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Musing for Meaning

Cheating Ourselves

February 24, 2013

I couldn’t understand it. How was it possible that I could barely breathe, and they walked out of the class as if it was a walk in the park? Not to mention that while they glistened, it looked like I had just finished a shower. Was it possible that I was so out of shape that the class was simply that much harder for me?

Recently I started a specialized eating program to help lower my cholesterol. It is a short but intense type of diet, and one of the conditions is that there is to be minimal, if any, working out.

As I am a creature of habit, this condition terrified me

As I am a creature of habit, this condition terrified me. I was finally in a routine where I made it to the gym at least three times a week. My fear was that if I stopped, for any reason, that would be it. I would not be motivated to go back. So, after speaking with the nutritionist, I was told I could attend the classes, but just needed to ensure that I stick to modifying my favorite class to low-impact.

The music started, and I worried how I would handle my beloved instructor, who would always leave me sore for a good week following her intense workout. While it went against my nature, my goal was to keep my breathing even. So, instead of throwing my arms back as hard as I could, I did the same movement, but with hardly any effort. And it worked.

But here was the thing.

No one knew I wasn’t really working out. Even I didn’t see the difference when looking in the mirror. I looked just like everyone else. I did all the routines. I didn’t skip out on any of the movements; I just didn’t do them full force. When she jumped high, I jumped low. When she kicked with strength, I kind of threw my leg into the air.

There was a woman next to me who had never taken the class before. She was huffing and puffing, and kept looking at me with a mixture of shock and amazement. By the end, she finally asked how it was possible that I just made it through that class without so much as breaking a sweat. It was a statement more than a question, so I didn’t even get the chance to tell her it was because I was faking it. It looked like I had worked out. But it certainly didn’t feel like it.

I wonder how often we allow ourselves to cheat

I wonder how often we allow ourselves to cheat. Sure, it can be easier or quicker to look as if we are doing the right thing, when in truth we are just taking the shortcut. But at what point do we recognize that truly, the only one we ultimately cheat is ourselves?

I wanted to go up to every woman in the gym who had been faking it this whole time, and just ask why. Didn’t they realize that if they don’t actually put effort into what they are doing, they won’t get results? Why waste time at the gym, if not to really work out? Why waste time doing just about anything, if we are not going to invest of ourselves. In the end, when we waste time, we waste potential. We waste the ability to produce, to create, to make a real difference. And if we are anyway spending that time, why wouldn’t we want to get the most out of it?

I recently had this conversation with my children. In the morning, when they are running late, it is hard for them to find the time or to invest the proper time to say their morning prayers. It is not that they don’t want to say them, but if it is between that and packing their lunch, often the prayers will take a back seat. As we want their prayers to be beautiful and positive, and not something forced or feeling like a punishment, we are very careful not to be harsh about how we approach the subject.

The other morning, I asked one of my children if she had said her morning prayers. She said “yes,” but refused to look at me when she answered. She is not one to lie, but I also had a strong feeling she wasn’t telling the whole truth. So, I responded, “Wow, that was quick . . . I didn’t realize you could say them so quickly.” She countered, “Well, I didn’t get to say them all, but I did say most . . .” I knew she felt guilty, I knew she was trying to fake her way through, so I tried to use it as a real opportunity to teach her.

She is not one to lie, but I also had a strong feeling she wasn’t telling the whole truth

I explained to her that she doesn’t pray for my sake. It is not about me, and it is not my place to be upset if she doesn’t say what she should. Prayer is between her and her Creator. It is her opportunity to connect, to give thanks and to acknowledge her blessings in this new day. If she cannot or chooses not to say them, that is between her and G‑d. Of course, as her parent, it is my responsibility to encourage and direct her to do what we would like her to do. But at the end of the day, if she does not, she is the only one who loses that opportunity.

