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Musing for Meaning

Gaining to Lose

March 25, 2012

For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that for the last few months I have embarked on a path to a healthier lifestyle. And while I would love to post here about how many more pounds I have lost, unfortunately I can’t. For the last few weeks, I haven’t lost any. I have actually gained two. And, mind you, from doing everything right. I am eating well, exercising, even trying to get a tad more sleep. And yet, the scale is moving in the wrong direction.

For now.

I am eating well, exercising, even trying to get a tad more sleep. And yet, the scale is moving in the wrong directionAnd yes, I know the fact that muscle weighs more than fat, and therefore if I am turning my fat into muscle, it makes sense I would gain a few pounds. But what I know and what I feel can be two very different things. I get how it works. I just don’t like it. I want the reward to be the scale telling me I have lost a few. It is not enough for me to judge by the way my clothes are fitting, or how I look (I don’t trust my own judgment with these things . . . I create reality based on how I would like things to be!) But the scale is hard proof, fact. And that is why it is hard for me to accept gain when I want to lose.

I have been here before. This is actually the exact place I have landed when, in the past, I have given up. I hope this time will be different. I give up because I start rationalizing how it doesn’t matter what I do anyway, nothing is changing. I give up because it doesn’t seem worth all the hard work and effort for such a slight shift, when it even does change.

But I have been fooling myself. Of course, everything I have been doing makes a difference, whether or not it shows on the scale. And this is not just about weight. Every kindness, every mitzvah, every positive act makes a change, even if we are not able to witness it. The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the chassidic movement, stated that not a leaf falls from the tree without serving a purpose. So if that leaf can shift reality, how can I possibly doubt whether positive steps in the right direction won’t also make a change?

It is so easy to back out of doing the right thing by seeing how much more there is that we can’t even get to yet, or fix. Why bother eating a healthy salad if I ate a piece of cake last night? And yet, we all too often use this same logic to stay away from doing what is right emotionally and spiritually as well. Why bother fasting on Yom Kippur when I am going to drive to synagogue? Why bother making an effort to be nice to my coworker, when just this morning I was pretty rude to her? And the list goes on . . .

We don’t always see the changes when we do the right thing. We do, however, usually see the proof of our actions when we do the wrong thing. You can eat healthy and work out for a week, and you may not lose a pound, or you may even gain one or two. But, trust me, if you eat junk for a week and don’t exercise at all, you will most definitely gain, and probably more than a pound or two.

We don’t always see the changes when we do the right thing. We do, however, usually see the proof of our actions when we do the wrong thingAnd can we really compare the pound gained from turning fat into muscle and the pound gained from adding fat? Of course not. Sure, on the scale it may be a pound, but we know very well that not all pounds are equal (just as not all calories are equal!).

Change takes time, but every change we make in the right direction counts. And the more we move the right foot in the right way, the better the chances are that the left is going to follow. So, light Shabbat candles Friday night, even if you have plans to go out after. Tell your spouse “I love you” during the day, even if he really annoyed you in the morning. And eat that apple, even if you are going to have the candy bar. Nothing is for nothing. And unlike the popular saying, no good deed goes unrewarded . . . ultimately!

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.

The Grass Is Greener

March 18, 2012

If you ask someone what’s the best part of a cruise, chances are they will tell you it is the food. After all, cruises are notorious for nonstop, all-you-can-eat breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Not to mention snacks in between, to ensure no one goes hungry. No wonder the average passenger gains eight pounds on the friendly seas.

I was one of the lucky few who not only didn’t gain a pound on my cruise, but actually lost a few. And no, not because of my new love for working out, but because I couldn’t eat the food. It wasn’t kosher.

The rest of the passengers had their choice of just about anything you could imagineNow, before you worry that I starved (you never need to worry about that with me), I was well fed the entire time. Not only did I pack backup food along with protein bars, the ship did provide some basic kosher accommodations. And so, for four days, my meals consisted of fresh fish with snow peas, spinach leaves with cherry tomatoes and olive oil, a baked potato and grapes for dessert. My seasonings were the unopened bottle of olive oil they gave me that we kept in our room, the small salt packets that came with my plasticware, and the lemons I squeezed on whatever I ate.

It was sugar-free, gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, meat-free. Healthy, simple and surprisingly good.

Meanwhile, the rest of the passengers had their choice of just about anything you could imagine. Not only was there the regular menu, but they even provided a low-calorie, healthy diet menu. I never saw anyone actually look at it, though. People were ordering steaks and pastas, seafood and elaborate salads. You name it, it was there.

But a funny thing happened. Meal after meal.

Unlike anyone else, I didn’t use the regular china, but rather the paper plates and plasticware that were brought to me. And all of my food came to me double-wrapped in silver foil. First they brought my salad. A bed of spinach leaves along with uncut cherry tomatoes. I drizzled some olive oil and salt, and was about to eat, when I felt stares. Subconsciously looking around, I feared that someone found it rude that I was eating in a fancy dining room on a paper plate. But no, that was not it. Seconds after people spotted my salad, a few people called over their waiters. “Excuse me, but I didn’t see that on the menu. Can I get one of those too?”

