theorangeinkblot

Looking at life through orange colored glasses…

Archive for the category “Religion”

We have the right to remain silent

I have just returned from a week away in the beautiful mountains of Colorado where I was participating in a spiritual leadership training program.  Part leadership development, part meditation practice, along with a healthy dose of reconnecting with nature, the program asked each of us to explore the question, how can I be of best service to my family, my community, and the organizations in which I work during the difficult times we are currently facing as a nation?

There is a lot to unpack from this experience and I suspect I will be doing so for a while. My initial thoughts, however, come from the way we started each day while in training– in silence.  Each morning, from the time we woke up (for me that was about 6:00 a.m.), through our morning meditation, breakfast in the dining hall, until our first learning session at 9:00, we were asked to remain silent.

This was new for me- spending the first three hours of each day in silence even as I was at times surrounded by people.  And it has gotten me thinking about our need as a society to fill every moment of the day with activity, noise, distraction, and chatter.  A friend of mine pointed out recently that she can’t even fill her car’s gas tank anymore without a screen babbling to her in the form of advertisements, celebrity gossip, and “important” news of the day. From early in the morning until we collapse into bed at night, exhausted, we run ourselves and our children ragged racing from one activity to another- work, school, the gym, sports practices, tutoring, volunteer obligations and more-all while listening to podcasts, audio books or music while driving; receiving and responding to texts and emails throughout the day; updating multiple social media accounts with our whereabouts and pictures of our specialty ‘Frappacino’ and lamenting to friends and family that we would love to be spending more time with them if only we weren’t so busy.

Why do we choose this constant state of busy? And can we be clear that it is a conscious choice? As I theorize about why we make this choice I can’t help but ask myself these questions: What are we trying to prove by maintaining this constant state of busyness? What do we think we will accomplish? What are we trying to avoid? What is the void we are trying to fill? Are we so afraid to spend quiet time with our own thoughts and feelings?

I can’t answer these questions for anyone else but I can share what I learned by taking a few hours each day to slow down, be still, and be silent.  For me:

  1. Silence creates space for things that are often times squeezed out in the busyness of each day- divine presence; prayer; clear and calm thinking- just to name a few.
  2. Silence leads to noticing.  In these moments of silence I found myself more awake and aware of what was happening around me and inside of me.  I listened more deeply, observed more carefully, was more in tuned to how I was feeling.

You may be thinking- this is all well and good if you have three hours a day to dedicate to silence and stillness.  How am I, this very busy person, supposed to find the time to be silent? We may not have a few hours.  I certainly don’t in my “regular” life. I am suggesting, though, that perhaps we take back a few minutes from our day to sit quietly and see what comes out of it.  What will fill the space that you create with silence? There is only one way to find out.

Advertisements

Letting my soul take the lead.

It’s 4:15 a.m.  I’ve been laying in bed, awake, for the past hour or so listening to the wind blow. The power just went out and some electronic device with battery back up is beeping so I have gotten up to find it and turn it off before it wakes up everyone else.  I have given up hope of falling back to sleep so I am pencil and paper writing by flashlight.

These early morning hours are powerful for thinkers and writers like myself. Even with the wind howling outside it feels quiet and still in the house, especially without the low, normally ever present, hum of electricity.

I am sitting here in this beautiful quiet with the wind as my soundtrack and I am thinking about my current volunteer work as a lay leader with a non-partisan, interfaith, community organizing group.  It is hard work, sometimes frustrating, but worth it. Through this work I have gotten the chance to work with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met who have truly amazing stories. I am blessed in this work with inspiring teachers who are invested in me as a person and as a leader in my community. I feel like I am part of something larger than myself and with that comes a sense of purpose that I have not felt in a long time.

I have also been feeling a tiny bit inadequate. As I get deeper into this work I find myself faced with important questions: What do you want out of your involvement with this organization? What do you want for your Core Team? Why are you doing this work? For the life of me, I cannot get my brain to cooperate in helping me to articulate answers to these questions and I feel a little bit stupid because it seems like for something that I feel such strong emotions about I should be able to think of the answers.

