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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Levels of the Soul (Evil Speech part 2)

In the post Evil Speech part 1, I discussed how dangerous it is to speak badly of others and even of ourselves. One of the biggest tricks of the negative side is convincing us that we’re justified in our judgments of others. We form opinions based on what we see (real or imagined) and then feel righteous about our judgments. That fuels us to believe that our negative talk is justified, that the other person has it coming! This is the biggest trick of the negative side. Remember, what you put out there ALWAYS comes back to you. (And usually when you least expect it!) There can be no questions that evil speech negatively affects our soul. But fundamentally, what is a soul and why is it so affected by what we say?

In a word our soul is potential.

Many think that their soul already possesses naturally great Light, and all they have to do is reveal that Light in the world. The reality is that our soul is like a seed of a tree. A seed has the the potential to become a tree. But a seed is not a tree. Our soul is a small amount of great potential and it is our job to reveal that potential.

But how do we reveal that potential? Simply, through our actions, our words and our thoughts, which each pertain to a level of our soul. We need to envision ourselves like a slab of clay, filled with unmet potential and the ability to mold ourselves into what we want.

The Zohar explains there are four levels to our soul:

There’s the lowest level, which is called Nefesh: Actions
Inanimate objects lack the level of Nefesh, therefore they can’t move. Animals possess this level of soul. Every time we move and take action, what we are actually doing is going into our soul, taking a spark of Light, and revealing it in this world through that action.

2nd level: Ruach: Speech
Animals don’t have the ability to speak because they don’t have the level of Ruach. Every word that comes out of our mouth has used a spark of our Ruach, and has been revealed in the world.

3rd level: Neshamah: Thought
Every time we think, we are going into our soul, taking a spark of the level of Neshamah of our soul, and we are revealing it in the world.

4th level: Chayah: Complex Thought
Every time we have complex thoughts, whether it’s in our spiritual study or from a scientist trying to discover a cure for cancer, we are going into our soul and taking a spark of Chayah and revealing that part of our soul to the world.

Every action, word, thought, and deep thought takes a part of our soul, of that level that is corresponding to that type of action, and reveals it in the world. When I speak positively, I take unmanifested Light from my soul and reveal it in a positive way. I reveal a part of myself that never existed before. Conversely, if I speak badly about someone, I have used a part of my soul and revealed it, creating darkness.

This is why it is of the utmost importance to refrain from evil speech (lashon hara). Each negative word uses and reveals a spark of our souls and evil speech uses that part of our soul to create darkness in the world. Understanding this, I feel a great responsibility to watch what I say! Once those words are spoken, they cannot be unspoken, as illustrated by this parable:

In a small village lived a nice shopkeeper, but he had a nasty habit of gossiping. He enjoyed all the attention he got from people stopping by to hear the latest rumors and stories. He knew it was wrong, but he couldn’t help himself. One day he heard the most outrageous story about another man in the village. He knew that if this story got around it would damage the man’s reputation, but it was just too good, and he told several people — he couldn’t stop himself!

Hearing the awful rumor circulating about him, the man went to his Rabbi in despair. “What am I to do?” he wailed. “If people believe this about me I’ll be ruined!”

The Rabbi, knowing who had spread the rumor, spoke to the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper felt badly that the man was so upset, but he hadn’t been the one that started the rumor and honestly, how bad was it to just repeat a story?

The Rabbi sighed and asked the shopkeeper if he had a feather pillow. He did. Then the Rabbi instructed the man to cut open the pillow.

“But that will make a mess!” the shopkeeper protested.

But the Rabbi persisted and the shopkeeper finally cut open the pillow. All the feathers burst out of the pillowcase in a swirling cloud and flew into the air, some were sucked out the windows, others landed on the floor, in teacups and others continued to float, resting briefly before alighting on another surface.

“Now put all the feathers back in the pillowcase,” instructed the Rabbi.

“But I can’t!” protested the shopkeeper. “Some of them have floated out the window and are surely gone forever!”

