Dear Rachel,

I am so overwhelmed! My life is filled with so much rushing and work and hecticness, and a “To Do” list a mile long. I have so much on my plate; my body is filled with aches and pains. I’m constantly criticizing myself for not being as organized, patient or accomplished as some of my friends. I also find myself snapping at my kids and husband. I feel like a mess! Any helpful suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Mess.



Dear Mess,

I’m so sorry that life is overwhelming and you’re in pain. Even reading your words and how you signed your letter puts me in pain. And I remember feeling very similar to you. But I changed and so can you. Life can be busy, yet we can choose to be kind and nurturing to ourselves.

The Rebbe teaches that we have an obligation to go out of Mitzrayim, “Egypt,” every day. What does this mean?

The word Mitzrayim also means “limitations.” Each time we push past our limitations and tap into our soul’s infinite power to touch the Divine and traverse difficulties, we are performing miracles, akin to those G‑d did during the Exodus.

When you beat yourself up inside—when you compare yourself to others and continuously fall short—you are living in a straitjacket of limitations.

It’s time to set yourself free.

Many years ago, I came across a quote from the Rebbe that rocked my world. “Judaism is, essentially, a ‘feminine’ religion. As a religious and ethical system, it seeks to change the world into a better place, but its approach to achieving this goal is a uniquely feminine one.”1

The feminine approach to change is through nurturing, as opposed to a masculine approach of conquering by force.2 In this way, women are able to bring the underlying qualities of a person to the surface and help them grow at their own pace.

And so, I asked myself if the methods I was using to grow as a Jewish woman were those of conquering and subduing or gentleness and nurturing. I certainly didn’t feel nurturing or gentle to myself. And that lack of gentle energy sometimes spilled over onto others.

I became aware that similar to you, I spent a lot of time criticizing myself, pushing myself and comparing myself to other women. I believed that if I worked harder on my “weaknesses,” then I could conquer them.

Years have passed, and I have made a few simple shifts. I encourage you to try them too, to lessen the tension and stress that you’re feeling in your daily life. This is you going out of your Mitzrayim, your limitations, and choosing health, joy, nurturing and kindness—your birthright as a Jewish woman.

Our thoughts can affect the actual physical state of the body. As part of our autonomic nervous system, G‑d created two primary modes: sympathetic (fight, flight and freeze) and parasympathetic (peace and patience). Like a hunting lioness—ears forward, eyes focused and body ready to attack—our sympathetic nervous system enables us to hyper-focus on the task at hand. However, operating from this model also creates a surplus of stress hormones and puts us in a controlled mindset, closing off our ability to recognize other responses available to us.

To maintain balance in our lives, G‑d designed the parasympathetic nervous system, giving us the ability to rest, digest and recuperate after the body experiences stress. Reacting from this more peaceful space puts us in a more relaxed state of being. And, importantly, new and creative ideas and options become available to us for—we are no longer hyper-focused on trying to control the outcome.

Here are four ways to bring in more feminine, nurturing energy while cutting down on the conquering/criticism:

1. Choose kinder words when speaking to yourself.

By using the word “choose to” in lieu of “have to,” you’ll notice an immediate softening effect on your body, emotions and behavior.

For example, when your mind begins to race in the morning with your “To Do” list, worrying how you will get everything done, feel the effect on your body. It is most likely a sense of dread and heaviness. If your kids enter your room with smiling faces (they have “play” on their list), you may start acting like a drill sergeant: “Did you do this? Are you almost ready for school? Did you … ?”

Now tweak it: Take a conscious breath and substitute the thought that “I have to get all this done today” with the thought “I am choosing to get some things done today.” You’ll feel your body soften, and your face and shoulders relax. Your chest will feel less constricted. From this gentler state, your mind will open to what you can realistically accomplish. You’ll also be kinder to your children and husband—that vibration of feminine nurturing will radiate out.

You may be thinking “choose to” sounds nice, but there are things that you “have to get done.” Yes, things have to get done, but technically, everything is a choice. You are choosing to do things because you want a certain positive outcome or are avoiding a negative one. You are choosing to do laundry because you want clean clothes to wear, and you choose to pay bills to avoid late fees. But does everything have to get done today? Are these emergencies? “Have to” feels forceful (conquering!) versus “choose to,” which is more gentle.

Here are a few other word changes:

“Could” in lieu of “should.”

“Notice” instead of “focus on.”

“Play with” to replace “work on.”

2. Celebrate yourself for your efforts.

Put your hands above your head and say “Yay me!” just like you would cheer on a child who did well on a test. Cheering someone on is kind, supportive and nurturing. Do this for yourself, and you’ll slowly be able to release the need to compare yourself with others. You’ll be noticing the good that you do in your life instead.

3. ‘Tracht gut, vet zein gut.’

This is a Chassidic teaching: “Think good, and it will be good.” Use positive affirmations to ease tension in your body and put your mind in a positive place. Focusing on the idea that we have an unlimited G‑d Who is responsible for our care and will provide a good outcome will help your nervous system drop into the gentle parasympathetic state, rather than operating from the sympathetic state of sharp focus and intense control.

Here’s one to try on: “G‑d is good to me and gives me time to do what needs to be done.” Breathe.

4. Never take anything for granted.

There are some very difficult things going on in the world today. Things are changing quite quickly and dramatically. Many of us may feel unsure and have trouble feeling grounded. Make a practice to grab for gratitude with the phrase “never take anything for granted.” You’ll find a whole list of things to appreciate that if they weren’t in your life now (eyesight, ability to take action, family, breath, etc.), you would feel a loss.

Every day we have the opportunity to leave the inner exile of our previous place of limitations and enter into one that contains more presence, trust, calmness and kindness. Your calmer state will open you up to different possibilities of how and when to get things done, and even which tasks need to be done if at all. This is a more freeing way to live your life. Your mind, body and soul, as well as those of your loved ones, will appreciate this new gentle, feminine energy of yours.

I’ll leave you with a statement from the Zohar: “If down here (people live their lives) with joy and with light, then the world Above reciprocates in kind, with light and joy.”