Category Archives: General

Eating My Lima Beans

ב”ה    الحمد لله

I hate lima beans.  Always have.

I remember in third grade, sitting at the dinner table long after the others had left, staring at the seven lima beans my mother insisted I had to eat before I was excused.  Finally I consumed them, in the most painful manner.  I would ladle one enemy bean onto my fork with my right hand and clutch my water glass in my left.  I moved my tongue to one side.  Then I lowered the lima bean down just inside the base of my teeth, holding my breath so as not to taste it and washed it quickly down with a large mouthful of water.  Like a bitter pill.  One down, six to go.

It didn’t help to be told me they were “good for me”.

It didn’t help to told that people were starving in Ethiopa.  Send them these lima beans; they would enjoy eating them, and then I wouldn’t have to.

My life experience didn’t include the kind of insistent, throbbing hunger that would make me grateful for any kind of food, of whatever taste.  (Thank God I was never so deprived.)

Not only did I not appreciate the blessing of having enough food to eat, I also didn’t appreciate the blessing that someone cared enough about me to force me to eat healthy food.  As an adult, I’ve been with families where the kids fend for themselves and the adults have no interest in what they’re eating.  It’s a blessing to have a parent that –whatever other faults they may have, large or small–  makes you eat something good for you, even when you don’t want to.

But in that lonely dinner chair, all I knew was that my mother, who was supposed to love me, was subjecting me to cruel and unusual punishment.

And I’ve been reflecting on that the past few days, because recently God has been making me eat some adult lima beans.

Today’s lima beans are the bitter experience of reliving some old and painful experiences from childhood.  Intense feelings and memories that need healing.  Most unpleasant.  Oh, I always feels better afterwards, but the sensations themselves are awful to go through, and I throw my little internal tantrums wondering if I’ll ever be “done” with these adult lima beans, and why I have to go through all this, and will it never end.

Just like I did when I was a kid staying late at the dinner table.

Of course, as an adult I know a little bit more about life and how things work.  These days I know that there is One behind these experiences Who loves me infinitely, knows what’s best for me, and would never let me suffer any more than is exactly necessary for my growth and spiritual well-being.

These days I appreciate the cathartic power of these unpleasant adult lima beans, and feel myself growing healthier and stronger as I eat more of them.

And that makes things much more bearable.

But I still get grumpy.

And I still hate lima beans.  Both kinds.

But now, when I’ve cleared my plate for the evening, I can sincerely thank my Heavenly Father for setting them before me and making me eat them.

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It’s Part of the Game

ב”ה    الحمد لله

After I returned home from volleyball, my friend shared how things are going.  He was feeling discouraged at making the same mistakes, failing recurring spiritual tests; how long will it take him to make the changes he needs to, and would he ever succeed?

So I was inspired to tell him the story of what had just happened at the volleyball game.  It’s an open pick-up game, and I was on a team with a skilled player I had seen before, and a young woman I took to be his girlfriend, who had less mastery over the game.

After the first game, she confessed apologetically that she was had just started learning and was taking classes, and I gave her the feedback that she was doing quite well; I wouldn’t have guessed she was new to the game.

Two games later, our team was sitting out, and as I walked past her, I overheard her listing out to her boyfriend the various errors she had made that had cost the team points.  It sounded like she wasn’t sure she should keep playing.  I was inspired to stop and interject.

“No matter how good you get at this game, no matter what level of mastery you attain, you will always have this same feeling when you make a mistake: that you let the team down, that you should have done better, that someone else would have succeeded in your place.  Don’t succumb to the urge to quit.  Those feelings are part of the game.  Whatever level you play at, whatever game it is, we all make mistakes.  And we all feel bad about them.  So try to make peace with it, try to embrace the learning, because it’s a package deal.  The success and the mistakes.”

