It's All About You
One thing I absolutely love about Chabad ( besides children screaming pesukim, which is my slice of I've-Died- and-Gone-to-Frum-Heaven) is it's ideological focus of getting beyond oneself.
I'll never forget my interview for Mayanot Yeshiva. I went expecting to do what I always do at interviews: pretend to be super-confident and interesting, say quirky, thought-provoking statements that reveal my intelligence and sense of humor, and impress them with my fabulousness, while knowing in the back of my mind that once accepted, I couldn't keep up that all-star facade forever. But that's what interviews are, right? Right?
Except that this rabbi who was interviewing me, wasn't getting impressed. "Why do you look so... so.. wary of me?" I finally trembled at the end of the interviewing process. It actually seemed like I wasn't going to get in! Into a baal teshuva seminary! Was that possible?
He smiled in a wary way that wasn't comforting at all. "I'm not wary... " he replied, showing me the way out.
I left. And yes, I went into a back alleyway and cried in confusion. What was going on? How did my impressive shtick that always landed me jobs not work?
I ended up emailing him that day, mumbling something about how I was so tired and that's why I was acting strange, and BEGGING him to let me in. I received no personal reply, but a formal acceptance letter.
Later on, I understood. He saw through me. His whole religious outlook was about getting beyond the ego. My ego was on fire and dancing before him and he called it like he saw it.
That was my first experience at Chabad-seeing-through-and-looking-down-at-egos. So contrary to my societal upbringing.
As I went to the seminary, I started to appreciate it more. "Get beyond yourself!" the Rabbi would thunder, explaining methods and reasons for doing so, beginning with the reality of Gd and his beyondness and how we could know Him in that way, and I would feel this beautiful feeling of weight being taken off of my being. Davening become delightful.
"Imagine Gd beyond the world," the rabbi demanded one day. and I asked him- how? How do I imagine Gd beyond this world? I think of Gd and I think of this world, that's all I know. How do I think of that which I have never seen? How do I think of that beyond me?
"Think of your mother without thinking of yourself," he replied, and I protested:" But I can't! By default when I think of my mother I think of myself by extension. She gave birth to me..."
" Oh no, " he interrupted, amused in a way that bespoke deeper knowledge of the psychological and existential underpinings of my intellectual quandry. " Your mother has a whole life that has nothing to do with you... so too with Gd. He has this whole life that has nothing to do with the world, nothing to do with you..."
I was blown away.
Chabad's focus on getting beyond oneself, letting go of "yeshus" of "sense of self" , of "sense of disconnection from the great oneness of Gd that is Everything ( for aren't we all but rays of the sun, and within the sun itself, you are not even aware of the light but in reality, there, in the sun, it is at it's strongest, and aren't we all trying to realize in our perceptions how truly we are all already connected and part of this greater Being, and isn't that the greatest inheritance of all) is essential. Essential for Yiddishkeit, essential for simcha. Essential for moshiach.
But I think sometimes, when that message of beyondness is given over, we forget about ourselves as well. We start to think that a sense of self is not important. A sense of internal weight, inner voice and direction. We start to throw out self-nurture and self-discovery because it doesn't seem holy enough. We don't know how or if to care about ourselves, and our "separate existence".
Yesterday I was listening to a shuir by David Sacks, former writer for the Simpsons. He was asking, what's the deal with us learning Torah and forgetting it in the womb? Weren't we all already at Mt. Sinai? Didn't we already experience all of the Torah there too? Why again? and Why to forget? He explained from other sources that there are two redemptions, two truths we have within us- a communal one, and a personal one. The Torah we learned at Sinai is our communal one, that we can all collectively relearn over our lives, that is our part of our deep heritage. The Torah we learned in the womb is our personal story of our personal shluchus, how we can become that powerful soldier, that radiating ray of light, in the world ( my words of his). We have two destinies intertwined; and the struggle to fulfill and live both of them is the challenge of life: how to be the greatest Jew in our society in going beyond oneself and connecting with the communal Truth, and how to be the greatest me-Jew, how to relearn who I am and what I'm meant to do in this world. How to be the most- me. How to go the most beyond-me. What a predicament. I am reminded of the dual- relationship once again now of motherhood, myself in the position. How to have a life devoted to my family. How to have simultaneously a life that has nothing to do with my family.
