The Trusted Voyage – In Memory of Sara Disney

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This piece is dedicated to the memory of Sara Louise Disney, March 11, 1988 – July 9, 2019.

This weekend, I received word that a friend and fellow spiritual explorer passed away. Sara Disney was a vivacious Tulsa free spirit known for speaking her mind and seeking substantive answers to the questions we face. She attended our Passover seder last year where she seemed to thoroughly lap up the experience like an investigative reporter. She had spent time at our home, mostly firing spiritual questions in our direction with a hunger for alignment. She craved perspectives, books, resources, and even homework assignments. Our text messages were dotted with conversations about prayer, the Sabbath, and drug policy reform. As the President of the Drug Policy Reform Network of Oklahoma, Sara was outspoken about patient’s rights. She remained outspoken on these subjects long into experiencing the severe effects of advanced Crohn’s Disease — even writing and posting from hospital beds. 

While I will miss Sara, I feel blessed to have known her and been inspired by her insatiable appetite for truth and tenacious drive to effect change. 

With her in mind, I’d like to jump into something peculiar that occurred this morning. I had recently changed siddurim (sih-der-eem — prayer books) to one with a layout I favor. In addition to a layout that lends itself to aligning meaning with the Hebrew text, commentaries fill the footnotes and margins. While most of these are helpful, they can almost consume the text — leaving essential passages somewhat hidden. I didn’t realize until this morning that I had been passing over the last piece of the blessings just before Kedusha:

You are faithful to restore the dead to life. Blessed are You, HaShem (G-d), Who revivifies the dead.

While I knew that this blessing was a part of the prayer service, because of its placement in my siddur, I had managed to skip this blessing for months…until this morning. 

Did G-d conceal this blessing from me for a period of time just to make Sara’s death a moment of learning and reflection? Was I just a fast davener (praying person)? I may never know, but the moment did allow me to reassess and now reiterate what we believe happens to “us” when we die. 

There is an array of answers to the question of what happens when we die according to Jewish tradition. 

  • The afterlife, despite not directly mentioned in the Torah, is commonly referred to as Olam HaBa, The World to Come. 
  • The 13th Principle of the Jewish Faith according to Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, aka: the Rambam) instructs the belief in the resurrection of the dead. 
  • Some say that we will be later resurrected from the dead just like what happened in the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37. 
  • The more mystical branches of Judaism claim that our souls are reincarnated into different bodies until our soul has completed its mission. 

If you were to ask me precisely what happens, even according to my faith, what happens when we die, I couldn’t tell you. I simply don’t know. Still, I’m not very worried about it. Why not? Because I believe that the Creator is just. Whatever His plan He has for my soul after my breath has ceased from my body will be a perpetuation of His Holiness, His Love, and His Just Nature.

Another way to describe this sensation would be to allow a loved one to plan a trip for you. Say a dear parent, spouse, sibling, or friend were to plan an exclusive journey for you. This journey may not be a vacation, but whatever it is, it’s the excursion you need. It may have elements of difficulty, but these are also elements of growth. You may experience things you never even imagined, but ultimately, are glad you did. The entire time you would know that the designer of your itinerary had you in mind. 

Would you be nervous about taking this trip? I know I would be. Despite knowing that I’m about to board a fully-inspected rollercoaster, my knees still shake a bit while waiting in line — not for fear of my safety, but because I don’t know how I’m going to feel yet. The unknowns that would make my palms sweat would not be out of distrust for the one leading me up to the rollercoaster line, but simply not knowing precisely how I will handle something I’ve never experienced before. 

Still, I steady my knees and dry my palms on the assurance that my Creator is One of Love. Even if my consciousness ceases and my soul returns to the Source of All, I know that I have nothing to fear besides not doing enough with my life while I can. Pondering the mysteries of the next world is largely a waste of time in the present world. We need to love while we can, touch lives while we’re breathing, and set acts in motion that will perpetuate love and justice after we’ve left this world. 

I believe Sara understood this. Despite having physical difficulties, she continued to ask piercing questions and support causes close to her heart. To those her mourn her, may you continue to be comforted. 