“Exactly,” said the Rabbi solemnly. “Once a word leaves your mouth it flies on the wings of the wind and you can never get it back.”

Once a negative word is said, it’s said. Once I’ve used that spark it can’t be changed. Just as an apple tree can never produce oranges, once I’ve revealed a spark it cannot be changed. Everything that we do, say and think is what we become, what our soul becomes.

So who am I? Who are you?

We are all two parts: our potential, and what we’ve already revealed. Our soul is now made up of all our positive or negative actions. Yet, we don’t feel this in our reality. On any given day we probably don’t have any idea what our balance sheet reads. Did I reveal 80% positive today? Or was I only 40% positive?

“You come into this world naked and you leave naked. What remains is the goodness you have done.” -Rav Berg

It is only when a person dies that it is revealed to him what he’s done. Every day a part of our soul leaves this world because every word, action, and thought reveals a part of our soul that then goes to the Supernal Worlds. It no longer remains in our world. Every action manifests a part of our soul that leaves; that can never be changed.

And that’s who we are. That’s what our soul is made of.

Thought Into Action:
Try, as best you can, for one week to keep track of your positive vs. negative thoughts, actions and words.

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Planting Trees: Happy Father’s Day!

fa·ther
ˈfäT͟Hər/
noun: a male person whose sperm unites with an egg, resulting in the conception of a child

I laughed when I read this because I couldn’t think of a definition less ‘fatherly’.

Undoubtedly, the word ‘father’ means many things to many people, and its role in relation to us changes throughout the years.

I have learned a lot of things from my spouse through years of living together – and not just in the expected ways. Michael has taught me how to love unconditionally, and when you see and experience this love day in and day out, it isn’t just the love between two people, but how that is expressed to all in and outside of our home. I have learned what a father is in the ways that he expresses love and care for our children, especially in the “challenging” times of parenthood. A good father (or parent for that matter) is loving, guiding, and listens with an intention to really hear their child’s yearnings.

When he prays for our children his innermost wishes and dreams for them is to be pure of heart and guided by the Creator. For if you have that, then one is not lacking anything. I know my husband learned this from his father, the Rav, who never told him what he should or shouldn’t be or could or could not do. The prayer was the same, to do the work of the Light and all the paths will be clear.

As I was sitting to write this blog, I was playing random music to entertain my one-year-old so I could complete a thought (which is such a novelty these days without hearing “Mom, can you…”) and the song Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole came on.

Interestingly, and on a side note, this song was written for the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, released just before the beginning of WWII. The lyrics were written by Yip Harburg with music by Harold Arlen, both Jews. When viewed through the lens of history the lyrics are almost prophetic about the coming holocaust.

I have always sung this song to all of my children, as it reminded me of wishing them a place that is filled with goodness and a world where there is no pain, a wonderful world in which we are all united as one.

It reminds me of this story…

One day an old man was planting trees, and the ruler of the land passed by and said, “Why are you planting trees? It’s going to take what, 20 years, 30 years, 40 years until these trees really start growing and producing fruit?”

The old man replied: “Yes, you’re probably right. The chances of my being able to eat the fruit of these trees is unlikely. If I earn the merit, I’ll be here to eat from these trees. But if not, I will leave this world before these trees bear any fruit. Just as those before me prepared trees for me to eat from, so too I prepare the trees for those who come after me.”

An almost miraculous amount of years passed and the man lived on. He did end up eating the fruit of the trees he planted. The old man brought a bowl of his fruit to the ruler to show him. The ruler took the fruit and filled the bowl with gold.

The lesson of the story is this: If I want to have a long and fruitful life, then I have to share consistently in ways that I know I will receive nothing from. It is important that we raise our children with these values, instill them with this teaching, and inspire them to lead lives of selfless giving. Like the man in the story, we want our children to plant the seeds that will feed the world. This is the essence of parenting for me. We want to grow our children not into obedient people who will do as they are told and become what we want them to be, but rather into thinkers. Because although today they may be listening to me, if they are teenagers and have been taught to follow orders, then at some point it will be the voice of their peers that they will be following. The Zohar says that we are ‘a chain of existence’ and that we, as humanity, are linked. If our children do right things then we live forever through their actions.

