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Musing for Meaning

Can You Fly?

Why I didn’t skydive for my 40th birthday

September 27, 2012

I’m convinced there are two types of people in this world. Those who can fly. And those who can’t.

Now, if you are a flier, you know exactly what I mean. You are reading this and shaking your head “yes” with a smile on your face. If you are not, you think I am crazy.

And while I very well may be, I can also fly. Or at least, I could. And while you wonder if I mean in my dreams, I guess so. But seems like a shame to limit it like that, since those dreams were reality for me. I could fly, and I did, all over the place.

I can also fly. Or at least, I couldNow there are different kinds of fliers. There are those who only rise above their beds and more float than fly, and then those who truly take off and head wherever they so please. I was that kind of flier. Would run, flap my arms around, and then breaststroke my way into the clouds above.

I miss flying. You see, I haven’t done it in a while.

I think as we grow older and life weighs us down, it is just too hard to take flight. As we lose our naiveté, we also lose that flying ability. And of all things I miss about my childhood, flying is what I miss most. Perhaps this is why for my 40th birthday, I wanted to skydive. After all, skydiving seemed the closest I was going to get to the real thing. And so, I was all set to go and do it, but there was one small glitch.

My husband was absolutely terrified of the idea.

At first I thought he was kidding, but after a few sleepless nights I realized that this plan of mine was truly traumatizing him. And so we decided we would ask our Rabbi, our spiritual mentor, for his opinion, and we were both willing to go along with what he suggested.

Bottom line was, he told me that I had the power to fly in my mind. He reiterated the teaching from the Baal Shem Tov that a person is where his or her thoughts are. While I tried pushing a bit and suggesting that I really wanted to fly in both mind and body, he insisted that I could fly with feet firmly planted on the ground.

While initially this didn’t seem to suffice in exchange of a 5,000-foot jump from a plane, we had agreed to listen, and listen we did. Needless to say, my husband was finally breathing and sleeping again once we received this response. And I then needed to figure out how to experience this flying in my mind, as my Rabbi assured me I could.

As I meditated on this idea, I started to question more why I wanted to skydive in the first place. Was it the thrill of something new? Was it the rush I would feel freefalling? Was it the flying through the air I so badly wanted to feel again? In a way, it was all of them. But in truth, the freedom and excitement and experience from the jump itself would be temporary. If I really wanted these to be part of my life, I needed to be able to fly whenever I wanted or needed to.

My husband was absolutely terrified of the ideaWhat my Rabbi was telling me, or empowering me with, was the ability to create my reality, and experience that reality, through how I chose to think about it. Flying, to me, represents being able to remove myself from what binds me or limits me. When I fly, I can see things from a different vantage point. I can see the bigger picture. I can also see my own surroundings from a new perspective.

It was certainly not coincidental that I wanted to skydive for my 40th birthday. In Ethics of Our Fathers, it teaches how each age we reach gains us new abilities. And it says that when one turns 40, one attains understanding. My lesson, my goal, needs to be to learn and understand how to experience and create what needs to be done, not always through how I act, but through how I think. I don’t need to physically jump to really fly. If anything, an actual jump could never match with the flying I experienced in my mind as a child. After all, when I used to fly, there was no parachute. It was the real deal.

How interesting that I was born the second day of the holiday of Sukkot. I was born during the holiday where we eat in the sukkah, under the stars, where we can see the sky above. And it is during Sukkot that we bring together the lulav and etrog, unifying the various parts of ourselves as well as the different aspects of society. Unity. Oneness. Mind, heart and body. Thoughts, feelings and actions. All outside. All under the sky.

So this birthday, as I turn 40, I yearn to acquire true understanding about myself, others, and the world around me. And I hope to learn to fly again and never forget how, so that whenever I so need, I can expand my wings and soar.

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.

Why We Need to Forgive

September 23, 2012

Every time I would hear the concept of forgiving another, not for the other’s sake but for one’s own . . . I would cringe. I know, not very mature, but it has always deeply bothered me. Why should I forgive someone who may not deserve to be forgiven? All the more so if the person can’t even be bothered to ask for forgiveness!

I’ve thought about this a lot. Can I forgive someone in my head and heart when I have been wronged and I never even received an apology? And why would forgiving that person make me feel better, when I am perfectly happy with my anger and resentment that I feel rightfully belongs?

