Recovery Blog

In the Exact Footsteps

January 25, 2009

One of my Shabbat pleasures is my walk to Shul. It also happens to be my weekly exercise... Just a little over a mile, 2/3 of it in the wilderness, also known as the Pinson Highway. I do a bad job maintaining my Highway, so this week my peaceful walk to Shul took me through over a foot of fresh snow. My walking partner had better boots so we decided that he will be the trail blazer. He walked ahead and imprinted his footsteps for me to follow. Every time I missed the exact footstep I got a little snow inside my boots. The snow melts, and my socks and feet get wet. Did I mention that the wind chill is below zero? Fahrenheit. So I focus on one thing, and one thing only: my boots should go in the exact spot of my friend's boot. After a few steps, I trip and fall. I try again, and I fall again. Soon I discover that we have different patterns of walking. Our legs have different lengths, and our feet different shapes. If I try to walk exactly his way, I will fail and fall.

As we engage in spiritual paths and journeys of recovery, we are told to follow in the footsteps of those who have preceded us. We are told not to reinvent the wheel. We are cautioned against following our own advice which got us to the unspiritual spot we are currently in. We are taught to look for role models and spiritual leaders to show us the way. But it's important to remember that we each have our own individual way of walking. We each have a personalized soul, and a different body. We each have to find and define our own individualized path to a relationship with G‑d. We must follow the guidelines of our leaders and teachers, but not get lost in the exact emulation of their personal journey. We use our own thoughts and our own emotions to tailor make a special and unique relationship between G‑d and ourselves. We do get snow in our boots, our socks get wet. It is definitely prone to hardships and mistakes. But it empowers us to create our own path. It protects us from failing and falling.

On my way home, as I walked the path back, I found out that my missteps created their own set of footsteps. Footsteps that others followed on their way to Shul. Footsteps that make it easier for me to walk back home.

The Selfless Fund

January 18, 2009

It's that time of the year again. End of year statements from American Express and Chase. W2s and 1099s. A statement from Countrywide and a year in review from Bank of America. I have a clear view on where I spent my money in 2008. I know how much I spent on gas (a lot), on my mortgage (too much), on books (not enough) and on water (nothing... I have a private well). Most Americans are also opening the most dreaded document of the year: the balance sheet of their investments. A rocky year on the markets. The lows were very low. Most people ended the year upside down. Most bottom lines are printed in red. It's also the time to recalculate, to recalibrate. Time to reassess the wisdom of investing in a specific fund. Maybe Madoff was overrated after all... Maybe there are no free lunches. Maybe the CD at 1.2% was a good idea after all...

Time is the one single commodity that is irreplaceableTime is money they say... I say, "I wish time was that cheap..." Time is the one single commodity that is irreplaceable. We can squeeze as much as we wish in an hour, but we can still not catch up what we wasted in the previous one. I can catch up on my education, on my pension fund, on my sleep, on my diet. But my lost time is lost forever. So wouldn't it be wise to look at how I invest it? If I have a unit of time to invest, shouldn't I pay attention? Shouldn't I consult with an expert time manager to help me decide what to do with it? Maybe I ought to look at previous patterns, study the results, and act accordingly for the future. Maybe I should shy away from a fund that has consistently disappointed me. Maybe I should look for the fund with the magic touch, the fund that has given me return and principal time and again.

Every minute that I spend with selfish activity is usually a minute I will count as wasted down the road. While I am selfishly enjoying myself I am convinced that it's a great investment. Somehow, time and again, I am disappointed. It feels good, it sounds good, it tastes good. But it is always followed by a hangover. The charts show high returns, then they plunge below the edge of my paper.

Spending time with selfless activities might feel boring. Or pointless. Or both. Just like that unattractive 0.6% CD. But for those of us who have tried, for those of us who have planted the seeds, yields are guaranteed.

According to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the current rate on returns is at 1000%... The Alter Rebbe, as he was known, tells us of an amazing way to get more than 24 hours in a day. For every unit of time that I sacrifice for another person, for a higher purpose, rather than spending it on myself, G‑d guarantees that I will get that time back and some. And a lot more. My mind and my heart will be refined and enhanced. What usually takes me hours to comprehend will be understood in minutes. One thousand to one! Time spent on benign tasks will be reduced, and more of the precious commodity will be available to me. Not guaranteed by the FDIC, just by the Al-mighty.