“G-d is love. G-d is beauty. G-d is everything good! The truth is exquisite! The truth also expounds upon itself, so it just keeps getting better. Words cannot express.”
– Sara’s last text message to my wife.

sara disney medical marijuana


You’re welcome to contribute to charity’s close to Sara’s heart.
Tulsa Jazz Hall of Fame
Drug Policy Reform Network of Oklahoma
Youth Services Tulsa
Black Wallstreet Gallery
Tulsa Humane Society
Tulsa SPCA
Pause4Paws

Technology Sabbath: Why To Take A Break From Devices & How

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Originally posted on LinkedIn on May 30, 2018.

We are techno-junkies. No, literally.

It’s what most of us wake up to and it’s the last thing we look at before we go to sleep. It’s how we communicate with the outside world, maybe how to determine what to wear that day, when to be in a certain place, and even what to buy. That’s right, it’s technology! Smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc. – a large portion of us are hopelessly addicted to our devices. No, seriously. According to the Pew Internet Project’s research, 29% of cell phone owners describe their cellular device as “something they can’t imagine living without.” Some of you are probably thinking, “Yikes” while the rest of you are probably thinking, “Yeah, that sounds like me.” If you feel yourself drawing closer to that second group, know that the American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a “…primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” If the idea of going a couple of hours without the reward of a text message, a social media notification or the idea of letting an email go unanswered for more than a few hours begins to make you squirm, you may be addicted (as in, actually addicted) to your devices. If that’s the case or even if you feel just slightly uneasy about the idea, you may benefit greatly from a weekly break from all devices. Enter the technology sabbath.

Taking a Break From Technology

A technology sabbath is exactly what it sounds like – a 24-hour break from all media consumption devices. Yes, it sounds downright crazy, but keep in mind that this routine of being constantly plugged is a fairly recent occurrence in the history of mankind. Another detail to remember is that the world will not, in fact, come to a screeching halt if you do not reply to that email, “Like” that post or text your friend for 24 hours. What will happen is a deafening silence. No ringing phones, no text chimes, no email notifications. If you’re a Millennial, this silence will grow even louder. If you’re Generation Z, it may actually scream at you. No more social crutch and no distractions from finishing that physical book you’ve been reading (or the one you’ve been meaning to start…after you check your phone). No more checking your pocket while you’re spending time with your friends, family or even when you’re trying to enjoy some time alone. This can be time to enjoy nature or the company of the people right in front of you – not the people calling out to you via cellular phones and WiFi signals.

Working Up To a Full Break From Devices

Don’t expect to completely enjoy the experience the first time. According to a study conducted by the ICMPA and students of the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism in which a group of students took part in a break some all media for 24 hour periods, the first experiences were far from pleasant. One of the test subjects reported, “Although I started the day feeling good, I noticed my mood started to change around noon. I started to feel isolated and lonely.” Just like smoking or substance addiction, a behavioral habit can have the same effects on the mind. Just like these, attempting to kick a habit, even for just a day, can result in some of the same symptoms of withdrawal. Such a dependence on a technological device is not much different from other potentially addicting vices. If the idea of completely disconnecting for 24 hours makes you squeal, try letting go in increments – one device-free evening a week, perhaps. Over time, extend that into the next day. Soon, you’ll be on your way to a 24-hour technology sabbath.

An actual chat room.

You may be asking yourself, “If this is so hard and potentially unpleasant, why should I consider it?” According to another experiment conducted by Seattle Pacific University in which students voluntarily discontinued the use of technological devices for uses outside of coursework, students and observers noticed a considerable shift in their social interaction with one another. Oddly enough, what resulted following the experiment was a “live chat room” which was designed to function just like a typical online chat room, minus the online part. Students would come the old-fashioned way – face-to-face, discussing topics ranging from personal relationships to spiritual ideas.

Leaving the office at the office.

Other benefits include being able to truly leave work at work. According to a study conducted by the Department of Psychology of Bowling Green State University, workers have a serious problem disconnecting from work after hours. Why? The study revealed that the guilty party was the devices that helped make the office just a few clicks or taps away. By completely removing yourself from the devices that allow you to check in on what’s going on in the office, you can also begin to mentally distance yourself from the office and truly enjoy your downtime.

