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Musing for Meaning

Comments That Hurt

July 29, 2012

One of my responsibilities at Chabad.org includes approving reader comments. Yup, you know when you post at the end of an article? Well, an actual person has to read that comment, see if it meets our posting guidelines, make edits if necessary, and push “approved” to post. That would be me.

For the most part, approving reader comments is a fairly easy and enjoyable part of my work. It is great to see the feedback on pieces, watch readers interact with one another, and witness how people’s lives are uplifted, inspired and sometimes even transformed through something they read.

Every so often, some reader feels the need to write something outright meanBut then there’s the flip side.

Every so often, some reader feels the need to write something outright mean. Now, we have our rules, and if a comment is racist or offensive in some other demeaning way, we won’t post it. But if the comment is saying that the author is immature or irresponsible or flat-out wrong . . . as long as the insult is written in a fairly respectful way . . . it will get posted. Because whether we like your opinion or not, you have the right to express it.

And guess what? Some of those comments hurt.

Yes, I am here to tell you that I am a real person with real feelings, and your words can hurt me very much. I know I am writing to the few. Fortunately, so many of you offer such kind words of support and encouragement, and even praise me in ways I don’t feel I deserve. And while I can rationalize and intellectualize and tell myself over and over that I should just ignore those mean comments, I can’t. And I don’t think any honest or caring person could.

What amazes me is that people feel they can type a comment and push “send” with words that I would venture to guess they would not say to my face in a million years. And yet, that is exactly what they are doing. It doesn’t help that I not only have to read them, but that I have to approve them as well! But that aside, please know the power of the words you write.

We are more likely to believe the bad than we are the goodI have a friend who is a celebrity with a very popular blog. On her Facebook page, she has tens of thousands of friends. And yet, recently, she has stopped responding to comments. Here is someone extremely talented, educated, accomplished and famous, and yes, comments from those she does not know and will probably never meet get to her also. Why? Because when someone says or writes something mean, it hurts. Regardless of who it is.

There is a beautiful concept in chassidic philosophy that our mouth is likened to a bow. When we open our mouth, our tongue shoots forth arrows. Those arrows can be love arrows (think Cupid) or arrows that can kill. And reality is that we are more likely to believe the bad than we are the good. When someone says something nice, there are two possibilities: she means it, or she doesn’t. We all know we sometimes say things for the sake of being nice, even if it is not completely truthful. “You look so nice!” “It is so great to see you!” The average, friendly person is going to say many “nice” things. But when someone insults you, you don’t think, “Hmmm, I think she really must like me and just didn’t say so . . .” Uh, no. She meant what she said.

So when I get those flattering and nice comments, I do believe them. I really do. After all, I don’t think you would waste your time to write a comment just for the sake of it. But when I get that mean one, I really believe it. Because I know you wouldn’t have taken the time to write that comment if you didn’t really feel the need to share your annoyance, disappointment, or even anger. But more so, when I see your comment, I wonder how many others feel the same way and just didn’t take the time to share their thoughts. And so I start to doubt and worry, and the worst part . . . that negative comment manages to outweigh the positive ones.

Why am I sharing this? Is it my goal to make you feel bad if you ever posted a not-so-nice comment? No. (Okay, well, maybe.) But it is more than that. It is to remind you and me, and all of us, that every time we open our mouths or push “send,” we are connecting and communicating with real people who have real feelings. No one should hide behind that keyboard, on either end, and pretend as if those words are not landing on real heartsWe need to think about that. We need to recognize that it isn’t easy for anyone to expose themselves and share of their innermost thoughts and feelings. Does that mean that everyone needs to agree? Of course not. Does that mean there is anything wrong with respectfully sharing a contrasting belief or opinion? Go for it! But it does mean that no one should hide behind that keyboard, on either end, and pretend as if those words are not landing on real hearts. They are.

So before you push “send,” think about the power of your words and how what you say will be felt and heard by those who read it. Ask yourself how you would feel if someone said to you what you are about to say to another. Remember, those words are arrows. It is up to you if they are love arrows or arrows filled with poison. Your words. Your choice. Please choose wisely.

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.

Dealing with Depression

July 22, 2012

It took some time to realize what happened to me. And perhaps even longer to want to admit it. But I was most certainly depressed.

