Life is Like a Box of Matzah

Life is like bread.

Sometimes our lives feel like a crusty loaf of French baguette right out of the oven from a tiny bakery on the Ile Saint Louis…  inviting, warm, delicious, and just slightly exotic.  Maybe those baguette days take place at weddings or during vacations or even when we decide to spend the whole day in our pajamas watching movies and eating pizza.  Those are good days.

Sometimes our lives feel more like a piece of matzah just pulled out of yet another box of factory made unleavened bread… flat, flavorless, cold, and if we eat too much of it, it forces our bodies to stop flowing as it should.  😉

Of course we all wish for a majority of our days to resemble baguettes, but how do we reach those glorious days?  Most of us don’t get to the vacation without first having to work hard to plan it and afford it.  We don’t meet the person we want to marry without first going on a bunch of dead-end dates.  And we don’t usually get the career promotion without first making the extra time-consuming effort.  It takes a heck of a lot of labor to get to a “Promised Land.” 

In our Passover story, the unleavened bread was our traveling companion.  It wasn’t exciting or delicious, but it accompanied us on our journey from A to B.  Similarly, we have to get ourselves from A to B, from less ideal situations to more ideal ones.  What accompanies us on those journeys?  It may not be matzah, but it may be feelings that are just as cold, flat, and tasteless.   We might feel that our lives aren’t moving forward, or in the right direction, or quickly enough.  We might believe we will never find true love.  We might be frustrated with all of the mundane or even unpleasant activities we must bear while doing our best to keep our eyes on the prize.

So, most of life is a bit like matzah.  But that’s okay, because matzah (and our journeys) don’t have to be so intolerable.  Last weekend, I took part in a Passover cooking demonstration with my community, Cool Shul, and Chef Danny Corsun from Culinary Kids.  There my feelings about matzah were changed forever.  We made our own… flour, water, olive oil, and no more than 18 minutes in the oven to make sure it was still technically matzah.  And you know what?  It was warm and flavorful and delicious!  We dipped it into a freshly made pesto and charoset with pomegranate seeds, and rather than being a lifeless culinary experience, matzah became something kind of divine.

So, maybe we can re-think those laborious days of our lives the way I got to re-think matzah.  Maybe there is a way to make our daily journeys more flavorful.

Let’s remember that while we were slaves, we were also well-fed.  I’m not so sure we remembered to have gratitude for that little blessing.  Then, when we were free, we were hungry and afraid and really struggled with holding on to our beliefs and to thankfulness for our new position.  This means the “negative” places we are may have some positives if we look hard enough, and that the hard-won freedoms we are looking forward to may come with a cost.  So, perhaps we can do our best to treasure the small triumphs and notice the positive things hidden in our day to day journeys.  Maybe we can be mindful enough to be present with with the mundane or even the painful rather than focusing on the fact that we aren’t already in better days. 

Let’s pack some freshly baked matzah in our sacks (no more boxes of Streitz’s!) and walk boldly toward the possibilities of tomorrow without losing sight of the challenges that will come with “arriving.”   Let’s enjoy our baguette days, but also never forget that every life will include more matzah days ahead as well.  It’s partly up to us whether or not we find the blessings in those flatter moments.

Hope you will join me and Cool Shul at our Community Seder on April 15 in Temescal Canyon.  Click here for more info

Reboot

Look up.

I’m not kidding.  Stop reading, go outside or peek through the window, take a deep breath and…

Look up.

Look at the sky.  Is it gray or blue?  Is there a bird flying by?  Leaves wiggling in the wind? Notice the slight changes in light as a cloud passes over.  Allow yourself to be filled with the wondrous possibilities that exist in the “up,” be they spiritual possibilities of a guiding light or scientific possibilities of 7 new planets.  Be open to inspiration…

Recently I was taking my son to school, and while at a red light, I noticed something kind of sad about human focus.  Most of us spend all of our time only considering the “down.”  As people drove past me in the opposite lane, I took note that the first driver was still looking at his phone as he drove.  “I wonder how many in a row will be looking down?” I asked myself.  So, I counted.  1… 2… 3… 4… 5!  I seriously got to the 6th consecutive car before I saw someone who had his/her attention completely on the road, who was looking “up.”

Now, this is not going to be lecture about texting while driving (though we shouldn’t) or about the dangers of technology.  I love my iPhone, and I’m as guilty as the next guy or gal of squeezing in a text at a red light.  My concern is about focus.

Our vision is narrowing.  Our news, communication, work, interests, and social lives increasingly exist within the borders of a teeny, tiny screen (yes an iPhone 6s is still too small).  Too often our joy and anger are released into that rectangle.  Our opinions are formed there, our disappointments are aired there, and all of this digital interaction keeps our heads pointing down.

