A Day Apart
Over the last few months I have been examining my life, noticing that it is increasingly challenging for me to remain mindful of the big picture. I know that it is nearly impossible for each and every action, reaction, and decision to consistently reflect my deeper beliefs, but how can I move toward that being the case more of the time than not? In order to expand the conversation I asked two friends, Sara Wolkenfeld and Sara Strother to share their thoughts. I chose these two women because I deeply respect them as friends, parents, and teachers. Both women adhere to a discipline: Sara Wolkenfeld is an Orthodox Jew and Jewish text teacher; Sara Strother is a student and teacher of yoga in all its physical and metaphysical facets. I see both women as steadfastly true to their beliefs and values: in the ways they approach parenting, socializing, food, hospitality, and work. I admire their values based approach to every facet of their lives, and wondered if perhaps there is a connection between living a life governed by a belief system and discipline and being mindful. I asked them to respond to the following questions:
- Do people who adhere to a specific discipline or practice frame their lives differently than those who do not?
- How does living such a life influence the ways you approach your various roles and responsibilities?
Both women responded thoughtfully, and there were many similarities between their responses. Primary themes both wrote about were structure, help through dark times, and the opportunity to regularly connect back with oneself – their core values and aims. In Sara Wolkenfeld’s words, “My learning... connect[s] me to my feelings about God, my childhood, who I want to be and what I want to know”.
Both women wrote about the structure and comfort ritual provides. Regardless of what is happening in the world, people who adhere to a discipline wake up in the morning and practice, whether it is meditating, practicing yoga, running, laying tefillin, writing, art, or prayer. Sara Wolkenfeld says it this way:
Weeks after my mother died, when I discovered I was pregnant with my fourth child, it was the discipline of daf yomi (the daily study of a page of Talmud) that gave structure to my days. Much like meditation, perhaps (something I've never been good at) it quelled the nausea and allowed me to move forward with my life.
Rituals give us goal posts that help us move along our journey and infuse the journey with meaning.
In her piece Sara Strother highlighted a powerful idea:
Perhaps the difference between people who are living a life deeply immersed in and thinking about ritual and practice than those who are not is connection to their potential. When we establish clearly the boundaries of a ritual or practice and strengthen our will to engage with it we are elevating ourselves and unleashing a freedom that prior we were unable to tap into.
Sara points out a fascinating dichotomy – the connection between freedom and discipline. When a ritual is working, the practitioner feels freed as a result of their practice. The boundaries and structure provide freedom rather than a feeling of bondage. For me, a mother of three who is married to a clergy person, I often feel restrained by my familial, communal, and religious obligations. At times I resent my lifestyle and feel limited by some of the choices I have made. Does this mean that the rituals and practices I have chosen are no longer serving me, or do I simply need to shift my approach and internal dialogue around these choices? How do we create structures and rituals that reflect who we are and what we need to reconnect to ourselves? There is a saying in Jewish thought, “You do first and the meaning will follow.” Which is to say, you perform the practice first and from doing the meaning will come. I am not sure I agree with this idea because I do think the practice has to fit the practitioner—but the morning after the election of 2016 I woke up and followed the schedule I had laid out for myself weeks earlier, rather than changing my plans because of the extreme fear and disappointment I felt. I did first, hopeful that the meaning would follow.
On November 9th, 2016, at 6:30 am my radio-alarm went off. I sat in our bathroom and cried. I looked up at Abe, feeling desperate, and asked, “what are we going to do now?” As the day progressed I exchanged emails and text with family, talked to friends near and far, and discussed the election with perfect strangers including my Uber driver, people on the street, and a security guard at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
On that morning, Azzi’s class was scheduled to take a trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I volunteered weeks earlier to chaperone their trip. I was excited to spend the time with Azzi and his class at the art museum. When Odelia was young I would take her to the Art Institute of Chicago at least twice a year, just the two of us. We wandered the galleries together, lost ourselves in the beauty of the individual art works and the sacred nature of the museum space.