Then I saw the quote. You know, the one that always appears on the news feed of your Facebook page? The one that clearly was intended for you to read, as much as you try to deny it? Yeah, that one. So mine reads the following: “Holding a grudge is letting someone live rent-free in your head.”

Why would forgiving that person make me feel better, when I am perfectly happy with my anger and resentment that I feel rightfully belongs?Hmmm. Now the only thing worse than feeling weak for forgiving someone I don’t feel deserves it is feeling that I am actually doing someone a favor (letting them live rent-free in my head) who has hurt me! Put in that way, and there is nothing I want to do more than forgive that person!

This week we will be celebrating Yom Kippur, which is all about forgiveness. This is the time we ask our Creator to forgive us for what we have done, while committing to not repeat our mistakes in the future. Every time we read the various wrongdoings in the Yom Kippur prayers, I always look through the list and recognize what I am guilty of, and breathe a sigh of relief for what I haven’t done. But we don’t say these prayers in the singular, but rather as a community, as a whole.

We have sinned . . . Forgive us.

The prayers we recite on Yom Kippur are not a multiple-choice checkoff. We do not go through and apologize for the things we have done while skipping over those we haven’t. I am as responsible for what you have done as you are for what I have done. The fact that we apologize as a whole, ask to be forgiven as a whole and resolve to be better as a whole makes the process more bearable and doable. If we are working together, we can accomplish so much more than what we could ever do alone.

And this is a lesson about forgiveness in general. If I can’t learn to forgive you, then how could I possibly ask another for forgiveness? It is not just as a whole that we have to ask our Creator to forgive us, but we need to recognize that as a whole we must ask each other for forgiveness and grant forgiveness to others as well . . . those who have asked, and those who have not asked.

I am as responsible for what you have done as you are for what I have doneHumbling ourselves in this way, being open and real and honest in this way, takes a lot of work. But the reward is tremendous. Growing up, I always thought Yom Kippur was a day of punishment. That we fasted to suffer. But when I learned that we fast because on Yom Kippur we are likened to angels who have no need for food, it changed my whole perspective. Here we are, recounting our sins, begging for forgiveness, yet in no need of food, for we reach the level of angels. Angels don’t make mistakes; they don’t sin. Seems strange.

But I think that is the real beauty. When we join together, apologize together, ask for forgiveness together, we rise together. We are elevated, as a whole, like the angels. At the very same time we acknowledge what we have done wrong, we are gifted with a level of holiness reserved only for this very day. And when we forgive ourselves, forgive others and are blessed with being forgiven, we begin our new year with an openness and awareness that we never could have had, had we not made those mistakes in the first place.

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.

Perfect Vision

September 16, 2012

I always thought I had perfect vision. I have never needed glasses, and always passed every eye exam with flying colors. But it appears I somehow cheated. As it turns out, I hardly have any vision in my right eye.

The eye doctor explained that all along, my left eye has been compensating. So much so that the weakness never appeared. This did, however, explain why I have no depth perception. For one can only see layers to something with the balance of both eyes. It also gave me a very rational reason (finally!) for why I often bump into things when I walk, not to mention that I walk at an angle and slowly push whoever is walking alongside me into the gutter.

One can only see layers to something with the balance of both eyesFrom a Kabbalistic point of view, the left eye symbolizes the idea of judgment, gevurah, whereas the right eye is that of chesed, lovingkindness. Not great to think that I have been lacking in my lovingkindness when I look at things. But, if I am honest with myself, it shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise. I am tough on myself, and I am tough on others. That has always been how I “see” things.

Enter Rosh Hashanah, where for the past month I have been giving and receiving blessings for a good and sweet new year, “shanah tovah.” And I have been doing my best to prepare myself for this month of holidays where we are judged, forgiven, and—G‑d willing—sealed in the Book of Life for the new year. And while I have thought about my past, and resolved to be healthier, happier, nicer, more patient and other positive qualities in the new year, it recently occurred to me that a sweet new year is not just about what happens during the upcoming year, but how I choose to think about it and thereby see it.