I knew I was miserable, and I had plenty of reasons to be, but I hit a low that I had never experienced before and hope never to again. It had been a very tough year financially and emotionally. And the year began and ended with the loss of two close friends, both leaving behind young children and loving wives.

I started to lose focus, but even worse, I stopped caring. I kept myself as busy as possible to avoid having to think or feel, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t escape yourself.

I started to lose focus, but even worse, I stopped caringBut I was fortunate. Very fortunate. I knew I wasn’t in a healthy place, even though I didn’t yet recognize just how bad it was. But I did reach out to a few close friends who kept me stable, who reminded me that while things were excruciatingly tough they would pass, and that I would pull through. And, thank G‑d, I did.

Yet I understand how people don’t. And it is terrifying to think that I reached a point where I could identify with them.

I don’t really remember what changed. But one day I noticed that the cloud had lifted. Nothing specific was different in my life, other than how I felt. And when I could see clearly again, I noticed how for about a month I had been viewing the world through a horribly dark screen.

Recently, things have been extremely hard again for me. There have been a lot of health issues in my family, repeated trips to the emergency room, hospital stays, and a level of stress which manifests in my locking the keys in the car or forgetting the money I just withdrew in the machine. But there is a key difference between now and then. I am not depressed. I am overwhelmed, I am concerned, I am exhausted. But I am not depressed.

And this time, I believe deep in my heart that things will change. This will pass. We will be okay. It doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to have challenges. I don’t think one can do anything to escape them. But I do think one can be prepared for how to better handle them when they come.

I don’t really remember what changed. But one day I noticed that the cloud had liftedI am grateful that I experienced depression. Real depression. Because I now know the signs. I know what to look out for, both in myself and others. And I know that it must be dealt with, as no one should have to suffer with living in that state.

We are about to commemorate Tisha B’Av, the most tragic and destructive day for the Jewish people. And we spend the day in mourning, and fasting. We don’t greet others, we sit low to the floor and we hurt. We must feel the pain and experience the sadness. But only for a specific amount of time. Then we get up, recognize what we endured and move forward. And our Shabbat that follows is that of Nachamu, comfort.

But even more so, it is because of the destruction that we will rebuild, and when we do, we will not be destroyed again. This is one of the reasons that we are taught that Tisha B’Av is the birthday of Moshiach, for hidden within tragedy is the seed of redemption. When Moshiach comes, Tisha B’Av won’t go away; it will rather become a day of celebration. Because we don’t ignore what we have been through; it is not about denial, but about taking what was and transforming it.

I was living Tisha B’Av for more days than I ever wanted, but fortunately, for fewer than many. And while I would not wish it on anyone, it showed me how I never want to have those thoughts again, those feelings again, and just how much I have to live for. These days, when I experience joy it is on a far greater level than ever before, since from falling so low I am able to reach that much higher.

It is because of the destruction that we will rebuild, and when we do, we will not be destroyed againOn this Tisha B’Av let us remember why we are remembering, and use that negativity, that destruction, that death, to catapult us to a state of renewal and rebirth. And for those of you who feel you are drowning, you must get help. Scream for a life vest, or for someone to swim out to you. Tisha B’Av needs to be observed, but it is 25 hours one day a year—it is not to be the way to live our day-to-day life. Like the motto of a young woman I know, who has struggled tremendously throughout her life: “In the end, everything will be okay. If it’s not okay . . . it’s not the end!”

May this be a Tisha B’Av of reflection, feeling and healing, and may we experience its complete transformation as it becomes our greatest day of celebration!

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.

In Need of Water

July 15, 2012

So I finally gave in and saw a nutritionist. I had been doing everything right (or so I thought), and the scale just wouldn’t move.

The answer? Remarkably simple. Remarkably obvious. Remarkably overlooked.

I wasn’t drinking enough water.

Now, I am someone who rarely gets thirsty. While my husband will wake up from a deep sleep to have a glass of water, I can make it through the day on maybe a sip or two. So the idea that I needed a minimum of eight glasses a day was something I knew but had simply decided to ignore. It just didn’t occur to me how important something like water could be.

Remarkably simple. Remarkably obvious. Remarkably overlookedBut to the nutritionist, it was a no-brainer.

She explained that just as our bodies are comprised mainly of water, water is essential in both weight loss and a healthy body. The water flushes out the toxins and waste, and without drinking enough, we are robbing our bodies of what they need the most.