And my friend took some heart from that message, thank God.  And it’s true, gentle Reader, that we all make mistakes.  And in those moments after our ungraceful acts, when we have some regret or remorse or self-blame, it’s an opportunity for the darker energies to amplify those feelings in an effort to convince us to quit.  “Give it up,” the internal message reads, “you’ll never master this; who are you kidding?”

The actual “mistake” we made is usually not of that much consequence in the larger scheme of things, but the self-recrimination can really sideline us, take us out of the game, God forbid.

So I hope the next time, when the critical inner voice gets started, you listen for just the microsecond needed to commit to improving yourself, and then turn down the sound.  Because getting discouraged or demoralized won’t help anyone, least of all yourself.

We need everyone playing the best they can in this game of life, and that includes you and me.

On Not Trying

‎   ב”ה     الحمد لله

Today I watched Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday and was introduced to Father Richard Rohr (http://www.oprah.com/own-super-soul-sunday/Full-Episode-Oprah-and-Author-Richard-Rohr-Video).  It’s the first time I can remember where I’ve said, “I want to be like that guy!”  Quite inspiring.

My biggest takeaway, however, was a sense that I might be able to get comfortable with not trying.  I might be able to finally let go of my sense of trying to accomplish something important in this life.

As far back as I can remember, I have felt a burden (or a sense of destiny) that I was to do something significant in the world, to make the world a better place.  Not just by living a moral life, but by participating in the larger public life in some important way.  For the better part of my younger years, I attributed this to compensatory grandiosity — children who are neglected or emotionally abused receive the message that they’re not important, and they often feel driven to accomplish something big when they grow up.

In more recent years I have felt like perhaps I actually have a calling, that my desire to have an impact might be part of a larger plan.  But lately I’ve come to the conclusion that regardless of the origin of the feeling, and independent of whether in fact I am called to something, I need to let go of this notion of “having to accomplish something important”.  It gets in the way of living in the moment, and it undermines whatever chance I have at a modicum of humility.

So I’ve understood that I need to stop trying so hard to create an “important” life.  But I haven’t known how to do that letting go.

And today I got some inkling of how it might look to just be comfortable doing whatever the current situation calls for.  Not looking for how it might lead to something else, not trying to figure out God’s Plan.  Just rising to the very small occasion of the present moment and taking the best action I can.  Making the phone call, writing the email, doing the errand, washing the dishes.

And resting comfortably in the knowledge that if The Master of the Universe wants me to do something that I might call “bigger”, then, at some point in time, the arising situation will call for action of a kind that will accomplish His Purpose.

Just being is enough.  Just being here, now, and embracing my life as it unfolds in the space right around me.  That’s enough.

Easy to understand, perhaps, but I think that’s been the hardest thing for me to feel in my gut.  And somehow today, it’s gotten easier after seeing Father Rohr, a man of God who embodied that kind of trust.  So thank you Oprah Winfrey, and thank you Father Rohr, and, mostly, thank you, God, for sending this show my way.

So what does it look like?  From the outside, probably not much different.  I continue to work on clearing the old childhood experiences.  I continue to deepen my relationship with my bride and her son.  I continue to rest into California, my new job, my new and old relationships with people nearby.  (And I hope soon to include some volunteer work in the mix.)

But today I am newly inspired to be content with that, to simply do that to the best of my ability.  Not to try and make my life “important”.

It’s already as important as it’s going to get.  Because The Master has decided I should be here.

And, gentle Reader, the same is true of you.

We’re All in This Together

ב”ה     الحمد لله

It’s a lovely time of year.  We’re in the middle of Hanukah, the Jewish festival of lights commemorating religious freedom and miracles in olden times.  And of course many folks are experiencing the spirit of Christmas.  And some celebrate Kwanza, or Winter Solstice or what have you.  It feels like the time of year when we all, in our own ways, try to open our hearts to our fellows and celebrate our common humanity.  Which is a lovely thing to do.

