Building a Strong Foundation
Days of Awe
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Today's Elul Chai-Ku:
I want what you have.
Wait. Maybe I'd rather be
content with what's mine.
Elul is our month to wake up. It is a month to detect unwanted routines that have begun to solidify in the past year, or even over our lives. Before we charge into another annual cycle at Rosh Hashanah, Elul gives us prefatory time to pause and reflect. What kind of person have I been? How have I missed the mark? Are there any habits or behaviors I would like to leave behind this year? Where can I improve?
Some of our deepest habitual grooves are the ways in which we treat ourselves. Yesterday we focused on the treatment of our bodies. Today we examine how we treat ourselves as a person, emotionally and mentally.
There is a compelling Hasidic idea that we should walk around with two notes, one in each pocket. One should read, “For YOU the entire universe was created.” The other should read, “You are like the dust of the Earth.” A healthy sense of who we are should balance between those two extremes. Quite often though we are hanging out at one of these two poles. Much of our emotional and mental disturbance stems from either harassing ourselves for not being good enough, or over inflating ourselves with an exaggerated importance of who we are.
Internal distress is often created through comparing and competing with others. Humans seem to be built with an inborn desire for more, for other than what we actually have, who we actually are. This is such a pervasive problem, that one of the 10 commandments addresses it: “Thou shalt not covet.” But covet we do. The wanting of other people’s stuff. The wanting of other people’s seeming sense of ease. The wanting of other people’s position or prestige. The wanting of other people’s appearance. How often are we in a state of complete acceptance and appreciation of what we HAVE, or who we ARE, regardless of those around us? Truthfully...not often. This place of dissatisfaction creates an internal climate where we don’t treat ourselves very well.
Our sages know that suffering is often rooted in a general discontent with the quality of our lives. In Pirkei Avot, the famous compilation of wise and ethical sayings from “our fathers” we are presented with the following:
Who is rich? Those who are content with their lot.
(Talmud - Avot 4:1)
It is customary for observant Jews to recite at least 100 blessings a day; that's roughly one every 10 minutes. This may seem impossible, strange, even ritualistic to those of us unfamiliar with the practice. However, there is an underlying wisdom built into this discipline. It’s similar to what is referred these days as practicing an “Attitude of Gratitude.” Perhaps our sages knew, thousands of years ago, that the secret to inner peace, is outer gratitude. The Jewish way to show this gratitude is through blessings. Even though our lives are full of challenges and difficulties and obstacles, there must be at least 100 things, each day, for which we are thankful. We just need to tap into the good, the positive, the amazing that surrounds us. Expressing gratitude creates an internal atmosphere of peace. Shalom.
Today’s Elul Tool: Think about how you treated yourself emotionally and mentally in the past year. Has your inner Shalom (peace) been out of balance? What is your role in creating this disturbance? How have you stirred up unnecessary misery and suffering for yourself by being “covetous” or “discontent with your lot?” While many circumstances are beyond your control, how have you created undue internal suffering? Try to see your behaviors in this area as a neutral observer. Try to fact collect rather than add a layer of self-judgement.
It is customary to read Psalm 27 twice daily during Elul.
For Families and Kids!
Junior Tool Box: Bringing Shalom to your Heart and Mind
• Today’s theme is pretty abstract, but if you can, talk with your children about the idea of how we treat ourselves. Are we kind and loving to ourselves, or are we mean and hurtful to ourselves? A good gauge for this is how peaceful we feel inside.
• Create a “Blessing Jar.” When your child is in a negative emotional space (i.e. whining, complaining, jealous or competing with a sibling etc.) have them think of at least one thing they are thankful for in their lives, write it down, and put it in the jar. After taking the time to do this, you’ll probably notice a change in their mood. Point this out to them. Take the time occasionally to read everything from the blessing jar to remember how essentially good and wonderful our lives are.
• For the rest of the month of Elul (or longer!) say thank you once a day for just one thing in your outer world (home, school, family, nature, friends etc). This is prophylactic “medicine” for maintaining the health of our inner world.
• Attempt to replicate some type of balancing structure like the one below. You can use rocks, other items from nature, or even different kinds of toys. If it seems appropriate for your child, share the Hasidic notion of the two notes (from above). Discuss how to balance these parts of ourselves just like the rocks.
• Make a "Shalom Meter." Draw a large dial, from zero to ten. Cut out the Shalom at the bottom of the page and have your child tape it to one of the numbers on the dial to indicate their inner Shalom. Zero is “no shalom”, no sense of inner peace. Ten is complete peace and contentment. Ask your child what they can do to adjust their internal "Shalometer." This teaches taking personal responsibility for our internal emotional state.
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