In this week's blog, I have deeply been reflecting on my life over the past three weeks. Lately, I have been experiencing a tremendous flow of harmony and life-affirming calmness. Moreover, I am transitioning into a new chapter of ease which includes pure joy to bring light into others lives. As I began writing this blog I found myself lost for words in a tremendous arduous struggle. I have been thoroughly stuck multiple times with severe writer's block as my thoughts have been in and out of the window. I am being kind to myself and allowing the writing process to flow instead of becoming frustrated with myself. I have not previously written much about my religion or faith; therefore I would enjoy sharing a few spiritual lessons and personal interconnections occurring in my life. As mentioned in my last blog, I am concentrating on balancing the “Deb Trifecta.” The three main focus areas in my life are spiritual growth, service to others, and exercise/nutrition. Within this blog, I will share my intuition and learnings into my ongoing spiritual growth.
This past year I have been exploring Jewish principles that are resonating within me. These new lessons are assisting me to make essential connections within my spiritual self. I will mention a few Jewish principles that I have discovered for myself. If anyone is wondering there are three main kinds of Judaism: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism. Each group has its own practice according to how it understands the Jewish laws. I am most interested in the traditions of Reform Judaism, as it is an inclusive community. Jewish faith believes in one God who is genuinely interested in what people do. God desires all people to be treated with dignity, respect, kindness, and mercy while behaving with compassion. I feel that love is the only way to repair the broken world. Another resonating component of Judaism that I appreciate is that God allows people to choose what to do, which is "free will." I have always believed that God will reward people who do right actions and punishes those who do wrong. A final thought about Judaism that elevates my curiosity even more, is Jews do not try to convince others to believe in Judaism or convert to Judaism. No sales pitch, no door knocking, no handouts at the fair. In fact, Rabbis ask you three times if you are serious about converting to Judaism. Moreover, some Jews firmly believe that you cannot become Jewish unless born through your mother's bloodline. Judaism is something that you either become curious about on an individual level or profoundly desire to commit in marriage with a Jewish partner. I am not currently in the process of conversion to become a Jew at this time. However, I leave that door wide open to remain curious and learn over the next few years. I recently enrolled in a year long emersion class called the Melton studies of Jewish Life 101 at the local synagogue in Santa Barbara, CA. For me, any religion is a deeply personal journey and also is a connection within a community of others through the spiritual experience. Jews believe that we are all responsible for others including the sins of others. I love the team effort approach in life. Yes, I am accountable for my actions; however, I play a part in others success to get there too. A community of like-minded individuals is vital to me. I personally enjoy being a part of something bigger than myself as this space brings me closer to the eventual place I desire to be.
Over the past two years, I have been spending a considerable amount of time exploring my faith with many internal questions to connect spiritual guidance in my life. For most of my life, I have been a deeply spiritual individual. My greatest talks with God have frequently occurred in nature or while sitting quietly in my meditation/yoga practice. I was raised Catholic, but my parents were not very invested in religion. My mom (Catholic) would send my sister and me on our Puch mopeds to 6:00 pm Saturday night Mass with cash in an offering envelope. Spoiler alert most Saturday nights that $5.00 cash envelope ended up at the local A&W restaurant for root beer floats! It’s ok; God did not hold it against me. It was primarily my grandmother who insisted that my sister and I attend the Catholic Parochial school for six long years. Today there is a part of me who is very grateful for my grandmothers contribution to pay the tuition to attended the local Catholic school. Catholic school probably served me well since I had absolutely no structure or guidance from my parents. Let’s just say I had some very loose boundaries and ground rules as a kid. Catholic school provided me with a great start, a few moral guideposts, and respect for my future education. When I was young, I very much disliked the structure of the Catholic school as the nuns would tell me what to do, how to stand, fold my hands, and especially enforced not to speak unless spoken too. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I received much of a foundation in religious education or comprehension of Catholicism. Indeed, I never found relevance in Catholicism and how to apply Catholic principles as a teen, and certainly not as an adult. I had no concept about the Bible, or how to connect religion to my life with any meaning. I would often ask myself, "What does the Catholic religion mean to me, and where do I want to go from here?" My memories of Catholic religious studies were based in intimidation or fear of what to do at the right time, or else expect a slap upside the head with a ruler from a cross-eyed nun. While growing up as a young girl, I very much despised the older priest at our church. My girlfriends found him to be creepy. I drifted away from formalized churches after my teens and began the long journey over the next 40 years to discover my own spiritual compass.
