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Archive for Abril de 2018

Life is full of small and large losses. We must learn to take them into our lives. Accepting them is the way to live that sadness in a healthy way. Paradoxically, the best way not to get depressed is to learn the art of knowing how to be sad. That is, doing it in a lucid, decisive way and generating new resources. Learning how to live in sadness is one of the keys to prevent or “cure” depression. And accepting losses is one of the main ways to learn to live in sadness.

Learning to manage losses: good sadness

It is not an easy or frivolous subject. Even if our life is not particularly difficult or dramatic, we will still experience numerous losses.

Every time we choose, every time we take a decision, we retain, we gain something but also we let go something, we lose other options. Life is full of small and large losses, they are inherent to our existence.

Mourning is a process similar to the healing of a physical wound. We lose what we love because of the vicissitudes of life, the passage of time or the life cycles. We lose childhood and youth, we lose the parents of childhood and, also, the sweet childhood of our children. We lose someone we love and, with him or her, we lose our illusions.

Small and large “mournings”

The loss of the beloved, whether inevitable or chosen, causes a very specific psychological pain called “mourning”. Every grief demands a psychological work of reparation, restitution and closure that demands time, dedication and energy.

It is a process very similar to the healing of a physical wound or a wounded tissue: if we do not cure it completely, the wound will remain open, or it will close “in false” it might get infected in the long run.

In psychological terms, if we do not detect the pain and the wound, and if we do not proceed to grieve, either because we lack the necessary emotional resources or because we remain indifferent to my pain or because we deny it, that wound will not heal properly and it will be solved in some sick way. Depression is one of those ways.

5 steps to work the losses

We already know that growing, maturing and developing as people and making our own choices includes suffering valuable losses. But each one of us has useful tools and skills to cope with that pain in a better way.

1. Give yourself time to cry

Sometimes we reject the pain of a loss so much that we do not even give ourselves enough time to genuinely grieve what we have lost. In the event that we have experienced a loss, it is necessary to clearly give it space and all the time that one may need, in order to be able to evolve in the process of grief.

2. Accept the loss without resignation

When something goes out of our life, either because it left us or because we let it go, we must learn to accept its departure and not just resign ourselves to it. Resignation carries with it a dose of resentment that we need to overcome in order to reach acceptance.

     Asking ourselves these questions can help us to go in this direction:

     What bequeathed me even if it is not there anymore?

     What do I stay with, despite not having it anymore?

     What can I learn from this experience?

     What do I get with this lose?

     What do I need to heal this pain?

     Does this pain make me more able to help others?

3. Assume the time limit

The British writer Matt Ridley, in his beautiful book “Genome”, develops an idea that is useful for what we are proposing: “In 4,000 million years of earthly history, I am lucky to be alive today. Among five million species, I was fortunate to be born a conscious human being. “

We have received a legacy, an opportunity, a gift or whatever you want to call it. That opportunity is limited in its own operating terms and it includes time. In other words, we change and grow, and also we reach completion and end. Life is not a salad bar where we can pick the part we like and ignore the rest. Life is the addition of the negative and the positive experiences. The wisdom is to learn to surf on the wave of time, not to swim against it.

We live in the continuum of time and within it events take place. Events develop and also end. Therefore there is a time for deployment and also there is a time for withdrawal.

4. Readjustment of values

Well managed grieving processes may lead to moments of soul search. We withdraw on ourselves and re-elaborate the circumstances. It is during those moments when many of the values on which we have built our existence go through a thorough evaulation. Through that examination some of them will come out strengthened while others will be discarded.

5. Be aware of the dangers of illusion

Our sin as society is to be a delusional society. Many of us abound in childhood fantasies about how life is supposed to operate. That would be fine if it were not because those fantasies involve serious dangers to our psychological health.

Several illusions – from exaggerated views of oneself to imaginary rewards that we imagine we deserve – blind our vision of the real world. Later, when life does not coincide with what we expect based on our fantasies, we become frustrated and demanding instead of asking ourselves how come we do not perceive things as they are. We treat those lost illusions as if they were realities. We cry for them while we are filled with resentment.

