Virgo: Completely Different

Welcome to the month of Virgo! This is my birth month, so I have a little insight into what it’s like to be a Virgo. First, let’s talk about the good:

  • No other sign of the Zodiac possesses Virgo’s logical, analytical, and methodical capabilities, which is what makes them the perfectionist that they are.
  • They are reliable, responsible, and hard working.
  • If you want to get something done, and done well, just ask a Virgo.
  • Need help with the details? Call a Virgo.

Virgos’ view of the world is physical and practical. They desire order and perfection and seeking perfection is part of their journey, as well as their purpose.

That’s it! Have a great month!

(joking)

Here are the not so positive aspects of a Virgo (of which I possess none (just kidding again)):

  • They have a critical eye and are always aware of what is wrong or missing.
  • The constant quest for perfection can become so overpowering as to rob joy and satisfaction from the process of life.
  • They often miss the big picture. Rav Berg explained, “Virgos’ view of the world may be reduced to a grain of sand when the entire beach is what should be taken into account.”
  • Virgos have a propensity to judge, easily seeing the flaws in others instead of focusing on what is wrong in themselves. 

There is a parable that illustrates this idea. It is about a simple farmer who has a wagon full of crops from the entire year. He has many bundles on his wagon and he wants to put them in his barn. So he opens the doors to his barn and he pulls the reins of the horses and it does not fit, the wagon gets stuck. The wagon is so full of crops that it simply does not go inside. Uselessly the farmer beats his horses, and he is beating them and beating them trying to get this wagon that just cannot fit into the barn. A prankster walks by and says, “Why do you hit your horses for no reason? Do you not see that the crops cannot fit through the door?” The farmer asks him, “What can I do?” The prankster says, “Buy these binoculars from me, they enlarge everything you see and when you look at the opening of the door, it is going to grow and you will be able to pull the wagon in without any difficulty”. So, the farmer buys the binoculars and the prankster goes off. The farmer looks at the opening through the binoculars and of course, lo and behold it is larger, so the farmer then pulls the horses reins and it still does not budge. He hits the horses again and there is still no movement, so he thinks to himself, “I do not understand, the opening is so large, but why can I not get this wagon through?” So he calls the prankster again and says, “Come back, come back, it still does not go inside.” And the prankster answers him, “You fool, don’t you understand the opening is larger, but if you look at the crops with the same binoculars as the wagon you will see the crops have also grown larger.” So the farmer does that, he looks through the binoculars at the wheat and he sees it is true, the opening was larger, but so were the crops. He calls out and says, “You have not helped me at all, take these binoculars back and give me my money.” So the prankster yells back at him, “This is not so, when you look at the wheat reverse the binoculars and look through the other side, which will minimize everything and it will work out fine.” Then he waits until the farmer tries this, which he does and he sees that what the prankster says is true, the wheat shrinks dramatically. Then, of course, the prankster quickly disappears. So the farmer focuses his gaze on the reverse side of the binoculars and he pulls on the reins of the horses and he pulls again to no avail, nothing happens, and he whips the horses again, but nothing happens. The farmer was dumbfounded, he could not understand what had transpired. He looked at the opening with the binoculars, it was so large! He looks at the reverse side of the binoculars and the wheat is so small. Meanwhile, a wise man walks by and he looks at the farmer whipping the horses ridiculously. He says, “You fool, do you not understand that the binoculars do not change the reality?” The farmer asks, “What can I do?” The wise man says, “It is very simple, take off all the crops from the wagon, put the wagon through and then put the crops in.”

We hear stories about foolish people all the time and we say to ourselves “How can anybody be so stupid?”

We are all the simple farmer, we all look for easy ways around doing the work that we know we must do. Think of the crops from the story as all the negative actions that we have done in the past year. Another lesson of the farmer is that when we look at other people, we view them from the end of the binoculars that makes their actions look enormous, but when we view our own negativity we look through the lens that makes them look smaller. In reality, all of our wagons are full of missed opportunities for sharing, for showing kindness instead of judgment, for talking badly of another. Yet, it is so much more convenient to measure our own actions with the smaller side of the binoculars, because then we don’t have to confront the wealth of our negativity.

The energy of Virgo happens now for a specific purpose, we are all meant to confront our negativity and our faults in order to prepare ourselves for the new year beginning on Rosh Hashanah. This is the time to really examine our nature, look at our actions of the past year and say, ”what do I want to change about myself?”

Our goal is radical change and immense growth, which only occurs by taking an unflinching account of our not-so-great qualities. Think of something that happened 10 years ago, are you basically the same person, or does it perhaps feel like you’re recollecting the story of a dear friend? Ultimately, our goal is to change so much that we do not even recognize ourselves when we look in the mirror. 

One of the biggest challenges for why we do not want to confront our own negativity and push ourselves to change is because we do not believe that we truly can. The simple belief that change is possible is what separates people who are growing spiritually, and people who are not. Rav Ashlag says that out of 1000 people who begin their spiritual process, one in 1000 actually achieves it. Scary! 