It’s not about what you can’t do, but rather what you don’t have to do.

I know what you’re still thinking – “I can’t unplug for just a little over 14% of my life – that’s crazy!” Though this practice of completely disconnecting from the world for a 24-hour period once a week may seem radical to most of us, this practice has been commonplace for observant Jews for thousands of years. Upon talking to those who keep a sabbath for spiritual reasons, most do not report feeling a burden of not being able to access their devices during this period. Just the opposite – instead of referring to these acts as “forbidden”, they talk about how this observance of a sabbath actually frees them from their weekly obligations for a day. When the devices are turned off, observers are free to spend time with their families without checking their email on their phones, get into a book without being distracted by a text message and even just take an afternoon nap without it being interrupted by a phone call. Over time, this time becomes a period that observers look forward to all week. Ask any observant Jewish person and they can usually tell you, with ecstatic anticipation, how many days are left this week until the Sabbath.

You don’t have to Jewish to keep a technology sabbath – just the desire to thoroughly look forward to and enjoy your downtime. You may be surprised by just how much you look forward to your technology sabbath.

Tips For Keeping a Technology Sabbath

  • Pick a day of the week that works best for you. While the Jewish Sabbath is sunset Friday to sundown Saturday, some may find that Sunday or some other day works better.
  • One of your concerns about taking a break from technology is that people will worry when you don’t respond. To remedy this, make it known that you’re doing this in your automatic out-message email response and mention it in your outgoing message on your voicemail.
  • Any sabbath requires planning, so set aside a time a few hours before your sabbath begins to send out all last necessary messages, social media posts, text messages and to make any phone calls you may need. In the same way, set aside time to get caught back up once the period is over.
  • To resist temptation, store your devices in a drawer or somewhere else out of sight.
  • If you absolutely must have your phone on due to emergency situations, still let people know you’re not taking calls. Screen calls like crazy. Don’t look at text messages (most people don’t text when it’s an emergency). With this being said, do not use this as an excuse to not disconnect.
  • Don’t worry. The point of disconnecting your devices is so you can disconnect your mind. Disconnecting does no good if you’re constantly worrying about all of the digital communication you’re missing. Remember – your messages and notifications will be there when you return.

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Why Pray for the Healing of Others?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the Jewish tradition, much like other religions, there is a space in the prayer service where the names of those who need healing are called out. It’s not a general “and for everyone who needs healing, please send healing” message. No, usually their actual Hebrew names are called out. These are very intimate names — the names of their souls.

But why?

Surely, the Creator knows these people’s names. The Source of All knows their affliction. Even if no prayer for healing were uttered, their need for healing would be well documented in the higher realms and echoed to the furthest reaches of existence. So, what difference does it make that we carve out a section of our daily prayers to run through this roster of people needing healing? Does our uttering of their name speed up their recovery? If we don’t utter their name, will the Holy One ignore their distress?

As I’ve mentioned before, prayer is one of the most misunderstood aspects of spiritual life to those who don’t practice it. (Heck, I don’t even understand it sometimes.) Even for some who have belief in a Creator, prayer can seem like the utmost waste of time. Does the Creator know our heart or not? Why must we make these requests every day? Don’t we have faith that the Holy One already knows what we need?

The Creator does know. The problem is that we forget.

Before I became more acquainted with the Mi Sheberach prayer (the prayer for healing), I still prayed for the overall healing of those are suffering. I had a heart for those experiencing distress, though it was generic. It wasn’t actionable whatsoever. It didn’t require anything of me. As I took on the practice of mentioning the names of those people close to me who needed healing, I noticed something peculiar begin to happen inside.

If my wife tells me to go to the grocery store for five items, I still tell her to send me a message on my phone with the list or I’ll jot them down myself. Yes, I can’t keep five items in my mind. Still, as I began the practice of reciting a detailed Mi Sherberach, I found that I could rattle off a dozen names without hesitation. Some of these names I’ve just heard mentioned in my synagogue. They have no faces, ages, or specific ailments, but they exist as clearly in my mind as the Shema. Still, others are the names I’ve added — loved ones I care for deeply down to acquaintances I know are experiencing suffering. If you asked me for this list, you wouldn’t see a piece of paper come out of my pocket or a memo note open on my phone. Though a basic grocery list alludes me, I could rattle off their names without hesitation.