Seriously? There were probably ten salads to choose from, but it was my spinach leaves that were suddenly in high demand. I listened as the waiter politely explained that the only reason I had it was because I needed special food, and it wasn’t on the main menu, but if they insisted, he could ask the cook to prepare one for them as well.

And then came my main course. As the waiter proceeded to bring my food, wrapped tightly in silver foil, curious and jealous eyes followed, waiting for me to unwrap my special gift, food that only I was privy to.

Sure enough, all faces turned to me as I unwrapped my fish and potato. I knew that my sea bass was no longer on the menu, and just waited to hear the requests for whatever I was having.

Feeling sympathy at this point for my fellow travelers, I turned to the four or five tables who clearly had nothing better to do than watch me eat, and tried to explain that there was really nothing to envy. I explained I keep kosher and therefore can’t eat the same food, and that the only reason my food was wrapped was not because it was more elegant, but because it needed to be for my dietary requirements. The questions then ensued, which I was more than happy to answer, and finally I was allowed to eat my dinner, free of interruption.

I kid you not: every lunch and every dinner, the same thing happenedI kid you not: every lunch and every dinner, the same thing happened. It didn’t matter that those in the tables around us had so much food it could barely fit; as soon as they saw I had something different, heads turned.

In Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of Our Fathers, the question is asked, “Who is rich?” And the answer given is, “He who is happy with what he has.”

I thought about this statement my whole trip. Here I was, with my best friend, being treated to a remarkable vacation to the beautiful Bahamas. For months I would count the days, excited beyond imagination. But, funny enough, when I would tell people I was going on a cruise, the usual response was, “Is it a kosher cruise?” And when I would say it wasn’t, almost automatically would come, “What a bummer. The food is the best part. It’s almost a waste to go on a cruise and not eat the food.”

Really? A waste? I could have sat in the hotel room at the Miami airport for four days with my friend, and I would have had an amazing time. I wasn’t going for the food. I was going to spend quality time catching up with someone I love dearly. Food? Sure, I needed it to survive, but as long as I had something to eat, I would be fine. And more than fine I was.

So often, we can get caught up looking over our shoulder at what someone else has. And when we don’t know them or their circumstances, it can look so much better than what is on our plate. It may look more exciting, or more successful, or more important. And because we don’t have it, rather than looking down and seeing what is in our lives, we can easily focus on what isn’t. I am victim to this all too often. And while I worry about what I lack, I fail to see the blessings that fill my life all the time.

Fortunately, I saw and felt and experienced every single blessing on my trip. I didn’t lack for a thing, and didn’t feel I missed out on anything. And in hindsight, I actually don’t think it was really my spinach leaves and baked potato that attracted so much attention. I think what they were picking up on, consciously or subconsciously, was that my friend and I sat there, smiles plastered on our faces, recognizing how blessed and fortunate we were to be doing what we were doing. I think that is actually what they were trying to order for themselves. And since they weren’t sure where it was coming from, I guess they just assumed that it must have been whatever was hidden within that aluminum foil that was making me so happy!

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.

Remember and Overcome

March 11, 2012

I was searching the web when I came across an extremely powerful blog. It was an art project created to expose the tragedy of sexual abuse, and what began as a photography experiment has turned into an avenue of healing, support and community for other victims . . . or, more appropriately, other survivors.

The idea behind the project was that the person who had been abused would hold a sign (either covering his or her face, or exposing it) with words on the sign that had been said by the perpetrator during the abuse. By writing those very words and holding them on the sign, with the abuse survivor standing tall and strong, it would be a way to take those very destructive words and prove that they did not destroy.

Standing behind those words today is one who is no longer afraid, no longer being quietedThis project is so powerful and heart­wrenching, as you read these words of manipulation, control, abuse and evil. And yet, standing behind those words today is one who is no longer afraid, no longer being quieted, and who is finally able to tell the world that this is what happened, in an attempt to make sure it never happens again.

Just a week ago we read in the synagogue the Torah portion called Parshat Zachor, the portion of remembrance. It is always read on the Shabbat before the holiday of Purim, the greatest day of joy and celebration in the Jewish calendar. The entire month of Adar, in which Purim falls, we are told to be marbim besimchah, to increase in our joy. So then, why, on the very Shabbat preceding Purim, would we want to read about those who seek to destroy us? How can we be happy, be joyous, when we are focused on something so negative?

But that is the point.

In order to experience true joy, we must be willing to look at the evil that was part of our past. In order to move forward in a healthy way, we must acknowledge, understand and remember.

There is a lot of pain in our collective history. For many of us, there is a lot of pain in our individual histories as well. But no matter how deeply we bury it, how much we would like to pretend it didn’t happen, that will not make it go away. What happened will never disappear, but we are capable of moving away from it. But only when we face it long enough to tell it that it no longer has a hold over us, and that we are ready to move forward. Like a great quote I read, “Running away from any problem only increases the distance from the solution . . .”