Again, I’m not saying there isn’t a place for those energies moving toward the “down,” but there is also a big, wide world out there that we cannot forget exists.  Information being packed in a minute package does not have to mean that how we perceive humanity, how we connect to nature, and how we view the world also has to be contained in such a tight space.  Our perspectives need to be way out there too, with the stars and the distant mountain, or we will lose our ability to think big and to think outside the box.   And if we don’t think big and outside the box, how are we ever going to get ourselves out of the messes we are in?  We need to think simultaneous large and small.

It is not only healthy, but absolutely necessary to take a break from the constant information feed and find time to recharge and look up.  In fact, in the workshop we had a Cool Shul last week about processing anxiety in trying times, Dr. Feldmann emphasized that it is absolutely NECESSARY for our long term health and well-being to take a break… to do something purely fun and frivolous… to forget about our worries and fears for a moment.  That is how we survive stressful periods in our lives without burning out.  In other words, we need to put away those phones and tablets and allow ourselves, just for a few hours, not to know what was just tweeted or posted.  We need to give ourselves permission not to engage and instead to

get our nails done,

or go for a cell-free walk on the beach,

or watch a silly movie (on a big screen please!),

or…

PLAY BOARD GAMES!

This Saturday, in association with the organization Reboot, Cool Shul will be hosting an unplugged Shabbat afternoon.  From 12-5pm, we will have board games everywhere, and phones will be left at the door.  We will have pizza for all.   Unplug with us for a few hours, and please invite your friends.  This is not a religious event, so invite anyone who might be interested!  I promise we won’t try to turn them into Jews.  😉

Click here to register.  We ask for a $20 donation per person to cover food and table rentals.  But if you can’t swing that, just leave a smaller donation when you come.  Email me at diane@coolshul.org and let me know you are planning to join us.  The flyer is below.

We all need this.  We all need a little time to Reboot.

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Jewish Guide for Stressful Times

Al sheloshah d’varim        Upon three things

ha-olam omeid.                  The world stands.

Al ha-torah,                          Upon torah,

V’al ha-avodah,                  And upon prayer,

V’al g’milut chasidim       And upon acts of loving kindness.

—Pirkei Avot

These are stressful times. Whether you are fearful about the future or regretting the past, whether your stress stems from politics or health issues, whether your worries are about your parents, your children, yourselves, or the planet (or all of the above), it seems few of us are relaxed these days. We don’t know which way to go, which way to turn, what to fund, what to sign, whom to support, and whom to condemn. We are lost in a sea of news and social media, all while needing to keep up with the strains of every day life. No matter what we read on Facebook, Twitter or the New York Times, there are still sick children and parents.  There are still groceries that need to be purchased, homework that needs to get done, bills that need to be paid, and career woes that need to get solved. Lately, it seems many of us wake up in the middle of the night finding we’ve been grinding our teeth and sweating through uncomfortable dreams as our subconscious works through its agitations. We find ourselves a little more testy, a little less patient, and a little less thoughtful.  We feel afraid and alone.

But Judaism offers a simple statement that can carry us through, if we listen, one day at a time…

Upon three things the world stands. Upon torah, upon prayer, and upon acts of loving kindness.

In some ways, this quote from Pirkei Avot is all we need to guide us. It won’t solve our problems, but it is a three-step road map to action and to inner-peace if we follow it, and for now, that will have to do.

My old Rabbi and mentor used to talk about big T Torah and little t torah. Big T is for the text of the Torah scroll itself. Little t moves beyond those Five books of Moses to all forms of learning, teaching and study of wisdom, Jewish and otherwise. So, the world first stands upon knowledge: spiritual, scientific, social, political and personal wisdom. The world stands upon learning our personal truths and the truths of the universe.

How does this relate to feeling stressed and out of control? Let’s all choose one element (I suggest just one to start when we are feeling like there are so many issues to face) of what is worrying us, and learn, study, and understand that issue. Let’s get the facts (oy, please let’s not be part of this “post-fact” world we keep hearing about!), rather than rely on hearsay or headlines or word of mouth. Let’s gather truth, and whether these truths are about the world’s problems or about what a doctor or teacher may have reported about a loved one, let’s make sure we are as armed with wise, factual information as we can. That’s step one.

Ready for step two?

According to Pirkei Avot, the next thing the world stands upon is prayer… well, only sort of. The Hebrew word for prayer actually means “work” or “labor.”  So, this means that the world doesn’t only stand upon prayer but stands upon our efforts. It means the actions we do can be prayerful.  So, let’s act! Let’s put some effort towards improving the situations about which we just educated ourselves. This may mean going to meetings or therapy, donating to a cause, or marching, demonstrating, or volunteering. You decide what the right action is, but they key is that there is action. The key is doing. Let’s not sink into a sense of defeatism over what crushes us, but get up on our feet, “pray with our legs,” and get out there, even if the action itself seems small… even if our efforts will only make a difference to ourselves, knowing we gave it our best shot. 🙂

Finally, we are told the world stands upon acts of loving kindness. G’milut is actually a giving, it’s charity. And chasidim? Boundless kindness and love. G’milut chasidim is giving away boundless kindness.

