So I spent my day fighting myself. It has been a long week, kids home from school, their dad away at a conference and me balancing work and parenting. So today I cracked. My patience was somewhat intact but my mood was quiet and brooding. My parents in their kindness, offered to take the kids to the beach and boy was I grateful. Yet I spent the day fighting the urge to push away my feelings with food or obsessive thoughts; my two favorite pastimes. Instead, I sat with the feelings. And then towards the end of the day I decided I needed a book. So long before my kids were asleep I had a plan. I would hit the brand new bookstore that opened and find a book to read, something that would make me feel warm and fuzzy. As soon as I had the opportunity, I got into my car and went. Already feeling the freedom on my back , I got to the store and picked out 4 books and spent 53 dollars. I left feeling somewhat dissatisfied with my purchase and then I realized the truth of the situation. The thing I had been working against all day I just succumbed to in 53 minutes in a book store. Rather than face the feelings, I filled myself up with stuff. Rather than allow for the sensations, I spent money to make myself feel better, to push them away and as usual it didn’t work. What did work, was me being able to notice my impulse to run from the feelings, my impulse to push away my dissatisfaction. Because it was the noticing that enabled me to let it go. And then I was able to notice the yellow tinge of the full moon hovering above with wisps of clouds floating by and it was in that moment that the love that I am came pouring out and with it the joy of being in this moment.
In my experience, I often times use food, spending money and reading to disappear from the feelings but it is in the moment that I can notice my impulse to push away my dissatisfaction and take the opportunity to let it go. I can allow for the feelings and rest in the knowingness that they are just feelings and I am more than that. And it is in that moment that I can notice what is actually here and now.
When we try to use external things to make us feel happy, we are often disappointed because in my experience happiness can not come from outside of us. It doesn’t come from books or food or money. In my experience happiness is a choice we make in each moment , the choice is between accepting what is or wishing it were different. When we can accept what is, we can welcome the joy of the moment , because it is in the moment that we appreciate the beauty around us, our children, sharing the excitement of a wriggly worm, our spouse giving us a hug or the sun shining in all of its glory. And with this I welcome you to join me in this moment allow the thoughts to float by and notice the beauty that is here.
I had an experience with my friend Sam that I will tell you about: As usual, we often sit around and debate politics, religion or life. This week was like any other. Conversations about Obama’s state of the union, the weekly Bible reading and quantum mechanics were all present. Oftentimes, in discussing things with Sam, he gets excited often trying to prove his point and I react accordingly trying to prove my own. This conversation was different. As soon as he started getting excited, a part of me took a step back; the part of me that was secure in myself, the part of me that knew that I didn’t need to defend my position because the position or lack of it held no importance.
Don’t get me wrong. I have wonderful ideas but they are just ideas. I recognized that in that moment Sam was not trying to defend his ideas but rather himself. We are oftentimes defending our beliefs as if they are who we are. We relate ourselves to our thoughts so strongly, that if someone challenges those thoughts, it as if they are challenging our whole being. In my experience we as humans revert to fight or flight mode because deep down in all of us we fear for our security and safety. We have given our thoughts such credence that they are who we are. We must defend them to the death . We see it all the time in the news; religious fanaticism, suicide bombers, and ultimately 9/11.
What happened that night with Sam was that, I was able to take a step back, become an observer of the fear, the fear in me and the fear in him. We are so identified with our thoughts, that we allow them to take over and we say things that can be hurtful because we are afraid.
When we can recognize that we are not the thoughts but rather the observer of those thoughts. We can notice that we are not different but the same as the person sitting across the table from us. If we recognize that we are identifying with the false idea that we are not safe in this world, the false idea that we are separate, then we can open up to compassion. Opening up to kindness and allowing the ego to rest enables us to relate with compassion and love rather than fear and defensiveness. It is in the moment of noticing the fear in ourselves and the other, that we can let it go and be free to share our love unconditionally.