And this is not just about our relationship with G‑d. How do I truly invest in all my relationships? It might look like I am a wonderful mother, but the only thing that really matters is if I actually am. Do my kids feel that way? And if they do, then it is pretty unimportant how it might look to those on the outside. We spend so much time and effort trying to look the part. Trying to act the part. Trying to walk the walk. But do we extend that same focus to ensuring we put in the real work where it is needed? Sure, it might look the same externally when we fake it, but is not the same. And we know it. And others feel it. And in the end, we cheat ourselves and those who deserve the real thing when we don’t give it.

It is not about me, and it is not my place to be upset

As hard as it is for me to fake my workouts these days, I know that for right now, not pushing myself is what is healthiest. But I can’t wait until that restriction is lifted and I can go back to throwing myself into every movement as hard and fast as I can. I believe in the “no pain, no gain” approach. And not just for the gym, but in all aspects of life. “Pain” does not mean it needs to hurt. But it does mean you need to push. And you need to feel it. Because if you don’t extend the right effort with the output, the result will never be what it could have been . . . what it should have been.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

Not Living Like It’s Your Last Day

February 17, 2013

I have always been drawn to the terrible. I know that sounds awful, but it is true. As a young child I would sneak the graphic Holocaust book that I was told never to look at, and stare at picture after picture. They would haunt me. I would think about those faces throughout the day, and they would visit me in my sleep.

As I grew, I would read the obituary section, and cry over the lives lost of those I had never heard of before. I would head straight to the section on crimes, and read every detail of every murder that had taken place. To this day,I have always been drawn to the terrible I am often found with tissues in my hand as I stare at my computer screen and wonder how anyone could be so evil as to commit many of the horrific acts that can be found throughout the news.

I have always wondered where this came from, and why I do it. To a great extent, I think it is to make me feel. To make me care. To want to tap into the intensity of emotion that can be hard to reach on one’s own. And to remind myself how precious life is, and how little control we have over it.

The idea that we should live every day as if it is our last is something I read a while back, and stayed in my mind as the ideal goal to reach. Its source is actually in the Talmud:

Rabbi Eliezer said: “Repent one day before your death.” So his disciples asked him: “Does a person know which day he will die?” Rabbi Eliezer responded: “Certainly, then, a person should repent today, for perhaps tomorrow he will die—so that all his days he is repenting.” (Talmud, Shabbat 153a)

But this goal came with a lot of guilt, for as hard as I would try, I would fail, time and time again. My day would end, and I would think how it was not how I would have wanted my last day to be. It took some time for me to realize that there will never be a day that will end with me feeling that way. And I’m not sure I want there to be. Upon more reflection, I realized that while most definitely we should live with the awareness that we may not have another opportunity to do in the future what we can do today, simultaneously, I don’t want to live my life as if it is going to end. I want to live my life as if it is just beginning.

Fortunately, I do not know how long I have in this world

Fortunately, I do not know how long I have in this world. I pray it is a long time, as there is so much I want to do and accomplish. But if I knew I had a limited amount of time, it would prevent that from happening. Because instead of having goals to reach for, I would only focus on the present. There would be no future to work towards. If I knew that, G‑d forbid, today was my last day on Earth, I would be doing absolutely everything different than I am doing it now. I wouldn’t be working. I wouldn’t have sent my children to school. I certainly wouldn’t have wasted a half an hour washing dishes! If I somehow knew ahead of time my expiration date, I would spend my every waking moment enjoying my children and husband, speaking with other family and close friends, and checking off as much as possible on that bucket list.

But that is not all that takes place in my life.

So, I continue to take care of the seemingly mundane, from bills to cleaning to cooking. I drive carpool. I edit and write articles. I check e‑mail. I waste time . . .

Hmmm, I waste time. Yes, I most definitely do. I procrastinate and push off what I don’t like to deal with, and get swept away with distractions. And, to an extent, some of that helps. It gets the creative juices flowing. It reorients and helps balance. And along the way, I end up in places I wouldn’t have found had I not allowed for the detour.

