I was reading this week that many thousands of children under 10 are treated for depression each year in the UK. My experience of children is that they are incredibly resilient. I watched my four kids, all under ten, as they adjusted to the loss of their mother. Kids don’t naturally hold onto negative thinking. In my mind, and this is especially true for children, we need to start supporting people’s mental wellbeing and healthy function, rather than treating dysfunction. Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt, Director, Tikun Center, London
The Sages point out that the secret of successful toil is knowing that one’s results are in fact a gift. In any success we experience, there are SO many people, places, and things that align that we can't plan or manage. Knowing that, we might as well rely on/open ourselves to it from the get-go. To me, knowing that I’m not the actual doer, I feel tremendous peace of mind and desire to throw myself into the goal.
I was once flying back to New York on a Thanksgiving weekend. The lines snaked endlessly. After hours of waiting I was whisked through security to catch my already delayed flight.
As the sun set through the plane window, I reached for my wallet siddur only to discover it missing. It was somewhere in the airport.
Kiss it goodbye, I thought. It’s a massive airport. Any number of opportunistic folks could have found it. And no one wants to delay this flight further with an unlikely search.
Then another thought hit: G-d could do it; I just have to try.
So I called to the stewardess passing by, “I lost my wallet somewhere in the airport. Is it possible to go look?” She looked at me incredulously.
“Perhaps you dropped it on the plane,” she said as she dropped to the floor. “What was in it?”
I knew it was not on the plane, but I was making an effort.
“Well, it’s black leather and it has my Palm Pilot in it.”
“Palm Pilot?” said a passenger within earshot. “There was just an announcement over the PA about one.”
We walked out the plane to the security lady at the gate. They had my wallet. I had it within moments.
The stewardess turned to me and said, “I couldn’t help but notice how calm you were during that whole process. Are you a doctor?”
“No,” I replied, “but I learn the Talmud.”
I was confronted this week, once again, with one of my issues.
Without indulging in TMI (too much information), I’ll just say that I have certain ways of thinking that feel so helpful, right and urgent in the moment yet only really help to disconnect me from the people and experiences I value most.
I’ve been confronted with them before. They've aroused denial and upset (“Me? S/he’s the issue”). They've aroused surrender and humiliation (“Ok, I messed up; but how and when am I ever going to change?”). At times they've aroused hope and resolve.
This week, after tasting the smorgasbord, I felt hope and resolve. Though it’s a topic I’ve touched on repeatedly, I’ve found that I don’t tire of its reaffirming wisdom.
I saw that though I experience the urgency and agitation, they aren’t who I am. Though I sense I have ingrained habits, they’re not my permanent address. I just sometimes lose sight of how thoughts and moods work and my capacity for wisdom beneath it all.
Under the surface of our feelings and judgments flow thoughts. Some thoughts are warm and expansive. Some are insecure. Warm feelings are simply the experience of our warm thoughts; insecure feelings are simply the experience of our insecure thoughts. Hence a person can experience the same thing in vastly different ways depending on his mood.
What's tricky is that it doesn't always seem that way. It can seem that my feelings are a function of my personality combined with my circumstances - both of which aren't so easily changed.
Jewish wisdom teaches that this life can be filled with "tzaros" - often translated as "suffering" but more accurately "narrowness." Knowing that we are capable of narrow, short-sighted perspectives can help us take them less personally, gracefully riding them out as we trust in the wisdom and wide angle perspective that is also part of the gift of being alive.
Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz points out a contradiction between two statements in the Talmud regarding the nature of a person’s power.
On the one hand, it says, “Who is the strong person? The one who masters his inner drives.”
Elsewhere it says, “Every day a person’s inner drives overpower him and attempt to kill him; were it not for Divine blessing, he wouldn’t survive.”
According to source one, his power is that he master his drives – he does it. According to source two, there is no such thing as one who masters his drives; he always needs divine help.
Rav Chaim explains the apparent contradiction. The power of the one who “masters” is not found in his conquering his drives – or anything for that matter. His power is found in his peaceful understanding that mastery requires help. He knows he cannot do it alone and so he persists, free from the despair that would otherwise arise from his inability to deliver the goods. That humble persistence is his power and it will bring Divine blessing.
I saw this the other night as I listened to my son share a subtle point of Talmud he’s learning. He became unclear about his train of thought for a moment. I tried to assist him. It didn’t help. He became frustrated and furrowed his brow, summoning even greater exertion.
While I felt nachas from his efforts, I could also see he was becoming discouraged: “Why can’t I figure this thing out?”
Results are gifts; it’s peaceful power, not anxious exertion, that position us to receive them.