Don’t be discouraged. Every month has a unique energy and a unique power and Virgo is perfectly designed to help us achieve change and really cleanse any negativity that we have done in the past year. This month of Elul is all about truth and about not being blind. It is not about covering up negativity, or covering up our flaws, our mistakes, or darkness. It is not about acting differently, it is about completely changing our nature at its very core.

THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Do not ask yourself “Am I a little bit better, am I acting in a different way?” Instead, take an honest assessment of who you are and what you have done in order to transform your very nature. When you know better, you do better!

 

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What’s your motivation? God or your ego?

Imagine you are carrying on with your day, it’s a typical Tuesday afternoon and perhaps you are walking to catch a train or headed to your car when a black sedan pulls up alongside you and stops. Three secret service agents approach you and inform you that the president himself would like to speak to you. Then you find yourself being whisked away in the posh sedan. Upon your arrival, the President greets you warmly, like an old friend. He tells you that he really needs to hear your ideas, you’re the only person he trusts and furthermore, he knows beyond doubt, that you are going to be elected to succeed him as President. He gives you a secure phone, so he can call you when he needs your advice or just wants to chat and insists that you dine with him several evenings a week and so that you can be close to him he prepares a guest room for you!

The first few days you would doubtlessly feel overwhelmed and confounded, but very quickly you would accept your new role and position. Would you allow all these new changes in your circumstances to change you?

Would you still be friends with your current friends?

Would you remain married to your current spouse?

Would you still go to your job?

Would you still value the same ideals?

When someone asked you who you are would you say (current job position) or Future President?

According to Kabbalah, our choices are either guided by God or our Ego. We all have two voices that beckon us to be either beings of sharing, or to act from the desire to receive for the self alone.

We’ve all heard tales of the aspiring actress or actor who lands her first big role, becomes a movie star and completely changes. What happened? She got fame, and probably money, the status of a movie star and suddenly she’s a different person, behaving differently, disregarding or disrespecting people she considers to be beneath her.

This happens to all of us, usually not to this extreme, but sometimes coming into money, getting a promotion at work or even buying a new car can cause changes in our consciousness. There is an old story about how even among the street sweepers there is always one who has an ego about the fact that he has the best broom! We are all prone to experience an elevation in our station and begin to change our behavior to match our newly acquired status. However, external change is just a title, like movie star, future president, wealthy, famous – it’s not real change. We shouldn’t change from external catalysts, when we do this we are disconnecting from the Light of the Creator. But how do we keep from changing – particularly when we are awarded a great honor or experience a truly life changing event? We have to be aware of what our motivations are. Are we listening to the voice of our ego or the voice of the Creator?

 

motives

I love this story about a young shepherd boy…

One day a young shepherd boy was called in from the fields by his father.  The young boy, David was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to replace Saul as King of Israel. Afterwards, David went back into the fields and cared for his flock.

Sometime later David was asked to play his lyre for King Saul. Saul found that David’s playing was the only thing that would soothe his depression and so he frequently called David to play for him. When David was called to the King he would go and when he was not he would go back to his flock in the fields. David was now the King’s favorite and the anointed future King chosen by God himself. Things had changed! Yet, David still tended his sheep and still considered himself a shepherd.

Because of David’s ability to not let his position change him, he was able to maintain and grow his connection to the Creator. Conversely, every time we allow ourselves to behave differently because of even the smallest blessing, we are creating layers between us and the Light of the Creator.

 

THOUGHT INTO ACTION

Think about the choices that you make this week. Are you behaving with a motivation to share or with a selfish desire to receive? Look at the changes in your life. How many do you perceive as being true and how many are a consequence of external factors?

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Defining Love: Tu B’Av

This week, we celebrate the kabbalistic holiday of Tu B’Av, the 15th day of Leo, and more commonly referred to as the ‘Day of Love’ by the kabbalists. It is one of the most powerful days in the year; when the union between the sun and the moon begins, the male and female aspects close in together, like two soul mates reuniting as one.  

The kabbalists explain that the reason there is so much pain and chaos in the world is because we personally, and globally, have created separation between the supernal male and female. When we understand this, we begin to see just how important our personal relationships are, not just to ourselves, but to the world! Being on a spiritual path means striving to replace judgment with mercy, hatred with love. Ironically, it is often in our closest relationships that we find this most difficult! Any long-married couple can tell you that no one has the ability to push buttons like a husband or wife. But it is in these relationships where we have the ability to create the most change for ourselves and the world. It is the unity of the male/female aspects in this world that determines the Light that flows from the supernal world.

One need only glance at the headlines to see that we have some serious work to do here. The fact is that all relationships take work. There is no such thing as a stable marriage or relationship; they are either growing or declining, and it is your responsibility to nurture all of your relationships.

During my meetings with married couples, I am often struck by the way people try to work on their relationships. For instance, there is a distinction between putting energy into your partner versus putting energy into your relationship. Think about that. They are two different things! When we put energy into another person, rather than the relationship, we tend to make ourselves smaller.

