To be honest, it is Friday morning and I have no idea what to write about. This past week I had some amazing experiences that I could share, but nothing is coming to me in this moment. Since I talk about being in the moment and being present, I guess I will explore that topic for now. Because the idea that I must produce a blog entry in this moment because of some outside plan, is almost the antithesis to actually being in the moment. You may say to yourself, “Esther there are deadlines in the real world. We can’t just sit around and wait until the moment of writing occurs because then we would never go to work, never take care of the things we have to take care of and never fulfill our responsibilities.”
In my experience, that is not true. Over the past six months, I have observed the way things are happening. Oftentimes when I place external pressures on myself to get things done, resistance shows up. Instead of making dinner, bathing the kids and getting homework done, I am serving noodles with butter, skipping the bath and fighting with my daughter to do her homework. On the other hand when I let go of the external pressures and allow things to unfold without trying to control the outcome, things I hate doing just seem to happen. The chicken comes out of the freezer in the morning to defrost. My sister comes over and bathes the kids for me and my daughter does her homework without even being asked. It almost seems miraculous.
I recently started a business creating releasing CDs for children and when I created my business plan I envisioned a children’s book to go with it. I called my mother who enjoys writing children’s books and asked her for help and then started thinking about other authors who I could contact to help me. I went away for a few weeks and placed the project on hold for that time. One morning while I was away, I woke up around 6 am and thought to myself, “now’s a good time to write a children’s book” and in about 15 minutes I had a first draft. I was in shock and ecstatic. I immediately emailed it to my mother in New York and she read it to Lori, my 7 year old. My mother called me back excitedly saying how great it was and the pièce de résistance ; Lori laughed. At that point I knew I was on to something. In the past I never would have thought I could write a book like that but when I let go for the moment and let the flow happen, a book was written without any effort.
Oftentimes we believe we need to control things, plan them and make sure they happen. In my experience, letting go of the wanting to control, the planning on how and when and the need to get things done, opens up possibilities I never thought existed. Lori doing her homework on her own, books being created and this blog post being written are the everyday miracles that remind me that watching life unfold is more enjoyable than trying to control it. I hope you can enjoy the unfolding…
I have spent most of my life anticipating the bad things that will happen to me. When I am walking down the street alone late at night, I plan on what I will do if someone comes to attack me. If I am about to be attacked, my plan is to tell the attacker that I have AIDS. This plan has been set since I was about 15 and every time I walk alone I go over the details. I worry whether they will believe me, whether they will care, and what I will do if they don’t. This is a constant fear that I hold onto in the back of my mind. For a while, I wondered though, if it has a purpose-all of this planning, all of the fear. It is as if I believed that in holding these thoughts in my mind somehow they would protect me from any bad. It was my good luck charm. It seems that my belief was that if you think it, it won’t happen. What I have learned this year is that in preparing for suffering, all we are doing is suffering, whether or not the perceived threat comes to fruition. This year I had the opportunity to be part of a burglary and boy was it different than anything I could have planned for.
One night in mid September I returned home from my mothers house after a meal. I began to get into my bed when I heard banging. Imagining that it was the housekeeper sending her boyfriend out of my home secretly, I started calling out to her. When I didn’t receive a response I put my robe on and went to check it out. Coming down the stairs I called out again. This time I was met with a response, “si senora”. I stepped into the kitchen, turned to the right and screamed as I saw 2 men standing there. One man grabbed my mouth and said “Be quiet. Everything is going to be ok. We wont hurt you. We didn’t think anyone was home”. Immediately my mind became fully present and I just went with what they told me. “Where is your jewelry?” “Upstairs in my room.” “Ok show us.” I led them upstairs to my bedroom. One of the men stood behind me and pushed me up against the wall. “Where is it?” “It’s in the closet in an orange box that you keep nails in. Check the shelf, let me help you.” “No. stay here. Don’t worry-we will find it.” The man that was standing behind me was very gentle, speaking softly to me. “Don’t worry we wont hurt you. We didn’t think anyone was home”.
As they searched through my jewelry, I took deep breaths. I thought about my son lying in the next room, hoping they wouldn’t wake him and praying with all my heart that they wouldn’t take him. Counting my blessings that my older daughter slept out and hoping that these burglars would find what they were searching for in this world. Praying that they would take something positive from this experience, helping them to come to a greater realization about life and their chosen profession.
In the middle of all this I said to one of them “I hope that you use the money to do some good in the world”. He replied “You make me feel like a bad person.” “You are not a bad person you are just in a difficult life situation”. I felt like the monk in “Zen Shorts,” who finds a burglar in his house and has nothing to give but the robe on his back and he feels bad about this. At that moment I had such an intense amount of compassion for these two men, all I wanted to do was help them.
They then kindly asked me to stand in my closet. The one who had been standing with me went to check the rest of the house. The second guy watched me. He was not as in control as the first, he was a little more insecure. We had an interesting conversation. He said to me “Where is your engagement ring?” I said. “Sorry, I am divorced.” As soon as the words came out of my mouth I was in shock. “Esther,” I thought, “what are you doing? Why are you telling this man this?” He replied, “What a shame…If we had met under different circumstances, maybe things could have been different here.” And I am not sure if I said this out loud or not, but what went through my mind at that moment was, “Maybe it wasn’t such a good time for a pick up line.” He then went on to tell me I have nice legs. As a shiver of fear ran through my body, I made a tsking sound. A. because my legs are not something I considered nice and B. because is he joking? is this what they teach you in burglary school? Anyway he was insulted at my tsking noise. So, to boost his ego, I thanked him for the compliment and explained that I was just a little bit nervous and I hoped he could understand. While this was happening upstairs the other guy was downstairs where he found my housekeeper hiding in the basement. He gently took her necklace from her neck and brought her upstairs to the closet with me. I hugged her and told her to be quiet. She started to tell me that she called the police and I quickly quieted her down. Then the two burglars spent the next five minutes discussing whether they should lock us up or tie us up and then decided it wouldn’t be safe for my baby in the other room. So, they kindly told us to count to 100 before we moved and then they left. The loudest entrance and the quietest escape-I actually wasn’t even sure that they had left in the end.
