Seeing serenity? Relax to recharge
Last month, when I mentioned that I could imagine handling spilled water, but tackling orange juice would be a whole other story, I didn’t realize how much Hashem would put me to the test. Messy “worst-case-scenario” moments kept hitting me. Lots of “ahhhs” that I turned (or tried to turn) into “ohs.”
Doesn’t that so often seem to be the case? Back in my quiet shanah rishonah, my husband and I instituted a “Middah of the Week.” We’d learn about a middah from Orchos Tzaddikim and make it our focus that week. And somehow, there were always many — too many! — situations that perfectly challenged us in the “middah of the week,” to the point that we started choosing middos based on what we were prepared to face.
On the one hand, I looked at it as a special siyata d’Shmaya that Hashem would give us just what we needed to stretch those middah muscles. Yet I’d also suggest that perhaps those scenarios were always there, but I usually dealt with them on autopilot. Now aware of the challenges — and the tools I had to overcome them — I was actually in a much better place. Maybe I didn’t win every battle, but knowing I was in the fight was the first step.
So here’s a bit of chizuk to myself and all of you: If it seems that menuchas hanefesh challenges are popping up more often than they used to, look at it as a sign that we’re headed in a positive direction.
Shevat Goal: Use Your Outlet
Several years ago, I was having a conversation with a mentor. I needed to find ways to relax, and she asked me what I enjoy doing. Enjoy?
It may sound strange, but the word seemed foreign to me.
I knew I was doing the things I had to do. I was friendly and responsible. I went to work and I took care of my home and family. I did favors for friends. I chased after my toddler most of the day. I even indulged in my favorite foods occasionally. But what did I enjoy doing?
Hobbies were never my thing. Piano, art, dance, sewing... none of it spoke to me. In high school, I made flyers and competed on the debate team. I’m not the type to relax by painting or going for a run. So, what did I do for fun? Most of the activities I did for fun as a child seemed... childish. Isn’t “fun” something you outgrow?
Rav Yerucham Levovitz is known for saying, “Oy to the person who doesn’t recognize his faults, because he doesn’t know what to repair, but double oy to the one who doesn’t recognize his strengths, because then he’s ignorant of the tools that will allow him to work on himself in any way.”
I can rattle off a whole list of things that shake my menuchas hanefesh: running late, messy hands, that rude comment when I least expected it. But what helps me get back to equilibrium? What do I enjoy that can be a springboard to get me into my menuchah zone?
It took a while for me to realize that expressing myself is one way I relax.
I used to think that calling a friend to schmooze was a time-waster; I felt bad — guilty even! — spending an hour on the phone when there were more “important” things to do. Or I’d go to say hi to the new neighbor with a plate of cookies, and come back after playing a 45-minute game of Jewish geography, and feel like I did something wrong.
I berated myself for an activity I was thoroughly enjoying, and only did it when I could squeeze it in, between dinner and diapers. That was until I saw how much it could lift me out of a bad mood and get me back on track. Now I make sure to get those schmoozes in on a regular basis, and use them as a way to keep me going forward. If I can’t reach a friend, I use writing for expression, and even try to share my thoughts with others, because that’s also a great outlet for me.
Everyone has an outlet, and everyone needs to recharge regularly. For one person, it’s an artistic hobby and for another it’s dance. Some people do deep meditation, others go for a manicure. We hear the term “self-care” a lot and maybe sometimes we confuse it with being self-centered. Caring for myself, giving myself what I need to run at full steam, is not selfish.
So what if someone doesn’t know what her relaxation mode looks like? Ask yourself: When or where do I get so lost in what I’m doing that nothing seems to bother me? Is there anything I do that usually leaves me feeling good when I’m done?
Once I know what my personal tools are, not only can I use them as pick-me-ups; I can actively incorporate them into my schedule so I’m not running on empty.
The challenge is to make sure that my method of relaxation actually accomplishes its purpose. That might mean going into it with a goal-oriented mindset: I want to come out of this in a better place. It could also mean being actively mindful of what I’m doing. Maybe it means prefacing an annoying activity with something I enjoy, so I can go into it with more energy: “I’ll tackle that messy room once I’ve had my relaxing cup of coffee.” Or, if you work better with incentives, having your treat after the chore so there’s something sweet to look forward to.
It doesn’t mean that while I’m schmoozing or listening to my favorite song, I need to have a running commentary in my head, asking if this is productive. That would defeat the purpose of trying to relax.
This month, I want to schmooze more, sing more, and write more. I want to do something I enjoy daily — whether it’s to start my day, as a pause in the middle, or before winding down. I won’t feel guilty or selfish, but rather keep my eye on the goal of being calmer inside and out.
MANTRAS OF THE MONTH
“Im ein ani li, mi li?” (Pirkei Avos 1:14)
Caring for myself is not selfish
Recharge to relax
Enjoy this moment.
This month I will:
Make a list of things I can do when I’m lacking menuchah
Actively engage in my hobbies daily, not just in response to stress
Let the people I’m close with know about some of these tools so they can support me when I’m making use of them
What to avoid while enjoying your hobby:
- Avoid anything that’s dependent on external feedback. If you’re writing/painting/sewing, do it for yourself, and not to meet anyone else’s requirements.
- Don’t do it under pressure. If you like food shopping, don’t depend on your Erev Shabbos last-minute trip to the grocery to give you those menuchah minutes.
- The hobby shouldn’t be associated with any goal (other than more menuchah) or measure of success. Exercise for health and happiness are great. If you’re on a weight-loss program, exercise could become a source of tension rather than serenity.
- Never use anything that has an objectively addictive nature and can be dangerous to your physical or spiritual health.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 725)
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