Look at this in light of the definition of ‘relationship’:

1. ‘the way in which two people regard/behave towards each other’

2. ‘when one thing/person is considered in relation/comparison/proportion to something else’

In proportion and in comparison, notice that there is no distinction between the power of the supernal male and female, they are equal. One does not need to make oneself smaller to create great Light. So often in our relationships, we try to fix dysfunction by attempting to please the other person, but this always has a price and does nothing to affect and improve the health and unity of the relationship.

Putting energy into the relationship means setting aside our agenda and really opening ourselves to hearing our partner and respecting their path – while still retaining and honoring our own desires. When we stop trying to make ourselves smaller, we can create a powerful connection by communicating our wants, needs and desires. This will take time and practice, but first we must decide to do so.

Whether we are in a relationship or are hoping to be in a relationship, there is no other day of the year when we can draw that perfection, that energy of our soul mate. It’s a joyous day, not because of that initial moment of connection at the beginning of a relationship (which is cause for joy, certainly), but because it is the day that holds the perfection of that relationship and the potential blessings and miracles that a soul mate relationship has the ability to create in the world.

The Zohar mentions several times that there are two aspects to the Light of the Creator; male and female. Think of the male aspect as our spiritual father and the female aspect as our spiritual mother, both wanting to protect us and shower us with abundance. When we do a positive action, such as sharing or restricting anger, we create a union of the supernal male and female energy, and this joining reveals Light.

The greater and more difficult the action is for us, the greater the union and thereby the greater the Light that was created by that action. It’s so simple. When we do something positive, humanity as a whole benefits from the unity through the supernal male and female.

Unfortunately, the opposite is equally true. When we create negativity in this world, we create separation between the supernal male and female. If there is no connection between the supernal male and female, no life flows down into our world and humanity experiences pain and suffering.

We all should be striving, for ourselves and for humanity as a whole, to transform ourselves so that pain and suffering end. We do this by being loving and generous, by pushing ourselves beyond what is comfortable for us to give and thereby bringing the supernal union of the male and female.

THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Make someone in your life feel especially loved.

Happy Anniversary, Michael!
Your heart & my heart are very old friends. – Hafiz

 

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Stop Complaining!

When we think of the person we love the most, romantically speaking anyway, would we put the word ‘evil’ in the same sentence? Most of us would not consciously undermine our most precious relationship, yet we are usually unaware of the kind of negative energy we unknowingly subject our partners to. My friends, meet your enemy, complaining, an insidious form of evil speech — it’s the uninvited guest that wreaks havoc on our relationships.

Sometimes we talk about things to make it better. There is no doubt that talking over a problem with a close friend or advisor can lend clarity to the situation and defuse some of the negative thoughts and emotions surrounding it. Other times, we are just complaining for the sake of being heard with no intention to create real change. Often, we just want someone to validate our feelings.

People do this ALL the time. It may begin innocuously enough, “I asked them to close the lid on the toilet because the dog drinks from it when it’s left up and it’s absolutely disgusting. I even left a reminder sign! Yet, every other day they leave the seat up! Why am I not being heard?!” Maybe the first time it starts off as a cathartic vent, you talk about it, you laugh about it and then you move on. But then maybe you talk about it again later, and you talk about it, and then you remember how they never turn off the light before they get in bed and that thought leads to the next thing, and the next thing and before you know it, you have concocted a litany of grievances against your partner! This kind of talk is dangerous. When people are frustrated with another person, often they seek the validation of their friends and when they get their emotional support over the perceived wrong that was inflicted, it fuels the feelings of victimhood. In this context, small issues become huge issues. Not only does this kind of talking fuel negative feelings from one partner to another, but it’s dragged in a third party (the friend) who now holds a ‘certain’ opinion of the one you have a grievance with!

Consider this idea as it pertains to relationships. Over time, your list of grievances becomes the theme of your relationship.  Every time your partner messes up, you phone a friend and complain about your relationship woes, because your friend listens and you feel like you’re not being heard in the relationship. So instead of being in a great relationship, or an okay one, suddenly it’s filled with problems, because we’re not just talking about what’s bothering us, we’re giving the problems all of our energy. Notice how naturally our friends agree with what we feel and say? That’s no coincidence and we shouldn’t take it as validation that we are indeed 100% free of blame. One more thing to keep in mind, you don’t know anybody’s agenda. Often our friends do have our very best outcome in mind, but what if they don’t? This talk is dangerous if you are getting counsel from a friend who perhaps would prefer if you were single like they are! Maybe a little part of them is like, “You know what?  You’ll be single.  I’ll be single.  We’ll go out.” We tend to choose people that are going to agree with us.  We want to pick up the phone and call somebody who’s going to say, “Yeah, I agree with you.  What they did was wrong. You’re so right.”  This makes us feel good.  I’m going to call that person again tomorrow, and the next day!

There is a problem with this. The next time you see your partner you aren’t going to act any differently, after all they don’t know what you just said about them, but there’s a distance, because you know what you just said. This is your most important relationship.  This is the person you go to bed with every night.  This is the one that you are supposed to spend the rest of your life with, but all day long you were throwing them under a bus, talking about all the things that they did wrong, or how they made you feel bad.  And then you come home, and you want to make it intimate, but there’s an energy there that you’ve created.  How can you actually connect to that person?  It’s pretty impossible.