This memorization of the names of the people in my life who need healing is not just so that I can ask the Creator to change whatever cosmic plan was in store for these people. While I believe that my prayer echoes through the throne room of the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the one who needs to hear this prayer the most is me. Just as much as my laptop, my lunch bag, and whatever book I’m reading are a part of my day, so too are these people. This prayer forces me to carry them with me — to remember their affliction, to recall their faces, and to help them in their healing process however I can.

I was uttering the Mi Sheberach prayer the other day and, despite it being a whisper, a dear friend’s name echoed off the back wall of my living room like a ricocheting tennis ball. Her face flashed before my eyes and my heart filled with joy.

“I wonder how she’s doing. Where’s my phone…”


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Redesigning Your Identity: Choosing Who To Be

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Bumbling around at 6 AM that morning, I hardly knew what I was doing…but I was determined to look like I did. I pulled on a crisp tallit (prayer shawl) over my head and shoulders. I awkwardly wrapped tefillin around my arm that was painfully fresh (new tefillin take a while to break in). My siddur opened with a snap, as though it had just come off of the press. The Hebrew may as well have been hieroglyphics. Still, I was on my way to appearing to be someone who did this every morning. Let’s back up a bit.   

I wasn’t raised Jewish. Despite the fact that I had never even met a religious Jew in person, I became pretty obsessed with Judaism late in high school. Really, I was obsessed with the idea that a set of instructions could be established into productive habits could help make the Creator of the Universe a part of my life — not on a daily basis, but on an hourly basis. One of my biggest bones to pick with my own Lutheran upbringing was that, theologically, nothing was required of me. I felt like a child who, even when they set the drapes on fire, still couldn’t get their parents’ attention. Judaism, however, seemed to give me the structure I was craving — a barometer for spiritual alignment.

A few years into my “Jew-ish” journey, I walked the walk and mumbled the talk…at least enough to fool the predominantly Christian Oklahomans around me. I had no idea what I was doing, and even though I wanted to, I wanted to look like I knew I was doing in the meantime. This brings me to my early morning bumble-fest in the dark.

About a year before this point, I had started a job as a sewing machine mechanic. I liked the job for the most part, but I had even interviewed saying, “I can’t work on Saturdays. It’s against my religion. If you need someone to work Saturdays, I guess I’m not the man for the job.” The boss who hired me later told me that my micro speech in the interview helped land me the job, saying, “I can teach anyone how to fix a sewing machine, but I can’t teach the integrity that I witnessed in your job interview.” Really? Oh, sheesh. Even though I meant what I said, this would mean that I was really going to have to walk the walk…as far as my boss knows about Judaism, anyways.

Fast forward a year. I was out of town at training sessions hosted by one of our vendors. I was sharing a hotel room with my boss and another sewing machine technician. By this point, I had never spent my morning, from waking till working, with my boss. In my mind, I thought he was expecting me to have the morning routine of the apparently deeply religious Jewish person he hired — rising, Modeh Ani, ritual handwashing, Morning Shacharit prayers with tallit/tefillin — the whole nine yards. In hindsight, I’m not sure why I thought this sewing machine shop owner from Missouri would know what this kind of morning entailed, but I was determined to be that person…at least for that morning.

Armed with a tallit I had kept in the closet for months and a set of tefillin that I’d maybe donned twice, I woke up in the room, wrapped up, and attempted to pray as a religious person would. While this seemed like an admirable attempt, I honestly did not know what I was doing. The tallit felt itchy, the tefillin were scratchy, and the siddur felt like it was never going to end. This was not a normal part of my morning routine at this stage in my Jew-ish practice. I just simply wanted to be a person who did do this every morning. That desire to be that person was the most honest thing about those prayers that morning…which my two roommates completely slept through.