We tend to believe that unpleasant things happen to us by some sort cosmic justice in an unknown estate of reality. When this happens, we cry out to the sky: “What have I done to deserve this !?” However I have never heard anyone rising this question after winning the jackpot. In the same way, we often admire – or envy – those who obtained this or that, without taking into consideration the efforts involved in such achievements.

This is why I am proposing you to take a look into that magic chest of your own fantasies. Far from being harmless, once examined under this perspective, you can see how dangerous they can be.

Adjusting our expectations to reality

When facing losses as in many cases of depression, there is self-deception in the background. We refuse to accept reality as it is, what inevitably leads to frustration. Overcoming these fantasies leads to maturity and finally to find a real and lasting serenity.

We usually live in a world filled with fantasies. When this excess of fantasy replaces reality, it prevents us from facing our present and takes control of our lives. It certainly grants us a momentary sense of well-being. However, at the same time, it disarms us in the face of the challenges of the world.

Contrary to what we might think, desire is not free. It has a price. Yearning for more than what can be achieved or what we are willing to achieve with our effort is to open a door to frustration. There is not much of a distance between frustration and depression.

As I have said above, knowing how to be sad paradoxically protects us from depression. This is so because knowing how to be sad is to accept that things do not always go as we wish, nor can we be happy or hopeful at any time. This is part of what means to be human and we must necessarily live with it and learn its lessons.

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In Parashat Kedoshim, we read; “Lo tikom v’lo titor et b’nei amecha v’ahavta l’rei-echa kamocha ani Adonai – You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself – I am Adonai.” [Leviticus 19:18])

The Talmud, in Tractate Shabbat, teaches us that when a potential convert approached Hillel and asked to be taught the entire Torah while standing on one foot, Hillel summarized as follows; “That which is hateful to you do not do to others. This is the whole of the Torah. All the rest is commentary. Now go and learn.” – surely there should be a more comprehensive view to the “entire Torah”.

How could Hillel expect that his explanation would suffice? What about all the mitzvot, all the prophets, all the major events, the blessings, the messages and the morals that we learn from the Torah? How could he just say; “That which is hateful to you do not do to others. This is the whole of the Torah. All the rest is commentary.”?

Let’s look more closely at exactly what the potential convert asked, and then let’s re-examine Hillel’s response. The potential convert asked to be taught the entire Torah while Hillel stood on one foot. In this situation, it is unreasonable to expect Hillel to have given him a 4-hour discourse just on the basis of the Torah, and its teachings. Hillel had to respond in such a way that not only would it have to be short, so that he could answer while standing on one foot, but his response would also have to be suitable and accurate.

Hillel’s response explained to the potential convert that he would have to behave in a manner that would put him in an appropriate frame of mind to study Torah. They would have to show dignity, respect and consideration for others. After all, that is how you would expect a Torah scholar to behave, by treating others with the same dignity, respect and consideration that they would show themselves.

The text from this week’s parasha; “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” is all about attitude. How you treat those in your immediate family, group, community and society is, in many ways, reflective of your opinion of yourself.

It’s amazing how perception can have such a powerful effect, whether it is a positive or a negative perception. Reflecting on Hillel’s advice, we see that it’s more than just a prominent quote from the Talmud from one of our great sages. It is also a lesson on how to approach the greater aspects we encounter, by simplifying the task, putting the assignment into perspective, and making it that much easier, instead of complicating the task, causing a great deal of panic, and making life much more difficult.

Just imagine how differently we would look to undertake a daunting task, such as teaching the entire Torah, whilst standing on one foot, if Hillel had said; “Sorry, that’s impossible”, or “please ask someone else to perform that task, I am not willing to attempt such a complicated task”. When we show others the same respect that we would show ourselves, and take into account their needs and thoughts, perhaps we too can make a more positive change to our families, our communities, and to the world.

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We are about 20 days into the 49-day period of counting the Omer.

The Omer spans the 7 weeks between the festival of Passover and the festival of Shavuot. In ancient times it was connected to a countdown to the ripening of grain and bringing grain offerings to the Temple. We are instructed to count each day for 7 weeks. What is the significance for us today?

