Beliefnet
The Bliss Blog

I am sitting cross-legged in bed on a morning set aside from others in the Jewish religion in which I was raised. As a child, at this point in the day, I would be in synagogue, wearing a dress, knee socks and black patent leather shoes, while perched on a folding chair next to my father, who would (instead of his work uniform) be dressed in a suit and tie, yarmulke on his curly brown hair, his tallis (prayer shawl) wrapped around one of his shoulders and one of mine (girls and women back in the 1960’s and 70’s didn’t wear them). We would be reciting prayers from the High Holy Day tome in supplication and request for forgiveness with the fervent hope that as the sun set on this Yom Kippur, we would ‘Inscribed in the Book of Life for a sweet New Year’. Even at that age, I pondered how that could be. Surely, there were ‘good people’ for whom tragedy befell. People who got sick and some who died. And I also knew that there were ‘bad people’ who prospered. My parents had no answer for my queries about that seeming inequity.

For decades, I engaged in that routine. Walking to services, abstaining from food from after dinner the night before until the traditional break the fast dinner at sundown the next day, we were reminded that we were to focus on spiritual needs at the sacrifice of physical desires. It didn’t seem harsh, just expected. Children under 12 were allowed to eat something light. Adults who were ill were permitted to have food as well. I remember a few years as a teen when it felt like a marathon that I needed to complete as a food deprivation headache would be pounding as surely as my feet might have been on a race course. Today, I am abstaining from food until gathering with my BFF and her family and friends tonight at which we formally break the fast.

The focus was acknowledging our sins and practicing Teshuvah (which translates to ‘turning’, as in turning over a new leaf). The Hebrew word for sin doesn’t imply hellfire and brimstone as it does in Christianity. Instead, it translates to ‘missing the mark,’ as in archery. An annual do-over, a sense of taking inventory and making amends as in Step 4 and Step 9 in the 12 Steps of AA. I always liked that aspect.

As a college student, I turned away from traditional ritual since I had a series of negative encounters with the Rabbi at our synagogue whose sexist attitudes were at odds with how I was raised. Instead, I would create my own in which I would sit by a body of water, journal taking on the ink that fed my need to express my inner strivings. I would take time to meditate on the previous year and fast forwarding to what I wanted in the upcoming months and years. It was soul-satisfying and nourishing in ways that surpassed food.

In my 30’s, living in South Florida with my husband Michael, we became part of a community led by Rabbi Rami Shapiro. The services for the High Holy Days took on renewed meaning for me as once again, I felt enwrapped in protective love as I had with my dad.

There I experienced both tradition and transcendence. The prayer book we used was called Unhewn Stones. I have a dog-eared version by my side now and will be bringing it with me to the park where I will soon do my ritual.

One aspect of the day is asking for and offering forgiveness for anything we have said or done that might have caused harm either intentionally or unintentionally.

It occurred to me in the wee hours this morning, how much I have wronged myself, sometimes on purpose.

I forgive myself for:

Holding on to beliefs about myself and others that are harmful

Believing in lack and limitation

Emotionally starving and depriving myself

Working myself into a heart attack (literally, in 2014)

Holding unreasonably high standards for myself

Tormenting myself with memories of things I can’t change

Justifying not having what I want because of those choices as if punishing myself for them

Feeling frustration that no matter how hard I work, I am still not where I want to be professionally

Judging others who are in that lofty position who seem not to work as hard, but because someone ‘discovered’ them

Not allowing myself to be completely human, with a full range of emotions and needs

Rejecting myself

Tap dancing for approval

Being a chameleon to earn love and simultaneously holding it at bay when someone willingly offers it

Hiding my light under a bushel

Shaming myself

 

When I doubt my worthiness, this poem always brings me back to the knowledge that I loved beyond measure. It was part of the Yom Kippur services he led.

Unending Love (by Rabbi Rami Shapiro)

We are loved by an unending love.

We are embraced by arms that find us
even when we are hidden from ourselves.
We are touched by fingers that soothe us
even when we are too proud for soothing.
We are counseled by voices that guide us
even when we are too embittered to hear.
We are loved by an unending love.

We are supported by hands that uplift us
even in the midst of a fall.
We are urged on by eyes that meet us
even when we are too weak for meeting.
We are loved by an unending love.

Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled,
Ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices;
Ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles;
We are loved by an unending love.

On this day, I don’t wish myself an ‘easy fast,’ as is often wished for us, but rather a powerful, healing, meaningful and redemptive fast that pushes the re-set button for me.

yvonnetada

There are people who enter your life at just the right moment as if the meeting was divinely orchestrated. You have no clue at the time just how important your connection will be. My friendship with Yvonne Kaye was just such a one. I initially discovered this dynamic, outspoken, no holds barred, now multiply tattooed 85-year-old woman in the 1980’s when she was the host of a long time radio program on a Philadelphia based talk station called WWDB. Her listeners were regaled with stories about recovery, grief, spirituality, and humor. Yes, they were often blended together as if a sweet and salty cake batter. I would listen with rapt attention each Saturday night. I would tap into her wisdom as a therapist for a few years, and a mentor since then. She saw me through some of the darkest, most challenging and painful parts of my life. I like to say that she was a lovingly kick ass coach who insisted that I enter a co-dependency recovery program. In her inimitable style and firm British accent, she said, “You’re going.” and so I ‘go-ed.’ On the other side of the program was a freedom I had never known. From her, I learned that I had the right to say no to what didn’t work for me, rather than falling in a lax manner to whatever showed up in my life. I learned that I need not be a caregiver in order to earn love. I learned that ‘discipline is freedom’. I learned that I am loveable, just because. I learned to laugh at my fears, instead of buying into them. I learned to stretch comfort zones. I learned to question nearly every aspect of my life. I learned that my choices impact my outcomes. The treasure chest is overflowing with all of the gems she has offered me over the years.

Today is her 85th birthday. How many octogenarians do you know that rock more than half a dozen tattoos (acquired since her beloved partner John died three years ago), who has a delightfully wicked sense of humor, and can rock out to the music of Bob Marley, Freddie Mercury, and David Bowie? I want to be like her when I grow up. Her resilience in the face of loss and trauma astound me. She gives voice to what many are thinking but dare not say. She continues to use her therapeutic and presentation skills to work with those with addictions, those who have lost children, people who are incarcerated, and those who have PTSD. I was honored to have interviewed her this summer as she shared her perspective on those and other currently pertinent topics.

We have far more than a professional relationship at this point. When John died, I offered my hard earned wisdom, having been widowed in 1998. Since my mother died in 2010, Yvonne has become a surrogate mother, listening with the ears of the heart and holding space as my own mother did. She would often say the same type of encouraging things that my mom would say. When my son Adam married his sweetheart, Lauren on August 12th, 2017, Yvonne shared a prayer during the ceremony and a blessing before dinner.

When I planned my trip to Ireland back in May of this year, Yvonne advised me about where to visit, since John had been her tour guide on their journeys there. She is a lover of all things Irish, just like me. As it turned out, most of the places she suggested were on the tour. I had brought with me, two photos of John. The first was taken when he was a 17-year-old hottie and in the British Royal Navy and the other while he was in his 70’s and looking quite handsome and distinguished.  When I entered one of the shrines called St. Brigid’s Well, I saw tha it was filled with prayer icons, rosary beads and photos of those who had passed. At that moment, in the chill of the alcove, I heard John’s voice asking me to leave his youthful photo there. My response was “But they are dead people.” John winked and said, “I’m dead too.” I carefully placed his picture among the others knowing that he would be well cared for.

I am eternally grateful to celebrate the birthday of this shining light who continues to touch the lives of so many.

 

Just returned from a lovely evening at the home of my friends Deva and Stan Troy. The occasion was Erev Rosh Hashanah; meaning the eve of Rosh Hashanah. In the tradition in which I was raised, this night ushers in what is colloquially called The Jewish New Year. It begins the 10 Days of Awe between this holiday and Yom Kippur which is considered the holiest day of the religion. In years past, I would spend it in the synagogue of my childhood and then as an adult, Temple Beth Or which was the one we attended in South Florida, reciting familiar prayers that are in my blood. Other times, I would sit on the edge of a body of water as I meditated and prayed. I have incorporated the use of mala (Buddhist prayer necklace) on which there are 108 beads. I would run them through my fingers and for each one, send a blessing to someone who has touched my life in one way or another.  A few years ago, I went around three times, since there were so many who came to mind and heart. I will do so again tomorrow.