Fast forward a decade or so, I’m now married with an infant son. Around the time my wife was pregnant with our boy, I realized that there would be no fooling my future children as to whom their father really was. If I wanted them to see me in a certain way, as a person who does certain things, I had to honestly take on the habits that would ultimately help me become that person. If I wanted to show them that their dad is a person who never cheated in business, I had to take on the habit of driving back to the store if the cashier accidentally gave me too much change. If I wanted my children to feel that their dad was someone who cared about his community, I would have to just be a guy who volunteered and genuinely did (it turns out that if you volunteer long enough, you will end up genuinely caring for your community—who dathunk?). If I wanted them to see their dad as a guy who valued morning prayer, I would have to honestly get up at 6 AM every week morning, don a tallit and tefillin, and reach out to the Creator of the Universe. There would be no more BS-ing about who I was. If I wanted to impart values and lessons as a father, they may hear my words, but they would definitely witness my actions.

One of my first positive habits to take on was the daily morning prayer I had tried so hard to fake that one morning. I wanted to be that guy who genuinely was not himself without his 9-mile run every morning…but, you know, for Jewish prayer.

One thing I noticed after a while was the attitude shift that was required in order to form positive habits. If I wanted to make sure I did not miss a single morning, I could not just be “trying to pray more often.” That attitude gives failure too much of a pass. No, in order to get this positive habit to stick, I would need to be “a person who prays every morning.” It was no longer about what I was trying to accomplish, it was about becoming the person who does. Beyond changing my attitude, I would have to build this as part of my identity.

Another way I’ve heard this form of habit adjustment put is in the framework of smoking cigarettes. Two people could have the goal of quitting a habit of smoking cigarettes. Both of them are out on the patio of a party and are offered cigarettes by a guest. The first person says, “Oh, no thanks. I’m trying to quit.” The second person says, “Oh, no thanks. I’m not a smoker.” The person who refuses, stating that they are “trying to quit” will likely fail because they still see themselves as a smoker who is a “trying to quit.” The second person, however, has changed how they see themselves. They are no longer a smoker. They are a non-smoker. Non-smokers, by definition, don’t smoke. It’s not a question smoking or not smoking, but rather of who the person is.

I felt this similarly when I officially became a Jew. Though religious for several years, my identity as a religious Jew now dictated my actions. This made some averot (transgressions) easier to avoid — I could just say to myself, “I’m a religious Jew. Religious Jews don’t do that.” and the decision was clear. However, what I underestimated is all of the positive habits that being a religious Jew would require of me. Suddenly, my identity as a religious Jew meant that I had a very wide variety of new responsibilities in addition to the bad habits I would need to break.

Even beyond Judaism or spiritual connotation, forming positive habits is less about intention and more about identity. It’s less a “I’d like to…” and more about “I am…” Before you set out to break a bad habit or to form a positive habit, I’d invite you to take some time to redesign your identity. Look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “What kind of person do you want to be?” Sit down with a pen and a notepad or an open document and write a description of the ideal you. This isn’t not you, but simply your best you — the you that you know exists in there somewhere. This is the you that you could be if you took the required actions, little by little.

Is this a person who is always honest?
Is this a person who helps the needy?
Does this person exercise and eat a balanced diet?
Does this person block off time for their loved ones first?
Does this person read books more than they watch television?
Does this person spend more time with friends in person than they do on social media?

Designing this person.

After you’ve dedicated yourself to intentionally living out the values you feel inside, pursue the goals that would be required to move the needle even a little bit every day. Even just taking a single step in that direction is the start of designing the best you that you can be.


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Aligning Within Before Aligning Above

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In Judaism, there is an idea called “כַּוָּנָה” or kavanah. Early on in my studies, I was always told this was one’s focus or intention during prayer. The popular idea behind it can be summed up in the immortal words of a Mr. Ferris Beuller.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

As someone diagnosed with fairly severe ADHD, I understood the gist of kavanah in prayer and study…or a lack thereof. I had definitely “read” pages of text before just to realize it was only my eyes that had done the reading. Meanwhile, my mind was off wondering if anyone had noticed that my socks didn’t match. Still, it wasn’t till kavanah was described to me in a different way did I understand it enough to actually do something about it.