A friend of mine said this on the occasion of his daughter’s bat mitzvah and I want to share it with you, “There are many things that your child can be, but only one that they should be and that is someone who gives to the world and shares of herself.” The old man in the story merited living to eat the fruits of his labor because he acted without any desire for the self alone. This is the way that we draw blessings into our lives — not only for ourselves, and perhaps not for ourselves at all, but for our children and theirs.

Happy Father’s Day to Dads everywhere!

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Regret-Me-Not

Kabbalah teaches us that we often don’t grasp a principle the first time we hear it (or even the 10th time!) so it behooves us to revisit some key lessons. This week one issue seems to be arising time and time again… regret. This blog was posted back in 2012 but let’s revisit it and perhaps challenge ourselves to a regrets-free weekend.

Love,
Monica

 

“One day at a time—this is enough.  Do not look back and grieve over the past for it is gone, and do not be troubled about the future, for it has not yet come.  Live in the present, and make it so beautiful it will be worth remembering” ~ Anonymous

Do you ever catch yourself in a moment saying, “Argh… if ONLY I could just go back in time and change that time when I… [Fill in the action/situation]!!”

There are times in everyone’s life when we may have regrets about what we’ve said or done, whether we were children at the time, or new to parenting and trying to raise our children with awareness, we all have experiences that have helped shape who we are, good and bad, but we should never get stuck in trying to change our past.

It’s really simple – in truth, we cannot change anything from our past, not one little thing, not any moment in time can be changed from our past because it is left behind us.  By endeavoring to change the past, we’re trying to correct that which is already done.  But it’s just that, it’s done.  We cannot perfect our pasts; we can only let them inform us better for the future – to make different choices for a brighter tomorrow.  By erasing our past or wishing to do so would require erasing all of the good memories and experiences we had in all those years too, because the good and the bad go hand-in-hand.

I don’t think anyone should feel regretful about their actions, but rather grow from them.  This message is especially important to learn early in life.  If you’re a parent, you should encourage your children to understand that the bad reinforces the good (and reiterate that for yourself, too).  If there is something from your childhood which is holding you back from the present and the life you deserve, stop and think about it this way:  Light and dark operate at the exact same time, it all depends on which you want to focus on.

How would we ever be able to see the moon in the dark sky without the light of the sun?  The sun never stops shining, and yet every day we have nightfall because the Earth rotates on its own axis – the earth is in constant motion – each day brings the rising of the sun as the earth pivots into position, just as it brings about the changes in season.  We too are like the changing of day to night, night to day, and the changes from Spring to Fall through the year – each bearing new challenges, blessings and discoveries.

Living a life of regret, for any reason, is no way to live.  Regret can only bring about two things: guilt and shame.  There have been times when I have been caught off guard with my own kids, when I have overheard them saying, “I feel guilty.”  These are words and terminologies that are not used in my house, so my biggest question to them is, “Where did you learn this word and why do you feel this way?” Let’s remove this word from our lexicon entirely. But we say things, “I feel shameful”, “I feel guilty”, “I wish I hadn’t done that”.  The ever-pressing question, what’s the difference between guilt and shame?

We experience feelings of guilt when we do something bad – It’s when we hold something we’ve done, or failed to do, against the kind of person we want to be.  It’s an uncomfortable place to be, but essentially it’s helpful, because you can choose to learn from it and do it differently the next time.

Shame is something quite different, and it’s something we all experience in one degree or another, whether we want to admit it or not, it does exist within us.  Shame is when I believe that there’s something about me that – if other people had to come to know and see – would make me unworthy of connecting to them.  Shame is ultimately fear of rejection, of not being good enough or worthy enough. We’re afraid that if people know our story; if they know the truth about who I am, about where I’ve come from, about what I believe, about how much I’m struggling, and even how wonderful I am and feel when I’m soaring they wouldn’t want to stick around.  Sadly, at times it’s just as hard to own our strengths as it is our struggles.