I end up in places I wouldn’t have found had I not allowed for the detour

But I think the real point here is not to try to only live as if it was our last day. That is just way too much pressure. Rather, to try to utilize the time we have in a meaningful and productive way. To be conscious. Not some of the time, but all of the time. To be aware. To be cognizant of our behavior, our surroundings and our impact. I think that is the real goal for me.

The other day, when one of my beloved children was being exceptionally annoying and I was about to raise my voice to a pitch that can break glass, I stopped. I thought about this idea of not taking anything for granted. I thought once again, as I often do, about the parents of the 20 Sandy Hook children, who would do anything to be annoyed by their children. And it calmed me down. I didn’t scream. I walked away. I came back a minute later put together.

And it occurred to me then that rather than trying to live as if I am going to, G‑d forbid, lose my children, I need to live focused on how I can be a calmer, more patient, more loving parent. It doesn’t mean I will never lose my temper, but it does mean I will be trying that much harder not to.

We can’t ignore or forget about tragedy. It is vital that we remember these events, both to honor the memory of those lost and to live better lives, since they are unable to. But that is the real point here. We need to live. And when we consume ourselves with fearing death, it immobilizes us. We need to live today as today. To the fullest as possible, but as today. Not as today and tomorrow and the next day. It is too much pressure. It is too much to ask. It will end up paralyzing us rather than propelling us forward.

We need to live. And when we consume ourselves with fearing death, it immobilizes us

When we lived in Israel I would see this all the time. At first it bothered me, and then I understood the necessity. Whenever there was a terrorist attack, and it was often, everyone would be shaken and speaking about that attack the entire day. The newspapers were filled with stories of the victims. The television covered the funerals. And there was no escaping the harsh reality that we lived with pain and suffering in our midst. Yet, not long after, life resumed. We went back to normal. And not because we forgot. Not because we didn’t care. But because we had to. Those terrorists took the lives of their victims. There was no way they were going to take the lives of the living.

And I think that is really what it is all about. We shouldn’t be living our lives as if today could be our last day. We should be living today with the realization that today will never reoccur. So, our only opportunity to do what we can do today—is today. What is my goal for today? What can I focus on and improve or change today? What choices today will help me tomorrow move closer to what I am aiming for? And how can I make sure, in the craziness of my day-to-day life, to stop and appreciate those I love, and acknowledge the blessings that I have?

I never really tapped into the brilliance or importance, until now, of why Chabad chassidim learn the Hayom Yom every day. This book was compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1942 at the request of his father-in-law, the previous Lubavitcher rebbe, who described it as follows: “A book that is small in format . . . but bursting with pearls and diamonds of the choicest quality.” Every single day has an entry with the customs of the day, important events that happened on the day, and an inspirational thought. Every day is important. Every day counts. And every day should be lived to its fullest. But that doesn’t mean that we are to squeeze a lifetime into a day. Rather, we are to squeeze the most we can out of each day.

So, I am changing that quote in my head. No longer is it the one about living each day as if it was my last. Rather, it is another that I wish had posted to my Facebook sooner! It reads: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Exactly. So for me, this is what it is all about. No longer will I pressure myself to live as if I could die. But to live in the best way possible. Positively. Passionately. Purposefully.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

Writer’s Block

February 10, 2013

My fear came true. After more than a year of writing my weekly blog, Musing for Meaning, the deadline is looming and I have nothing to say. Zilch. Zippo. Nada.

It is not often that I am accused of being short on words. My problem is actually quite the opposite. My children beg me to stop talking, and I live with insecurity that I all too often overspeak in social situations (make that any situation). I like to talk. A lot. And I have ideas, thoughts and feelings that I like to share. Sue me. Fortunately, I found a job that allows for that (best part about writing is that it is one way . . . I can talk all I want on paper!). And to supplement, I am a professional speaker (ha!). I actually get paid to talk. Dream come true.