The Omer tradition evolved through Kabbalistic and Hasidic practice to be a period of self-improvement and refinement, each week being associated with a different aspect of the personality.

Week 1 is an exploration of love, week 2 of strength and boundaries, and week 3, the one in which we are at present, is the week of compassion. We are invited to explore the balance between giving freely and compassionately and setting limits and boundaries.

That fine balance is the essence of week 3 of the Omer. On Thursday night/Friday we explore the bonds we have created with others through compassionate acts. Consider how caring for others can lead to deep connections. Over Shabbat we explore compassion for the environment and our connection with nature, asking “How can my love for nature be expressed more fully in my life?” As a mindfulness practice, go for a walk in nature and really focus on its beauty and how it makes you feel. Notice feelings of gratitude for specific things in nature. With Israel’s Independence Day just past, connect with somewhere in Israel that you feel a connection. At the end of Shabbat we enter week 4 of the Omer. The focus is on netzach, the successes we have achieved, gratitude for assistance we have received and goals for the future.

Shabbat Shalom and blessings for an uplifting Omer period,

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One of behaviours that identify Jews from other people is the type of food that we consume. Specifically, the laws of Kashrut. There is a huge range of behaviours, of what is acceptable and what is not, and also, why we Jews are commanded to observe these laws in the first place!

In this week’s parasha, Shimini, we read about one aspect of these laws, the lists of the animals we are permitted to eat and those animals which are prohibited. Whether one observes the laws or not, the first animal that most would name that is prohibited is the pig. We might expect therefore, the animal that probably most exemplifies trief, to be at the front of the list. In actual fact, it is near the end.

Even more surprisingly, the pig does not violate the standards of kashrut as flagrantly as other animals do. The Torah teaches that in order to be kosher, animals must chew their cud and have cloven hoofs. The pig does not chew its cud, but it does have cloven hoofs- so we might expect that it would be less offensive than animals that meet neither criterion.

Knowing this, how might we understand how aversion to pork has come to be such an important and sometimes significant part of our Jewish identity? Biblical scholars have suggested an array of historical possibilities, but there is a beautiful Midrash that could shed some light.

As we learned, Kashrut for mammals depends on two main characteristics; one external (the cloven hoof) and one internal (chewing the cud). It is very easy to determine the first category. A cursory inspection of an animal will easily determine if it satisfies the hoof criteria. But the second category requires a bit more understanding of physiology and might not be enough simply observing the animal.

The same could be said about our relations with people. We can be relatively sure about the initial first impressions we have of people we meet. However, a profound and lasting relationship is dependent on knowing someone on the inside as well. Someone who acts in a certain way externally, or in public, but on the inside is very different lacks integrity and authenticity. In fact, one might say that person is deliberately trying to deceive you.

If we are what we eat, then this Midrash exemplifies that ideal of not consuming something that is so blatantly in violation of the norms of honesty, integrity, and authenticity. If we can push back and remove that influence from what we consume, that could be a starting point to begin to remove it from our lives.

Our rabbis teach us that is exactly what the pig is trying to do. On the outside, it is one thing, but on the inside, it is something else entirely. That kind of behaviour is something we should avoid at all costs and root out from among us and that is why it is unfit, not kosher, for use.

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When we discover that our life is over, when we face death, how can we be grateful for what we have experienced? How can we close pending issues?

When we receive the announcement that our life is over, we can abandon ourselves to collapse or try to find some peace in the farewell. Accepting and being grateful for what has been our existence and trying to close pending issues with loved ones can reconcile with ourselves and leave an indelible mark on the hearts of others.

Assuming death itself

We all know that we are temporary beings. We are also aware that one day our farewell to life and the people we love will arrive. On the other hand, since we are fundamentally creative beings, we made a mental adjustment so that this feeling of mortality forms part of the background of our existence and does not torment us in our daily life.

In this way, we can live the here and now by focusing only on the events that life has for us. The idea of death is far from our conscience, and that’s the way it should be.

But sometimes, some people -for reasons that are now irrelevant- connect with this mortality and, then, react with anguish, confusion, dizziness… This is the so called noogenic neurosis or existential neurosis, or a panic attack, but in any case they are always related with life, not with death.