And that is very confusing. I think it's very confused in the frum world:
Example: I live in a place without an eruv. While this may be okay for some mamas, I go batty. So I asked a very special, spiritual woman advice on how to enjoy Shabbos so that I would give over to my children the sense that Shabbos is actually enjoyable and not a day of dread. I explained to her that growing up, I would walk every Shabbos 2.5 miles to shul, by myself, in silence, and I loved it. I need that silence, that space, I told her. To be within four walls, going in circles with two little ones.... "Listen," she responded, trying to be kind and gevurahdik at the same time, " You're not 16 years old anymore. You need a grown up relationship with Gd. It's not about you. It's about Him. It's His day. Focus on that, and even if you don't enjoy it, you're doing the mitzvah. And you can get pleasure from that mitzvah. That's the greatest pleasure, getting pleasure from giving someone else pleasure. Like calling your parents and getting pleasure from the fact that it gives them pleasure."
You know what, she's right. But she's also wrong.
While I think that that approach is right on and should be our avodah, and to try to meditate on the greatness of what we are doing beyond ourselves is crucial, but we also need to recognize that we are a human being. And to just negate our feelings and desires, seems dangerous to me. What I wish she would have added in was the element of myself. For I am 16 years old still, within me. For I found some very easy solutions to satisfying that younger child within me that craves solitude to just stare at the sky and walk slowly in her own way without thinking about anyone else for an hour a day. Like hiring a babysitter for an hour every Shabbos so that I can take care of me. That way I can meditate on what the day truly is about and try to get beyond myself and give Hashem pleasure, but also come to the table feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, full.
Another example: I'm very into Julia Cameron's artist way. She has two absolute necessities for artistic self nurture: morning pages and an artist date. An artist date is hard for anyone and especially hard for those schooled in the frum-get-beyond-yourself mentality. Because an artist date is about becoming a child again. It's about learning how to play again. It's about doing something seemingly crazy on a whim without purpose ( may I remind you however, that "farbreng" does mean "to waste time", which highlights the actual feeling Chabad feels about the importance of just being and embracing the fullness of ourselves and not just the doing or the forced "bittul"). My artist dates usually consist of me buying really ridiculous candy corn bags and walking around munching on them and going into stores and staring at all the different clothes, toys, or whatever I could buy one day. I start to get ideas of different types of things I want to do, make. I start remembering my desire to be a fashionista. I start daydreaming and feeling light and imagine people doing synrochnized dancing down the streets of Brooklyn to the tune of Lion King melodies .Many times I go to a quiet spot I know and stare at the trees for an hour, phone off.
These types of "purposeless" activities are very confusing for frum women to take on. "Can I go to a shuir?" was my greatest response when I formed an art program that mandated artist dates. I very much doubt the child within us desires to do something crazyily whimsical and playful like sit in on a shuir, though shuirs are wonderful and rejuvenating too. For our adult selves. But the thing is that if you give yourself an hour of wandering-candy-corn fun or whatever is that floats your boat at the moment, then you can return and dress up in your adult suit as well to take on the world. It seems it is hard for us frum people to figure out how to balance living a meaningful, dedicated life, and relaxing, of inhaling, of taking in, and then exhaling. Again and again. It is hard to come to terms with the complex reality that we are also a child. Because we are. We are also children. And that's okay. It's just about learning how to nourish, embrace, and also direct our inner child.
We want to be soldiers. We want to fight for a higher cause. But we can't fight unless we know that we too also exist and have worth. We have needs and wants and desires. No, it's not all about you. It's also not not about you. It's about you and it's not about you. And when we embrace the fullness of ourselves and the fullness and depth of Gd and take care of ourselves in all ways, when we can self-nurture ourselves and have real, honest to goodness fun as well as pushing beyond ourselves to the Greater Truth, the Greater Sun that we are part of, then we can become the best Soldiers of Hashem this world has ever seen.