I was watching a class with a rabbi I’d met while I was in Jerusalem in 2009 –  Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser. If you close your eyes and listen to his classes, you’d probably assume he was in a tie-dye tank top with some Birkenstocks and white-guy dreads. He’s actually a former professional big wave surfer turned ultra-Orthodox hasidic rabbi. His days are now filled enlightening the spiritually-searching souls that wander into his classes at Aish HaTorah. Anyways, in this class, he described kavanah as simply meaning “alignment.” He explained that it shouldn’t be a hard concept to grasp and that “kavanah” would also be what you’d say needed fixing on the front-end of your car to an Israeli mechanic if you ran your car into a curb.

yom-tov-glaser

Alignment. Alignment. It made perfect sense. All this time, I had been trying to focus my mind and heart on the text on the page instead of where it was going — to the Creator of the Universe. This helped immensely. But not completely.

Up until this point, I had been praying out of my head. After some additional study of the works of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the source of my prayers took an anatomic shift.

“When you speak to God, you should arouse your heart to the point where your soul all but flies out of you.”

Using this idea of reaching from within for alignment, I wrote a piece about praying from your guts, which I won’t go into as much here. Still, praying from my guts seemed to increase my kavanah very much. Still, I was missing another element of kavanah — the internal sensation that your prayers are being heard. Not reaching to feel the sensation of being heard can feel like spilling your guts in your first love letter to someone and then just tucking it away in a drawer, never to see the light of day again. I couldn’t take this sensation of not knowing if my heavenly voicemails had reached their destination or not.

Soon after this realization that the best source of my kavanah (alignment) with the Creator during prayer was actually reaching out…with my guts (yeah, it makes more sense if you read my other article), I developed a pre-prayer…well, prayer, so to speak. I began using this mantra-like prayer in order to begin the alignment process.

“HaShem, let my mind be in alignment with You.

Hashem, let my heart be in alignment with You.

HaShem, let my soul be in alignment with You.

And let me feel that You hear me.”

I must admit that this mantra is still quite helpful in brewing up some kavanah. Still, what I actually just recently realized is that it was helping me align myself. I know that sounds weird (much like all of this), but I can explain.

As a person with severe ADHD, it is a constant struggle to connect my conscious thought process to the task at hand. Even if I’m actively composing a sentence in writing or on a keyword, my conscious mind may very well be honed in on the sound of the air conditioner or on a neighborhood cat outside of my window. The “H” in “ADHD” stands for hyperactivity, which could explain why one of my legs is constantly bouncing or why if I’m standing, I’m either swiveling at the hips or possibly rocking back and forth. Long story short, my body and mind are rarely in alignment themselves. How could I then expect my entire being to be aligned with the Creator of the Universe?

I recently added a line to the mantra:

“HaShem, let my body be in alignment with You.”

When I tried to align my fidgeting body with my scattered mind and my gut-based soul, I found that I was actively aligning myself in order to align with the Creator of the Universe. Much like a radio not only requires a properly aligned antenna, but also an accurately tuned frequency, there was no chance of proper alignment with HaShem during prayer if I wasn’t successfully aligning the many facets of myself.

Upon coming to this realization, this self-alignment felt reminiscent of the inner workings of a lock. As every pin is aligned within the chamber, the entire mechanism becomes unlocked.

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Much in this same way, when the body, mind, heart, and soul are in alignment, the person becomes “unlocked” in order to connect with the Creator of the Universe in prayer and in performing mitzvot.

Exercise:

Before your set prayers, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and repeat the following mantra-like prayer as many times as you need to:

HaShem, let my body be in alignment with You,

HaShem, let my mind be in alignment with You,

HaShem, let my heart be in alignment with You,

HaShem, let my soul be in alignment with You,

And let me feel that You hear me.

Don’t reach out from your mind. Instead, reach out from your guts. Feel free to repeat this as many times is necessary. Imagine the multiple facets of your being in unified into one being. Imagine each aspect of these parts of yourself aligning with the Creator of the Universe like a laser beam. When you feel like your focus is slipping during prayer, reconvene your many parts and project your unified self to the Creator once again.

“Adonai, bring words to my lips, let my mouth declare Your praise.” – Psalm 51:17 / Opening of the Amidah.

