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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Spring is a State of Mind

When you woke up this morning, what was your frame of mind? Was today simply the day after yesterday, and just a prelude to tomorrow? Or was this morning the beginning of a new chapter, the first page in a book called “the Rest of Your Life”?

 Sometimes we can feel trapped in the flow of time, chained to our past and unable to change our future. We feel imprisoned by our circumstances.  

 On the other hand, it’s great to have a fresh start. It’s exhilarating to feel unencumbered by history, and to have a clean slate. It makes me feel energized and alive, with a broad field of opportunities to explore.

 Every day, I can have that attitude. Every day, I need to believe that I can change my behavioral patterns and better my future.

 Think of it in seasonal terms. The winter months seem to have nature in a frozen holding pattern. Nothing blooms, nothing blossoms. Some creatures even enter into hibernation. Winter is the sound of silence.

 Enter Spring. Shaking off its lethargy, the world regains its pulse and begins to show  vitality. With the birds chirping, the bees buzzing and Spring’s upbeat scent, there’s a can-do sense of rejuvenation.

 Taking this to my own life, my psycho-spiritual ‘winter’ is where I’m frozen in my status quo. I’m enslaved to my habits, and it seems that a new ‘me’ can never blossom.

 With my internal ‘Spring’, a new ‘me’ can begin to blossom. Right now. I can change the steps of my ‘dance’, and pursue endless possibilities for true growth. The future is bright.

 Which brings us to Passover. This Spring Holiday celebrates our internal sense of freedom. Real, personal freedom.

 Passover isn’t only about the freedom from our Egyptian masters. It’s about liberation from our internal Egypt, which still holds us hostage. On Passover, we thank G-d for the ability to find true inner freedom; the freedom to reach our potential.

 Passover teaches me not to wait for the vernal equinox; every morning can be my individual Spring. Every morning needs to be my personal Exodus from my weaker self.

 This year, live the Passover Holiday. Live it consciously, so that the message lives all year round.  

The Happiness Dilemma

Don’t worry. Be happy.

A beautiful philosophy in charmingly simple words.

But is it realistic? What if I have stresses that I can’t ignore? Should I stick my head in the sand and just smile?

Happiness isn’t that simple. Happiness is a frame of mind, and it’s deceptively difficult to achieve - and maintain - that mindset.

Happiness doesn’t mean buoyant frivolity. That’s temporary and it isn’t deep. To me, happiness means a genuine inner peace and balance; it means that my world makes sense.

So I’m not talking about artificially-inspired joy (alcohol etc.), nor externally-stimulated joy i.e. a great party. Those might make me feel good, but I’m not experiencing a genuine, internal happiness; I may simply be numbing my unhappy self with external forces. 

So how do I achieve a happy frame of mind?

 When I feel that my life has purpose, and that the things I do are GENUINELY in the service of that purpose, I’m on the road to happiness.

 I may still be working hard, and dealing with difficult situations. But if I’m living for a worthy goal, I feel internally balanced and happy.

 But this purpose needs to be:

  1. Something I truly value.
  2. Something which is genuinely a deep-seated purpose of mine (not just a side-beneficiary of my life-efforts).
  3. Something substantive and enduring.

 For all the above reasons, I don’t believe I can be happy building ‘sand castles’. I need a more genuine anchor.

 Raising a psychologically and spiritually healthy family is one good example. If I set my family as my goal, and build my world around their healthy growth, that can bring me inner peace.

 If I go to work to provide for them, and they’re not just the beneficiaries of my career, I can maintain inner peace in the face of challenge. I can endure significant stress because I’m doing it for a higher purpose. For them.

In Judaism, Holiness is the purpose which can bring balance to all of life. So if I believe that I and my actions truly matter to G-d; if I believe that my every action can change me or my world for good; that every action is cosmic and enduring in a true sense, then I can have a genuine inner peace.

 The stresses are there. But I believe that embracing these stresses and accepting them wholeheartedly is itself a part of my soul’s growth and maturation. Each moment can become an eternally shining nugget of meaning.

