I Can Breathe

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In my little corner of the city where I live, right now, I can choose to exhale. For this moment at least, I can let go and breathe it all out long and slowly. And hope that like laughter is contagious, it will be felt and will shift this kind of collective holding of the breath that I feel as I walk through the streets.

I want to live a long life. But holding my breath and living in my mind are more akin to death than life if you ask me. It’s my default way of being, and so I am latching onto the environment around me that supports this right now. But it’s not helpful to me or the world at large

I have a choice. I can choose not to over-check Facebook and I can choose what to fill my mind with; whether to concoct fantasy fears or to simply bring awareness to my breath and my body, and fully present myself to the present. When I show up in the now, and savor my blessings, the now feels gloriously long and sweet and connected. Then, I am in life. I am alive.

I cannot control the future. I have no way of knowing if I will make it through today, or any day, in this city or another. I am not G-d.

But I can consider: how do I impact on the world? How can I bring G-d’s light through me today? How can I help bring peace? How do I attain inner peace, that all-too important starting point? So often it eludes me.

So I write this little piece, catch my breath, hold onto this moment and exhale.

 

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Turn the Volume Down

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You are always there and waiting to pounce. From the moment before I’m wrenched from sleep at 5am by my daughter’s cries, you’re there insisting I am not good enough. Your reasons are varied. It could be because I am not tough or disciplined enough to sleep train my daughter, or the fact that I went to bed too late, or that that I don’t have a clear plan for the day and “probably” will not utilize my new gift of time wisely (with both daughters suddenly in preschool). I am barely stumbling down the hallway with aching toes and heavy body as this 360 degree assault hits me.

And you follow me around all day, watching how you can undo me. And undo me you do. It comes so easily to you; you know me so well. You know how I want to be so good, and get so much done. And you chirp how I am just like the person I try not to be. How I run around in futile never-ending circles. How the nap that has the potential to restore and revive is indulgent. It goes on.

You are so incredibly harsh. You look to make me bleed and weak. You don’t sugarcoat anything and you certainly don’t notice any of my good.

Hey, you know the good parts. Like the part that values my daughter’s trust in me to be there, no matter what. The part that is trying so hard to be on top of things, that struggles in this area. But the full picture you see not. You don’t celebrate my accomplishments; you just want more. My portfolio may be brimming, but you compare me to more popular writers. You don’t take into account me and my unique mission and my whole story.

And you know what; I let you have so much power because a little sweet and vulnerable girl inside of me believes that she needs to be amazing. The aspiration of amazing sounds amazing, doesn’t it? I have always loved inspiration and aspiration. But I see more and more that what’s amazing is loving myself when I am not “amazing”. To be amazingly imperfect, human, vulnerable and endlessly loving to myself anyway. To hold and forgive myself for all my flaws and mistakes and simultaneously to strive for the high road. Who do you think you are trying to make self-love conditional?

I see you. I hear you. You are what Judaism calls the Yetzer Hara, the evil inclination, and others call the harsh critical inner voice, and a whole bunch of things. But you are just one voice and I am in control of the volume button. So, how about that nap now?

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Grinning at G-d

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Let’s talk about two years ago, a bubble of time in Boston Children’s Hospital.

I remember waking her up early on the day of her surgery that had somehow finally arrived. We bundled her into a taxi before she could insist upon her usual fruit platter for breakfast, a little grateful and surprised that she was in good spirits. We drove along towards the hospital as if it was just an awesome early morning adventure. As if it was normal and even fun to get up and head straight to the hospital where we had spent the two previous days. When we arrived, we probably looked at the fish tanks on the ground floor before making our way up to the ward that prepares kids for heart surgery.

I remember the head down focus it took to chat lightly to her. I remember her being sweet and charismatic and undemanding. She had a faraway look in her black eyes before she made things “easy” by co-operating with us. Did she sense something?

Dressed in a strange assortment of my fanciest clothes (it had just been Tisha ‘b Av), I squeezed into the children’s hospital gown in order to make it look like a fun thing to do. The plan worked and she lifted her hands up to remove what she was wearing in order to also put on the colorful hospital “dress” that she had taken to. Step one successful of the many steps to come in the days that would follow. And then we did “slides” down the hospital bed as if that’s just what we do.