I actually get paid to talk. Dream come trueSo, you can see my dilemma as I sit at the computer with no idea what to write about. I finally caved, and posted on my Facebook wall that I had writer’s block and was in desperate need of suggestions. And boy, did they start coming in. Great ones. But they didn’t help. They actually overwhelmed me, and reminded me how many important topics I haven’t written about. But none that I could just write about on the spot.

And then someone posted that I should write about writer’s block. And so, here you go.

What does it mean to have writer’s block? Is it really ever possible that we have nothing to write about? There is an entire world happening around us. So much to learn from. So much to incorporate into our thinking and feeling. Which is where the “block” part comes in. It really is me. There is so much happening around, but I am just not open to it. I am not a vessel. Because I haven’t made the room for ideas to enter in, they can’t then come back out through the pen (or keyboard).

Along with my request for topic suggestions, I got a few great links to ridding oneself of writer’s block. One of them suggested that the way to break through the rut is actually to stop thinking and start experiencing. Change your environment. Let your mind wander. Listen to other perspectives. Be around other creative people. Basically, the way to unblock something is to clean it out, to make room and space for something new.

But then, what exactly is blocking me? Thoughts? Feelings? Fears? Boredom? All of the above? If I am closed, for whatever reason, there will be no output. But even once I let in some room, I need to first fill again before I can give out. And that is a lesson I need to reteach myself over and over again.

I like to do. I like to give. I like to be busy. Because when I am, I don’t have time to really worry or contemplate or think. I don’t need to reevaluate if I don’t stop. I don’t need to wonder if I am spending my time wisely, if I don’t have the time to wonder. But there are times when our mind doesn’t let any more in, because it needs us to think about what is already there.

I like to be busy. Because when I am, I don’t have time to really worry or contemplate or thinkAnd then there are times when there just isn’t anything to say . . . yet. It ebbs and flows. I have written a few articles in a week, when I couldn’t even process without that outlet of writing, and then weeks go by and I don’t seem to get out a word. So far, I have balanced the timetable so that it didn’t pressure me like it is now. But it eventually caught up. Deadline. No article. Stress.

So, I am not going to allow myself to stress. I am going to allow myself to recognize that I need to take some time to think through what I think. To think through what I feel. And to think through before I say something just for the sake of saying it.

This writer’s block has been quite helpful in making me stop. And I have no doubt that many of the pieces to come will be a result of not being able to write one now. But wait . . . then what is this? Hmmm, a piece about the merits of having nothing to write. Definitely my speed. Even when I have nothing to say, I manage to take 742 words to express it!

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

Being Superwoman

February 3, 2013
Rivka Marga Gestetner
Rivka Marga Gestetner

One of the most transformative times of my life was my junior year in college, when I studied abroad in Israel. It was not an easy year—actually, one of the most difficult of my life—but, as often happens, hard and life-changing often go hand in hand.

Towards the end of that year, during which I managed to immerse myself in just about everything other than Judaism, I was introduced to Rabbi Shlomo and Rivka Marga Gestetner. They had recently moved to Israel from the States, and had opened up a Chabad House in the Old City of Jerusalem. While I most certainly knew that rabbis, rebbetzins and I didn’t mix, I reluctantly agreed to meet them, as my close friend assured me she was an excellent cook, and my stomach overruled most moral or other ethical dilemmas I might have had.

My stomach overruled most moral or other ethical dilemmas I might have hadA tremendous cook she most definitely was (and is), and it didn’t hurt that as I entered the apartment, her then-one-year-old toddled over to me and reached his arms out. It was love at first sight. I was hooked. Over the next few months I became somewhat of a permanent fixture in their modest apartment. So much so that when my academic year came to a close, they offered me a place to live with them in exchange for helping with their two adorable children. Hmmm, live in the Old City of Jerusalem, eat incredible food, take care of children I adore, and get to hang out with the coolest “religious” couple I had ever met. Yeah, that worked.

