This past year has been interesting, looking back I am not really clear on the propulsion but what I do know is that it was definitely not boring. I learned a lot about myself and I had to make some decisions to give things up that were difficult to give up. I got lost in a story of drama that took me in many different directions with many plot lines, but what I noticed was that although exciting and interesting the drama got tiring after awhile. And I had a desire to be at peace. So I fortunately had the opportunity to remember again that the peace that I was searching for was here in this moment all the time. I didn’t need to figure it out, I didn’t need to fall in love, I didn’t even need to eat. I just needed to notice what was here in the moment. I recognized that all of the drama I was holding onto was because I thought it would give me the peace that ironically I already had. I thought if only I figure this part out then I will feel better. If I understood why this happened then I would see the truth and then and only then would I be healed. I would be more lovable, sexier, thinner and just plain old worthy. Little did I realize that all of those things I was searching for so that I could be happy were a distraction to the actual happiness that exists in this moment sitting here in my sweats, alone in my apartment with unruly hair and unshowered.
I don’t even know if happiness is the right word. You see happiness like all other emotions comes and goes that is not what I am pointing to I am pointing to that thing that doesn’t come and go the thing that allows for all comings and goings, we may call it peace, presence, existence or a multitude of other words but the truth is words can’t describe it. It is present all the time it never leaves and it is constantly holding us. We are it and it is us there is no separation. The only thing is that we “think” there is and in that moment we get to question the thoughts and remember that the peace that we so seek is here and all we need to do is stop and notice. Whether it is taking a deep breath and feeling the air flow into our nostrils, our chest, down to our bellies and then back around again. Or watching the clouds move in the sky, just allow the senses to be more prominent then the thoughts. Allow yourself to feel, see, taste hear and smell what is actually here, take notice of that rather than the thoughts for a split second and experience the noticing. In that moment we can get a taste of the peace we crave. The peace that is always here, even when we are so involved in our thoughts that we cant see the hand in front of our face. When life appears devastating, when sadness seems to be coming from the depths of our soul. We can stop for a moment and notice the sky, the moon or that wonderful thing that keeps us living each day our breath and remember the sense of peace that is always here.
And in my experience feeling this sense of peace reminds me that this is all I ever wanted in the first place. The right body, the romance, the money all of those things were just attempts at making myself feel that I was worthy of that sense of peace, that I had all the time without any of those things.
People ask me all the time, “How are you?” and recently, I have been having a hard time answering. The reason for this, points to the fact that “I” am always fine. When I am fully engaged in the present moment, everything is exactly as it should be. So are there stories that I engage in? You bet, but when I am focused on this moment and someone asks me to reflect on how I am the answer is always, perfect.
Some say to me: “Esther are you hiding how you truly feel?” The truth is that I am not. I am totally and completely aware of the stories I am telling and how they engage me. Yet at the same time I am not really interested in adding all of that to the pot just so that I can be more socially acceptable. I understand that it makes people uncomfortable, because it makes me uncomfortable. I spent most of my 31 years commiserating with those around me and now sometimes, a lot of the time I have nothing to say. Although it appeared fun to commiserate in the end it keeps me stuck in a story of suffering.
Yet the question, “how are you?” is wonderful, it makes me stop and check. In the stopping I can recognize that the stories I have been telling myself, are just stories. The truth of who I am has nothing to do with the stories or the emotions that arise in consciousness. When I stop to check all thought ceases and I am left in the space of beingness that is always perfect.
Do you know, that I spend most of my waking hours reminding myself, that we are the same. I overheard this conversation the other day.
“I invited you to the party the other day and you didn’t answer.”
“Oh, you really wanted to me to come, I thought you were just being nice.”
“Being nice, what do you mean I asked if you would come, and you didn’t respond.
“I didn’t think you really wanted me to come.”
“That’s crazy, why would I invite you if I didn’t want you to come? I thought you didn’t want to hang out with me. I felt bad.”
I sat there dumbfounded, as I usually do when I am reminded that we are all the same. Here I am, with 2 very cool people, that I would love to have lunch with any day and they both made up stories about how the other person really didn’t want to spend time with them. Again I am reminded of my own stories of rejection.
I have 2 friends, one that I love to hang out with and the other who loves to hang out with me. I notice that I reject them both equally. The one I love to hang out with, is constantly rejected because I don’t believe that she would ever want to hang out with me, so I reject her first. While spending time together, I will quickly mention that I am not sure if I can drive her home later. The truth is, I would love to drive her home but the fear that she doesn’t want to spend time with me comes up and so I fix it for her. I set it up so that she doesn’t have to go with me if she doesn’t want to. I send out mixed messages. I don’t want to spend time with her when in reality the truth is I love being with her.