So here we are at step three. While we are improving our knowledge, and going into action, let’s try to remember to be full of endless kindness as we do. After all, a big part of the knowledge we seek is to understand what and whom we don’t already understand. So, let’s look into opposing eyes with openness. Let’s face dissenting voices with strength wrapped in grace. Let’s stare into the depths of illness and issues and fear, holding ourselves tall. Let’s allow our power to filter through kindness with every encounter, no matter how difficult it is. Remember what our first lady said, “When they go low, we go high.”

Knowledge… Effort… Boundless kindness… Three simple Jewish ingredients for spiritually surviving trying times. This road map won’t solve everything, but we will be bathed in truth while marching toward resolution with grace in our hearts. Maybe that is enough for us to gain control over what appears to be out of control.

So, the next time we feel ourselves spinning, let’s remember this post. Let’s learn, act, and do our best to offer boundless kindness as we take it one step at a time, one day at a time.

B’shalom (with inner-peace),
Rantor Diane

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Growth Mindset/Fixed Mindset

I’m struggling.

Struggling to know all the answers.  Struggling to achieve all I want to achieve.  Struggling to be the parent I wish to be.  Struggling to be the wife I aspire to be.  Struggling to find enough time to do it all.

I’m struggling, and that’s actually a good thing. 🙂

My dear friend (and educator) was chatting with me recently about the idea of the Growth Mindset versus the Fixed Mindset.  Check this out

mindset-and-struggle-image

Bottom line?   Struggle is good for you.

You heard me… struggling is good for you, like broccoli and jogging.  😉

When we struggle, so often we put ourselves down. 

I’m no good at this… I can’t do this… I’m not strong enough… I’m not smart enough… Or even… I’ve always been told I’m smart and learning is easy for me, so if I’m struggling I must be failing.

This kind of thinking puts us in that Fixed Mindset that shuts down our brains to the opportunity to grow from our struggles.   But our minds need that struggle.  The brain actually engages more from mistakes and searching than from getting things right the first time.  So, like brain games, struggle helps your mind expand.  Yet we have to invite in that struggle for the brain activity to increase.  If we just say no to the tension, we have lost before we have begun.

In my conversation with my friend, we turned this idea of healthy struggle toward topics away from academia. 

What if I’m struggling in my relationships?

We can’t promise you those are going to work out, but maybe, if we are in a Growth Mindset, we may be able to welcome the opportunity for those personal struggles to lead to mental (and emotional!) growth.  Perhaps the struggle can allow our relationships to end up new and improved as we work through the tension.   Yet, if we are shut down in Fixed Mindset mode, then we are, well… shut down to making things better.

What about religion and spirituality?  What if I can’t decide if I want to belong or not belong, believe or not believe, participate or not participate?  What if I am struggling with the fact that I want to feel like there is more to the world, more than meets the eye, but my intellect just won’t allow that kind of belief?

Well, welcome to another struggle.  Invite it in.  Rather than fighting the dichotomy, let’s experiment with living comfortably and knowingly within this questioning.  Trying to find spiritual answers to our biggest questions and wrestling with what we find may be healthier than simple belief.  So, let’s go for it!   Let’s struggle.

As we step ever closer to the Jewish High Holy Days, I’m thinking a lot about struggle.  As a spiritual leader, I struggle just to get everything done that needs to get done before our services.  That also means I am struggling to be as emotionally and spiritually prepared as I would like to be for these upcoming Holy Days.  And once we get to the services, I have to struggle with the process of looking at myself in my virtual mirror, taking those arduous steps toward returning to myself, returning to the person I believe I was meant to be, and attempting to lead all of you through that process as well.  All of this responsibility can make my head spin out of control, and I find myself battling with my own struggle.  I find myself stuck in a Fixed Mindset.

But I guess, according to this Mindset theory, if my life was just a piece of cake, there would be no growth.  Just because I’m (gulp!) 43 years old doesn’t mean my mind should stop firing in new ways, does it?  If I accept my struggle and keep an open mind to it, I may just be able to step into a Growth Mindset that can invite my brain into new and interesting territories… even if I’ve been stuck in Fixed Mindset for most of my life.

I invite you to play with this idea of Growth Mindset, and consider expanding with us during the Holy Days.  Together we can encourage each other to embrace the struggles that are today, that we will encounter during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and that are inevitably waiting for us around the corner.  Let’s stand shoulder to shoulder while we struggle, open our minds, and grow.

You can get Holy Day information right here.

Hey!  I think I can see your mind expanding already!!!!

Love ya,

“Rantor” Diane