But on that Wednesday morning I sat crying, as my radio seemed to scream the words “President-elect Donald Trump”. I thought about my day. What! I am supposed to chaperone Azzi’s class to the Art Museum today? It seemed trite and out of place. Part of me could not believe that I was simply going to go along with life as planned; but then of course, what else would I do?
I walked through the galleries of the art museum with eight 4-year-old boys. The boys all knew and talked about the recent turn of events, but their energy and enthusiasm was unchanged. Spending the morning with a Pre-K class at the art museum reminded me of the power of our creativity. People, human beings, created everything in the museum, including the very idea of a museum! We are capable of creating beauty that merits the creation of entire institutions to study, educate, and contain it. The human spirit has profound power. I left the museum thinking about potential: my personal potential and the potential of humanity at large. Sara Strother’s words ringing loudly in my ears: “Perhaps the difference between people who are living a life deeply immersed in and thinking about ritual and practice than those who are not is connection to their potential”.
Following the museum visit I was scheduled to attend a yoga class. I was looking forward to this opportunity to quietly drop into myself. Chae, the teacher that day, did not mention the election results and instead taught the Ayurvedic principle of paying attention to our less-dominant tendencies. In yoga practice that manifests by turning attention to the parts of the body that are less obviously active, such as the back foot and leg in a Warrior II pose, or the back hand in a seated twist. On an emotional level this looks like recognizing that I am generally an analytical person and perhaps I need to let things “be” a bit more, or working to cultivate the voice that encourages listening more closely to my body’s needs instead of “pushing through.” Of course, these ideas apply differently depending on individual tendencies. I kept waiting for Chae to say something about the election, but she did not. I asked myself, was she obliquely referencing the election? Had she planned to talk about this and decided to stick with it regardless? Was she intentionally remaining silent on the issue? Whatever the answer, I remember that practice mostly because I practiced. At once the day went on as planned and was nothing like I had imagined.
In the dawn of Trump’s presidency I am left wondering if ritual is more important than ever. If these practices do indeed help us connect to our potential, who we are, what we want to be and know, then in times of fear and potential threat to our core beliefs it is essential for us to be grounded in who we are so we can act with bravery, moral integrity, and confidence. I am left asking: what are the rituals that inspire, engage, and challenge my unique self?
Abe's Bottomless Pot of Miso Soup
- 1-2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, nameko, oyster), sliced -OR- 2oz assorted dried mushrooms* (can also combine fresh and dried mushrooms)
- 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
- 5-6 quarts water
- 1/3 cup tamari sauce
- 2/3-3/4 cup white miso (can replace up to 1/3 cup with red miso for richer flavor)
*To prepare dried mushrooms: soak mushrooms in room-temperature water for 30 minutes. Use 2 cups of water per ounce of mushrooms. After soaking, remove mushrooms from water. DO NOT DISCARD WATER. Rinse mushrooms thoroughly and slice if necessary. Set mushrooms aside. Strain mushroom water through paper towels into a new bowl. Set aside.
- Scallions, thinly sliced
- Baby Bock Choy (white and green parts), thinly sliced)
- Super firm sprouted tofu, cut into 1cm cubes
- Noodles (ramen, udon, soba)
- Nori flakes or other dried seaweed
- Put 1 tablespoon of each oil in a large soup pot.
- Add mushrooms and sauté over a high flame until soft and slightly browned, 5-7 minutes. Add additional oil if necessary.
- Add ginger, garlic, and scallions (if using) and sauté another 2 minutes.
- Add tamari sauce and stir vigorously until tamari reduces to a glaze. (It helps to measure tamari in advance so that you can pour it all in at once.)
- As soon as mushrooms are glazed, immediately add water. If you used dried mushrooms, add the mushroom water and reduce other water accordingly.
- Bring to a boil and stir in miso until miso is fully dissolved. Simmer at least 30 minutes (the longer the better).
If desired, put noodles, bok choy, tofu, and/or seaweed in a deep bowl. Pour hot soup over other items.