the possibility that I might meet my soul mate in the coming minutes.

We’ve been brainwashed since childhood into believing the whole 'eyes meeting across a crowded room' fantasy. As much as we DONT want to admit it, I think we all secretly believe in love at first sight. We all hope and pray that we will be among the lucky few to meet the love of our lives and know instantaneously. So, it occurred to me that when I go on a date, those 10 minutes before I meet him, I’m anxiously wondering about that first glimpse, the first times our eyes meet. Will sparks fly......or will I?

Now before everyone (especially all you married folk) jump down my throat to tell me it DOESNT happen that way.. let me be clear - I am not saying that I go on a date expecting this to happen...but somewhere in the back of my mind there.. is.. always.. that.. glimmer.. of..hope..that the first time our eyes meet.. life will be transformed.. forever!

I don’t know if this how others feel, I don’t even know if I’ve really gotten to the root of issue.. but sitting in my car last night, trying to figure out why the minutes were moving so slow and thinking about writing this post…I managed to survive those last ten minutes!
(and dont get your hopes up.. sparks did not fly!)

love stories ***
(click on the pictures to read their stories)

(my favorite is Leilomar and Nasar, he says : "I tried everything to make her notice me. That's why I always opened an umbrella when I was near her, regardless of what the weather was like." -- maybe that's how they express love in afganistan :)

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