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Enough of This Not Enoughness

December 27, 2009

What does Western society want you to believe about yourself? What message is our culture continually sending you?

According to author and psychologist, Joyce Nelson Patenaude, the core message that bombards us every waking moment is: "You are not enough the way you are," and "If you follow a certain path, this will lead you to being 'enough.'"

Billboards assault us with messages telling us to buy this product, become a member in this fitness center, drive this car, wear this designer's clothes. The point is, if you purchase, wear, drive, vacation, achieve academic success, only then will you be "enough."

"By the age of seven, we have become conditioned and internalized our parents' belief and the belief from their culture, society and religion," Patenaude asserts in her book Too Tired to Keep Running, Too Scared to Stop.

As a result, we are left feeling unworthy, inadequate and longing for fulfillment. We feel we will never measure up, and the desperate emptiness doesn't go away even when we achieve some degree of success.

"Though the original messages that formed our limited beliefs may have been long forgotten, we continue to send similar messages to ourselves through our thoughts, interpretations, assumptions, judgments, ideas, prejudices and in our inner voice and self-talk," claims Patenaude. "We become so conditioned by these messages that we are no longer aware that they are there. We believe there is something basically wrong with us that needs to be fixed. The truth is, there is nothing to fix… And only we can change that belief…"

Religion, too, reinforces this message by making us believe we are "bad" or a "sinner" and that there is something "wrong" with us, or that we'll be punished and will never "measure up" in G‑d's eyes, no matter what we do.

Lately, I've been thinking about this message of "not enoughness."

To be sure, many of us have internalized an inner voice that constantly criticizes us with its self-defeating messages about how we just don't measure up.

Society, the commercial world, our parents, teachers or religious belief systems seem to contribute to these disheartening messages of inadequacy.

But are all these messages negative? Can't striving to be more than we are—in the spiritual arena, and even in more mundane but purposeful areas of our lives—lead to positive growth?

Suppose the beautiful model advertising a fitness center motivates you to take daily power walks because you, too, want to look your best and achieve health.

Or, suppose you're a child living in a poverty-stricken, drug and crime-ridden neighborhood, but in your heart of hearts you dream of a better future. It is a dream that has materialized because you saw the handsomely-dressed men and women in ads for higher education and it was those smiling men and women who motivated you to leave your dead-end culture and recognize your potential.

Or, suppose your inner voice, mimicking your early religious teachers is preaching to you to be a kinder, more giving individual by taking a moment to say a compassionate word to a stranger, or by inviting a relative to your Shabbat meal.

Has anyone lost out from such self-talk?

A better self — a more knowing, sensitive, accomplished self — is a self better equipped to find fulfillment and happiness. Indeed, the making of this better self is the fulfillment of the purpose of creation. Ultimately, improving the self is why we are all here.

And yet, critiquing voices that tell that you are not enough can be so self-defeating, paralyzing you in their grip. So, when are "not enough" messages positive and empowering, and when do they become debilitating?

Perhaps the great Rebbe of Kotzk expresses it best: "If I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you. But if I am I because I am I and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you."

What is my motivation for wanting more out of life? Is it because I have a deep-seated belief that this is something positive for me and the world? Or is it simply a meaningless search and endless competition with those around me?

The Chassidic master Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli is reputed to have said: "If it were offered to me to exchange places with Abraham our father, I would refuse. What would G‑d gain from this? He'd still have one Zusha and one Abraham."

If this holds true in the realm of spiritual strivings, how much more does it apply in the realm of the material. We are not meant to achieve the greatness of Abraham or Zusha or even our "perfect" neighbors, the Cohens'. But I am meant to achieve the greatest "me," and you – the greatest "you."

The self-defeating and paralyzing message of "not enoughness" compares you to others and demands that you follow the rigid standards and definitions of success set by those around you—parents, bosses, corporations, and society.

But an awareness of "not enoughness" that originates from the infinite potential of our divine core, and realizing just how great each of us can become, is ultimately the most positive and empowering message we can live.

So, the next time you hear self-talk reprimanding you that you aren't enough, why not try answering it by telling it just how much you, yes, you, can be?

And then, go right ahead and be it.

So, what do you think – are you enough?

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

My Eleven-Year-Old Archeologist

December 20, 2009
The clay jars in which many of the better preserved scrolls were found.
The clay jars in which many of the better preserved scrolls were found.

