Day 3. Consciously arranged speech requires thinking before you speak. Before opening your mouth clarify for yourself the following questions: a) To whom am I communicating? b) What is it I really want to say to them, c) Can what I have to say really benefit them, and if so, how? d) Can I communicate what I want to say clearly and concisely, and if so how? Know how long and how much you will say before you begin to speak and your words will carry more weight, or cavod.…and arrange your speech as an expression of loving kindness, beginning and ending with kind words.
Day 4. Take to heart the learning. Feel the yearning to learn. Make it personal, about who you are and how you are growing your soul, building your character. Draw a map of your character, your soul, in a new way. What are the elements or dominant attributes at play today? How are they related one to another? Pay particular attention to aspects that present as opposing forces and commit yourself to a specific practice that integrates the two forces in a healthy way. Turn a competitive dynamic into a win-win.
Day 5. Synthesize the learning. Today, tune into anything and everything that fills your with gratitude and joy. Make those experiences your teachers and make the time to let them settle in you. Even if you are not loving what (or from whom) you are learning, try loving the process of learning as a practice of receiving, accepting, integrating.
Day 6. Earnestness is allowing the outward self to more accurately reflect the inner self, which is often a lot messier than we are apt to admit. And yet, our tendency to hide a part of us can cut off the very connections our fears hope to protect. Whether we are hiding our shine (e.g. excitement, joy, or affection) or a shadow (e.g. boredom, anger, or judgment), it’s a habit that can also do more harm than good. Today, take a chance on revealing the hidden self, for the sake of earnest connection.
Day 7. Reverence and wonder. Practice seeing the world as if it were your first time. Be afraid of the dull existence to which you’ll sentence yourself if you lose your sense of awe. Reclaiming the curious wide-eyes of early childhood. See how many words of wonder you can voice today. Wow. Awesome! Heck, make up some new ones. OMG-Oh My Garden.
Week 2: Facing Limitations, Holding Boundaries / Gevurah
Day 8. Modesty/humility is about finding the middle ground between self-denigration and swollen pride, both of which are expressions of self-absorption. Humility, like curiosity, creates and holds space for other-than-self. According to the great kabbalist Isaac Luria, the universe owes its very existence to the loving act of tzimtzum, or self-contraction, exercised by the Divine at the beginning of time. Paradoxically, when we limit the expanse of self, we transcend the self as creators of something new. For those of us who tend to dominate the “air-time” in a conversation, or to shape the mood in a room, today’s practice is about contraction.
For those of us who are more Piglet and less Tigger, this is our day to claim our space, to voice our opinion even if unsolicited. To protect ourselves from the pouncing Tiggers of the world by setting clear boundaries with those who are apt to invade space uninvited.
Throughout the day, whisper a question like, “What’s my rightful place here?” or a phrase like, “It’s not about me.” Like Moses confronted with the rebellion of cousin Korah, when in doubt, take a breath, bow, and go ask God for help.
Day 9. Joy. Yes! “This is the day Yah made. Be glad and rejoice in it.” Make today a series of simchas, occasions for joy. Sing. Sing loudly. Laugh. Share your laughter. Why? Just because.
For the “tormented master,” Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, who struggled with on-going depression, “To be in joy at every moment is a great mitzvah!” The awareness of our limitations does not extinguish the soul’s longing to transcend those limits. Every breath is worth celebrating – even the short ones. Every thought, even a worry, can be enjoyed knowing that our capacity to think and feel and act and be is reason enough to smile. Infuse even (especially?) your worries, pains and sadness, with some spark of joy, and practice smiling first at every face you meet. Gently test and stretch those limits in the direction of joy.
Day 10. Association with sages. My knowledge and awareness is limited. There is always more to learn. Attend a class (like a mussar class). Sign up for a course of study. Read a book or article by a scholar or writer that you respect. Organize a book club. And remember as you go through the day, that one who is wise “learns from everyone.” Consider every one you meet a teacher sent by the universe just for you, and you will always be in the company of the sages...and be counted among the wise.
Day 11. Connect with friends and colleagues. Invite a guest to your table, arrange a social visit, or just call a friend – with no agenda other than appreciating (and reinforcing) the bonds of friendship, the building blocks of community. Do you, like me, tell yourself that between the responsibilities of work and family, there is just no time for friendships? Let me challenge that assumption today, and in so doing remember that there are limits to what I can do on my own. We need each other. Own this limitation and investing in friends, colleagues and neighbors today.
Day 12. Prudent, methodical study. From an ancient text attributed to Rabbi Ishmael we are taught “thirteen middot [principles of interpretation] with which Torah can be legitimately and fruitfully interpreted.” This is like a clearly articulated ‘scientific method’ for combing sources for actionable truths. Today is a day to reflect on how we study, how we sift through the bombardment of information that permeates the ever-increasing media forms of our age. How do we discern fact from fiction? How do we glean meaning and make choices, as consumers, patients, investors, etc., from the often conflicting array of voices that cloud the public sphere? What is my chosen method of study for the sake of informed and intentional living? There are paths of love and truth are many, but not infinite.
Day 13. Knowledge of Bible and Mishnah. Today, go back to one of our oldest sources, the Torah, written (Bible) or recorded oral tradition (Talmud). Read the Torah portion for this week, and/or perhaps Leviticus chapter 23, which includes a reference to this practice of ‘counting the Omer weeks’ in verses 15-16. Refresh your knowledge and understanding of the foundational texts of our people, our faith, and our civilization. Enjoy the humility of facing the oceans that could be filled with all that we do not (yet) know.
Day 14. Moderation in business activity. Check your shopping list. What is necessary? What is not? The generation that left Egypt was sustained in the desert by a miraculous substance called manna. Each morning the manna would appear on the ground and the Israelites could gather enough for their household for that one day. If they tried to stash more than they needed, it would spoil. In this way, we learned to collect and consume only what we need, no more, no less. We have since forgotten this way of living as part of the land. The lesson of the manna: “Just Enough.” Revise the shopping list with this lesson in mind.