The day before Rosh Chodesh Elul, I felt a distinct shift in my own energy and the energy of the world around me. Elul is ON. I am fired up to change, to rearrange my life and to push myself past my perceived limitations. I’m going full on “feel the pain of change” this month, and here are some of the ways I’m doing it/getting inspiration to do it:
1. I’m reading 60 Days every day. It’s making me face a lot of my shtick — and we’re only 9 days into Elul. For example, on the 6th of Elul, I became aware of the fact that I don’t reach out to help people very often. I go around thinking that I’m a helpful person, but in reality I shy away from offering help to people with the excuse that I am overwhelmed with the activities of my own life. “Overwhelmed” has become my excuse for not offering support to my friends and family. I’m not really overwhelmed — I have other BS “reasons” for keeping to myself, and 60 Days called me out on it. I did what the book said to do — I reached out to someone who needed support, and it was easier than I expected. And now I know I can do it. I don’t have to save the world, but every day I can find a way to offer support/help/consolation to someone. Read 60 Days and face your own weaknesses. You will discover some strengths along the way.
2. I’m forcing myself to learn about Mashiach and Redemption…in Hebrew. One of my great embarrassments in life is that my command of Hebrew isn’t very strong. In the spirit of facing and dealing with the ways I hold myself back spiritually, I’m struggling through learning maamarim in Hebrew this month. I’ve BS-ed my way through text study for too many years, and I’m tired of struggling with translation. I want to be able to pick up a sefer and enjoy reading it, and the only way to get to that point is to suffer through learning the idioms and figures of speech and prepositions and acronyms of the Rebbe’s Chassidus. This month, learn something hard. Push yourself to learn something you’d usually avoid. Finding out that you can do it will empower you to learn even more.
3. Instead of lying in bed with my smartphone before I go to sleep, I’m indulging in learning halacha in English. Rabbi Yekutiel Farkash’s Tahara Kahalacha is now in glorious, charming, easy-to-understand English. I’ve wanted to become a kallah teacher for a long time, but I’ve been lazy. I’m finally working toward my goal of being a kallah teacher who can educate women in a way that is information-based (versus an approach with a heavier emphasis on customs and “Chassidishkeit”). I want to offer judgment-free kallah classes where I give brides the information they need to negotiate the very personal nuances of intimacy. I’m one of, like, .001% of Chassidic women who comes from a third-wave feminist background, and I’ve been putting off doing what might be my most important shlichus. What holy/helpful thing to you want to do that you’ve been putting off? Change your life by starting your project this month.
4. I started eating vegetables again. I take a gallon size Zip Lock bag of crunchy vegetables with me when I leave the house in the morning, and by 3 PM I’ve eaten all of them. Instead of dealing with complicated meal plans involving superfoods, I’m following the best and simplest nutritional advice that I’ve read: “Eat a crapton of vegetables.” Just this step is making a world of difference in how I feel and how I manage my sometimes disorderly eating. Do something this month — make one change in your diet — to make you feel healthier. You need energy and vitality. Start giving it to yourself.
5. I decided to stop feeling fat. I read Geneen Roth’s book When You Eat At The Refrigerator, Pull Up A Chair, and it blew my mind. It was such a revelation: Yeah, I’ve put on some weight in the past few years, but I don’t have to hate myself. I don’t have to feel fat. Hating myself and feeling fat just lights a burner under my impulse to overeat. Pick an area of life where you self-sabotage; read something humorous and practical about how to stop self-sabotaging; and then follow the instructions of the book — whatever book you choose. Try a new approach to a problem that dogs you, and see how your new actions make you feel.
6. I’m risking being corny by putting the kibosh on self-hatred. I’m trying out “Radical Self Love.” A lot of people roll their eyes at Gala Darling, a fashion blogger turned self-help teacher. She was one of the first bloggers to make it big, and like most successful people she has a number of critics. I don’t give a sh*t if she’s into pink lipstick and glitter — her book Radical Self Love is full of concrete ways to love yourself so that you can love other people and live up to your potential. Sometimes it’s helpful to listen to a fly lady in oversize sunglasses. I’ve been trying out some of her tactics for self-improvement, and they legit feel right. (For example: Smile and say hello to people. Do wacky things you enjoy.) Give yourself permission to have fun transforming your life. Just go for it. For me this means playing guitar and singing to my baby, regardless of how crappy I sound. Find something that makes you happy and do it.
7. Giving focused attention to my son and husband is high on my agenda this month. It’s really easy for me to get distracted and to feel like I “have to” be doing something other than just sitting and focusing on my son and husband. I play with the baby but my mind is somewhere else. I’ve been practicing only focusing on playing with the baby when I’m playing with the baby, to the extent that it becomes a mindfulness practice. I am really lousy at sitting meditating. When I sit and meditate, catching my wandering thoughts feels like shooting ducks out of the sky. It sucks, and it feels harsh, and I hate it. But I’ve found that I can practice mindfulness in action. I’m using the practice of totally focusing my attention on my son or my husband to both build our relationships and train my mind to spend less time in default mode, and more time in fully-present mode. UC-Berkeley researcher Matt Killingsworth did a cool study on the effects of focus versus mind wandering on people’s happiness. It’s worth reading about and implementing.
8. “Americans are blithely trashing more clothes than ever. In less than 20 years, the volume of clothing Americans toss each year has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons, or an astounding 80 pounds per person.” I read this article on what happens to your old clothes when you donate them to charity, and it made me look at my relationship to the cycle of buying and then discarding stuff. For most Jews, refining our relationship with the material world is a spiritual issue. It seems that it is also a major environmental issue, which in the end is a spiritual issue because who are we to trash the Earth that G-d created? Buying and throwing away less stuff is a definite transformative tactic to implement this month.
9. Rocking out to this song will change your life.
Have an amazing Elul!
All the best to you from the Hevria family and me,