"The telegram will be sent tonight. We need to word it very carefully, as each letter is prohibitively expensive."

Woops, wrong century.

"I'm going to the post office today to mail the letter. It should reach your mailbox within a week or two."

Off again… wrong decade.

"Check your inbox in two minutes. I'm emailing the document now."

Get with the times… email is just so passé.

"Follow me on Twitter and remember to add me as your Facebook friend!"

Instant Messenger is done with.

"Google Wave is the new wave that will replace email."(At least according to Google, that is.)

Times change. Very quickly.

So is anything unchanging?

The ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) here in Toronto recently featured an exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls. They marketed this event as "Words that Changed the World."

As part of a joint program of several synagogues in the Greater Toronto Area, my husband delivered an informative, historical lecture on these Scrolls. Deciding to make a family trip out of the event, we headed downtown with our children to spend the day at the museum.

Although my five-year-old daughter decided that climbing a support column in the room was far more thrilling than these "boring exhibits" (so much for taking five-year-olds to museums), the rest of us enjoyed the well-organized displays. We began with the photos and visual replicas of various parts of Israel, including Khirbet Qumran, which is the archaeological site closest to the cave where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

We eagerly made our way forward towards the climax – the actual fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Tehillim fragment with the Shir HaMaalot prayer.
The Tehillim fragment with the Shir HaMaalot prayer.

We spent several moments peering down the glass display cases of each one. Under the dimmed lighting, we studied the ancient, yellowed, and sometimes torn fragments.

A book in English, even from just a few centuries ago, is practically incomprehensible to anyone who is not versed in Old English. And yet, in contrast, these ancient scrolls are readable to any child who has attended a Jewish day school. Many of these scrolls contain the G‑dly words of wisdom that we still study and pray nowadays, many centuries later, and, incredibly, are just as significant and relevant today.

The last fragment contained phrases from the book of Psalms. These are words that we sing around our Shabbat table every week, before the blessings after the meal. My eleven-year-old son bent over the display case and effortlessly deciphered these pearls of hope and aspiration.

With great wonder and care, my son decoded the ancient Hebrew words of King David, recited by millions over the centuries – in death camps and prisons, at weddings and births, in times of joy and despair.

"…When G‑d will return the exiles of Zion, we will have been like dreamers. Then our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongue with songs of joy. Then will they say among the nations, 'G‑d has done great things for us; we were joyful. G‑d, return our exiles as streams to arid soul. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy…'"

If cameras were allowed inside the ROM, this would have qualified as a Polaroid moment.

A young boy, living here in Toronto, Canada, in the 21st century, standing one Sunday afternoon in the modern Royal Ontario Museum building in our downtown core…

Ancient fragments, somewhat yellowed and torn, written over 2,200 years ago, discovered in caves near the ruins of Qumran by the shores of the Dead Sea…

And yet the two merge in a seamless and effortless link, forging an unbreakable bond that defies the passage of time.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

Why are so many of us disillusioned with organized religion and communal organizations?

December 8, 2009

Michael H. Steinhardt, Jewish philanthropist and co-founder of Birthright Israel, spoke recently at the 92nd Street Y about the state of world Jewry.

Though he mentioned optimistic signs for the future, such as "our next generation seems to be more spiritually searching, and at the same time more innovative," the focus of his talk was on "a darker, more worrisome tale."

"A barometer of the malaise in the Jewish world today is the standing of our communal organizations," Steinhardt asserted. "No more than 15% of philanthropic contributions given by Jews go to Jewish organizations. That's a pretty low and depressing number, and I think it is emblematic of the lack of passion these organizations have been able to inspire."

According to Steinhardt, the reason for these dismal numbers is that too many organizations forget the ideals on which they were founded, and instead divert valuable resources on merely sustaining their own viability. The cycle becomes one of promoting the organization as "a real player." Why are they spending money on advertising, asked Steinhardt, rather than on doing what they say they're supposed to be doing? The answer: to convince rich donors that the sponsoring organization is on the map.

"But if that's the goal at the end of the day, who are these organizations servicing? Their constituents, or themselves and their donor base?"

All too often, the very organizations that were founded with the mandate to reach out to all Jews, to be kind, giving and charitable or to promote Jewish unity, get caught up with internal and external bickering over just whose unity or charity is being credited. Their once noble ideals become slaughtered on the altar of self-promotion, without any real focus or evaluation of how to service their initial goals and ideals.