I see her smooth tanned chest before me in the place where her faint scar now stands. I see us playing our part in helping to anaesthetize her as quickly and effectively as possible. I remember the absolute broken feeling as they wheeled her off toward the operating theater. A huge cry and then somewhat relief.

I could let go now, something I had not done for a long while. The burden of her wellbeing lifted from my shoulders that had irrationally carried somewhat responsibility for her heart condition or just the possibility of it and had tried to keep her as healthy as possible in the years and months and days and hours and seconds leading up to that moment. I was exhausted.

After a long process, we were at peace with our decision to go ahead with the surgery, and I could exhale knowing she was in the hands of the best and ultimately in the hands of G-d.

We headed outside. There was music and green grass in this place that they try to make so cheerful for kids. There, we ate and Danny prayed before we headed to the official waiting room, where I tried to muster up focus and energy to offer up prayers too. But I found myself in a bit of a daze as I gazed at all the other parents also awaiting news of how their child’s heart surgery had gone. There was so much at stake in that room. And I found myself staring out the huge glass windows at the world outside that seemed so normal and so far away.

And then before I knew it, before I really managed to pour my heart out to G-d, the legendary surgeon appeared before us. Quietly spoken and confident, he told us that Noa’s. surgery. had. gone. well.

Noa’s. Surgery.Had. Gone. Well.

We were on the other side and G-d had made it go well. Could it have all been a challenge tailor-made for all of us? Noa came into this world with her heart condition but no apparent symptoms for the most part. Could it be that everything around the lead up to as well as the surgery itself were meant for her, meant to bring out her dynamism and fight and probably a whole lot of other stuff too? I found myself grinning at G-d. And for me, a tailor-made opportunity to confront and challenge my mistaken fears and beliefs and my wanting to be in control? For me? Seriously? Another grin, and probably a mutter of deep thanks.

And then before I had time to really breathe and shower and feed myself and my husband and digest it all and appreciate the time I could remain in “let go” mode,  we were summoned to ICU. I remember her lying there, looking like she’d had a rough time but for the most part the same, surrounded by so many machines and being monitored by a nurse taking her critical job so seriously.

Before long, it was time to wake her up. Her body was blue as they disconnected her from life support machines as she seemed to splutter to life. Oh my goodness, the fragility of existence. It was almost unbearable to look. “Is that what is supposed to be happening? Are they getting it right?” Slow agonizing seconds of panic as I could not but had to look.

Whew. We got to see firsthand one of today’s genuine medical advancements. We got to be one of the blessed ones to be on the other side of successful heart surgery. We got the privilege of being cared for by the most expert and refined doctors in the field. We got to enjoy the extreme and appropriate kindness of nurses who knew how to make things feel better. We got to feel so much love and prayers poured at us from all directions; from family and friends and strangers alike. And we got to grin at G-d.

The days after were filled with trying to sweeten the experience for Noa as much as possible. A blur of toys and balloons and smiles and apple juice and apple sauce and trying to respond to emails and of course being on top of her body temperature and her medication doses and water intake and monitors and tests. And after just four days in the recovery ward, we were out of there.

How do I express gratitude? How do I feel the appropriate amount? How do I make sense of the fact that two years later I don’t hold her close often enough or feel sufficient thanks in her presence? Perhaps it is the challenge of being a human being, so quickly taking things for granted. These days I choose to focus on the way she triggers me and leaves me fumbling as a mom and person, but I want to hold my gratitude again and carry it with me through my days. Look her in the eyes and thank her for forcing me to stretch and grow. I want to abolish that voice within that insists I’m not a good enough mom. I want to turn down the volume of all the insignificant stuff that tries to pretend it’s so all-important, and to remember the truly big things. And I want to always grin at G-d.

We are here. Noa is here. We are blessed with life. We have everything.

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Ola-oi

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Ola-oi,” she shrieks sweetly but firmly in demand. Only a mom could know that that means olive oil. And that she wants lots of it.

As she says it, I find myself wondering when she will say olive oil in the “proper way” and how her speech will evolve. I find myself feeling a little impatient and also simultaneously aware of the absurdity.

For we never arrive, right? When we do, we’re onto the next and the next. Though it doesn’t always feel like it, so much of the pleasure of life is absolutely in the journey. It’s in the feeling of want and yearning palpable in our chests.