It’s a contrast from the rest of the year.  In our everyday mentally we often walk around seeing everyone as distinct and separate.  We may try to see a G-dly light emanating from their soul, but our picture of the world is usually like this:

menorah_top

Everyone doing their their best to shine forth their light.  On a good day, we can give each other the benefit of the doubt and see that we’re all created in the image of G-d.

But for me, the miraculous beauty of this time of year is that we have an opportunity, when so many of us are opening our hearts, of seeing that we’re all in this together.  We all breathe the same air, we live on the same planet, what we do affects each other in ways large and small, seen and unseen.  And we all struggle with the daily choices we have, wherein we try to be the best person we can, we try to make the choices that we’ll look back on later and smile at a moment well lived, well done.  And sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we wish we had a “do over”.  But it’s the same for all of us, here on this earth, and our choices affect each other every day, from whether we hug our children to whether we smile at the passersby; whether we let someone into the lane ahead of us, or whether we visit the sick, aid the poor, comfort the distressed.

Because we’re all connected, we’re all in this together.

The reality of our situation, when we have the eyes of wisdom to see it, is really more like:

menorah

May we find it within our hearts to love our neighbor as our self during this holiday season.

And may G-d bless you, every one.

Walking the Walk

ב”ה     الحمد لله

As I posted previously, I’ve been living here in Oakland and wondering what to do to connect with the larger community here, especially in light of the latest police-related deaths.  And then, in what felt like a gracious gift from On High, I got an email from my stepson’s school, which listed a protest march scheduled for Saturday.  The exquisite way this event fit into my life and schedule is hard to describe, but I’ll try.

  • I don’t always immediately read through the school emails, but this one I did
  • The event was billed as a peaceful demonstration, appropriate for family and kids
  • The organizers were calling for specific action, rather than just expressing anger/outrage
  • The timing was the afternoon on the Sabbath, comfortably after morning services and the kiddush lunch that follows, a time when I’m always free
  • The location was a half hour walk from the synagogue.

This last point was crucial, since on the Sabbath my only mode of transportation is my feet!

And boy did I use them yesterday.  Approximately nine miles, all told.  But it was great to see all walks of life walking together, a spectrum of ages, a range of colors, all united in purpose.

I felt connected, purposeful, and part of something larger than myself.

So it was a nice first step, if you will.

And today, the ache in my legs feels like a well-earned reminder of precious time on this earth well spent.

Are You Sick of It?

ב”ה

I’ve been sick lately.  Cough, sore throat, hard to sleep at night.  A steady supply of cough drops and hot tea (thanks to my wife!) and water and coughing.  Ugh.  Thank G-d this rarely happens to me.  But when it does, I take notice.  And this one was hanging on, as if to underline the fact that I didn’t get it yet.  By which I mean I was not understanding the message.  Because I understand that everything happens for a reason, and getting sick generally means I’m missing something and am being forced to slow down (I missed two days of work) and focus on my life until I figure it out.

And, with the help of a friend who had a message for me, I think I’ve figured out what I’m supposed to do here.

To set the context, I’ve recently accepted a computer programming position.  It was not my first choice of how to spend my time; I was hoping to change careers and become a full-time author or speaker or live some kind of life of service.  (Well, programming is a kind of service, I suppose.)

But that’s the point, really.  I was spending my time before and after work hours trying to figure out how to change my livelihood to more spiritual pursuits.

The message, as I read it, is to let go of that and settle into my new life here.  Do my work 9-5 (well, 7-3 really!) computer work with all my heart, and, away from the job, focus on my first year of marriage, my family relationships, getting my finances in order again, and things like that.  Daily living.  Exercise, diet, volleyball and bridge.  Walks by the water with my beloved.  You get the idea.

So that means setting aside all the projects I have going:  two phone apps I was gearing up on, getting my novel published, writing a book on spiritual practices, and, yes, trying to do something with this blog.  Worthy endeavors every one, I think, but the message feels clear that now is not the time to focus on them.  To everything, there is a season.