The other, the one who loves to hang out with me gets rejected because I feel like they are coming on to strong and I need to “protect” myself from their love. You see, in the past I was rejected by this person and so now I build a wall to protect myself from being hurt again. If I accept the love he is showing me in the moment then I might get wrapped back up into a relationship where I will ultimately feel rejected again . So I put up a wall so that I don’t “get hurt”. A wall that I believe will protect me, but at the same time keeps me from experiencing the love in the moment.
Imagine for a moment, that I let all of that go. If the fear dissipated, I could just love people and they could love me back. And when and if I am feeling rejected I can remind myself of the truth, that we are all the same. They are not rejecting me rather they are rejecting a part of themselves.
There seems to come a point in our lives when we are posed with a question as to whether we should pass along information to people that we love. Is it our responsibility to “protect” someone from the truth? I remember when I was a teenager and my good friend was madly in love with a girl. The girl happened to be dating his best friend (unbeknownst to him). I had the information and I was unsure what the right thing to do was; tell him or let him continue on his delusional path. In the end, the decision was taken out of my hands. I shared the information with one of his other friends, who quickly called him up and told him the ugly truth. When he found out, he was devastated and he called me sobbing. At the time I wasn’t sure if I had done the right thing. I wondered if it was better that he found out sooner rather than later.
With children we are often protective as to what to tell them and what not to tell them. But I struggle with this as well, because I know full well that my children, and yours, know much more than we believe they do. So, when we are withholding information usually they know it anyway. When my husband and I decided we were separating, we didn’t tell anyone for a while. We decided in March, but didn’t share the decision with people for a while, especially the children. Yet, we could both tell that Eddie our 2 year old sensed something was wrong-so much so that I said to him, “I know you are feeling sad and you are not sure why, but you are right something is wrong and we are going to make it better”. Once I acknowledged his feelings, his crying stopped and he sat on my lap and we hugged each other.
I was at a course in Manhattan over a weekend, and there was a man there, who was observant of the Sabbath which meant that he was prohibited from using electricity. During lunch on Saturday, rather than going out to the restaurant with the rest of the members, he sat alone in the training room in the dark. I turned to the non-Jewish woman, who rents out the space, and said to her, “he won’t ask you, but maybe you could turn on the light for him.”
My friend overheard our conversation and asked us if our desire to help, was coming from a place of helping or controlling. If we are imposing our beliefs about what someone might want without asking them, we are in essence taking their control away. Who are we to do that?
On Saturday, my wonderful Great Aunt passed away and again we were faced with the question to tell or not to tell. My Grandmother is a vibrant, loving, fun-spirited woman who loved her sister very much. My Grandmother, my parents, my sister and I attended a family wedding in upstate New York over the weekend. The party went on till late into Saturday night and on Sunday morning we all trudged wearily into the hotel dining room for breakfast. Thank you’s and congratulations were being thrown around the room as we all prepared to pack up and leave for home. In all of the excitement none of us checked our cell phones. So, when we finally got the message, it was 24 hours since she had passed and my mother and I had the following conversation; “When are you going to tell her? now or after the 5 hour drive home?”
“ I am going to tell her now. she passed away yesterday. If I don’t tell her, she will call home and find out.”
“ Mom , maybe you should wait till you get home so that she doesn’t have to sit in the car with that sadness.”
And then I stopped to think about it. Who am I to control someone else’s grieving process? Why do we believe that once a person turns a certain age, it is our responsibility to protect them? What gives me the right to “protect” anyone? When I say that I am trying to protect you, what am I really saying? Am I saying that you can’t handle it? That I am stronger than you? When I am protecting you, am I taking away your power? What gives me the right to decide how you deal with something?
When I was about 2 years old, my father made a home movie of me walking around outside on these steps and, “Somebody Come and Play,” was the song he put to the movie. It was always a treat for me to watch. Growing up, every time my father would take out his projector and load the movie reels me and my sisters would jump up and down in excitement. First we would watch his animation a clay ball that morphed into a figure, walked across the screen swallowed a pencil and returned to his former existence as a solid mass of clay. Then ultimately the piece de resistance, me a 2 year old alone in my winter coat chasing a paper bag with this song in the background: Somebody come and play
Somebody come and play today
Somebody come and smile the smiles
And sing the song
It won't take long
Somebody come and play today
Somebody come and play
Somebody come and play my way
Somebody come and rhyme the rhymes
And laugh the laughs
It won't take time
Somebody come and play today
Somebody come with me and see the pleasure in the wind
Somebody see the time is getting late to begin
Somebody come and play
Somebody come and play today
Somebody come and be my friend
And watch the sun 'till it rains again
and we would sit around and watch it. I loved it. Yet as I got older, I noticed that the memory elicited a melancholy feeling. Me, alone at two years old, asking for someone to come and play with me. During my teenage years, it seemed that the isolation I was experiencing as a teenager was directly connected to me as a two year old. Well here I am 29 years later and let me tell you, that lonely feeling I had as a child and as a teenager, has not disappeared and I realized that maybe the loneliness, the sense of being separate from the rest of the world, is not real. Maybe like all other emotions, it is just a feeling that is arising in consciousness and maybe just maybe we are more connected than we believe.