As I go about looking for work, and await the day my olive oil obsessed daughter enters the big world of nursery school, I am reminding myself to enjoy and savor the process, with the dirty laundry and aching glands and challenges of day to day life. Right now is where it is at.

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Unstitching what we Know

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How committed are we to truth?

Our deepest knowledge and beliefs about the world dictate every area of life. And how sad and dead-like we are if we live ruled by dogmas and ideas that are untrue even if their intentions were pure or partially pure when they were created, and how much worse if they were brought into the world with an agenda, and are false.

We are people and we are filled with ego. And we need to constantly be vigilant that ego hasn’t snuck in through the back door, even when it’s in the name of noble qualities like justice, fairness, saving the world and love. I see how in the name of these noble qualities, many of us never budge from what we have already made up our minds about. We close ourselves off to the possibility of change, to the arrival of truth.

We may hear a cry within that maybe, just maybe, things we once thought to be absolutely true don’t quite add up or don’t feel quite right, but scared, we push that thought down and continue on the “safer” path.  And we can live our whole life a lie.

So what can we do?

I cannot undo everything that I have seen and understood from my world that I knew growing up and even today, with some of the falsehoods I have learnt and deeply internalized.

But I can continue to try to unstitch them little by little and look at what’s there; look at the beliefs that are governing my life and see if they could possibly be false? And if just the possibility exists, I need to nudge myself (often) to try to truly be open to truth, no matter how tough it may seem to go back on what we base everything on. And then to steam toward truth fearlessly.

Because, ultimately we live, and before we know it, we die, and all that can matter is having lived the most meaningful, connected to truth kind of life. And I hope we all do, and that it’s beautiful.

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Let’s Play

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Have you ever noticed that when you are trying to make choices in alignment with your soul, a major test comes along right before the thing worth waiting for?

Usually it’s something that looks good in theory but yet doesn’t feel quite right, and thus forces our intuition, conviction, endurance and patience to be tested. We are required to act on faith whilst in the darkness; to believe boldly in abundance and synchronicity.

And we need to be firm in saying no, in order to say yes to that other something that’s grinning gleefully, just barely concealed and bursting with excitement to make its grand appearance. The something is begging for us to listen and honor our soul voice within and just wants us to move toward it.

This happens in every sphere of life time and time again. I saw it in the unhealthy relationship I had before I met my husband that I chose to get out of and then to reassess my values. I saw it in the home that appeared great when house hunting but yet didn’t feel right. So much makes sense in hindsight, right? But when you’re walking in the dark, trying to clutch onto your faith in the moment, it takes a lot of courage.

Right now, as I grope around looking for work, bored and uninspired by what comes my way, I am calling upon the right work, the sweet and fulfilling and connected to my highest purpose kind that I’m salivating for, to jump out from where you’re hiding. I pray that I can be worthy of you. I do not want to settle or be tempted to veer off toward pragmatism. Please, I want to meet you, I want to be face to face with you, I want to get to know you. I want to pour what I have to give into you.

Jump out. Let’s play. Let’s do this. Let’s move forward together.

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Up or Down

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In every moment, we are either going up the escalator or going down, according to a Jewish teaching. No remaining in the same spot. And both up and down have momentum. So when we find ourselves heading down, in whatever area of our life it may be, we can start (the hardest part) by simply getting off our escalator and stepping onto the escalator in the opposite direction. Carried toward good, instead of its opposite.

I have a very all or nothing approach. On some level I prize perfection, and when I have messed up, I want to give up and erase everything that has happened. I want a completely new start. Yet, some things you can never get back or recover – a hurtful word spoken,  a lack of presence with your child, the tooth that has been extracted, hours I deprived myself of necessary sleep – but I am comforted of late that the mistakes, and fears and unhealthy habits are all part of life, and even possibly add texture and color to who we are. We can only accept ourselves and commit in this moment to taking the first step.

How important that we are at peace with our human-ness. How important that we deeply know we are not fated to be on a downward slope. How important we know that with intention, the blemishes we acquire along the way can be transformed and become our most beautiful feature. How important we celebrate plonking ourselves on the good path, especially when we’re on a bad roll and it feels painstaking and may even require help from someone close and from G-d.