I have taught this concept many times before, but this year it really hit home. Rosh Hashanah literally means “the head of the year,” as Rosh Hashanah begins the Jewish new year. But the word for year, shanah, is also the three-letter root of the word shinui, which means “to change.” Chassidic philosophy teaches us that the beginning of the new year requires a shift, a change of head space. Newness takes place when we look at things in a fresh way, in a different way, through new lenses. Change how we think, change our perspective, and we will see the world around us in a new light. Change ourselves, and our lives will change.

Change ourselves, and our lives will changeMy visit to the eye doctor revealed to me how easy it is to think something is okay, that something is in perfect working order, when in truth it really needs help. How true this is in so much of my life—that only when I delve deeper do I discover that something was lacking that needing tweaking. And just having that awareness, that knowledge, allows us to begin the healing process. And the sweetness that we hope for in the new year will, in part, come from how sweet we choose to see our lives, and how much we work to sweeten the lives of others. For my eyes, this means giving my left eye a bit of a break while I work to strengthen my right one. Not an easy feat, but only by working on a weakness does it have a chance to change.

So as we enter Rosh Hashanah, our New Year, may we all be blessed to have the strength and clarity to look at our past to glean lessons and direction, and with a fresh perspective and new consciousness look to our new year and recognize the opportunities that await us. And may we all truly have a shanah tovah umetukah, a sweet and good new year.

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.

Giving Credit

September 9, 2012

Something wonderful happened to me.

And I almost never knew.

Recently there was a Zumba convention attended by 10,000 people throughout the States. In that crowd was my friend, Neshe Antelis, a Zumba instructor, who happened to be at the opening event where the CEO of this company spoke. She also happened to have her cell phone with her, and texted me the second she heard my name mentioned during this opening talk.

This CEO didn’t know me, but somehow had come across one of my blog posts. And he decided to share parts of it with the audience. Even more amazingly, he was honest and respectful enough to quote me by name (he easily could have just said that he read an article online).

He had no idea that I would ever learn that this took placeHe had no idea that anyone there would know who I was. More so, he had no idea that I would ever learn that this took place.

But fortunately, I did. Though I so easily almost didn’t.

Now, when I wrote how all these occurrences “happened” to happen, clearly I don’t believe they were coincidental. I believe in hashgacha pratis, divine providence, which means that everything, yes everything, happens for a very specific reason.

Yet that is not my point here.

Absolutely, the way everything fell into place is divine providence in a way I could so easily see. But the real lesson for me was how this could have happened without me ever knowing. And more so, how—had he simply not mentioned my name—no one ever would have known.

Because this CEO, this founder of a multi-billion dollar industry, made the effort to mention me by name, I was gifted with knowing that my writing affected him and that he chose to share it with the ten thousand people in attendance. And who knows, maybe he has shared it with other audiences?

It is so easy to look at our lives and wonder what impact, if any, we are really having. Sure, we know that we influence our friends and loved ones, and hopefully others in our community. Based on the type of work we do, we might even have “proof” that more are being reached by our actions or performance. But regardless, it is so easy to wonder what difference we make.

I know I look to superficial things for proof as to whether or not I am successful. Did people laugh when I made a joke in that lecture? Did people even bother showing up at all? Did people comment on my article? Did they press “like” on my Facebook post? And when these things happen, then I might feel that I did what I set out to do. But all too often, for whatever the reason may be, we don’t get the recognition or feedback that we wanted or hoped for.

But that doesn’t mean the impact wasn’t made.

Ironically, the particular article that inspired this CEO was not one of my “popular” ones. It didn’t receive many comments or feedback (that I was aware of). But that is the thing. What we see happen and what actually happens can be two very different things.

We are now entering the month of Tishrei, our Jewish new year. We are reflecting on our past, working on our weaknesses and preparing for a stronger, better and healthier future. We ask forgiveness from those we hurt, and we pray for a year of goodness and sweetness.

We might not see that difference until we reach the tipping pointThere is no question that we all want to make a positive impact in the coming year. But we need to know that we may never even know the influence we have, or have had. We need to believe that if we do the right things, if we speak in a positive way, if we help others in need, then whether or not we see the proof of our actions, they undoubtedly affect and uplift our lives—and more so, the world.