What happened will never disappear, but we are capable of moving away from itOn Purim we celebrate more than any time of year. But we celebrate only after we have remembered the pain that our enemy, Amalek, has caused us. We remember Amalek, not to dwell on what they did, but to consciously acknowledge how far we have come, and how, despite their attempts, they did not succeed. We survived, we thrived and we won.

Regarding the photography project, I am so proud of all those men and women who were strong enough and courageous enough to remember and transform the most painful words they ever heard into a statement of their victory. May we all be blessed to take the pain in our pasts and, rather than bury it, use it as a stepping stone for all the great things in our present and future that we can accomplish.

For only once we remember can we truly move forward and celebrate.

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.

Taking Off My Mask

March 4, 2012

Who am I? It is that essential, quintessential, burning question that we always ask ourselves. Growing up, I always worried that I was a mere compilation of the things I liked in other people. I had one friend’s laugh, another one’s gestures, and yet another one’s way of speaking. My biggest fear was that I would one day be thrown a surprise party, and all my different friends from different parts of my life would be there, in the same room, and quickly my facade would come crashing down, with them all simultaneously realizing that I was really a farce who just mimicked those around me.

It is true that many of the ways I acted and things I did may have originated from what I saw and liked in others. But as the years passed, they became a part of me, so much so that they no longer really represent the original laugh or tone that I was trying to copy. I became a conglomeration of those that I knew, those that I liked, mixed with “me,” whatever that really was.

I wear even more masks now than I once thought I didI’ve noticed, though, as the years pass that I wear even more masks now than I once thought I did. I find myself acting one way when I am teaching and around my students, another way around my friends, another way with my children, and yet another way when I am the child, around my parents. And these parts of me can seem so different that I am not sure I would be recognized if I acted like I did with my parents to my students, or vice versa.

The more I feel I am getting to know the real me, the more I realize that only parts of me can be revealed, depending on who I am with and where I am.

But recently I was given the gift of a lifetime. To celebrate our big 40th birthdays (she just had hers, and mine is in September), my best friend from childhood took me on a vacation. “Vacation” is a word not generally in my vocabulary, as the workaholic that I am has a hard time just letting go and relaxing. But this time it wasn’t hard. It wasn’t hard, because it was just me and my friend (okay, and a few other thousand people on the same cruise, but they didn’t count!). I was not with my children, my students, my husband or my parents. I was not with anyone I knew, except for the one person who has known me from the time I was fifteen.

In the 25 years we have known each other, we have both changed tremendously. I went from her beach-loving, sunny Californian friend to a mother of four, wife to a chassidic rabbi and living in Philadelphia. From the outside, we have nothing in common. And yet we share a bond, a connection, a friendship that transcends all that separates us. We do not eat the same food, we do not celebrate the same holidays, and we do not live a similar life in any shape or form, but she knows me, I know her, and we love what we know.

Recently I was given the gift of a lifetimeMore than the beauty of the Bahamas, or the luxury of sitting in the sun and not doing anything, was having four days to just be me. I was with someone who didn’t know my day-to-day life, but knew the person under all I did, and how I really think and feel on the deepest of levels. Our dinners lasted for hours, as we spoke about our thoughts, feelings and fears. We would cry from laughter, reminiscing about what we did as teenagers, and then cry from pain as we shared our most challenging experiences. When I was with her, my mask was off. And being around the real me was something I realized I don’t get to do very often.

We are about to celebrate the holiday of Purim. Purim is all about hiddenness. It is also all about overcoming obstacles, and recognizing and celebrating miracles. On Purim we dress up, we put on masks, we act like someone we are not. That is part of the fun and joy of the holiday. But that is not the ultimate goal. The point is to recognize that while things are hidden, that is not the ideal state of things. The goal is to reveal the hidden—as is the meaning of the name of the scroll we read on Purim, Megillat Esther, as Esther is the concept of hester, meaning hidden, and megillat is from the word megaleh, which means “to reveal.” So it is all about revealing what is hidden.

There is no question that hiding parts of ourselves is not only healthy but vital, depending on the circumstances. We should conceal our personal feelings or ideas in certain situations. Our workplace is not the place to share our political leanings or concerns, any more than our children should be privy to private conversations we have with our spouses. We hide a part of ourselves in order to be able to reveal the part of ourselves that are appropriate and necessary for the one we are connecting to. But it doesn’t mean that those other parts aren’t there, or are not important.

Being around the real me was something I realized I don’t get to do very oftenJust like G‑d’s name is not mentioned once throughout the whole megillah scroll, we never question if He was present or there. If anything, we are taught that every time it mentions The King (hamelech), that is a reference to our Creator. He is there, whether or not we can see Him.

This Purim, let’s celebrate the miracles in our lives, both those that are revealed and, even more importantly, those that are concealed. And let’s remember that even though we all wear masks, it doesn’t mean we have lost the real person behind it. But even more so, make sure every once in a while you take that time to just be you, all of you, with someone who gets it, knows it and loves 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.
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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