Guilt means I feel bad.  Shame means I am bad.  Guilt is about our behavior and shame is about who we are.

As parents we can help reinforce these two major differences for our children by teaching them to take responsibility for their actions, and introducing the idea that they can do it differently the next time.  And we can also reassure our children that no matter what, they are pure creations deserving and worthy of love.  As parents, it is so important to not use shame when parenting, because all it does is teach our children that they’re not worthy of love.

Sometimes teaching is the best way to learn for ourselves.  So, when you catch yourself wishing for a time machine and questioning, “What do I need to change from my past as I move forward?” The answer is NOTHING, absolutely nothing. One’s past does not need to be changed when they move forward, because our choices and our actions, whether they were positive or negative help make us better, stronger and wiser people today, in the now.

We learn from our mistakes as long as we put thought into who we want to become.  Our children, as well as our selves, are a constant work in progress.  We are not only human beings, but they are humans becoming.  Let’s help our children, and ourselves, by reinforcing the idea of “what do I want to do differently as I move forward?” I want to remind you that worthiness is having a strong sense of love and belonging, and that is all in our hands, we are the axis, let’s help our children not only revolve but evolve.

THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Do you find yourself regretting past actions? Do you own your strengths? Are you prone to feeling guilt or shame? Make a conscious decision to let go of the past and focus on your talents and strengths in the here and now.

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United We Stand

How do you bring two divergent things together?

If for instance, you wanted to boil water on a fire… you can’t just throw the water on the flame; that would extinguish the fire and you’d lose all the water! You have to put something between the elements. It is not until the moment we introduce a third element—in this case, a pot— that we are able to reach our desired goal, boiling water.

The pot in this analogy represents restriction, which is of central importance in this month of Gemini. In fact, the Rav often shared that practicing restriction is the secret to creating unity. Geminis are quick-thinking, alert, bright, fast-talking, and charmingly persuasive. They have a penchant for information and practicality. A Gemini will grasp all sides of a question, integrate a standpoint and make a decision all at the same time! They adeptly get straight to the heart of even the most complex of matters. Geminis are like Mercury, which is the fastest planet in our solar system – traveling at 140,000 miles per hour and managing to complete a full trip around the sun in just 88 Earth days. Because of the speed of their intellects, Geminis have a great tendency to act and speak reactively, without completely thinking it through. Their quick wit is an effective offensive and defensive weapon.

We are all under the effects of mercurial Gemini this month, which is why restriction is so important. Be mindful. If someone hurts or embarrasses you, remember that you are part of the Creator, and respond with that aspect of yourself instead of your ego. Don’t counter attack; instead, restrict the tendency to fight and vilify that person. Fight against your ego’s desire, because the only thing that creates lack of unity, perpetuates fighting, and encourages arguments between friends, spouses, and family members is the ego. The need to be right is what brings chaos and keeps us divided from others and those we love.

I feel it important to clarify the difference between restriction and repression. Often I have found that maybe a few years after starting to study Kabbalah, students will tell me, “I don’t understand why this situation isn’t changing! I keep restricting and I just feel so angry inside.” This is the first indication that you aren’t restricting, but rather, repressing. To restrict is to take any negative emotion you may be feeling about someone or something and choosing a proactive response. In other words, use the Godly nature within you and connect to the Godly nature in the other person or the situation.

It’s also no coincidence that Gemini is represented by Twins (similar but different entities), since this month is all about integration and unification. Creating unity is sometimes hard to do, but the gift of this month is merging together Light and darkness. As the Rav always said, “Darkness is not really a power. It’s simply a lack of Light.” It is important to remember that strengths and weaknesses, dark and Light, positive and negative occupy and share—in exact balance—two sides of the same coin.  And this month offers the opportunity to reveal an abundance of Light by combining these opposing forces and the power of two sides in equal forms.