A few weeks ago, I was eating dinner with my family. I was having a great time; laughing, smiling, sharing my thoughts and just enjoying myself. I noticed that the people around me were becoming more and more uncomfortable with how good of a time I was having. It was almost as if I wasn’t allowed to. When they saw me enjoying myself to that extent, they decided I must be drunk.
Sometimes I find that we are taught to hold ourselves back from living life to the fullest. We have to be proper. One of my favorite rules is about modesty. I have been encouraged most of my life to be modest but it seems to me that this sense of modesty that we are told to have is a way of hiding our greatness from the world. When I say to my friend, "wow I am loving this writing. I didn’t know I was so good at it." His response is, “Don’t be so high on yourself." Is that what it means to be modest; to deny that that you are good at something? I wonder to myself, if these ideas around modesty hold us back from embracing our greatness. I wonder if we are being encouraged to be modest or if actually it is an attempt to control our behavior by teaching us to not be too great.
Growing up, I felt that to be a part of the group, I wasn’t allowed to be too happy, too successful or too great. I held on to the belief that showing the world my greatness was not allowed. To be the good wife, mother, daughter, sister, etc. I needed to hide who I was from the world so as not to ruffle any feathers. I had this belief that I was too much for the world. So, I accepted these ideas as facts, so that no one would call me a show off. But what’s interesting, is that it backfired. Being insecure, hiding my truth and keeping up this false sense of modesty made me feel angry. So rather than show my greatness,I hid it from the world. Rather than putting myself out there in all of my glory, I pretended that I was not so great. I pretended so well that I actually started to believe it myself. Yet at the same time that made me angry. So, I acted in a way that was defensive and I actually pushed people away.
These days, I enjoy who I am with a greater sense of ease. I am no longer looking for approvalmost of the time...ok, some of the time. I recognize that the approval I was seeking was false anyway. No matter who or what kind of approval I got, it didn’t mean anything unless I was approving of myself. My sense of false modesty has been stripped (pun totally intended) and I can now stand with all of me in all of my glory.
Do you know what I have learned over the past few years? The perspective we hold of ourselves is not quite what the world sees. When I was in college I spent time lying in bed philosophizing about life and one of my favorite philosophies was “applebomin.” Now, what you might ask is applebomin? Don’t take out your dictionary. It won’t be in there. Don’t bring me William Safire. He won’t be able to help decipher it. It is my word; a word I made up in a college dorm that is the basis for my theory on perspective. I was lying in my bed when I recognized that the colors that I see when I look at the world may not be the colors that you see. Granted we both identify the same color as red but the name might be different than the perception and since we are bound by the limits of our language and today by the inability to see through someone else’s eyes I have no idea whether the colors that you are seeing are the same as the ones I am seeing. The word applebomin I made up as the catch phrase for this theory, little did I know scientists were discussing this idea for ages.
So when we speak of perception and perspective little do we know about how others think of us. I remember making a cake and saying to myself, “I wish my friend Sara was here to help me she was so good at making cakes.” A few weeks later I ran into her and said, “ooh I was thinking of you the other day when I was decorating the cake wishing you were there to help me with it you were always so good at that.” Her response was shocking “Esther you were always the good one at making cakes I wanted to be like you” I took a step back in surprise, we both perceived the other as the better.
We don’t know how people perceive us. We might be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised but it is an interesting experiment. I called my friends and asked them what do you think of me, When you think Esther Azar what words come to mind. I got some interesting responses things I didn’t know about myself, the things I strive to be I already am. Self assured, confident, strong, smart. How interesting I am the only one that thinks I am insecure am I putting on a show for the rest of the world or is the show who I really am. Maybe I need to let go of my insecurities and embrace myself as I am seen through the world. .
This is an opportunity to recognize who we are through a mirror. Seeing our strengths and weaknesses so that we can build ourselves to the person we already are. Perception of ourselves is like the color red we may see it differently than our neighbor.
Rabbi Esther Azar