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Posts tagged ‘Introspection’

Happiness is My Choice, 10

There’s a lot to be said about the practice of contemplation and self-improvement. In these days between the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur—the so-called Ten Days of Repentance—we turn our thoughts toward our actions and character traits which have allowed us to act in a particular manner. This period is a time for appreciation of our freedom to use our wills for good or for selfish ends. We don’t flagellate ourselves when we find ourselves lacking; rather, we contemplate the means to change ourselves for the better.

I liken this week to an employee performance review. Like the yearly progress assessment, we review our success in achieving goals set in the previous season and we formulate future goals. Where do I excel? How can I parlay this strength toward future endeavors? Where can I be better? What tools can I use to improve what is sub-par? Have I failed utterly in any area? What is taking me off track? And if I just can’t proceed in that positive direction yet, what is holding me back? On Yom Kippur, we give a full accounting to the Boss and state how we may improve ourselves toward fulfilling the Company’s goals.

Rather than castigate and flagellate myself for perceived imperfections, I can choose to look at this annual review as an opportunity to learn more about myself. Others may quake in their shoes, fearing punishment and retribution, but I choose to take the opportunity to reboot myself as it were, and get a fresh start.

Rabbi Ezra Schwartz reminded us on Rosh Hashanah that we are not bad people. We just need improvements.

Improvements. This thought makes me … happy. Otherwise, I would be so despondent all of the time, wallowing in guilt and unhappiness for my failures and inconsistencies. If I could not take the opportunity to move on from today into an improved tomorrow, I would feel like the executioner’s sword was inching closer and closer—sure doom—defining my fate. We have so many characteristics that make us who we are. Some are expressed at the wrong times, others are not expressed often enough. Our characteristics are many, like the seeds of the pomegranate which—once you find them and use them—can be a delight for the eye and palate.

Instead of facing severe punishment, we are given a chance to take our measure accurately, and alter the pattern. The Hebrew word middah (מִדָה) literally means “a measurement,” and also refers to character traits. How poorly clothing would fit if the tailor could not make adjustments to the pattern. So, too, we are given the ability to contemplate the pattern and adjust the reality. We are given a new chance at life, forgiveness, and our eyes are opened to our true characters!

Yeah, it’s scary facing our shortcomings. I don’t like admitting where I’ve failed, fallen short, not risen to the moment or shown the darker side of myself. but rather than quake with trepidation, I’m calculating, building, planning, adjusting. I’m using my Ten Days of Repentance to adjust the template and shift the pattern.

Hope! Everyone gets a second chance; not everyone can use it properly. I’m taking this opportunity to increase my internal awareness and assess how good it can get. This is my choice, leading to happiness.

For all of my friends and not-yet friends, I wish you a meaningful period of contemplation, leading to a fulfilling Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, to be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year!

Happiness Is My Choice, 9

What difference does it make

What difference does it make? – Peanuts © Charles Schulz

I could have put my pedal to the metal and sped up when being asked to slow down. I could have seated the guests on the right, facing a painting, instead of the left, across from the bookcase. I could have sliced the dessert lengthwise instead of widthwise. I could have worn my hair styled in a fancy manner instead of wrapped in the bohemian scarf. I could have done many things just for spite, control, or defiance.

For some reason, all of these mild requests irked me and had me thinking to do the opposite of whatever the request was. My back arched and my fur bristled. “Who do you think you are?” my inner control freak screeched.

A well-meaning person made a request of me and I bristled internally with hubris: “I’ll darned well do it my way!”, “Harumph! Who are you to tell me what to do?”, “No, I’m not going to kowtow to you”, and “Who asked you?” I could have worked myself into a fine tizzy, gotten angry, spit out unkind words. What was happening? What set me off like that?

Do I have ODD: Oppositional Defiant Disorder? No. It’s more simple than that: I felt irritated.

Irritation, a feeling of not being in control, led to arrogance. My way or the highway. Conceit, pride, haughtiness, and egotism all raised their crusty, creaky voices to get a piece of the action. Hauteur, contemptuousness, smugness, disrespect, and self-importance yammered for attention. My self became more important than you, her, him, them, and those others. My yetzer hara, the “evil inclination,” the nether self, that lying, poisonous snake coiled in the pit of my gut, took over my brain and implanted insanity.

Oh dear reader, don’t think I’m a saint because I identified the snake. He still lashed and slashed. I recognized the beast, then let him feast anyway. I fumed; he gnashed and snarled, gurgled and fussed. I stewed in smug self-righteousness… until it tired me out. I don’t want to be that person. Happiness is my choice. Lest I let the beast and chaos rule, lest I get into an accident or hurt someone’s feelings, I needed to oust it. I needed to choose what to do, how to respond.

But the first step was recognizing what was going on.

I’m not normally offended or offensive. I’m typically calm and not snide. I want my life to be pleasant and placid. I choose to surround myself with good: good intentions, good wishes, good feelings. I want to have the pure joy you get from recognizing someone else’s good fortune, taking pleasure in the beauty and good surrounding us. I want to dance at weddings, reveling in the gladness. I want to spread smiles and good cheer. I have the discipline to put myself in a place to harvest joy.

What difference does it make?
—Charlie Brown

I consciously remember good events and minimize the not so nice. I find ways to allow others their faults and let them have a “pass” when they’re not filling my expectations. I’m easy, pretty unflappable. The world will keep turning if I am not in control. Let it be. Irritation pushed me down a short slide into the maws of unhappiness. It erected a barrier between me and my serenity.

I can’t allow anything to exist between me and serenity. If I do, I get detoured from my daily connection with the One, the Source of All Good. I can put that snake down by refusing to succumb to its venom. All joy beckons me because I recognize the illness causing my discomfort: a false sense of reality. I’m not so important that my will matters above all. Does it really matter whether they sit here or there? Charlie Brown had it right: What difference does it make?

Next time the evil inclination bites me, I’ll know what to do: I’ll drive slower, let the guests choose their own seats, slice the dessert as each wants, and wear my hair as I please.

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