Along the journey, I always felt like I had possibly lived previous lives. These feelings brought many questions about my possible prior life experiences with no clear answers. I have mentioned to people that I believe God put me back on this earth for an extraordinary purpose. Over my lifetime there have been many times of robust trials and tribulations that have tested me beyond conventional measures. However, I one hundred percent believe that God always had a plan for me through these challenging moments. I believe that God assigns his hardest assignments to special angels on earth, and then he judges us on our performance.
While studying Reform Judaism I have asked myself many questions along this new path including why would I be interested in Judaism? “Jesus was a Jew. What could that mean for me?” Last month marked my first full observance and participation in the Jewish High Holidays. The Holidays are a ten-day period known as the Ten Days of Repentance, starting with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and concluding with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Oh, and there was a very cool Holiday, Sukkot, which is celebrated in a temporary structure called Sukkahs (the holiday marks a time of feasting with friends, strangers, and praying for rain). Believe it or not after Sukkot, we actually received a little rain after several dry months.
During Yom Kippur, I assimilated the ebb and flow of a truly authentic spiritual review upon my life. There was a traditional fasting period lasting twenty-five hours. I spent most of that time at a local synagogue attending multiple services and enjoying quiet meditation time under the shade of an old oak tree. I found profound relevance in the process of self-reflecting. I asked myself many times, "Deb if today were your last day on this earth, what side of the “book” would you end up on?" My answer to myself was, "Deb, you have done some incredibly great things in this world, yet you have fallen short in several areas." I spent much of my time during the High Holidays sincerely asking God for forgiveness towards anyone I had wronged in the past. Three predominant themes emerged over the ten-day period that I narrowed down to seek greater awareness and improvement in for the future.
First and foremost I am very sorry for the many times I strong-armed my will upon others. I admit I was a childhood bully to my younger sister Laura. Thank goodness we have become amazing friends later in life. In my teaching career, I found it disappointing how many professional grown women bully each other. I have spent my share of time on both sides of the bully track, and I am deeply sorry. These experiences profoundly hurt both parties and indeed are destructive in the workplace. The second problematic area I identified and have personally struggled with in the past was not spending time listening to others. At times I’ve shown little room for empathy, was quick-tongued with critical judgment and had many unfounded ugly opinions. I mentioned in an earlier blog how it is very challenging and difficult to establish new neural pathways of healthy habits. I believe it is most taxing to change old thought patterns. It takes EFFORT and intention to change the way we process our thoughts. I set time each day to review my past actions/reactions and put into practice daily kindness, empathy, and a soft heart. I raise my hand and admit my old, unattractive habits still try to show their ugly self in times of tiredness, dehydration or over-scheduling my calendar. Fortunately, today I catch myself quickly and apologize for the side step for any snappy words, critical thoughts, or getting out of my lane. Getting out of my lane means that I am placing opinions or judgment in other people lives. The last domain of forgiveness that I identified and asked for forgiveness from God were the times I lusted revenge upon others who had wronged me both personally or professionally.
One final thought I grappled with, but truly appreciated while finishing this blog are the unique practices of deep reflection. I honestly believe that purposefully reflecting for ten days helped me to wholeheartedly review my life and change the course for tomorrow. In the end, I believe God judges his people on their EFFORT each day on earth. God will be the one who will decide for each of us to either inscribed us into the book of life or not. Each day of my life counts! I wake up each and every morning grateful for another chance to learn, listen, and laugh. My spiritual EFFORT is to keep an open mind to learn more about myself, others I encounter, and the journey in this incredible world. May the Journey Begin Within You Deb