A few weeks ago I posted about the Counting of the Omer. To briefly recap, the 49 days after Passover are known as the Counting of the Omer. We begin this process with a renewed ability to remove any darkness that we have attached to ourselves. Rav Avraham Azulai said, “We count for 49 days and on the 50th day—Shavuot—there is the revelation called the Torah, the revelation of freedom from death. At Shavuot, everyone should have achieved a level of connection, of purity, of holiness, according to their spiritual growth.” Even if a person is at the 49th Gate of Impurity before Passover, by the time Shavuot arrives, which is the day after we are finished Counting the Omer, he will at least be entering into the first Gate of Purity. If a person, before Passover, is at the first Gate of Purity, by Shavuot he is at the 50th Gate of Purity, which is the gate of immortality – the total removal of death. This is why these 49 days of the year are so powerful.

Shavuot is a connection to what kabbalists call “the revelation on Mount Sinai.” It is a code word for the perfect union between the Light and the physical world that occurred 3,400 years ago in the desert – total perfection. Every year on this date, the full revelation of immortality returns to the cosmos in a state of potential, allowing us to overcome the force called Death.  Kabbalists teach that it is this unseen force that not only strikes and affects the physical body, but is also responsible for the demise of relationships, prosperity, and happiness in any form.  Therefore, making the Shavuot connection is a spiritual insurance policy guaranteeing you life – and fulfillment – that lasts. We live in a reality of entropy; clothes wear out, roads and bridges deteriorate, and people grow old and pass on. However, for kabbalists, the potential for immortality is real.

Make peace and harmony the clear objective this month so you can truly harness the power and energy available to you.  Always remember that the greatest challenges contain the greatest amount of Light.  The most uncomfortable situations are the ones to watch out for, because overcoming them shapes and transforms you.  Geminis especially do not like to find themselves in compromising situations.  So a challenge for those born under this sign is to forgo trying to escape emotionally awkward interactions and situations by deflecting it with their prompt intellect and razor sharp wit.  Engage with your feelings, because through the challenge lies the gift.

THOUGHT INTO ACTION
This month in particular is a time to cultivate and nurture relationships. Don’t flee from emotional discomfort; be sure to access what’s beneath appearances to reveal what’s at the source.  Make a promise to yourself that as of right now, conflict and anger have no place in your life.  The only objective is unity.

 

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Nothing Happens Until You Decide 

 

Although I live a somewhat public life, I do believe that some things are sacred. And to protect those things we cherish, we must conceal them. The Zohar says, “…concealed is the place whence all blessings issue. Therefore, when the utterances of man are in secrecy, blessings are upon him.” –Zohar, Pekudei 126

On the other hand, I believe that anything I experience in life – especially , pain, difficulty,  or even great blessings – are  meant to be shared if, in sharing, someone can relate and be inspired to overcome some challenge in their own lives. In sharing my experience of delivering my 4th child, I hope that someone reading will find a bit of wisdom or comfort, or perhaps feel less anxiety in anything they may be experiencing.

With my first three children I tried to have natural births, meaning no drugs, no surgeons and certainly no interference from doctors. Needless to say, it didn’t quite go that way. Because wishing and desiring for something to happen is very different from taking actions to make it happen. With David, my first, I was in labor for 23 hours, with an epidural after 18 hours of dilating to just 1 cm with contractions a minute apart. Josh, baby number 2, had to be delivered via emergency C-section. That experience so shook me that when Miriam, baby number 3, came along, I was consumed by fear and uncertainty. Miriam’s birth was 18 hours of labor ‘helped’ along by petocin and an epidural after the 17th hour. I’m sure some of you may be thinking I’m a glutton for punishment to go a 4th round, but really, they are so worth it. Having had my first 3 children in my 20s, now in my 30s I felt I was a different person and was in a different place spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically – enabling me to finally have the experience I had envisioned. After all, with Miriam I had come so close. Maybe lack of certainty on some level or lack of a plan or, ultimately, lack of really not having found my strength and true connection to the Creator were the causes, but I was oh so close. In truth, I hadn’t quite decided I could do it. And in life, nothing happens until you decide. As the Rav always said, “Consciousness is everything.” No matter what I hope and wish for, unless I decide, no action will follow and nothing will manifest.

