Words spoken from the heart, will enter the heart.
*I wrote this post on October 1, 2008 & right now I'm pulling it "out of my pocket" and taking it to heart. I just decided to return to Florida tomorrow--to be there for everyone I care about during these challenging times. Rabbi Kroloff's words couldn't be truer or wiser.
How often do you hear a speech or sermon, or read a book or an article and think,
"Oh, I must remember this. It's so true--so right--so inspiring." And in 2 days it's gone from your memory. It happens to me all the time!
I want to remember the words of Rabbi Kroloff's Rosh Hashanah sermon yesterday. None of it is new--it's something we all know--but he put it so well--so succinctly. I want to write it down, put it in my pocket, and use it against all those times when life disappoints, when bad things happen, or when things fall apart.
The headlines are grim and what the future holds is anyone's guess. Rabbi Kroloff isn't young. He's retired, and he's been through a lot of life's challenges, so when he shared with us the four practices that have gotten him through life's uncertainties I listened closely.
I didn't take notes--my memory tends to filter & rearrange--but here's my take on what he said.
Rabbi Kroloff's Four Practices to Get You Through Life's Tough Times and Keep Your Head on Straight and Your Heart in the Right Place
1. Prayer--or meditation--or just getting quiet.
This isn't rote prayer. It's sincere prayer. It could be your own personal dialogue with God (by any name you're comfortable with) or just shutting up your own chatter and getting to the place where you finally admit you really don't know all the answers and you need some assistance. It's listening to "that still small voice" inside of you that just knows the right thing to do--the right thing to say--the next step to take that somehow will get you through. We never seem to hear that "voice" when we're too busy ruminating, complaining, worrying, or catastrophizing.
2. Get in touch with the wisdom of your tradition.
Every religion or wisdom tradition has guideposts that inspire us to be our best possible selves, especially in the worst possible of circumstances--like job loss, economic collapse, hurricanes, floods, you-name-it. In a previous sermon Rabbi Kroloff quoted David Brooks of the New York Times:
"It's true that people everywhere want to satisfy their desires, but they also require moral systems that will restrain and give shape to their desires."
Think about it, "If you had to walk around all day carrying 2 heavy suitcases how would you feel when you finally unloaded them? Great! Fantastic!"
Within the wisdom of religious rituals are subtle and not so subtle reminders of "what's important and what's not."
the upcoming holiday of Succot for instance. It is a week-long
thanksgiving celebration of the Fall harvest and a once a year reminder
of what's really important. We're supposed to build these flimsy
4-sided huts in our back yards, that are just tall enough for us to
stand up in, and just large enough to have a table to share a meal with
family & friends for a whole week. We're supposed to be able to
see the moon & the stars through the roof (how lovely is that?),
but the sides should be strong enough to withstand the wind. And the
structure has to be portable, not permanent, because it's a reminder
that it's not the creature comforts of a warm house that are important--but the warmth of family & community.
there you go--when you get down to it, what do we really need? When
you start paring down--you get clearer about what you really
need--what's really important.
3. Show up for each other.
Everything is easier to get through when we show up for each other. Your friend calls you to say she has an early morning biopsy tomorrow at the hospital, but she's fine to drive herself. No big deal. You say, "I'll be by at 6:00 am to pick you up." She still has to face the biopsy, but somehow it's not so difficult because you're there to support her.
Mourner's say it's always comforting to have people "show up" for the funeral, or come by for a visit afterwards. They don't have to say a word--it's just their showing up.
Natural disaster victims, families experiencing illness or job loss, you name it. Showing up for each other doesn't make the pain go away, but not having to face things alone makes all the difference.
In the movie, "Lars and the Real Girl", when Bianca, Lars' "blow-up imaginary" girl friend is seriously ill, all of the neighbor ladies show up with food, and their knitting to keep Lars company. When he asks why they are there, they say,
"Why Lars, that's what neighbors do when someone is sick. We come and we sit together. Doesn't that make the waiting easier?"
Oh, and don't forget, showing up for the good things is just as important! Like your grandson's baseball game, your daughter's concert, your friend's son's wedding, your co-workers good-bye party, or your neighbor's open house. Yep, there may be something else you'd rather be doing, but you will definitely be glad you SHOWED UP!
4. No matter who you are, you really do play an important part.
Years ago Rabbi K's wife started a group of congregant's that would visit the sick, the lonely, and the homebound. There was extensive training for everyone. One of the group's volunteers had tragically lost her bright beautiful daughter at age 20. She needed no training. She knew exactly how to comfort.
Once you've been hit with tragedy, you know how it feels, you know what helps, you know what doesn't. Who do you want to talk to when you're facing divorce or cancer? You want to talk to the person who lived through the divorce or the cancer, and knows what it's like, and how best to survive it. Sometimes there is an upside to having experienced life's downsides.
And playing a part doesn't even have to be big.
Just listening to someone without an eye on the clock.
A gentle touch or holding a hand. Research shows that just holding someone's hand lowers their blood pressure and diminishes their physical pain or discomfort. Really!
If there's an issue that's important to you--clean water, alternative energy, Darfur, the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, health care costs, poor reading skills in inner-city schools--you name it--get involved.
Yesterday the computer system of the House of Representatives jammed because it was flooded with so many messages from people who had strong opinions about the bail-out proposal, or wanted to read the proposal themselves. The jam-up definitely sent a message. There really is such a thing as a tipping point--when enough people care enough to get involved & do something about a problem--change can happen.
And if you think you're too old, too frail, and you're housebound, and you couldn't possibly contribute--you're wrong. Just answering the phone with a pleasant voice, and thanking your grandson for calling you or visiting you, and telling him what a joy it is to talk to him--that in itself will have its own ripple effects. Really!
Thanks to all of you who read this blog. If I hadn't sat down to remember Rabbi Kroloff's words, to think about them and write them down, they would certainly have evaporated in a day or two. Thanks to all of you I can safely put them in my pocket and keep them close at hand. Hey--I guess you played a part!
**Added Today 3/4/09 I just opened up Sylvia Boorstein's wise little book, "Happiness Is An Inside Job. Practicing for a Joyful Life". I opened it to the place where a year ago I had folded a page--something I must have wanted to remember.
"And here is the eternal wisdom: There are always challenges. You plan for one thing, and something else often happens. The long view---is rarely immediately apparent. Immediate emotional responses are just that. Noticing them, and reflecting, is always a good idea. And the cause of suffering---always---is struggling with challenge rather than responding with sound judgment and kindness."