Imagine you’ve been talking about your partner all day long, and then they come home and you’re going to eat dinner together.  You’ve been talking badly about them all day and now your consciousness is like that of a lion stalking its prey. You are primed to see their flaws. In fact, you are desperate for them to prove your point! Not only do we want to be validated by everybody else, but now we set that person up to prove that everything we were talking about all day is right.  It’s like shooting yourself in the foot!

Unfortunately, feeling validated and having somebody agree with you feels better and is far easier than working with your partner to resolve the conflicts in your relationship.

I cannot state this strongly enough, realize that speaking badly of your partner to another person should never be an option.

On the topic of lashon hara (evil speech) Rabbi Shimon mused that it would be useful to have two mouths. One could be used for all the day-to-day words and one would be kept pure, used only for spiritual thoughts and words. (Ladies, imagine how many more tubes of lipstick we would all have!) Imagine that you could only speak to and about your partner with the mouth reserved for purity. How much would that change your relationship for the better?

Thought into Action
When was the last time you found yourself complaining about your partner? Remember what you were complaining about and constructively address it with your partner.

 

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Road Trip Anyone? Packing not required

For a millennium, kabbalists have known the gifts of transformation that the calendar presents us with each month. To discover what is in store this month, let’s begin by observing the personality of those born under the sign of Leo, with the intention of understanding how that energy expresses itself for every individual. Since their biggest challenge is trust, Leo’s are sometimes emotionally hindered, and because opening up is not easy, they think their vulnerability will be read as a sign of weakness; like their animal namesake, they are known to hide their wounds, suffering in silence until the hurt is gone. Wanting to be loved is a natural desire for a Leo – it is the root of their happiness as well as their sadness. They must learn not to let their sense of self be dependent upon what others think of them.  

Unlike other months, the first half of Leo is heavier, meaning that the energy can feel very negative, while the second half is very positive. This darkness and Light is a metaphor for our spiritual process. Kabbalists teach that to get the fulfillment we desire, we first have to go through difficulty; in essence, we have to go through darkness to find the Light. As we all know from difficulties we’ve experienced in our own lives, our process is not always an easy one. At our lowest, there are few who have not felt complete hopelessness and an inability to see how things might ever be okay again. However, as painful as that process is, blessings and difficulties are not two different situations; they are one and the same. Kabbalists explain that shells of darkness, called klippa, surround potential blessings, and before there can be blessings and fulfillment, the klippa must be removed. 

One of the goals of the month of Leo is to develop the consciousness to appreciate that ups and downs can change a negative situation into a positive one. The challenge is not to run away from difficulties, but rather to find the blessing within the shell, the klippa. Every setback and challenge happens for a reason and it is our task to find the hidden blessing. Often, shifting our consciousness to focus on the blessing is all that is needed to resolve the difficulty.

It is imperative that we face difficult emotions and situations rather than avoid them. If we are honest, most of us have quick remedies for feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger, such as drinking, eating, shopping, yelling, or disconnecting. These coping mechanisms, while effective in making the discomfort abate temporarily, do nothing to bring us lasting fulfillment. True and lasting fulfillment is actually within the pain. When you find yourself in a moment of challenge, let your first thought be ‘This is all for the best. I trust the Creator and the process of life.’

Another lesson of this month is to feel the pain of others. Just as we shouldn’t try to dodge our personal difficulties, we shouldn’t look away from the struggles of others. Kabbalists teach that we can only completely connect to the Creator if we have developed our empathy and truly care about the pain of others. Connecting to the Creator means being like the Creator, who is in pain for every person who is ill, hungry or abandoned. The Creator is like a loving parent who feels the pain of everyone. Having a profound empathy for suffering is how we connect to the light of the Creator and how we draw blessings into our lives. More than a spiritual concept, feeling the pain of others is a tool to bring fulfillment into our lives. 

Many great kabbalists would go into what they call “gallut,” or exile. They left their houses and villages and traveled from place to place, meeting new people and learning about their lives. They traveled without money and therefore could not secure lodging or food or drink. They waited for people – complete strangers – to invite them into their homes. They did this because they knew in order to achieve their purpose, they had to experience the pain in our world and internalize it. In this way, impoverished and dependent, they humbly lived upon the generosity of others.

To connect to the opportunities of Leo, we must strive to feel the pain of others when it is uncomfortable and when we don’t want to do it, because this is how to achieve the purpose for which we came into this world. Truly open yourself to others, seeing and internalizing their pain. While it is impractical for most of us to go into “gallut,” we can be mindful and take a “gallut” of consciousness. When we deeply connect with the pain of others, we have to act. We have no choice. Just as you physically cannot keep your hand in a fire, you can’t keep yourself from taking actions to help others. Imagine how you would change and grow as a person if this deep level of empathy and action became a part of your daily life.  

THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Every single one of us can do much more about the pain that is in this world than we are doing now. Find a new way to help. Is a neighbor in need? Is there a cause that you can dedicate yourself to that would make a difference in the world? When we think we have found all of the ways and done everything we can, there is ALWAYS something more that can be done.

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You Make Me Feel


People will forget what you said.
People will forget what you did.
But people will never forget how you made them feel.
-Maya Angelou

When we think of our favorite people we are filled with a sense of being loved. While we may recall a particularly thoughtful gift that they gave us, a profound bit of advice, or an act of great kindness, the reason that we hold them in such high esteem is because of the positive feelings that being with them produces.

Imagine that a friend threw a surprise birthday party for you. They arranged a beautiful cake, invited all of your friends, decorated the venue, bought you a wonderful present, but then spent the entire evening talking on their mobile phone. Chances are you won’t remember the cake or the decor, but you will remember feeling ignored and disappointed.

I know a woman who is utterly committed to her children. She’s a stay-at-home mom by choice who is constantly in search of the best foods, best extracurricular activities, healthiest ways to communicate, and on and on. The problem is that she’s so focused on the idea of raising well-rounded children that she forgets to really be with her children. Once, for example, she was racing across town to drop one child off at ballet and the other at karate, while the whole time the children were miserable because she was berating them for eating candy and cake at a birthday party she allowed them to attend. She’s working so hard to be the perfect parent that she’s making everyone miserable (herself included, I might add) and is wholly unaware of how her well-intentioned actions are making everyone around her feel. Again, her kids won’t remember how much she ‘did’ for them, but rather how they felt while being scolded as they were racing across town to lessons that they probably could take or leave.

We try so hard to say the right things and do the right things, but often we forget to make a conscious connection to others… and that connection is where the heart of our relationships are nurtured. That connection is what people will remember; not our perfect words or actions.

If you doubt the power of making people feel good, take Rob Ford as an example. You may know him as the infamous Mayor of Toronto who inexplicably maintained approval ratings of 47% even after his many embarrassing, meth-fueled exploits. Even before becoming mayor, Ford had a long list of questionable behavior:

  • arrested in Florida for drunk driving with a joint
  • verbally assaulted reporters
  • removed from an NHL hockey game for being belligerent and drunk
  • said cyclists who are killed on the road have only themselves to blame
  • suggested that city council should conduct a “public lynching” for considering a homeless shelter in his ward

How on earth did this guy get elected in the first place? Simply, he made people feel good. He personally responded to calls from citizens regarding municipal issues. He showed up at work sites, brought donuts, and chatted with the residents. If you called the city report line, Rob Ford called you back personally! In short, he demonstrated a very real interest in people and got involved with their lives in a personal way. These simple heartfelt interactions were so powerful that even though voters knew he was a belligerent, volatile alcoholic with a penchant for making public scenes, they didn’t seem to mind.

While it’s important to nurture our relationships by being aware of the feelings that we are generating for others, it is just as important to be mindful of the feelings that others are generating for us. It is good to keep in mind that feelings are fleeting – for good or for bad. We often take our emotions too seriously and this can lead us to trust the wrong people. People are often not what they appear to be. We tend to trust those that make us feel the most secure, safe, and supported. However, I have found in life these are the relationships that don’t always last. We tend to align ourselves with those who make us feel good and ignore the signs along the way that tell us this person isn’t really worthy of our trust. Just because someone makes us feel good, does not mean they are person that we can rely on when the going gets tough.

We make the assumption that everyone is just like us, when in fact we have no idea what resides in another person’s heart and mind. It is one of our greatest human misconceptions that we think everyone shares an outlook on the world that is basically similar. We intrinsically believe that how we perceive good and evil is universal, that what strikes us as tragic or hilarious will largely be the experience shared by everyone else. When you believe this, you live with a sort of built-in approval system. You feel supported and validated, under the influence of what psychologists call a “false consensus” (meaning you think everyone is just like you). To get a true compass reading on the people in your life, first let go of your belief that your values, loyalties, preferences, and behavior are ‘normal,’ and that other ‘normal’ people are pretty much the same as you. It just isn’t so! 

To further emphasize my point, let’s look at a psychopath. (I know, seems extreme, but stick with me here.) One of their core characteristics is their charisma and charm; they know that making other people feel good will get them what they desire. Since psychopaths have an inability to experience empathy, those feel-good experiences are really just empty exchanges, and for them, you are a means to an end. There is no true connection or substance to those relationships.  

My goal isn’t to cause you to despair or second guess your closest relationships. That isn’t the point at all! Simply, like everything, there is a positive and negative aspect that we need to be aware of in order to protect ourselves. When we understand the immense power we all have to make others feel safe, supported, and loved, then we can use this information as a means to deepen our connections with the people in our lives.

Thought Into Action
Is there a relationship in your life where perhaps you aren’t generating the feelings of support and love that you would like to? Take a moment today to really listen and connect with that person and let them know how important they are to you. So get out there and make people feel better! 