Other times, however, we can be diagnosed with a disease with a poor prognosis, at that moment death and our own mortality jump to the forefront of our consciousness. It is necessary, then, to deal with that information: The time has come to prepare our bags and take stock of what we have experienced.

The idea of death also assault us when we reach a certain age, usually from the age of 60 forward. When aging involves a loss of autonomy, physical and mental faculties, and the person does not learn to accept those changes and enjoy life, will feel immersed in an emotional process that will disturb the daily existence.

Mourning for one’s life can be classified into two categories that are related to age but with different connotations:

1. The grief for old age itself.

2. Grief after the announcement of a terminal illness at an age when you are still full of life.

In the case of grief due to the progressive deterioration related advanced age, life itself slows down and social messages help to understand that it is time to reap the rewards and calm the spirit. However, it is paradoxical that, although society is full of activities geared to stimulate the lives of older people, it is difficult to find a psychological group that focuses on assimilating and taking stock of the lives, practically already lived, of those who, by age, are closing their doors, helping them to close life cycles. An activity of this kind, far from pushing our elders to death, could help them find some peace in the farewell.

Grief before a terminal illness

But what happens to people when a deadly disease bursts into their life? I remember one case:

A few years ago, they recommended me to undergo some medical tests. I was not feeling good, but I was not feeling bad either. I decided to get the result alone and I opened the envelope without paying attention to the warning on it: “Do not open it. Give the sealed envelope to your doctor. ” There, sitting in the car, I read the diagnosis: “Liver cancer in terminal state”.

I was breathless, I noticed how my jaw began to shake and how tears ran down my cheeks. How was it possible? In just a few seconds, I had gone from being a healthy woman to dying.

It took several hours to confirm, thanks to a medical friend, that fortunately the diagnosis was wrong and the conclusion was different. But the experience, I could say unreal experience, made me think for a long time about how my life would have changed had it been true.

Unfortunately, other people are not so lucky and they need some preparation to accept that the end of the journey is close.

It is not easy to find the balance between fighting “with nails and teeth” to recover health and, at the same time, take the time to reflect and prepare for a possible farewell.

It is easy to experience encouragement and hyperactivity in one moment, and resignation and impotence, in another.

There are those who, out of fear of their feelings and / or those of others, decide to play “naive” in that the situation, ignoring the problem and embark on a life of daze and obfuscation: “At the end, why should I take care of myself or do something?!” Fear, above all, leads them to deny the undeniable. There is a need for control and mastery over the inevitable. Generally, they have dedicated themselves to defying life feeling that they dominated it. But now they will need to learn to slacken and stop running.

It is never too late to feel human and, therefore, to feel at the same time fragile and strong, powerful and weak, fighter and accepting.

At the other extreme, we have cases in which people totally collapse. The resignation and the impotence sinks the person in a sadness so deep that the person feels hopeless before time. If normally each day that passes is a day closer to death, why not give up now than to continue paddling in the river of life even if it inevitably takes us to the sea?

In any case, whatever life brings, there are always some tasks that can help us be more at peace. These could be summarized in two:

Be compassionate with yourself and with what has been your life so far.

Close pending issues you have with others, with those who share your day to day life.

Accept how you have lived

Being compassionate with oneself is accepting how you have lived so far, whatever experiences you have had. Rejoice and be proud of what you have done and achieved, both on a psychological and material level. And, above all, do not to regret what you have not achieved, the dreams that you have not been able to fulfill or what, after the time, you think has been wrong or bad.

Everything, positive or less positive, has helped you to be who you are: that unique and unrepeatable being that has always, and in many ways, enriched the lives of those around, although, at times, it has been through suffering, because -although it is hard for us to believe- even the most unfavorable moments have helped in some way both those who have received your snubs and yourself.

Close pending matters

Sometimes the pending issues with the others are the most difficult ones to address. It is about saying the unspoken, both pleasant and unpleasant. It is not good to leave emotions and feelings in the back room.