I remember in one of the last visits with my OBGYN before Abigail’s delivery date we checked to see if her head had traveled to the cervix. If you’ve ever heard someone tell a pregnant woman, ‘it looks like you have dropped’, this is what they are referencing. When we think about travel, we think about great distances. For travel to be really worthwhile we believe that we need to go somewhere far from where we currently are. But travel, movement or, in essence, change, doesn’t necessarily require a great distance for something profound to occur. Consider the journey down the birth canal. It dawned on me that although this travel is painful, long and arduous, it is a very, very short distance – no more than 4 inches to be precise!

It takes you nine months to grow your baby and ready your body and mind for the moment of labor. Then the time comes. You push and nothing happens. You push again and again, but when do you stop? You don’t, because it’s not an option – the baby needs to come out. Giving up is not an option. Your free will is exercised in how you want to experience the moment. Events may not be in our control, but we can always choose our reaction – for  instance, having fear as opposed to having certainty.

With this pregnancy I deliberately worked very hard to remove the fear I had surrounding the other pregnancies. I chose to connect to her growing inside me, kicking me and giving me love. I understood that this was no longer about me or my experience. Nor was it about my body or discomfort. Rather, it was about her evolution. When I came to this realization, I decided to create a birth where she could enter this world without trauma, drama, fear or chaos. Here was my three-step action plan:

1. Mind

I set myself up for success by choosing a doula. I found someone who knew my story; my past experiences and my current desires. I found someone who could be my voice during the delivery so that all of my concentration and focus was on the task at hand. When an intern entered my room (an Ashton Kutcher look-alike wearing cowboy boots!) my doula knew that I absolutely did not want to feel like a science experiment and be observed as a way to give experience to a doctor in training. Knowing that I wanted to keep all my focus on Abigail’s experience, my doula politely sent him away and I didn’t have to utter a word.

2. Body

I wore my own clothes throughout labor. No hospital gowns to feel and connect to sickness. No bed. I followed the signals that I was getting from my body, and as contractions came, if I had the urge to push, I did. Lying down on a bed is the opposite of my body’s desire. Instead, I did lots of moving and walking around and placed my thoughts as being one with the world (not fighting my situation).

3. Spirit

I placed total trust in the Creator. Whatever the outcome would be, I knew it was for the best, even if it didn’t go as planned. (Luckily it did!)

I spent months working on my consciousness, but the real epiphany for me was when I was already 3 days past my due date (ultimately she came 10 days later – guess  she liked it inside). I realized that the labor is not my story or my experience to think of, really. It’s not even about my pain. It’s really all about my child; her experience of coming into the world and traveling down the birth canal. It was her journey all along and I was just the vehicle in which to support her. With all my heart and soul, those 9 months of carrying her became more about this moment than anything else. It was time for her to make her entry into the world and I wanted that to be the most pleasant experience for her. And so I was able to have the natural hypno-birth I had always envisioned, and not just because I wanted it, but rather it’s because it’s what she wanted and needed.

When I counted contractions, or rather my husband did the counting, 1-10 seconds were tolerable. 10-20 and 20-30 seconds – OMG  OUCH; and then 30-40 seconds tolerable again. I work out hard. I do 30 to 35 leg reps daily – each leg. Just like my workouts, everything was mind over matter. I can do anything for 40 seconds – as  long as I know when the pain will come to an end I can get my head around it. Often in life we fight uncomfortable things. We fight our process – yet  if we embrace it, it passes much more quickly. Don’t try to go around or avoid difficulty,  work through it instead. No energy is ever wasted, and all of life is experience. All of the mental strength to get through even something as seemingly trivial as a workout can and should be applied to something for greater. Everything in life prepares you for something else, if you are paying attention.

I never even uttered a single word for 8 hours of the labor, 6 of which were at home. I’m writing about my birth experiences on the occasion of Abigail’s first birthday. She is such a blessing and brings me joy every single day. I can think of nothing more worthwhile than the work of bringing a child into the world. Happy Birthday, Giley.

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