A friend recently mentioned to me that he had seen an acceptance speech delivered, and was wondering if the content was in line with Jewish values. I looked up the speech and this is what was said: “People will tell you that you’re perfect just the way you are. You’re not. You’re imperfect; you always will be. But, there is a powerful force that designed you that way. And if you’re willing to accept that, you will have grace, and grace is a gift.”
There are many things we hear throughout our lives. Some classics that I have heard multiple times are: “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” “You’re doing the best you can,” or “Put down the bat and pick up a feather.” Then there are those with harsher messages, such as: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” or “You’ve got to take responsibility for your actions.”
I recently read an article on Forbes.com that quoted George Santayana as saying “Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it.” He was right, which brought me back to square one as far as looking for the best place to shop for motivation.
I am part of a WhatsApp group that sends one-minute messages of daily chizuk. One was given by Dr. David Lieberman (whose book about free will is one I cherish), on how to achieve inner peace. His formula? “Something happens, we take it personally, we become upset. Something happens, we don’t take it personally, we don’t become upset.” Notice how the only inevitable part is that something is going to happen. He went on to note that the ego and self-esteem are on a constant seesaw ride; and when one goes up the other goes down, yet they can never be equal.
Many times I hear lectures about what we are doing wrong and what we should be doing right, yet many of them don’t actually offer a “how-to” program to follow. So for what it’s worth, here’s mine:
Firstly, even shiurim that don’t offer a program of action are well worth listening to, because even if our brains don’t remember anything, our n’shamos do, and we can be shaped even unconsciously.
I find that the times I experience the most joy are the times I take the most responsibility
Secondly, one of the biggest lessons I have learned from a Shmuz given by Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier was that when we leave a motivating shiur or experience, we need to “lock in the moment” by taking a positive action we would have otherwise not taken; whether it’s checking in with a friend in need, giving tz’dakah in someone’s memory, going to a minyan when we’re “too tired,” etc. The key is it must be done immediately, because life has a funny way of dissipating those moments sooner than we’d expect, and activating “built in forgetters.” (Wife: “Why aren’t you going to minyan? What happened to all that ‘G-d is great and I am going to change’ stuff you came home raving about after that amazing shiur last night?” Husband, as he’s shtipping himself with Bamba while reading the sports section: “What shiur?”) That way, once our spiritual high drops, we have something to show for it.
Finally, while we all crave inspiration, we don’t necessarily need it as much as we think. I truly believe that for most of the questions we have in life, the answers lie within us. And while therapy can help peel away the layers that cover them, it’s not always necessary. If we take the time we’d normally spend in therapy in our own quiet places within – via prayer, meditation, or hisbod’dus (talking to Hashem in our own language) – we could get to the bottom of much of what we are searching for. I know this from experience. It’s said that the furthest distance is from the head to the heart. Writing this only reminds me how true it is.
I was once reading a sefer by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in shul. Someone passing by came over and said, “You shouldn’t be reading this” and walked away. I didn’t pay much mind to it, but it did feed into a burning question that I’d had for some time. So, I went to my rabbi with the following question: Is there a chance that Hashem has a preferred way that He would like us to serve Him (e.g., Ashkenaz vs. S’fard, yeshivish vs. Modern Orthodox, Chabad, Litvish, or chasidish, etc.)? His answer was quite obvious, yet so simple. As long as we serve Hashem based on the tenets of Halachah, we have the right to choose which path we feel resonates with us. What I took from his response was: As in anything in life, we have to stick to a particular order. Whether it’s our legal system, our class rules, our work policies, etc., we as humans have an obligation to follow the path of the people or institution we are living in and working for. But within that framework is unlimited room to branch out into our unique, creative, and talented selves, all of which are quite different from each other, yet so breathtaking for each of us. And if we can each do so within the confines of Torah law, coupled with grace, the amount of potential we have to shine, both as individuals and as a nation, knows no bounds.
I find that the times I experience the most joy are the times I take the most responsibility. Whether it’s showing up to appointments on time, carrying out what I agreed to, pushing myself to do what I believe to be Hashem’s will, or restraining myself when feeling tempted to act upon anger, cravings, temptations, etc., the fairytale endings of all shiurim offer a formula that requires two simple yet powerful ingredients: 1) I need an active G-d in my personal life (emunah / bitachon), and 2) I need to be as responsible as I can at any given moment (hishtadlus). A combo of the two, to me, equals a mission accomplished.
I’d like to note one last thing. In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz outlines four lessons he believes we need to accept upon ourselves to avoid needless suffering and achieve freedom and enlightenment. I believe they each have a lot of “Jewishness” in them (“Don’t take anything personally” alone is highlighted above). But I always used to ask, “How do I know if I am always doing my best? Is it even measurable?” In fact, when I saw that one of the agreements was “Always do your best,” I got excited, thinking I’d finally get the answer I’ve been searching for. Yet, even after that chapter, it didn’t quite hit the spot. So at that point, I felt enough is enough. If I can’t get the answer from an outside source, I will find it within.
I have come to believe that my best is spending time observing my natural self without judgment. Are my thoughts, words, and actions positive? Are they in line with my values? Am I doing things for myself and others that are physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy? I think the length of the time we spend in our observational state depends on how long we feel we need to get an objective picture of ourselves that represents us on most days. Once that observational time period ends, I sit down and decide: “What am I happy and unhappy about? Where do I go from here? Where do I want to end up? How long am I willing to wait to see results?” Based on my answers, I devise a plan that will start slowly and intensify moderately every day, week, or month (again, our decision to make, as long as we pace ourselves). Finally, I pick a day (now would be just great!) and implement it. If I can stick with my mission on a consistent basis and keep it in line with Torah values, I am doing my best.
Dr. Lieberman says: “When we accept responsibility for our lives, then nothing can stop us.” I wholeheartedly agree.
By Ariel Dori