At tonight’s gathering, I was joined by several other friends from their overlapping soul circles, one I have known since 1979 and one I just met tonight. In between are others I have seen at various gatherings. Each brought with them, a contribution of lovingly prepared dishes and their own sweet souls. The conversation around the table was lively and fascinating, on topics ranging from politics and religion (the only one of the ‘taboo subjects’ that was missing, was sex.) to therapy, since two of us were psychological therapists and two occupational therapists. Some of us were raised Jewish and others were there with partners who grew up in other faiths. God is cool with all of that, as I have on good authority.

What we each have in common is a desire to engage in T’shuvah (turning, as in turning over a new leaf).

After dinner, we gathered in their living room and sang a chant written by the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Music and Lyrics : Schlomo Carlebach
© Schlomo Carlebach All Rights Reserved

Return again, return again
Return to the land of your Soul
Return again, return again
Return to the land of your Soul

Return to what you are, return to who you are
Return to where you are
Born and reborn again
Return again, return again,
Return to the land of your Soul
Return again, return again
Return to the land of your Soul…

It reminds me that life is a perpetual cycle and we are invited to be whole-ly and holy who we are.

We then did a body love meditation where we honored the container for those precious souls we tote around. Deva then asked us to consider what we wanted to continue doing as we had in this past year and what we wanted to change. Although I had written several items on both lists, the two that stood out were ‘loving fully’ and ‘releasing fear’. I have learned that they cannot co-exist. I choose love, first and foremost.

As I stepped out into the rainy and chilly night, my heart was warmed and my soul ready to soar into the New Year.

L’shana tovah, tikatevu.  May you be inscribed in the book of life for a good year.

 

 

This question zipped through my mind yesterday when in conversation with a young person who often digs heels in despite wanting to move forward in a career that is a passion. We have discussed this many times and what often gets in the way is the entrenched belief that they will never be polished enough, confident enough, skilled enough, or as good as peers. It seems like attempting to run with a ball and chain around your ankle and then feeling frustrated that you continue to trip and fall. The finish line seems far in the distance and unattainable.

There have been times in my own nearly 60 years that I have felt the same way. I set up goals and visions and cast my line out into the uncertain waters, plant seeds in what I hope is fertile soil and still, at times, question if there are fish out there or if the seeds will blossom into beauty. What tells me that it is possible for me, is that I have seen it in the lives of others who I deem successful. Writers and speakers who do what I do and make a full time living at it, are my role models. They stand on the ‘big stage’ and deliver the same type of messages that I do. I assure myself that each time I step out of my comfort zone, I am getting closer to that reality.

An analogy that I have long equated with this dynamic comes from my childhood. I was a water baby, splashing about it pools from an early age. I think I began swimming lessons around the age of four. Our community pool had a high dive over a 12-foot diving well and it was a goal to take a leap off of it. If memory serves, I was seven (the same year I rode my bike sans training wheels) when I climbed the ladder, heart pounding. I walked to the end of the diving board. As I am writing this, I can feel the rough sensation of the surface under my feet. Standing at the very edge, I looked down into the water that lapped up against the turquoise painted walls and floor. Uh oh…I began to have doubts that I could actually follow through. The only thing that kept me from turning around was that there was a line of other kids behind me, some with their feet already on the ladder. I had to save face. My mother stood eagerly/anxiously on the side of the pool and the lifeguard gazed with a watchful eye, as I jumped into the air and plunged into the cool depths.  A moment later, I emerged triumphantly, droplets shaking off my hair. My mother smiled, I smiled and got back in line to do it again. There wasn’t a question that I was ready enough since I proved to myself that I could do it. Once I do something, I can never doubt that I can do it again. The same is true for you.

Since then, I have taken huge leaps personally and professionally. I have raised a child as a single parent, have held many jobs, have traveled to various locations around the world, sometimes only knowing a few people or no one before embarking, have interviewed notables in various fields, have hosted a radio show, have spoken before large groups and small, intimate gatherings. I have spoken to strangers who became dear friends. I have hugged countless people on the streets, in airports, train stations, polling places, at fitness and sports events, at peace and social justice vigils, marches and rallies, as the founder of Hugmobsters Armed With Love.

What is your growing edge? What are you getting ready for?

“Leap and the net will appear.”-John Burroughs