During the experience I was extremely calm but afterwards my mind came back,-the thoughts, the fear and the anxiety didn’t end. Someone told me weeks later that the fear I was experiencing after this episode was normal but the strength I showed that day proved my inner ability to deal with any situation. Interestingly enough, I couldn’t remember the strength. Panic set in and I went through weeks of sleepless nights and anxiety attacks. What is interesting to me in this moment is how during the burglary I was fine. Feelings arose, bad things happened and I was ok. Afterwards I suffered 100 times more than during. When I started thinking again, when I let myself tell stories about the incident, when I replayed everything in my mind, life became unbearable. How many times do we allow our thoughts to keep us suffering? How often do we plan for bad things to happen? And either they never happen or when they do, they are not as bad as we imagined. What is it about thoughts that keep us so engaged?
Do most people want to be authentic or do we prefer pretending to be perfect, happy and easygoing? If the accepted behavior is one of cheerfulness and security, should we break out of that mold and be truthful and honest? Should we pretend, regardless of the truth that lies underneath it all? The closest I have come to being authentic is in writing this blog and let me tell you it is full of difficulties. The insecurities that arise and the fear that shows up could keep anyone sane from posting (lucky you I am not sane). Yes, I am getting positive feedback. The readers are enjoying the honesty but it is “my” honesty, “my” stories, “my” vulnerabilities and “my” insecurities. I am putting myself out there for all to see and that is scary but what I have noticed is that the stories I tell might be different but all of us share the same feelings. We all share the same insecurities and fears. The only difference are the tales we tell about those things. As soon as we can recognize that we are more alike than different the sooner we will be able to enjoy the world and the people in it. We have an opportunity to embrace each other in all of our vulnerabilities and fears because we are all the same and we all want the same things. No matter how tough, shy, conceited or confident we appear to others. We all want to be loved, to be accepted and to be told that we are ok just the way we are. Once I was able to see this I was able to notice more love in the world. The perceived threats I feel from the outside come from the same feelings I feel on the inside. When a friend lashes out at me, it is an opportunity for me to recognize that she feels threatened and rather than reject her for it with my own hurt ego I can embrace her and love her because I know how it feels. Because I am her and she is me and the only difference is in the stories we tell.
Do you know what I find interesting? No matter what you weigh, whether thin or fat, most women are not happy with their bodies. The men that are reading this are saying to themselves, we knew that, but women still believe that if we looked like her, or her, or her, then we would be happy.
For many women, the Loehmanns dressing room has always been a difficult place. Ladies, if you have never been there, let me give you an idea of what it is like. It’s a big , open room where women have to get undressed and try on clothes that may or may not fit . Now imagine you pick up a pair of jeans. You are not sure if they are going to fit; you really want to pick the smaller size because you know the bigger size will stretch out but then you remember you can’t do a shimmy dance, pulling and tugging, twisting and turning , if you’re in a room with twenty other women. Your perfect pair of jeans go back on the table.
When you are a teenager and your mom wants to take you for the first time, this is how the conversation sounds:
Mom- Listen honey, I am going to take you to Loehmanns. It is fantastic, the best deals, I got a pair of Jimmy Choo’s for $99, a Vertigo suit for $75 and Sevens jeans for $50 and then to top it all off, I got a 20% discount!
Mom- There’s just one thing - the dressing room is open .
Mom- Yeah, there are no separate rooms, just one big room for everyone.
Daughter- Are you out of your mind ! I’m not going there!
(OK everyone, here’s the clincher)
Mom- Honey, don’t worry, no one’s looking!
Well let me tell you something, moms of the world. They are looking and do you know how I know they are looking? Because I am looking and I am looking at everyone. Who’s fat. Who’s thin. Who is wearing thong underwear and who is not wearing any underwear at all. I am not strange or a voyeur. Here is the interesting part; we are not looking because we care one bit about the other person’s body, we are looking because we care about our own. Do we look like her? My boobs are not as perky, my hips are narrower, her legs are thinner than mine. I actually wish we were looking because we enjoyed the female form and could see the beauty of it, but no, that’s not it.
I recently started taking a Bikram yoga class. Bikram yoga is practiced in a room that is heated to 110 degrees. We twist and contort our bodies into 26 postures while sweating buckets for ninety minutes. It gets smelly and afterwards a shower is required. Now me, my prudish self, used to wear my clothes into the shower stall, slowly peel them off and shower so no one could see me. I would carefully wrap my towel around to cover myself and take my clothes into the private bathroom to dry off and change. And then it hit me. - I wasn’t prudish. I was uncomfortable with my body. All that time I pretended it was inappropriate to be naked in front of people, when in reality, I was embarrassed.
The first day undressing in the larger room was intimidating but slowly, I began to allow myself to love that time. I gave myself a chance to explore the feelings about my body in relation to the other women in the room. Not only did I begin to become more comfortable, I began to enjoy my shower and the chance to take care of myself after the intense workout. Putting cream on my body, blowing my hair and really enjoying the beautiful form that I have.
The recognition that my body is beautiful provokes anxiety in me. How can I think my body is beautiful when I weigh 200 pounds? But at the same time, who am I to judge? Why do we give so much credence to these beliefs about what is beautiful? In my experience the person I believe is beautiful usually doesn’t believe so, herself. How remarkable.
Rabbi Esther Azar