 

The Amidah Is a Jedi Mind Trick: Prayer Helping Answer Prayers

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Consistent, daily prayer is somewhat of a new thing for me. Years went by where I badly wanted to be the person who just wasn’t themselves without wrapping themselves up in a tallit and tefillin and having a morning teleconference with Infinite Truth of the Universe. I wanted to be like those people who humblebrag that, “I’m just not myself if I don’t get my 9-mile run in every morning.”…but, you know, for prayer.

Finally, in much the same way many people develop new habits, I forced myself to become dependent on my morning davening. First, I started with at least the Shema and the Ve’ahavta. It wasn’t too long before I added the Amidah, aka The Shemonah Esrei, aka the 18 Blessings. This prayer is the meat patty in the hamburger of Jewish prayer. Fortunately, it only takes about 10-15 minutes to do with kavanah (alignment/intent).

Eventually, I got over the hurdle of actually budgeting time to pray. I was beginning to really taste what I was eating. The basic formula of the Amidah is talking about Who the Creator is with preceding descriptions.

“Pardon us….(insert accolades here)…Blessed are You Adonai, gracious One who pardons abundantly.”

“Hear our voice…(insert descriptive reasonings why here)… Blessed are You Adonai, who hears prayer.”

This is the general theme for blessings ranging from desiring a fruitful year, teshuvah (repentence), deliverance, salvation, restoration,  to peace and much more. However, there was one prayer that first made me feel that these brachot, these blessings, were affirmations with the powerful persuasion of a Jedi mind trick.

“My G‑d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully…”

One day at work at around 4:45 PM, the volume of the usual workplace chatter began to increase as people prepared to leave for the day. The topic of discussion was of a former co-worker with a checkered past. Due to this person’s absence, everyone felt free to chime in on their thoughts about this individual. Going around the room, someone had asked me, “Ken, you worked with him. Do you have any bizarre stories?” Oh, buddy did I ever. I had them all in the chamber, ready to fire. As I was about to blurt them out like any other gossiper, certain words rang out in my head.

“….guard my tongue from evil…”

Was what I was about to say useful? Was it productive? Was it even nice? No. I simply side-stepped the request for feedback with a, “Not really.”

Now, do I believe that the Creator of the Universe reached down from the heavens and covered my mouth before I could talk smack on this former co-worker? I honestly don’t believe so. In fact, I don’t really believe that the Holy One intercedes in the behavior of creation very frequently. We were given free will and I believe the Creator respects our ability to make utter fools of ourselves. What I do believe happened was a literal answer to my prayers via the prayer itself.

As I would pray these positive attributes every day, taking words from a book and speaking them as truth into my life, I was slowly aligning my will with that of the Creator of the Universe. In essence, tefillah is not about begging the Creator to intercede and change the winds in our favor. True tefillah is an act of aligning ourselves to the Creator’s will and conditioning ourselves to remain in that zone. In the way the robust mind of a Jedi is able to impact the thinking of a weaker minded individual, prayer is the Creator realigning our weak (by comparison) minds to embrace G-dly attributes. The Holy One did not stop my tongue from speaking evil but rather gave me the strength I had requested in order to keep myself from succumbing to the temptation to speak evil.

When we internalize the words of the Amidah and of other prayers that contain positive attributes, they help to shape our behavior as well as how we perceive the world and its inhabitants.

Your Ideal Rebbe: Using Self-Imposed Rules To Redesign Yourself

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There is a tradition within Chasidic Judaism of following the lifestyle habits of one’s teacher extremely closely. This teacher is known as a “Rebbe.” It is not uncommon for these students to completely emulate their Rebbe. They wear the same style of clothes. They eat similar foods in a similar way. They make similar gestures and even mimic the way their Rebbe speaks. Imagine for a moment that in two hours, it’s announced that you are slated to become the Rebbe of a group of thousands of these “chasidim” — pious students. They will copy the way you dress, what time you go to bed, how you spend your leisure time, how you treat other people, and basically almost every other aspect of your life.

  • Would you be prepared to be emulated in such a way?
  • Would your lifestyle require some refining before you took this position?
  • Would you want to emulate such a person as yourself?

At this point, you’re probably pondering your habits…and grimacing. The good news is that, with some time and effort, all of your habits can be changed. One way to free yourself from bad habits is by setting rules for yourself — your own self-torah.

