As Hevria turns a corner, entering its second year of existence, I have begun to become aware of whispered murmurs of concern as they slowly raising the volume of their voices. I cock my ear towards these sounds and the voices become clearer as they wonder, question, fear, in my direction:
How do you know what you’re writing is what you should be writing, or if you are just following your yetzer hora?
Do you have a mashpia (a spiritual mentor)? Have you spoken with your mashpia?
Is this Judaism?
Is this art?
Is this necessary?
Is your art helping or hurting the world?
These words reflect off my own body, as I begin to chew on similar questions: How do I know when and where to draw the line between what I want to say and if I should write it?
Over three years ago, I had a short but powerful conversation with one of my spiritual mentors on the subject of pregnancy and children.
Should I get pregnant again? I wondered to her. Am I ready?
We discussed the emotional challenges and issues of my current life, and she answered reassuringly, Wait. There is no rush. You have all the time in the world. Two children is a lot to handle. Take care of yourself. There will be time. Wait.
Not expecting this response, I hung up, relieved.
Less than a month later, I was pregnant.
It was comforting to receive from a higher, well respected source a free-from-guilt pass, a moral exemption from pressure, a validation to wait.
But then, after I hung up, I thought.
I thought that night and I thought the next day. For many days. Looking inwardly and honestly, I heard another voice answering, firmly and with quiet, certain dignity. Not pointing to any rational reasons but rather an absolute truth, held deep down between two rocks of clarity, refusing to budge. It said this: You. Are. Ready .
As my subsequent child of two years sings and laughs and brings joy to the home, I am grateful I sought out guidance, but I am happiest of all that I chose in the end to listen to that other voice. My inner voice.
I have spent years cultivating my ears to hear that opinionated and wise inner voice. A la “The Artist’s Way”, I have scrawled three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing daily for the past five years, give or take some postpartum days of upheaval.
I have done weekly artist dates, wandering around and gazing at the sky in some corner of the universe, always eating lots of ridiculous candy (kosher Skittles, you are my secret lover). Letting my inner child speak.
In order to find out what I really think and believe, below my thick shell of wanting to do good and wanting to be good. Below my frazzled, fearful brain and scattered thoughts, there is a heartbeat waiting to be heard, wanting to speak out.
In the past year, some people – Gd bless their souls- have complimented me on my writing.
I am profusely grateful – does any writer stop desperately needing validation ?- but inside my brain is correcting them: I am not writing. I am thinking on paper. Thank you for liking my thoughts.
And for that I can take a modicum of credit, for thoughts only become inspiring and share-worthy when we give them fertile ground with which to grow .
Inner voices need the space and security to come out, but when they do- oh man- they babble and pontificate and demand like nobody’s business.
If we do not spend time nurturing our inner voices, how can we decide on anything for ourselves as Jews?
I believe our deep, inner selves are connected intimately to Truth. Which is not to say we are prophets or infallible or tzaddikim. But I think that when we connect with our deep, soft, still voice within, there are far fewer questions and far more answers about the next step to take.
But if we are so self sufficient, the murmurs might ask, When do we go for help ? When do we examine ourselves ?
I think if we are honest and connected with ourselves , sensitive and healthy, we are humbly aware of that twinge of doubt that arises when we are unsure of the next step or of our past action. In addition, if others point something out about our actions, we will have one of a few responses:
1. Defensiveness (a sign of uncertainty lurking within)
2. Reflective Pause (could that be true? ponderings)
3. Simple Disagreement (nope, that person is totally off base).
I would think that the first two reactions of defensiveness or reflective pause are a good indication that one would benefit to ask a mentor for advice, if after personal introspection, the sense of uneasiness and uncertainty does not dissipate.
So yes, having a spiritual mentor is important, very important, for when you are actually the one having concerns and questions (I don’t think it’s important just because other people have concerns about your work. In that case, the problem remains theirs, and they can go for their own guidance).
We all need guides. But we need first and foremost to be intimately and happily connected with our very own personal inner guide.
The most important thing, while growing in your Torah knowledge and devekus, is to cultivate the inner voice that travels in some submicroscopic sphere around your brain and heart.
There, deep down, that precious voice has so many answers to guide you, so many ideas and thoughts and ways to clarify your life, if only you would listen.
Hashem gave us brains to think and hearts to feel and inner voices to listen to.
Let’s shut up a little more and let our inner voices sing.