I recently walked into my children’s school and saw a friend and as soon as I saw her I gave her a big smile and said to her will you be my friend? The other people in the room snickered as if to say, “How could you be so needy?” and my response was, “I only say what you feel.” Here we are living in a world that appears full of separation and loneliness and we are told that asking for love is wrong. “Don’t put yourself out there…You will get hurt.” But little do we realize that it is in the opportunity of getting hurt that we also have the opportunity of feeling connected. It is vulnerability that allows us to connect because when we are putting up a wall, there is nothing that can break through. When we allow ourselves the possibility of connection, there is a chance to be broken but an even greater opportunity to be opened. With this we can grow into the love that we already are. The loneliness falls away and we are left with a feeling of connectedness with the rest of the world whether alone or not.
I sit at the kitchen table with my sister who has just discovered her passion for painting. As she paints her latest masterpiece, a picture of Princess Tiana for her 3 year old daughter, I babble on about how my new business is not good enough. How crazy it is that I think I can sell a CD when I didn’t use a recording studio and I know nothing about sales and how clearly I am not good enough? She looks up from her painting and says to me, “why don’t you call Ishtobe (my wonderful friend who reminds me of my truth) because you sure are looking for a lot of approval in this moment.” I hear that and laugh because she is right and I am telling stories that only make me suffer. The spell of self deprecation is over for a moment and I can sit down and admire her artwork. As I do she turns to me and says, “What do you think? Is it good?” I laugh and say “Who’s looking for approval now?” She returns with a smile and says to me with a whining voice “no, this is different.” I coyly smile back and say “What do you think about it?” She huffs in frustration and we are both saved by the ringing of the telephone. As I speak to my friend, her cousin comes into the kitchen looks at her painting and says “Wow that is great, Vicky.” I smile and wave my hand in recognition of the compliment. She sighs and giggles. When I hang up I turn to her with a knowing glance and say, “So how did it feel?” She looks at me in confusion. “How did what feel?” “The compliment,” I remind her, “Josh said that he liked the painting. Isn’t that what you wanted?” She tries to explain, “well, yes, but your compliment means more. He doesn’t know about art.” So, I say to her “that’s cute. you thought that if you got approval, it would be great and then when you get it, you discredit it.” I start laughing because isn’t that how it always is? We constantly look for approval outside of ourselves and then when we get it we discount it. At least that’s what happens to me.
Ultimately when we are looking for approval from outside of ourselves, whatever we get will not be satisfying. If we live with the belief that we are not whole and complete; that we are not enough than no matter how much approval we receive we won’t be able to hear it. The irony is that when we do feel whole and complete we don’t need anyone’s approval.
In the Jewish tradition we have an affinity for fasting. It seems that with all of the eating that we do as Jews, the ancient Talmudic sages felt that maybe we should balance that out. So, they instituted several fasts during the year. This year after dismissing many of my former laws and customs I wondered how I would approach the fast day known as Tisha b’ab which commemorates the destruction of the holy temple in ancient Jerusalem. I questioned whether I would be fasting this year or not. Why put myself through an experience that kept me from eating-one of my personal joys? Yet one of my wonderful friends said to me, “you’ll fast or you won’t. It doesn’t make a difference because in appreciating the moment you lose nothing in experiencing whatever is here.” That was so liberating. My opportunity, as always, was to meet the moment with love, whether eating or not. Well this was new for me. Now the rules were no longer ruling me and breaking them no longer held the same attraction. I was truly free to do what I would do. And so I didn’t eat until I did. In the process I had the most wonderful insight.