 

How can we not be happy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

My World

Do you feel like the world revolves around you?

 Me too.

 It’s hard to admit, because it seems incredibly arrogant. 

 Yet, from childhood onward, it’s our natural instinct. And it doesn’t go away. We’re always trying to shape the world, to control it, to make it fit our vision. When it doesn’t, we’re frustrated because our world is out of sync.

 As we grow, we [hopefully!] work with our natural narcissism, and learn to manage the ego. But it’s still there.

 And that’s okay, as long as we recognize that our personal world is but a single world in an entire world full of worlds.

 Interpretation: I, indeed, feel like the center of my universe; but I need to realize that everyone else feels the same about their own personal universes. I live in a world full of personal worlds.

 So when I interact with someone, I need to recognize that he is the center of his own universe. His fears and sensitivities may be literally earth-shattering to him. I may not feel that way, but it’s not my world. It’s his. Or hers.

 So managing my ego begins with making room for everyone else’s.

 But there’s more.

 We are each created in the image of G-d, with a soul that is a ‘piece of the Divine’. Now, G-d is TRULY the center of the universe. And I have a piece of the Divine within me. So the world revolves around G-d. And my world revolves around the G-dliness within me.

 So this ‘I am the center of the universe’ feeling is just a surface reflection of a my soul’s deeper identity.

 How does ‘my world’ revolve around my Divine identity? I, and all of us, exist in this world to serve as a partner with G-d. When I illuminate my environment, engaging life with Purpose, I am a co-creator. I’m upgrading G-d’s creation.

 My ‘individual world’ (starting with my own personality) is my lifelong project: to perfect, to illuminate, and to refine. My commitment to my world serves as its center.

 When I see the world as mine to exploit, that’s arrogant. When I see my world as my jewel to polish and refine; when I see it as my responsibility; when I see the Holy potential in the world around me, then I function as an extension of G-d. And that’s simply Divine.

The D…[ivine] is in the Details

Do you have a spiritual bent? Spirituality is good for you; a spiritual attitude to life, can smooth the day’s sharp edges. With a transcendent perspective, you may find it easier to go with the flow, without getting snagged by life’s thorns.

 Spirituality, after all, is incorporeal; it’s detached from materiality. So if my world-view is abstract, focusing beyond concrete realities and details, those earthly concerns can’t really keep me down. If the ‘thorns’ don’t really matter, how much can they hurt?

 But we need to recognize that, from this perspective, spirituality seems to transcend the limitations of fixed exercises, expectations or equations. Indeed, many spiritual people feel constricted by prescribed protocol and codes of conduct. It’s liberating to let the spirit soar above life’s ‘petty’ details.

 By Torah standards, that attitude may be spiritual but it isn’t Holy. The Torah aims for Holiness, and it’s extremely detail-oriented. So I don’t want to only be spiritual; I want to be Holy.

 In Torah thought, it’s imperative that our soul-yearning, our transcendental moments, be anchored and manifested in correct conduct. If my spiritual surge is simply that, but not anchored in anything concrete, then it’s just a beautiful flash in the pan. When it finds expression on the ground, in my life’s details, then it is Holiness.

 If you truly love someone, you may feel compelled toward artistic expression of that feeling; you may feel the urge to transcend your natural constrictions and shout to the world. That’s beautiful. But the love also needs to find expression in the down-to-earth details of your relationship. If I write poetry for a loved one but carelessly forget to pick up the dry-cleaning, is the love anchored in reality? How true is it? How Holy?

 Spirituality feels good. So, in a funny way, spirituality can be a selfish pursuit. But Holiness and selfishness don’t go together. If I’m feeling a transcendental feeling, that’s a wonderful beginning. But until I anchor that feeling in my responsibilities to an ‘other’ (and that ‘other’ might be   G-d, my own weaker self, or you), it can’t be Holy.

 So the next time you feel a surge of love for someone, think about how to express it – in [Holy] detail.

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