 

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3 Weeks of Opportunity

Kabbalists teach that during certain times of the year unique energies are available to us. A particularly powerful time of year is upon us and I want to share with you the challenge and the opportunity so that you can face the next few weeks with the consciousness of love and sharing, rather than reactivity and uncertainty.

We are about to enter into a period known as Ben HaMetzarim or The Three Negative Weeks which begins July 15, 2014 through Tisha B’Av (this year August 5, 2014). Tisha B’Av, which means the 9th day of the month of Leo, marks the anniversary of several calamities throughout both biblical and modern history, most notably the destruction of both Holy Temples.

This is a time when our selfish natures tend to awaken. It is harder than usual for us not to react negatively. Some of us will face challenges; our certainty will be tested and many will discover more negativity within ourselves than we ever wanted to see. 

Our initial reaction to this news might be that it sounds like a good three weeks to stay at home and not leave the house! Why go out in the world and face these extra challenges when it would be safer to just hide out and disengage?

The kabbalists teach that during these three weeks there is actually more Light available than usual and that during the most difficult moments in life we are given rare opportunities to change and grow spiritually. This is a time when we can cleanse ourselves of negativity and even disease. Rav Berg often referred to Ben HaMetzarim not as a time of negativity, but of miracle making! Few other moments in our year can give us access to such an abundance of blessings. By focusing on transformation during these three weeks, when it’s most difficult to do so, we can remove the negativity of our past, present, and future.

When viewed from this angle, these 3 weeks in time aren’t scary at all. Fear is what keeps us stuck in our patterns and blocks us from revealing great blessings. Welcoming the challenge of Ben HaMetzarim can take us to our next level by showing us the things we need to change most.

It can be a powerful 21 days if we choose to connect to the consciousness of unconditional love, sharing, and restriction. If we choose to take advantage by confronting our negative qualities then we can move closer to that best version of ourselves and thereby create a better life for ourselves and a better world for us all.

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Beware of the ‘easy’ life: challenges are opportunities

I’m spiritual. I’m generous. I share my time and my love. I am a good person; therefore, I’m protected from negativity. I’m spiritual, so nothing bad can happen to me.

This is an illusion that even I’ve fallen prey to, thinking that leading a spiritual life inoculates us from turmoil and difficulties. This couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, often the MORE spiritual and sharing we become, the more “challenges” come our way. The reason why these tests come is because there is great Light and blessings coming to us, and especially once you have decided to embrace transformation, the opportunities to do exactly that are abundant. From the Bible we learn that Abraham and Sara had trouble conceiving, Rebecca and Isaac had a very negative child, Jacob wanted to marry Rachel but ended up marrying her sister Leah and had to wait 7 years to marry Rachel. Why?  Because before we receive great blessings, we are given a test so that we can merit the blessings.

When we are tested, we don’t know why, and our inclination is to fight it. But the reason we are tested is because there’s a blessing about to come our way. Kabbalists tells stories of how the parents of great souls who are going to come to this world are often tested before they can merit that child to come to them; every time great blessings are coming into our lives, negativity is first given the opportunity to build a barrier to block them.  

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.” -Helen Keller

We all fall short and succumb to reactive, negative behavior from time to time. Who hasn’t cast a sharp glance at the loud person in line shouting into their cell phone, or muttered under our breath in frustration with a coworker? Who hasn’t done a lot worse than those examples? It is those negative reactions that determine the length and difficulty of our challenges. When we fight our negative inclination to lash out, hold a grudge, or focus on the injustice of why something is happening to us, then our experience of difficulty is less challenging.

Often we see a challenge or a test, and rather than seeing it as a process and ultimately an opportunity that will lead to greater blessings, we see it as a punishment.  However, that could not be further from reality. If we have the consciousness to recognize even small challenges (New York taxi drivers!) as opportunities for blessings, it would be easier to practice tolerance and charity in even greater situations of difficulty (like applying for your dream job and not getting it). It only takes a small shift, a moment of clarity, to turn a situation that could have left your blood boiling and your internal dialogue vitriolic into something so far beneath your notice that it has nearly no effect on you whatsoever.

So, how do we flip this and begin to see challenges as opportunities instead of punishment?

Attitude
When I find myself in difficulty, I know that it is the Creator reminding me that I don’t have enough certainty in the process. I get the messages – I know everything that is happening is part of a bigger picture, and that the meanings are important and far beyond what we can see in the physical world. I know that my consciousness dictates the outcome of the circumstances.

Resilience
“Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections, failed twice in business and suffered a nervous breakdown before he became the president of the United States.” -Wall Street Journal

You never know when you will break through. You don’t know which step, which effort will be the breakthrough that gets you through the challenge. It’s the change that occurs during the difficult process that inspires us and reveals our greatness. Why on earth would we ever shy away from these experiences?

Kabbalists teach that we can spend our lives doing what is natural and easy,  thinking we have accomplished great things – but to accomplish the true purpose to which we came to this World, we need to push against our nature and comfort. Difficulties are the way we find our purpose. Ultimately, everything that has happened to you – and will happen to you – is for your own good and to help you reach your ultimate potential.

Thought Into Action
What challenge in your life feels like a punishment? 