I thought about this, and realized how true this is in so many areas of our lives. It is not coincidental that just like our bodies are made up of mainly water, so too is the world. And we all know that you can plant some flowers in the most perfect place with the best soil, but if you don’t water them, they will die. Just as a human can live far longer without food than without water.

In Judaism, water is compared to life, and therefore represents the Torah. Mayim chayim, the waters of life, is the phrase that is often used. Yet water can be easy to overlook. It has no color, it has no taste. And there are so many other options, that one can mistakenly think that some juice or soda or coffee can replace what only water can do. Deprive one of water, and one’s life is in grave danger.

There is a beautiful parable of a student who was complaining to his rabbi than he had no time for spiritual pursuits in his life. He worked full time, had a family, played sports, and his day was packed from beginning to end.

Deprive one of water, and one’s life is in grave dangerHis rabbi answered him by way of demonstration. He began to prepare the traditional food that is eaten on Shabbat day, cholent, which is more or less a stew. He started filling the pot with the largest ingredients, like the potatoes, carrots and onions. Then the meat. The pot looked pretty full, but he continued to add the beans and the barley, which started to fill up the open space that was left. At this point, the pot did not seem to have any extra space.

He then asked the student if the pot was full, to which the student replied that it most definitely was. And yet, clearly if this stew was put on the flame, it could not cook as it was. At this point he filled a pitcher with water and began to pour. Sure enough, there was room for the water, since water, by its nature, will flow into and fill any empty space. Not only was there room for the water, but the water was the most essential ingredient in being able to cook a stew.

With this, the rabbi explained to his student that the water in our life is our Torah, our spirituality, our meaning. There is always time for it, and always space for it. We just need to be willing to pour and digest it.

So, when my nutritionist told me that the biggest obstacle in reaching my weight-loss goals was my lack of water, it just made so much sense. And more so, she explained that it is important to drink not only when I am thirsty, but often specifically when I am not—that is when I need it the most. She also explained that often when we think we are hungry, we actually are not. We need water, not food. So, if we drink before eating a meal, we are likely to eat much less than without that water.

It might be forced, but sometimes we need to train ourselves to do what is right and healthyNow, my goal is to drink a few cups before I eat and exercise, during exercise and after, and before every meal. It might be forced, but sometimes we need to train ourselves to do what is right and healthy, because regardless of what I feel like, my body needs that water. So I hope, as I increase my water intake in the physical sense, that I make sure that the emotional and spiritual waters are being digested as well, for if I want growth in my life, I need to remember to water all that I have.

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 Shopping at the Mall

July 8, 2012

I've been spending way too much time at the mall lately. It so happens that the very place that is stimulation overload for me, causing terrible dizziness, is the very same place my teenager finds relaxing. And so here I sit once again outside the store with the blaring music and flashing lights. (Yes, I sit amongst a group of bored husbands and exasperated kids...)

It is a good thing that I like to people watch. I actually love to people watch and can do it for hours. And the mall is a great place to watch away. I have always enjoyed looking at others and trying to read their body language, figure out who they are, their relationship to the people they are with, and what their personalities are like.

I actually love to people watchAnd while the mall is filled with so many different types of people, here for so many different reasons, they are all being bombarded with the same idea: that they need much more than they came for. In the mall luxuries become necessities and arms sans bags are incomplete.

I try to tell myself over and over that no matter how great the deal, anything I buy, no matter how cheap, costs more than not buying it. And if I came in not needing anything, then I should leave that way as well.

Eizehu ashir, hasameach bechelko: "Who is rich? The one who is happy with his lot." It is no coincidence that the word for "rich" is similar to the word for "happy" (osher). Not that being rich will make me happy, but being happy will make me rich. Of course not in the sense of having money, but by not needing money.

Meanwhile, I will venture to guess that poor people are not spending the day here. How could they afford it? This is an upscale area with an upscale mall, and from the crowded parking lot, I am guessing these people are not just here to window shop.

And what is the message of every store? You need to spend your money to be happy. Only if you give us your money will you feel satisfied and content. But more so, you not only need what we sell, but you deserve it. You owe it to yourself to buy it. And that, my friend, is the key to happiness.