Sometimes it’s hard to say: “I love you, I’ve always loved you” or “I like to feel you close”. At other times, what we have trouble saying is: “What I do not like about you and I have never dared to tell you is that…” or “I was not happy that time when…”.

Let’s say it without acrimony, but with the intensity that the feeling entails.

And finally, we need to accept that the people we love and who love us suffer and feel powerless when they see us sad and they do not have the resources to help us. Impotence is the worst of human feelings; The suffering of our loved ones is a consequence of their love for us.

Talking about all this with those close to us also alleviates and unites us beyond the borders of life because it creates a bond that lasts forever in our hearts.

In reality, none of these tasks is specific to grief. All of them can be part of our daily life and can be an extraordinary source of wisdom to leave them exclusively for extreme life situations. They are a good life project to live by on a daily. So, are we going to settle for ignoring them in our everyday life?

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Our rabbis have noted that the word “Pesach” can be read “Peh sach”, meaning the mouth that speaks. Indeed, Pesach is all about the telling of the story of what happened to our ancestors thousands of years ago. There are different levels in its telling, one from the time of Torah reflecting events thousands of years ago, one from the rabbis who shaped and constructed a retelling in Mishnaic times that became the basis of our Haggadah, and one is our retelling, which must take into account not only ancient but contemporary events.

The Torah establishes Pesach as our formative festival. It falls in the month of Nissan, which is commanded to be the first of months for us, for Nissan is the month in which we became a nation of shared experience. We celebrate our redemption from slavery in Egypt, and begin our journey journey toward Sinai and a life of service to the ultimate One. The rest of the Torah will refer to this experience more than any other event, forming the basis of core mitzvot to look after the stranger, the oppressed and so many other aspects of what we understand as the pursuit of justice. For over one thousand years we can imagine this story being told at the Temple in Jerusalem, as each family and clan gathered to recall the events of our ancestors.

With the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, our rabbis who formed the Judaism we celebrate to this day understood that our people would need a uniform way to retell the story, although they may not have imagined it would be nearly 2000 years we were to suffer exile, nor the extent of “the four corners of the earth” to which we were scattered. Their genius (see Mishnah, Pesachim Chapter 10) in outlining the way the story should be told ensured the continuity of our people during this time.

The rabbis chose two core texts for the structure of the telling of the story, which would eventually form the core of what we call the “Haggadah”, Hebrew for telling. The first comes from Exodus 6:6-8, which recites the promises of redemption from God to Moses, and forms the basis of our four cups of wine on Seder. The second comes from Deuteronomy 26: 5-10, and retells our history from earliest ancestors to slavery to redemption in just a few short verses, and was originally the prayer recited at the Temple in Jerusalem on the festival of first fruits, Shavuot. Please look at the texts to see how the rabbis truncated both of these passages, removing the final verses, which refer to the promise to be brought to the land of Israel. The Haggadah thus speaks of the past redemption from Egypt, while obliquely hinting at the ultimate future redemption when we return from our exile to the land of Israel – thus the cup for Elijah and the conclusion of “next year in Jerusalem”.

So the rabbis did their work well. They fashioned a Judaism in which we remembered the past, but never forgot our hope of return. And now we have returned to the land, and rebuilt Jerusalem even beyond its greatest glory. So how should we tell the story of Pesach now? Which are the aspects of redemption still to be achieved?

An exploration of the traditional rabbinic teaching of redemption (from the Haggadah to the daily Amidah) demonstrates clearly that the rabbis understood the ultimate redemption to be the rebuilding of the Third Temple with the coming of the Messiah. This is now a possibility – how far do we put this in our hands, and how much, so to speak, “in the hands of the Messiah”?

On the other hand, we can start exploring in a serious contemporary manner, still acknowledging our ancestral tradition, as to what redemption means for us. Here we return to the message of Torah and prophets, who were clear that there were certain core principles that had to be achieved as a precondition to any sense of redemption. For them it was not to have hardened hearts but open hands, to reach out to the poor, the oppressed, the needy and the stranger, and remember, that because we were once slaves in Egypt we must do all to work with compassion to achieve justice. First that, and then we can talk about the Messiah.

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