So, Gentle Reader, it’s possible that I may occasionally write a post here.  Something quick, just jotting down some thoughts, perhaps.  But I need to set aside my own expectation of a weekly well-edited profound post.  My time and energy needs to be focused more on the people around me.  (And I hope that includes some meaningful volunteer work, please G-d!)

So thank you for reading, and do feel free to check back in a bit; one never knows, do one?

See What I Mean?

ב”ה

Part One
My glasses have gone on hiatus.  I remember wearing them 24 hours ago, returning from a poetry reading at a Berkeley bookstore, and since then, I have no idea where they are.  Usually this kind of absence is momentary or fleeting, and I have a system of sorts to help me: I’ve designated one spot in each room where I place my glasses if I take them off in that room.  This reduces the number of places they usually might be, an important strategic point, since ironically the most important physical possession to have when looking for my glasses is… my glasses.

Since I use them to drive, this could theoretically be catastrophic (for me, for other drivers, and especially for innocent pedestrians), but I have my prescription sports goggles (that I use for volleyball, racquetball and running), so I can still get around even if I look more strange than usual.  Which means this is primarily an annoyance.

What do you do when you have misplaced something?

I usually do three things.

First, I search the most likely places.  I went through each room of the house.  I started with the chosen put-my-glasses-here spot in each room, and then expanded my search to all kinds of would-never-put-my-glasses here places.  Nowhere did I see my glasses.

Second, I retrace my steps.  I thought back to the time I knew I last had my glasses.  I clearly had them after the bookstore event, because if I had driven home without them, I would have noticed.  But I blanked out when I imagined coming inside and taking them off anywhere afterwards.

Thirdly, I do what I should do first: I check in On High.  This usually starts with a whining, “Really?!  Was this necessary? Why you gotta do this to me?” and progresses to inquiring if there are any things I’ve left undone, unsaid or unattended that The Master of the Universe is bringing to my attention.

Sometimes, God is being helpful in a masterful way, like when I’m in a rush to get somewhere and head out without my glasses.  I come back inside to get them, and in the course of looking for my glasses I discover another needed item (like my wallet!).  Without the “inconvenience” of misplacing my glasses, I would have arrived at my destination completely unprepared.  So the “annoyance” of misplaced glasses turns out to be a kindness from On High.

More often, however, there is some other lesson being pointed to, and the instruction is often related to the item I can’t find.  For example, I found it fitting that on my road trip out to California from Minnesota this last time, when I was planning to get married and stay out here, I misplaced my Minnesota driver’s license.  To me this was symbolic of letting go of my identity as a Minnesotan to embrace creating a home with my new bride (and her son) in sunny California.
I view my life as a canvas on which God and I together create an artistic work of a lived life.  I see symbolism and grace in the details, and I hope to contribute my part towards making it a masterpiece.

My sense of the lesson of my glasses was not coming into focus, however, and I remarked to my wife that I didn’t think I would find my glasses until I next davened (did my traditional prayers).  Praying increases my connection On High, and I often have increased intuition and awareness during and afterwards.

Part Two
Later in the day, I went to my usual davening space and saw my glasses sitting atop a tall adjacent cabinet.  This is a place I never put my glasses.  But there they were, resting comfortably on their high perch, waiting for me.

I took this as a sign that I had gotten the message.  That I wasn’t seeing how important my daily prayers are in my life and so The Master had gotten my attention, via my glasses, to redirect my focus.  (And in fact I had missed saying my prayers both that morning and that afternoon, an unusual dereliction).

It often goes this way.  I interpret my life almost as you would a good movie or a great novel: everything means something, everything is placed where it is for a reason, and there are meanings and hidden symbolism available to the inquisitive and open mind.  And while not every situation discloses its secrets so easily, I find my life richer for being in this conversation with The One.

May your life reveal its hidden meanings to you, Gentle Reader, and may you gather in the hidden meanings and act appropriately on their messages.