If I came in not needing anything, then I should leave that way as wellI definitely seek happiness, but I don't believe I deserve every outfit I like. And even if I do deserve it, I can't afford it. And even if I want it, I don't need it. So buying it will not make me happy, it will not make me fulfilled, it will make me stressed and depressed. The mall is trying to tell me that I can't possibly be happy with what I have, while Torah is telling me that the only way to be happy is by recognizing and being happy with what I already have.

And my daughter is about to learn this lesson, whether or not she agrees with it. I might be willing to sit here while she walks into stores for "relaxation." But she will walk out the same way she walked in...empty-handed.

Funny enough, I am starting to enjoy my time here, sitting on my bench, typing away, and feeling completely at peace with not needing anything this enormous place has to offer. Who knew not buying a thing could make you 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.

Zumba Lessons

July 1, 2012

I love Zumba. My children would say I am obsessed with it. Okay, perhaps. And I am certainly not the only one. So I’ve been pondering what it is about this Latin-infused dance workout that has changed my life. How is it that I have gone from dreading the gym to jumping out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off, ensuring that I’m the first one there and that I get the prized spot right under the fan . . .

Now, if you were wondering why I have stopped updating you on my new health initiative, it is not because I have fallen off the wagon. Au contraire. I am happy to report that I have continued to eat healthy (for the most part), and have consistently made it to the gym at least three times a week, sometimes up to five.

I have changed my perspectiveHave I lost more weight? Hmm, I wouldn’t know. I have not stepped on the scale for some time. For a while I was convinced my scale was broken, since no matter what I did, it seemed stuck. But I have changed my perspective. I am doing the right things. I am enjoying them. They are healthy and good for me. So that is ultimately all that matters.

What do I have to thank for all this? Zumba. Yes, my beloved Zumba keeps me energized, makes me stronger, and helps me be optimistic and motivated. And as I said before, I’m not alone. Zumba has its own style of music, communities of people devoted to it, even its own clothing line. What is it about this fairly new workout routine that has made it so popular?

I think I know.

And I think it is actually the secret not only to a healthy body, but to healthy relationships as well.

For those of you who have not yet heard of Zumba or tried it, here is the key difference: Unlike most workout routines that one does with music, Zumba is a routine that is set to the music. This means that you are not just doing knee lifts or arm curls with a beat that may quicken or slow while you keep your pace; the music itself is what is guiding you. You are not working out with the music, but to the music.

We often go through life doing what we want to do, what we need to do, what we think we should do, and we try to make it fit with whatever else is going on in our lives. Sometimes it works, and our pace fits perfectly with the beat. Other times the music starts to slow, and we are still trying to lift or kick at a much faster pace. So we just keep going, doing our own thing, and the music becomes background noise.

We all know parents who insist on parenting their second child the way they did the first. It worked for big brother, so surely baby sister will eventually adapt. But she doesn’t. She is moving to a different beat, but they keep going with their playlist, not hers.

Or in marriage: It is so easy to say or do what we would want ourselves, without thinking about what our spouse needs. Often, when a woman is upset she likes to talk it out. She needs an open ear, whether or not it is a convenient time. But when her husband is upset, he needs some space. Give him some time, and he will get over it. But we can fall in the trap where we do what we need, not what the other needs. So, while he is trying to sit quietly and think, she is busy trying to get him to talk. She doesn’t realize that his song is nice and slow and a warmdown; she is too busy doing a high-intensity cardio, even though the beat is just not there . . .

We are all unique. And the same approach is simply not going to work for all of usOne of my favorite concepts in Judaism is chanoch lanaar al pi darko, “educate a child according to his way.” We are all different. We are all unique. And the same approach is simply not going to work for all of us. Sure, we can try and force it, doing what we do and hoping that the beats will match up. But often they don’t. And when they don’t, we lose our momentum.

So this is my theory as to why people don’t like, but love, Zumba. We love to be fully integrated with what we are doing. When we move with the music, it doesn’t feel like work, because the music is carrying us. You find yourself focusing on every note, every nuance. And that focus, that connection, is what makes it so powerful. You can’t ignore the music, because there are no steps without that music. When the music stops, so do you. And when a new song comes on with a different pace, you adjust your steps accordingly.

While I know most people love the Zumba workout, love the intensity of the exercise, I really do believe there is something deeper there. And if I think that the Zumba message will make me a better wife, mother and friend, then all the more reason to do it.

Now if only every aspect of my life could be as coordinated as my Zumba moves . . .

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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