Change your perspective, and even if you can’t understand it now, know that it is a great opportunity. You have two choices –  to adopt, or at least consider that challenges may in fact be opportunities, or feel slighted and disappointed by life. How will you approach your challenges differently?

 

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Freedom From Chaos

In the U.S. we are about to celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July. This day commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which was a formal statement of freedom from England (now the United Kingdom). It seems a particularly appropriate time to think about the concept of freedom and what it means to each of us.

Merriam-Webster defines freedom as the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. Let’s face it, freedom means different things to different people. If you ask a thousand people what freedom means to them, you’ll probably get a thousand different responses.  For some, freedom means having the resources to meet their financial needs, for others freedom is a cure for a physical ailment, or from a political tyrant or a cancer cell.  The core of all these ‘freedoms’ seems to be the desire to extricate ourselves from a particular situation we find ourselves in. The freedom from <insert negative thing or situation here>. This is not true freedom. True freedom must mean the same thing to everyone because if not, we are accessing only parts of freedom.

It is usually the case that we want to be free from difficult situations that we face in our lives. At the time that we are mired in our troubles, the only thing we can think about is a time in the future when we will be free of them, only learning later (if at all) that those situations were actually opportunities for great blessings and enabled us to grow to a new level of consciousness.

It is important to come to understand the true essence of freedom, rather than view the aspects of what our individual freedom means. If freedom does not mean the same thing to me as it does to my neighbor, then I am only thinking about aspects of freedom, not true and lasting freedom, which is the absence of all chaos, not just my personal chaos. People think that freedom is about getting out of a bad situation. It’s not. Freedom is life without chaos. Bad situations are just manifestations of chaos.

What God intends for us is nothing less than complete happiness and total freedom from any form of unhappiness, including death itself. -Rav Berg

In Days of Power, Rav Berg retells the story of the exodus, which most of us are familiar with, when Moses led the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. When we think of this story we imagine that the Israelites must have been joyous at the prospect of freedom. However, when Moses first told the people that the Creator was going to free them from Pharaoh they replied, “We have no time for this.” After the escape from Egypt and upon encountering challenges, they begged Moses to take them back to Egypt! Does this sound like a people overjoyed at their liberation? Not even!

We are the same as the Israelites. We enslave ourselves in comfortable (often destructive) habits and addictions and feel no urgency to extricate ourselves. A smoker may feel a twinge of guilt every time they light up, but they keep smoking, time and time again. We enslave ourselves to things that feel good, that give us a temporary energy of happiness, but it is just that, fleeting. Rav Berg reminds us that the only true happiness comes from the Creator. Our ‘fixes’, be it gossiping, or shopping, binge eating, or pharmaceuticals are standing in the way of our connection with the Creator and ultimately, our true freedom.

The core of that which we would be free from is chaos itself. Rav Berg explained that everything that constrains us, that imprisons us is at its source, chaos — the real prison.  None of us are truly free, not while chaos still exists in our world. You’ve heard the old saying, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.’

When was the last time that you stopped and assessed your endeavors? Do you contribute to chaos or do your daily actions mitigate chaos? Are you an agent of sharing and change or do you contribute to negativity and strife?

We are all prone to focus only on our personal chaos, the quest for my freedom, rather than being mindful of all the chaos in the world. This is our ego working, which seeks to keep us apart from others. True spirituality and true freedom means being one with humanity, not separate or apart.

THOUGHT INTO ACTION

True freedom is freedom from our ego. Care for others around you and focus less on your personal chaos. Notice how much more free you become!

 

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Doing Better: The Month of Cancer

Thousands of years ago, the sages of Kabbalah understood the unique challenges and opportunities the calendar presents for each of us. We are entering the month of Cancer which is a month where the energy supports deeply felt emotions. Our emotions can push us toward our purpose, give us the motivation to accept risk as the price for great rewards and act as signposts warning us of dangers or pushing us toward blessings. Sounds wonderful, right?

Yes and no. For every emotion there is a positive side and a negative side. Too often we act or say things in our emotional state, things that in retrospect we realize we shouldn’t have said or done. The challenge of this month is to take control of our emotions and use them for growth. Taking control of our emotions and not being controlled by them is how we ultimately gain the joy and fulfillment for which we came to this world. Even positive emotions can turn negative— curiosity becomes obsession, sadness turns into depression, love can turn to co-dependence.

When we lose control of our emotions we can fall into negative thoughts and self-judgments. Everyone makes mistakes, in fact, everyone MUST make mistakes. It’s the only way that we transform and grow closer to the Creator. In fact, taking an honest account of our faults and misdeeds is an imperative step on any spiritual path. When we see our faults we can set a new course for our lives, with greater resolve to act in accordance with our truest self. When you know better, you do better.

And I’d like to share with you a story from a great kabbalist, The Apte Rebbe Rabbi Abram Yehoshua Reshil. Very often people went to kabbalists for assistance, advice and blessings. A man travelled from another town to ask The Apte Rebbe for a blessing. The kabbalists have the ability to look at a person and see who they really are, what their essence truly is, and as the Apte Rebbe looked at the man he realized that he’s probably one of the worst people alive at his time. There wasn’t a negative act that this person had not done.