Yip, it seems so simple and yet it’s so difficult and time and time again I find ourselves repeating the same mistakes.

But my dream is that one day I will find myself on the escalator heading upward in the areas where I really struggle, and one good thing will lead to another and then to another and another.

And we will ride together, after our respective grappling and wrestling. In my dream, we will ultimately choose ascent.

 

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On Our Side

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Can we treat our needs as sacred? Can we embrace our needs without feeling guilty and without a need to justify them?

I’ve often heard the idea that as a mom, if I get a babysitter more, I will ultimately be able to be a more recharged, present and happier mother. Most probably. But, in a parenting course I did a few months ago, the facilitator brought up the possibility that perhaps we need the babysitter or need to do x,y and z because we are human beings and have needs. Full stop. No need to explain or apologize or center it around our children even. We are whole people with many facets, right?

But there is something in society that makes us downplay our needs and be there for everyone before ourselves. And although at times this is a magnanimous and amazing quality, I think many people are starved of even the ability to recognize and acknowledge their own needs. (Note: the opposite extreme of course would make for a very self-centered, me me me, hedonistic society and I am not advocating that.)

Instead, I want to encourage myself and us all to spend more time alone and get to know ourselves and find out what it is that we need physically, emotionally, spiritually. And although, there will be times when we cannot meet our needs exactly as we’d like, I think that an effort to do what is possible, will go a long way in demonstrating to ourselves that we are on our own side.

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A line is a line is a line

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A line is a line is a line. Except that it it’s not.

The other night, I was blessed to listen to the founder of my daughter’s particular style of nursery school speak. A very wise woman, she spoke of a study where students were made to draw identical lines. Try as they may, no two lines turned out the same. Everyone is an individual and no system can rob a person of that. Just as they claim that no two snowflakes have ever looked completely alike.

I was thinking how I often feel so strongly and write about the commonalities in our human struggle and experience, but I wanted to clarify to myself and to the world, that that goes together with being the different and unique person that we are and bringing our respective piece to the world.

Last week, I was at a friend, relaying to her the complexities of a situation I had faced and all my opposing feelings all at once, both in the moment and when I looked back on it. I watched as she nodded, a little overwhelmed, trying to follow my darting thoughts. I guessed her standpoint on it, but I wanted to be open and honest that mine was not so simple and I could not and do not feel comfortable with what could be the objective spiritual truth in the matter.

And the thoughts crept in, “if only I was simpler?” “Why can’t I see things more black and white?” “Why can’t I be more like other people?” And I felt sad. But then something unusual happened. Instead of running from the sadness, I found myself welcoming it in, and feeling it. And almost being okay with its presence. And then I heard myself speaking words along these lines to her, and they ring true for me.

I want to accept and hold all parts of myself at once. Without judgment. I am who I am for a reason and the fact that I see all colors inbetween the black and white could well be for a reason and I suspect part of my life mission. It does not make life easy but who says life should be easy and perhaps it is not something I need to change but to use and channel in the best way possible.

My question to me and to you: Could there be an amazing gift in one of the things that you like least about yourself?

With our eye at all times on G-d and goodness and humanity, may we all be who we are. Be true to ourselves. Be true to truth.

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The Struggle

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Everyone is struggling.We are all human. People with picture perfect lives surprise you by confessing. People from “idyllic” childhoods have their share too. There’s no avoiding it or running away, though we may try in the form of distraction, or pushing it down and down and down until it pops up with force.

I see more and more that my years of running away from my struggles did not get me far. That my quest to live with meaning years ago was superficial and hedonistic and that although I resisted it at first, I simply had to delve and dive into my past and my darkness and my struggles.

But, I also see more and more that struggle is okay, and even the point. Therein lies the gem and the light. When in struggle, I am not supposed to be in some other place doing something far more important or living my perfect dream life. Instead, my mission is to be right there with the struggle and pain so closely, feeling it burn its way through me. And then, relief and release

Not to say that we should not be aspiring to be great and moulding and refining ourselves and giving our best to the world. But, perhaps we can hold both balls at the same time. In the one hand, an acceptance of our challenges, imperfections, limitations and struggles. And in the other, a movement toward who we really are.

May we find sweetness and peace and comfort in our struggles and although it is not easy, know that they are a beautiful gift that comes disguised.

 

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