So, in I moved, and as each day passed I absorbed more and more. Unlike what any classroom or textbook could offer me, I was living an authentic Jewish life with two extremely talented teachers. Everything they did was followed by a question from me as to why, what reason, and what meaning it held. From the practicalities of cooking and keeping a kosher kitchen to the mysticism and esoterica of the customs, I was a sponge.

I watched in awe as they taught classes, ran programs and hosted dozens upon dozens of people for Shabbat meals, and often meals throughout the week. And, of course, there were the endless hours of counseling they provided for those in need, and lending a hand for whatever else was going on. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that I was living with Superman and Superwoman. And I liked it.

When the fall came, it was time for me to return to the States and resume my undergraduate degree, and the Gestetners were also flying back to the States for a family wedding. We decided that I would fly with them, spend the holidays in Crown Heights, and learn a bit in yeshivah before returning to California. So, together we flew, and arrived at the beautiful home of Rivka Marga’s parents in New York. After just a few hours, I turned around and found Rivka Marga collapsed on the couch. Not only exhausted from travel, she had clearly come down with something.

As the days passed, I watched her as her mother cared for her, and she did . . . nothing. She was being pampered, and was enjoying every minute of it. Friends of hers would come by to visit, and she would laugh with them and share stories like a teenager. She lounged around in pajamas eating ice cream. I was in shock. Where was Superwoman? Where was the powerhouse woman I knew and admired? Was it possible, conceivable, that in fact she was . . . human?

To a certain extent, my world came crashing downTo a certain extent, my world came crashing down. I had built her up to such an ideal that I had to come to terms with the fact that in addition to being my mentor and role model, she was also a daughter, sister, friend and young woman herself. But the very same thing that disappointed me gave me a sense of strength and purpose as well. If she could be “normal” and also capable of so much, then maybe I had that potential as well?!

Over the years I realized that the world is filled with Rivka Margas. Each one unique and individual, but amazing women who accomplish tremendous feats in sometimes extremely challenging situations. If you are reading this, you most likely have been to a Chabad House. If not, get yourself to one, and you will be blown away by what the couple running it manages to do. If it is running a school or leading a congregation or caring for the daily needs of their community, those who run Chabad Houses are nothing less than supermen and superwomen. No matter where you go in the world, from the large Jewish communities of Los Angeles to the barely existing ones of New Zealand or India, you can find a Chabad House.

But here is the best part.

They were not born supermen and superwomen. They were born regular people. They are regular people. But they are capable of remarkable things. How? Because they have a sense of purpose and mission, and the knowledge to act on it. They prove that when we devote ourselves to something we are passionate about, we are capable of more than we could ever imagine.

It is now the annual Kinus HaShluchos in Crown Heights, New York. Once a year, all of the women who run Chabad Houses around the world gather together for a long weekend of rejuvenation and inspiration. During these days they get to visit family, hang out with friends, eat food they didn’t have to cook, and attend rather than teach classes.

They are regular people. But they are capable of remarkable thingsI look around and I see thousands of ordinary women enjoying themselves and this precious yearly vacation. Not until I look at their nametag do I realize where they live. Most of the time I have never heard of the place, as they explain that it is a remote town in Brazil or Russia or someplace else I have never been and probably will never go. And then they are off, squealing as they hug a friend they haven’t seen in years.

Ordinary women who live extraordinary lives.

In just a few more days they will return to the place they now call home. Because they made it their home. Because they chose to move there, knowing they had something they could accomplish. Because the superwoman is not always who you are, but who you allow yourself to become.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
Every situation we find ourselves in is a lesson waiting to be learned. That is what this blog is about. From the people I meet, the places I go and the experiences I have, stories emerge, each teaching me something that I hope you will find useful for your life as well.
Sara Esther CrispeSara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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