Sure, it’s easy to think that “no good deed goes unpunished,” but isn’t it so much more productive to know that every good deed makes a difference? We might not see that difference until we reach the tipping point. But it is being made. And sometimes, just sometimes, we are fortunate enough to be blessed with the right person in the right place at the right time to let us know that credit was given where credit was due.

P.S.: It’s funny: I wrote this entire post and didn’t want to mention specifics, because I felt like it was “name dropping.” When my awesome editor, Yanki Tauber, read it, his response was, “You go on and on about how nice it is that he credited you by name, but you don’t do the same for him!” So true! So thank you, Yanki, for pointing that out, and thank you, Alberto Perlman, CEO of Zumba Fitness, for giving me a gift you don’t even know I received!

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.

A Broken Heart

September 2, 2012

When I was a teenager, I used to have a book of quotes. It was orange, with lined white paper, and the cover was decorated with colorful puffy paint of peace signs and hearts. I started writing in it at the age of 14, and by the time I was 17 it was completely full. I took this book with me everywhere I went, and hid it in a secret spot so that my younger siblings wouldn’t find it. I would copy over poems, bumper sticker or billboard messages . . . anything that moved or inspired me.

Recently, when I was looking through old things, I found this book. I was flipping through, reminiscing at the passages that tugged at my heart and soul, when I found one that completely astounded me. For the life of me I can’t figure out where I would have seen this quote or what I thought it meant at the time, but clearly the seed was planted many years before this quote would become even more relevant in my life.

When I saw these words, they shook me to my coreThe statement was from Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, a Chassidic rebbe, long before I had ever heard the word “chassidic.” I had written the quote on its own page, for I must have intrinsically felt its importance. It read: “There is nothing so whole as a broken heart.”

When I saw these words, they shook me to my core. While I can’t figure out what it meant to me then or how I understood it, I know what it means to me now. Our wholeness, our completeness, is a process. And part of that process is allowing ourselves to feel and be vulnerable enough to be broken. If we have never been broken, we can never be whole. I love that. I need that.

We are now in the month of Elul, the month where we focus on rectifying our past while we prepare for our future. The 18th day of Elul, known as “Chai Elul,” is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, as well as the Alter Rebbe, the first Rebbe of Chabad. Chai means “life,” and so this date is known as the “life of Elul,” referring to its vitality and purpose. From the 18th of Elul until Rosh Hashanah there are exactly 12 days, and we are taught that each one of those days is an opportunity to reflect back and make amends for each of the 12 months in the year.

Let me say that again. Each day is an opportunity to rectify an entire month. Pretty powerful. No such thing as saying that it is too late, there is nothing that can be done. There sure is! Be open and honest and willing to ask for forgiveness, from yourself and from others. Twelve days can transform an entire year.

But looking back means being willing to accept and acknowledge our mistakes, the pain we caused and the opportunities we missed. That can be hard. Really hard. And it is so much easier to just close that door and tell ourselves we are just focusing on moving forward. But Elul reminds us that if we want our future to be different than our past, we better take a long and hard look at it, learn from those mistakes and commit to not making them again. Looking back is not being stuck in the past; it is what ensures that the past remain there, and not follow us into our present.

Looking back is not being stuck in the past; it is what ensures that the past remain thereAnd yeah, it is hard, because if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be growing or developing. And yeah, it hurts, but that is the point. It is not that we want the pain or ask for it, but it makes us who we are, and if utilized correctly, makes us better because of it.

I can’t even begin to remember what heartache I must have experienced at 15 when I wrote down that quote. It must have been pretty painful, though, if the words of a broken heart moved me and connected to me. And I bet if you asked me then, I would have believed that the pain was something I never would forget, and probably something I never would get over. But I did. And at the same time, it changed me.

That 15-year-old is part of who I am today. And what that 15-year-old saw and related to still moves me, and even defines me to a point. I wrote that quote down years before I ever knew what Chassidic philosophy was, or ever heard of the Baal Shem Tov. But I connected to the words of a Chassidic rebbe, who himself drew on the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings—and then now, as we approach Chai Elul, I come across my book, my dearest possession from over 25 years ago. And how true those words ring, reminding me once again that whatever pain I currently experience will one day be lessened, but the lesson from that pain will remain with me forever. For those words are so true: “There is nothing as whole as a broken heart . . .”

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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