For a while I have been comparing Judaism to other religions. The first thing I noticed is that Judaism did not have guru. There’s no Buddha, no Jesus and no Mohammed. There is no human form for us to look up to. Yes we have Moses and Abraham but they just don’t sit in the same light as the others. After grappling with it for a while I came to the wonderful realization that maybe Jews don’t have a guru because the Old Testament knew that true knowledge can only come from ourselves. When we look to outside sources to fix us, to show us the path, we will be sorely disappointed and led the wrong way. As Jews, the Torah tells us that the only way we will get it, is by looking inside of ourselves. What better opportunity is there for self inquiry than a day that prohibits, eating, drinking, sex, bathing, swimming, shopping and even Bible study. The only thing that we have left to do is feel the moment.
You cant distract yourself with anything. The sages seemed to have known that being in the moment was so difficult for us that they forced us to remove all distractions. And so, I postulate, maybe this was their attempt at giving us an opportunity to truly experience for ourselves what it feels like to be present. In that experience we have the opportunity to get in touch with the feelings and beliefs that keep us stuck. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on how we truly feel. In my experience when I am not fully aware of my feelings, I unconsciously act unkindly to others, especially when I am dealing with fear. If I am afraid of being rejected, I will reject the person first so as not to be hurt.
When we are in the moment without any distractions we have nothing to divert us from the truth. All the feelings and emotions surface with nowhere to go other than to be brought into consciousness . It is in this moment of reflection that we can notice the discrepancy between our feelings and our actions and choose love rather than fear.
I sit on the porch meditating as my mother comes up the steps and I notice the thoughts arise. “She thinks you look ridiculous. You better open your eyes and greet her or she will think you are crazy.” As soon as they arise, I realize they are coming out of me. Those are my thoughts not hers. I realize in that moment, that everything I believe about others is really about me. Any time I believe someone is judging me, in reality, it is actually me who is judging myself. I have the opportunity to notice my judgments and take responsibility for them. Rather than blame the other person, or seek their approval, I must look inside and find my own approval. If, at any moment I feel judged, it is because I am judging myself or else I wouldn’t be able to feel it.
I was dating someone who didn’t like my body and he told me so. In that moment, I started searching for his approval. When I went to my therapist and told her the story, I felt a lot of shame about the way I acted. How could I have been so dumb to continue in a relationship like that? Her response was simple. “Esther,” she said, “he picked the one thing that is so personal to you; the one thing you hold in the deepest parts of your psyche and he attacked you there. He hit you where it hurts. Don’t beat yourself up. If he had come to you and said, ‘Esther, I am not attracted to you. You are not smart enough.’ You would have laughed at him. But if he is going to pick the one thing that you judge yourself on, then you are going to react accordingly.”
I love that story. Why you may ask does she love a story where she was degraded. And the answer lies in the truth. The truth is that, I was judging myself more than he ever could. I didn’t approve of my body so I allowed the false belief that if I gained approval from someone on the outside, I would be able to find acceptance on the inside. How often do we look to someone else to make us feel better about a self imposed judgement? “Honey” we might say, “how do I look?” Rather than recognizing our own judgments about ourselves, we look for outside approval. Ultimately no matter what they say, there is backlash. Whatever our spouse says, positive or negative, we don’t like it. Because the truth is, we have already decided the correct answer but we don’t want to see it. We resist looking inside because we are too scared to see what we might find. In my experience, when I look inside, my judgments are harsher than anyone else’s could ever be.
The truth is that he opened my eyes to my self hatred and allowed me the opportunity to question my beliefs about my body. The issue that I thought I had dealt with in the past, resurfaced for me to deal with in the present. So, yes that is one of my favorite stories.
It seems that I have spent my life believing that I wasn’t allowed to be friends with a man. Growing up in an orthodox Jewish community I learned from a young age that men and women were to be separated. Whether it was in synagogue, where the women sat behind a glass wall or at the dinner table during holidays where the women sat on one end and the men the other. But I was always longing to switch sides. I wanted to be up there carrying the Torah, feeling the weight of it in my arms and reading its holy words. At the dinner table I wanted to hear about politics not parties, money not manicures. And now at 31 and divorced it is time for me to learn how to relate to men in a new way.
When I got married at 23 I went from being a daughter to a wife. Rather than learning about what I wanted and forming my own place in the world, I continued attempting to fit into the role of women I had seen before; a role where women were segregated from the men, where women were respected for their cooking rather than their ideas and, like I have said in the past, I attempted to fit in. But now, with this new opportunity, I find myself in a difficult place. In the past, men other than relatives were seen as potential mates. When I met a guy the question was always “can you marry him?” If the answer was no, then I forgot about him. If the answer was yes, then I spent the next months pining over him and trying to make myself desirable; trying to lose weight, wearing make up, calling when I was supposed to call and not calling when I wasn’t. It was awful and I was miserable. And then I met my husband and he accepted me. I didn’t have to lose weight. I didn’t have to change myself. But then men and women become even more segregated. There was no reason to relate. Couples would get together and play cards the women in the living room playing canasta and the men in the den playing poker. How many times did I want to play poker? Almost every time but the unwritten rule was that, women can not play with the men. I visited a friend a few weeks ago and her sister was telling me about how she went to a lecture given by a Rabbi who said to them that 2 couples should not go out for dinner together because it may create a situation that will encourage inappropriate behavior. As I write this, my stomach gets tied into a knot for many different reasons that I won’t get into now. My question for today is “now what?”