The Apte Rebbe raised his voice and said, “How dare you come, you evil one, how dare you come into my presence? Go out, I don’t want to look at a person as evil as you.” So the man of course was shaken by his words, by this great kabbalist screaming at him. The man asked the kabbalist “Is there any way for me to still correct my soul? Can I be cleansed?”  The Apte Rebbe’s words had awakened this man to want to make changes. For the first time in his life, he realized all the negative actions that he’d done, all the truly negative things that he had accomplished in his life. The Apte Rebbe said, “I can’t help you now. All I can tell you to do is go away for a year. Don’t do anything negative for this year. And find your own way that you think you can correct yourself because right now, as you are, I do not see a way that I can help you. I do not see a way for you to correct yourself. I do not see a way for you to perfect yourself, to cleanse yourself of all the negativity that you have done, all the negativity that you have created.” The man heard all of this and departed from the Apte Rebbe’s presence.

That Saturday, after the great kabbalist met with this man, his children and family became ill. When The Apte Rebbe saw this he knew it was a consequence of having broken a great negativity, a great source of darkness. By awakening that man, he had broken and removed the tremendous level of darkness from our world. Therefore, that negativity was bringing illness to the Apte Rebbe’s family in retaliation. The Apte Rebbe knew that this was a possibility and it is important to note that true kabbalists will help another person even if it can bring him harm.  It’s very easy to try to help somebody else when it doesn’t influence me, when there’s nothing negative that can come to me from it.

After that first week, The Apte Rebbe calls back the man and says, “Go home, and there as I said, do whatever you think you can to work on yourself, and after one year, come back to me.”  The man went back to his town and he worked diligently for the whole year. He studied and committed himself to doing as much good as he could. But he does this not just for one year, but for seven complete years. After seven years, he went back to The Apte Rebbe hoping that his work of seven years had created an opening so that the kabbalist could truly help him change. When he walked into the room after seven years the Apte Rebbe stood up to greet him, saying, “I see upon you the Light of the Creator. Who are you? You must be a great man!”

The man starts crying. And he says, “Don’t you recognize me anymore? I am that same evil person that you saw seven years ago. I had done everything negative possible to do in my life.” The Apte Rebbe started crying with him and looked at his image, at the image of God that surrounded him now. He saw that he achieved a tremendous level of connection to the Light of the Creator and that the Light of the Creator literally surrounded him. The Apte Rebbe hugged him, and he kissed him. He said, “You no longer need anybody like me to help you perfect yourself because your soul is completely corrected. You don’t need any more assistance, any more correction. Not only had you perfected your soul, but you have perfected your body.

We are talking about perfecting ourselves through the use of regret. This man was able to perfect himself in seven years from a starting place of total negativity. Are we constantly pushing ourselves and looking back and asking, ‘How can I become as perfect as that negative person?’  We have to look back with regret at everything negative that we have done and find ways to make it better.

The danger lies in turning our laser sharp judgments inward and becoming paralyzed by the enormity of what we have done. Feelings of regret can be so crushing that they chip away at our feelings of self-worth. Feelings of regret that lead us to make resolutions of change are positive. Negative regret occurs when there is no action, only a crushing sense of guilt and helplessness.

We’ve all done things that we have regretted, and often (at the time) our actions were for the right reasons! We’ve all done things that have hurt ourselves and others. Kabbalists teach that regret is an important emotion as long as we don’t look back at things that we’ve done and become upset or depressed about them to the extent that we do nothing. This is negative regret and serves no purpose. It is purely harmful.

Positive regret occurs when we look back at our actions and they become the impetus to do things differently, to change and grow. When we experience the pain of regret we first have to ask ourselves where it’s coming from. Is it positive or negative? The simple way to determine this is by noting your behavior. Are you stuck? Sad? If so, dispel it by instead assigning yourself an action of how you will respond differently next time around. Once you’ve done this it is time to release the regret. There is no further purpose for it. Holding onto regret once you’ve learned the lesson that was intended from the error is like donating your right shoe but keeping the left. It’s useless baggage, dead weight on your soul. Our consciousness should be of perfecting ourselves through the use of that emotion. Commit yourself to using your emotions for positive growth. Although this takes unwavering effort, what motivates me to do the work is that I would rather experience the pain of discipline than the pain of regret.

Feelings of regret can be very difficult to dispel. Remember that we all have a spark of the Light of the Creator. We can’t walk a spiritual path if we are depressed and judging ourselves. We can only walk a spiritual path if we respect and love ourselves. When we embrace and love our own Light it becomes infinitely easier to love and embrace others.

We need to be more tolerant and compassionate towards our own faults. As Karen Berg says, “Intolerance is the opposite of love, since it is judgmental and rejecting, which love is not.”

THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Exercise compassion and acceptance of yourself. If you do something wrong, instead of a confirmation of failure, practice self-tolerance. See it as an opportunity for growth.

 

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