I found Steinhardt's observation an astute reminder for why many things that have become "organized" lose their initial passion.

And don't many of us suffer from the same malaise on a personal level? Don't we mirror some of the same duplicity in our day-to-day rituals?

The other day I was watching a group of young boys beginning their morning prayers. They had just sweetly sung the verse, "We hereby take upon ourselves the commandment of 'Love your fellow as yourself.'"

It was right at that point that I noticed one boy shoving his elbow really hard into the ribs of the boy next to him. Apparently it was payback for his toe being accidently stepped on a minute earlier.

I wish I could excuse this behavior as simple lack of consideration due to youth. But it reminded me of too many examples in our adult lives where we have similarly lost the inner passion of our ideals, while preserving the hollow outward shell of our acts.

I remember once being a guest at a Shabbat meal when the husband belittled his wife for forgetting to place the challah cover on the table during the kiddush.

Normally we recite the blessing on bread before wine, but on Shabbat, we reverse the order to say the kiddush. In order for the challah loaves not to feel "slighted" or "embarrassed" by being second place, we cover them.

Obviously, bread has no feelings, but the custom is meant to cultivate within us an awareness and sensitivity for the feelings of others. If we are concerned about inanimate bread, how much more vigilant must we be not to humiliate another human being—especially a spouse.

So how did the challah cover suddenly become more important than a wife's feelings? How do noble words about loving our fellow get transformed into a shove in the ribs? And how do selfless communal organizations become breeding grounds for politics and self-promotion?

And why have so many of our youth become disillusioned with what they perceive as lifeless rituals and visionless communal organizations –even while still searching for more innovative spirituality?

Gerald Edelman, a Nobel Prize winner and neuroscientist, proposes that our habits—our most familiar ways of thinking, feeling and reacting—take shape at the neural level through the impact of simple repetition on the connections between cells. The more a particular circuit in the brain is used, the stronger its connections.

As we repeat a habit over and over, the neural connections for it strengthen, while the neural connections for behaviors countering the habit weaken. Or, in the words of our Sages, "Routine becomes second nature."

On the positive side, this theory explains why once we've learned to ride a bicycle or drive a car, we basically can do so mechanically. It is also why young people conditioned to drop pennies into a charity box become trained in the trait of giving.

But, on the downside, it explains why repetitive patterns become automatic responses, often lacking proper evaluation. That is also why well-meaning organizations can fall into a cycle of self-perpetuation and how actions that are supposed to cultivate the noblest qualities can become hollow—if we don't constantly and actively challenge our default state of mindlessness.

Judaism is full of reminders throughout our day, of little and big rituals, mitzvot or customs that are meant to make us stop, think and become aware. From the moment we wake up we are meant to cultivate a consciousness of why we are here that should be affecting our entire day. Before every morsel of food enters our mouths we must acknowledge our gratitude to our Higher Being.

Our days, our homes and significant stages of our lives are filled with actions that are meant to remind us to lead more purposeful lives.

But it only works if we can mindfully focus on the messages of our actions.

Animals, too, learn from habit. Their performance, too, can be impressive. But animals live primarily for survival and propagation. People who exist on that level aren't living; they are "being lived."

Only humans are distinct in being able to cultivate consciousness in our lives, to discern meaning behind our actions. To stop, think and evaluate why we are acting and what changes need to be made to develop our unique endowments that lie undeveloped within.

If we want to improve the standing of our communal organizations, or if we want to improve the spiritual state of world Jewry, perhaps we need to start on a personal level.

It is not the ritual, customs or words of prayers that need to change, just as it is not the noble communal organizations that need to be disposed.

It's our framework of consciousness that needs a paradigm shift. It is not being satisfied with hollow acts—even positive ones—performed merely out of habit, on a default mode.

It is keeping a genuine inward focus that challenges us to ask, "At the end of the day, who are we really servicing?"

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.
Often we need a break from our daily routine. A pause from life to help us appreciate life.

A little pat on the back to let us know when we're on track. A word of encouragement to help us through those bleak moments and difficult days.

Sometimes, we just yearn for some friendship and camaraderie, someone to share our heart with. And sometimes we need a little direction from someone who's been there.

So, take a short pause from the busyness of your day and join Chana Weisberg for a cup of coffee.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.
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