For the recovering addict, spending time helping others is an integral part of one's own recovery. Chapter 7 of the Big Book of AA is dedicated to "Working with Others." The opening line summarizes the effectivness of doing so. "Practical experience shows that nothing will so much ensure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics."

So as I contemplate my next unit of time, my eyes are on the Selfless Fund. Something tells me it will be a great investment.

Prayer Before Prayer

January 1, 2009

I am about to give the lecture of my life. Or at least, of my life up to this point. I was given notice months ago; I will be speaking in front of thousands. I will be lecturing on the subject that I am an expert on. I have utilized every resource and prepared an adequate speech. The opening line is really funny. The closing statement really inspiring. I have rehearsed in front of the mirror, behind the pulpit and in my wife’s ears. I did all I can for my lecture to come out perfect. Yet, I’m nervous. What if I mess up? What if I forget a line? What if my jokes are not funny? What if my message is dull? What if I leave here and besides polite applause I haven’t influenced anyone?

I am about to chant Kol Nidrei on Yom Kippur eve. For months I listened to recordings, rehearsed and trained my voice. I wrap my Talit around my head and think about the hundreds that are waiting to be uplifted and inspired. Years of experience and score of performances. Yet, I’m nervous. What if I mess up? What if I forget a note? What if my voice doesn’t carry? What if my song doesn’t inspire? What if I leave here and besides polite smiles I haven’t impacted anyone?

I am about to present a grant proposal to the Foundation’s board. I researched, I calculated, I know the need, I know the problems, I know the solutions. The future of my organization lies in the minds and hearts of the Board members. I have chosen the right words; I know I can convey my passion for what I do. I know I can convince them of the great need. Yet, I’m nervous. What if I mess up? What if I forget a detail? What if I can’t answer a question? What if my plea doesn’t inspire? What if I leave here and besides polite handshakes I haven’t influenced anyone?

"My L-rd, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise"- Psalms 51:17

Our sages spent years creating the perfect prayer. The accumulated wisdom of the 120 Men of the Great Assembly brought to fruition the blessings that temporarily replace the daily sacrifices offered in the Holy Temple. The power of holiness invested in them inspired them to create a series of prayers that include all the possible words man can utter to G‑d. The final product, the Shemone Esrei, is recited trice daily by millions of Jewish people for the past 2000 years. We ask G‑d for health, for wisdom, for sustenance, for peace, for finding oneself. But are we saying it right? Is there a guarantee that it is going to work? Will we be humbled by the G‑dly words?

We truly don’t have control over the outcome of our actions. Inasmuch as we prepare a speech, a song or a presentation, the impact it will have on people is up to G‑d. No matter how perfect our prayers are, they are limited to what a human can accomplish. And humans can’t control outcomes. So before I pray I read a verse of Psalms, to introduce G‑d to my prayer. Before I read the holy blessings of the Shemone Esrei I ask G‑d to speak through me. I ask G‑d to take whatever it is that I am uttering and do with it what He wants. I humble myself by reminding my heart and my brain that I am standing before G‑d, and must put my ego and my expectations aside.

"My L-rd, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise"- Psalms 51:17

As I approach the podium, as I intone the Kol Nidrei, as I enter the conference room, I pray: G‑d, let Your will be done through me. G‑d, I did all that was humanly possible to create the perfect receptacle for your blessing, now I will step aside and let You do the speaking, I will let You do the singing, I will let You give the presentation.

I have no doubt of the outcome.

Contact your local Recovery Rabbi and join a Jewish Recovery Community:
Boca Raton, FL
Rabbi Meir Kessler
Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Mendel Cohen
Milwaukee, WI
Rabbi Shais Taub
Montreal, Canada
Rabbi Benyamin Bresinger
New York, NY
Rabbi Yaakov Bankahalter
Reading, PA
Rabbi Yosef Lipsker
West Bloomfield, MI
Rabbi Yisrael Pinson
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