But, maybe the problem is that I am trying to think of the answers.  I am quite used to my brain running the show- for better or worse. I think and overthink until my grey matter is so bogged down in grey areas that I become completely trapped by my own thoughts.

I am starting to get the feeling, that my brain is not in charge of this.  When I am asked why I am doing this work, the only answer I can honestly come up with is that I can’t imagine not doing this work.  The thought of walking away from this experience makes me feel like crying.  So I am thinking that maybe my brain is not the boss here in this particular circumstance. I am thinking that perhaps my soul is taking the lead on this one.

I’m pretty sure that my soul knows exactly what I want from this experience, what I want from my Core Team, why I am doing this work.  What I have figured out is that in those moments where I stop thinking so much and just focus on doing, there is so much joy and meaning.  When I just let go of trying to understand the answers at a cognitive level I find I am instinctively making many of the right choices, I am contributing, I am not inadequate at all.

So maybe it’s okay that I don’t have the words yet to articulate what I think. Maybe it’s okay that my soul feels like the leader of a marching band, deliberately and confidently stepping in the right direction while my brain is twenty steps behind trying to figure out how to play the tuba, read music, and march in time all at once.  My brain will catch up eventually and cognitive clarity will come when it comes.  Hopefully, the people who are asking for answers can be patient with me until then.

And until then, I’m going to work on having faith that my soul is not going to lead me astray. That’s hard work too and sometimes frustrating but also worth it.

From Empathy to Action

Back in September, as we moved closer to the Jewish high holidays,  I sat down with my ten year old daughter and asked her if she had a personal goal or anything about herself that she wanted to work on in the year to come.  After thinking about it for a while, she decided that she wanted to focus on trying to better understand how other people feel. In other words, she wanted to work on becoming a more empathetic person.

As the year has progressed, I have been checking in with her periodically to find out where she is in thinking about or working on that goal and quite frankly, I have been blown away by the stories she is sharing with me.  Recently, she came home from school and shared this:

There is a boy in my daughter’s grade who frequently passes gas.  My daughter has heard that the reason for this is medical- either the side effect of a medication he takes or the result of a chronic gastrointestinal disorder he suffers from.  You can imagine, I’m sure, the reaction that this boy gets from his classmates- laughter, teasing, and straight out ostracizing.  Nobody wants to sit next to this boy or play with him or be his friend.  My daughter readily admits that she is not looking to be his best friend but she has been spending some time thinking about how he probably feels- lonely, sad, angry- and she has decided to make a concerted effort to show this boy kindness.  If she sees him standing alone at recess she goes over to talk to him.  If he needs a partner in P.E. she asks him if he wants to be her partner. The boy, my daughter says, seems appreciative and she feels good about her choices.

What she doesn’t quite understand is the response that she is now getting from some of her classmates.  My daughter had hoped, that by role modeling kindness, and reaching out to this boy that some of her classmates might follow suit. Instead, she said, she feels like some of her classmates are getting angry at her.  They are questioning her show of kindness and inclusion and asking her why she is even talking to him.  This has given us the opportunity to dig deeper into my daughter’s quest to better understand how other people are feeling and we have begun to explore the question of why my daughter’s show of kindness to a child whom everyone else has turned their back on might cause her classmates to feel negatively towards her.

We have been talking about how fifth grade marks the beginning of those years where for many kids, what they want and value more than anything else is to “fit in.”  As long as they are not the one being singled out or teased they are content. Additionally, if in order to fit in it means they feel like they need to ignore or tease the boy that everyone else is ignoring or teasing then that’s what they are going to do.  And if EVERYONE else is doing it, then it must not be that bad, right?

My daughter has made the very brave choice to not go along with the crowd.  Perhaps, in watching her, some of those other kids are now examining the choices they are making and may be feeling conflicted in their hearts about those choices.  Maybe, I told my daughter, they don’t feel so good about treating this boy unkindly, but they are too scared about losing their own social status or worried about being singled out, to change how they are acting.  They may try to pull you back in line, I explained, not because they think you are doing the wrong thing, but because they know that you are doing the right thing, and having to deal with that internal conflict is more than what they can deal with at 10 or 11 years old (heck, many adults can’t quite seem to figure this out).  Understanding those feelings is also part of becoming a more empathetic person.