Here I am divorced, happy and excited to take on the world. I am open to potential relationships but not searching for them. When I meet a man that I am attracted to, I want to spend time with him but my only way of relating is through the eyes of a romantic relationship and the funny thing is I don’t even know if that is what I want. Maybe I just want to be friends. Maybe that is what feels true and real for me in the moment. What’s interesting though, is that my mind in all of its glory has decided to return to its old pattern that says man equals romance so that my mind creates suffering. Old patterns arrive and there I go again wondering if I can call and what I should say and how I could get him to like me. At the same time something inside of me says, “Stop! Just stop this! This is not what you want. Esther you no longer need to gain male approval. You no longer need to change yourself for anyone and do the “right thing”. It is time to do what feels good for you. In this moment what brings you joy? Forget the past welcome the present and notice what makes you happy.” Something inside is saying that the past, the history and the belief systems are there to keep me stuck. It is time to let go and open myself to the possibilities of this moment where I can be without rules and pressures. Where I can find what I want rather than what I am “supposed” to want. Bring it on…(and I did call)
I have spent most of my life believing that fat was my enemy. Because I was fat, I was unhappy, lonely, afraid, ugly, undesirable and the list goes on and on. So in July of 2002 I decided I had enough. I weighed 270 pounds. I was unable to walk up the stairs from the subway without sweating and breathing so hard that I needed 5 minutes to catch my breath at the top of the stairs. At the time, depression and loneliness were my closest friends, even though I was married and had a 7 month old baby. I decided that, as usual, fat was the culprit and the only way I would be happy was if I got rid of it. Now this wasn’t a new decision for me. Fat had always been the enemy and the believed cause of all pain in my life. The difference lay in the method of removal. No more diets that didn’t work, no more pills that caused heart failure and definitely no more acceptance of my body as it was. This was war and I was ready to fight! Fat was out. Thin was in. So I jumped on the bandwagon and convinced everyone around me that the last option was here. My key to happiness lay in a few snips of my belly.
In January 2003 I underwent laparoscopic roux-n-y gastric bypass surgery. What this means is that my wonderful surgeon and his team made 4 small incisions in my belly and using a camera went into my abdomen and cut my stomach into two. What used to be the size of a football now became the size of a golf ball. And the rest of the football is floating around my stomach not bothering anyone. The weight loss was immediate. I was unable to eat more than 2-3 bites all day. For the first month I lost 20 pounds and at the end of 18 months I was down to 155 pounds. I had lost 115 pounds and at first it was exciting. All the things I wanted, I believed I would now have; happiness, a better marriage, better relationship with my family. Little did I know fat has nothing to do with any of those things. The fat was not the problem. The problem was me. I had spent so much time blaming my weight for my unhappiness, I forgot that it was the unhappiness that caused the weight.
You might ask yourself, “why was she so unhappy?” Well let me tell you. I believed that I wasn’t allowed to be happy. I wasn’t allow to take up space in the world. It seemed to me that I needed to be quiet. I felt that if I spoke up no one would like what I had to say and therefore I wouldn’t be loved. So instead of speaking, I quieted myself by eating. Instead of sharing my thoughts, I ate them. It felt to me that I wasn’t allowed to have an opinion because I was too young and too inexperienced.
So even with the weight loss I continued to struggle with my eating. Yes my portions were smaller but the compulsive eating remained the same. I continued attempting to push down my true self to fit in. This followed me through, until recently when I realized that my voice can be heard. I do have something useful to say. I am no longer a little child. I am a grown adult and my thoughts and my ideas are worthy, as am I. It was in that space that I was able to notice my desire to eat when not hungry. Sometimes, when I am aware, I can stop the eating and feel the feelings and sensations rather than push them away.
Join us in exploring this topic further in the upcoming course “Happiness Now, No Diet Needed”. Check out the course schedule for further details.
Esther Azar LMSW has worked with children and adults for over 10 years. Esther recently completed training in Coach Level I & II of The Sedona Method.