Writing Your Own Torah

There is an instruction in the Torah that every king must write a copy of the Torah for himself. I’m certainly not suggesting that your torah should supersede the Torah given to Moshe if you’re a religious Jew. However, in order to help free you from bad habits, establishing your own personal rules and standards for life can help you come closer to being the Rebbe you could realistically see following.

Building Rules To Become Your Best You

Setting arbitrary rules that aren’t focused on a goal won’t stick around as long as goal-rooted rules. Setting a bedtime for yourself will lack weight if waking up earlier has no benefit for you. Think about the kind of person you want to become and then reverse engineer what rules will help you accomplish this. Have a mindset of less of “it would be nice if…” and more of “this type of person does this,” etc.

Design Your Ideal Self First

Before you start thinking about which rules will help develop the best you, you need to define and design what the best “you” looks like. Take a few minutes to think about what this person is doing at any given hour of the day. What kind of habits do they have? How do they treat people? Imagine you’re studying your ideal Rebbe.

For example:

  • My Rebbe takes advantage of the early morning hours to read, pray, meditate, and prepare for the day.
  • He’s an altruistic soul, giving charity and volunteering time to those in need in his community.
  • He’s a focused, efficient and successful worker.
  • He’s a family man — raising children to have an appreciation for the simple things in life.
  • He’s a loving husband — giving his wife the proper attention and support to sustain their relationship.
  • He is mindful of his blessings throughout the day.
  • He’s honest in all of his dealings and speech.
  • He’s always looking to expand and increase his creative endeavors.
  • Etc.

Create an hour-by-hour log of what your ideal Rebbe be doing at any given time.

Gauge If Keeping These Rules Will Bring Contentment

When designing your ideal “you”, take as much time as you need to in order to gauge if this new lifestyle will bring you contentment. If your rules are more focused on making money, take a few days to really consider if having more money or goods will actually make you more content with life. In many instances, downsizing possessions may actually bring more contentment than acquiring more “stuff.” Make sure that your destination is where you want to end up.

Customizing The Rules To The Ideal Rebbe, Not The Other Way Around

Now that we have some examples for an ideal Rebbe ( this is an ideal Rebbe, not the only ideal Rebbe), we can begin to craft some detailed rules to help us get there. For example: If he wants to be someone who wants to take advantage of the early morning, he’ll need to get to sleep at a reasonable time. A helpful rule would be to say he begins getting ready for bed at 9:45 PM and is in bed by 10 PM. If he wants to be an efficient worker, other rules could include not using social media at work or no multitasking when working on a single assignment. Parenting goals could include putting your phone away around your children or making sure you have a date night with your wife on a predetermined day. These rules should always correspond with the character traits of your Ideal Rebbe.

Some Ideas For Non-Specific Goals

Sometimes, there are simply some rules that are handy for being a more well-rounded individual. There’s nothing wrong with these. In fact, these rules may help you design your ideal Rebbe.

Here are 30 of my favorite rules from bestselling author Daniel Wong

  • Spend 10 minutes every day in quiet reflection.
  • Exercise three times a week for at least 30 minutes each time.
  • Read for 30 minutes a day. (I’m referring to books, not tweets or Facebook status updates.)
  • Every day, write down one thing you’re thankful for.
  • Compliment one person a day.
  • Never play with your phone or look at your computer screen when someone is talking to you.
  • Be home for dinner at least four times a week.
  • Be five minutes early for every appointment.
  • Never criticize someone over email. If you want to offer constructive criticism, do it in person.
  • Spend the last 15 minutes of each workday planning for the next day.
  • Don’t check your email more than three times a day.
  • Whenever you make a phone call, out of courtesy ask the other party if it’s a good time for him or her to talk.
  • Don’t talk bad behind anyone’s back.
  • Once a month, ask your teacher, spouse or boss for feedback.
  • Proofread every email before sending it.

Other Rule Sources: Pirkei Avot

One of my favorite sources of rules that I can apply to my life is in the words of Pirkei Avot: The Ethics of Our Fathers. This tractate of Mishnah is full of applicable rules for living from some of the greatest Jewish sages.

What rules for living have you established for yourself already? Have you been able to keep them?