I wanted my daughter to understand, too, that just because she might come to empathize with the reasons that some of her classmates were upset with her does not mean she has any responsibility to stop making good choices in order to protect people from having bad feelings about bad choices.  In fact, that uncomfortable feeling that we get when we don’t make a good choice or when somebody challenges our worldview is supposed to act as a signal for us to think about why we might be feeling that way and get us to evaluate our thoughts and behaviors so we can make necessary adjustments.

I told my daughter how proud I am of her for the choices she is making and especially for how she is stretching herself beyond her goal of trying to understand how people are feeling to use that understanding in choosing to act in a way that exemplifies how she is living the values of kindness and compassion that she is realizing are important to her.   Finally, I thanked my daughter for the important reminder that it’s not enough to just think about doing the right thing.  Empathetic thoughts alone are only so helpful- but if we can use our empathy to spur us to take action then we really have the opportunity to both make a difference in someone’s life and challenge the thinking of those around us.

 

 

 

My father says I’m not allowed to play with you…

My ten year old daughter approached me a few days ago and said she needed to talk to me about something that had happened when she was playing online.   Being that she is very into coding and online computer/video games my husband and I have had many conversations with her about internet safety- never using her real name, or providing her age, photograph or location when playing games online with people she doesn’t know.  We have talked to her about online predators who might pretend to be something they are not in order to try to form a connection with her.  So when she said something had happened in an online forum, the following story is not what I was expecting.

My daughter was getting ready to start a multiplayer online game on the Roblox website when one of the kids on the site asked her via online chat if she believed in God. My daughter answered that she did but suspected there was more to the question and asked if the real question was if she was a Christian.  The girl responded by asking my daughter if she had accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.  My daughter replied that she is Jewish and that Jews don’t believe that about Jesus at which point the other girl told my daughter that her father had said they couldn’t play together anymore (even in an online forum).

My daughter told me that she asked the girl, “Are you willing to have a conversation about that -because if we talked about our faiths I think you might be surprised by how much they have in common.”  The other girl said “okay,” so my daughter started listing ways their faiths overlapped.  Typing away, she pointed out that their God is one and the same, that their sacred texts overlap, and that their faiths share many of the same values such as caring for the poor and feeding the hungry.  The girl countered that all that may be true but their differing opinions about Jesus Christ made them opposites. She reiterated her belief that Jesus had died for her sins, and that if one did not accept him as their Lord and Savior that they could not go to heaven and that if my daughter did not believe this that they could not play together.

At that point, my daughter did not know what else to say. The girl logged off the game and my daughter played with someone else.  Later, when she told me about what had happened, I asked her how she was feeling about it?  She told me she was a little surprised but that she was comfortable with her faith and mostly she wanted to know if she had handled herself appropriately. I told her she could probably teach classes on how people could handle themselves more appropriately and that I was really proud that she had attempted to open up a dialog with this girl.

We talked about, too, how lucky we are, really, to have so many friends, family members, and neighbors of different (or no particular) faiths.  My daughter adores her non-Jewish cousins and Aunts and places equal value on her relationships with them as she does her Jewish grandparents, uncles, and cousins. She has Jewish friends, yes, and she also has friends who are Catholic, Christian, and Muslim and I do not fear or worry about my daughter playing with any of them.  In fact, I welcome it because it is through these relationships that I believe the world becomes a little bit safer for everyone.  It becomes harder and harder to generalize about or hate entire faith groups, the more relationships you have with people of those faiths.  At the same time, learning about other religions can have a funny away of bringing us closer to our own faith by making us think more critically about why we believe what we believe and be able to better articulate our own beliefs.

So, fear not. If your child comes across my child online I can assure you that there are no Jewish cooties (“Jooties?”) that are going to travel through the internet and negatively impact your child.  It is entirely possible to both lay a strong foundation of your own religious beliefs at home and also allow or even encourage your child to interact with children of different faiths without prejudice or fear.

Post Navigation