I’d like to invite you to join my journey this year, as I work on menuchas hanefesh — serenity
Goal: Save it for Later
Rosh Hashanah. A brand-new start. It should be exciting.
But if you’re anything like me, approaching Rosh Hashanah is daunting. And it’s not because of menu planning.
You see, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Every Elul, I make a list of kabbalos. That basically means I brainstorm about everything I don’t like about myself and pick what I want to improve. But once I have this laundry list, I don’t know how to narrow it down.
Often it’s made up of the behaviors I’ve worked on year after year after year: Stop biting my nails? Pay attention more when my husband is speaking? Think before I say something offensive? So, Mindel, what will it be this year? Or rather — what will it not be. Nothing lasts.
A few years ago, I came across a self-help book. No, it wasn’t a mussar sefer, but it had some deep ideas about how to achieve greater happiness in my life. It turned “the pursuit of happiness” into a yearlong theme, with monthly topics. There were creative ways to infuse life with more happiness: becoming more organized, developing meaningful relationships, keeping a gratitude journal, and having fun.
The author went into a long description of how she incorporated these ideas into her life. She discussed where she succeeded and where she failed, and I found her insights to be inspiring as well as practical.
A short while later, I attended a lecture on teshuvah by one of my favorite teachers. It was right before Rosh Hashanah and I was eager to learn how I could make this year’s kabbalos more permanent. Her approach was innovative, and started me on a journey I’m still traveling three years later.
She quoted Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, suggesting choosing an area we want to work on and making it the “Topic of the Year.” Beginning in Tishrei, we’d focus on that topic as much as possible — at the Shabbos table, in our daily routine, in our speech, etc.
It was with these chiddushim in mind that I started my own project: Be a Better Mommy (BBM). That was the year’s theme, and each month, I had a specific way of working on it. For example, “Get Up.” For a whole month, instead of asking anyone to do anything for me (like get me a drink or throw something out) I did it myself.
I found that doing so gave me more energy. And I was pleasantly surprised to see that it got the people around me to do the same. Another month, the goal was to “Get Out.” I’d randomly take my kids to the store, to the park, and on bus rides. They loved the spontaneity and variety.
A third topic was “Be Silly.” We had a lot of fun that month… music, laughing, and lots of messy art projects.
Some topics came more naturally to me and allowed me to engage in activities I enjoyed, while others were a stretch that pushed me to expand my horizons and try new things. I looked forward to Rosh Chodesh when I could reflect on all the things I’d accomplished and move on to a new concept.
Having a yearly theme kept my personal avodah positive and motivational. I was never falling short, only moving up with each success. There were no rules, but there were suggestions and goals. I learned a lot that year, and I loved it. I continued each year with a new theme.
And now, I’d like to invite you to join my journey this year, as I work on menuchas hanefesh — serenity.
We use the term menuchas hanefesh often, and we know we want it, but so many things get in the way. My goal is to make menuchas hanefesh my overall theme, and to find different ways in which serenity can be expressed and developed in my life.
Each month, I’ll choose a new path toward achieving more calm. I’ll offer some insights about the topic of that month, and set specific goals for myself toward that end. These aren’t commitments so much as they’re suggestions. And they’re mine. If you want to join me in the process — and I hope you will — tailor it to your own life. Take the topic… and run with it.
When I present the new topic, I’ll also offer some reflection on the previous month. Please send in your own stories — the victories and also the defeats — as we work on this together.
I used to come to Rosh Hashanah feeling like a long list of mistakes. But then I realized I’m not such a mess; we’re all under construction, works in progress. Now I can enter the new year with months of accomplishments behind me, so that Rosh Hashanah is actually exciting. It’s become a point in time when I can reflect on the past, and motivate myself with a vision for the future that keeps me going, building a little more each day.
Looking forward to a great year of growth!
INTRO AND INSIGHTS
I’m a real thinker; my mind is constantly running, 24/7 (I don’t even get a break on Shabbos). Lists of people to call, grand projects to save the world, graphic design innovations, menus, topics for articles — it never stops.
Some thoughts are fun to mull over, and as long as no one else is expecting me to pay attention to them, they don’t get me into trouble. But then there are thoughts that drive me crazy without end. “Obsessive rumination”— agonizing over how my kids will find their ride home, mentally reviewing a packing list fifteen times, even legitimate worries like how we are going to pay the next bill. It can turn into a bottomless pit that never leaves me feeling better.
To be fair, these thoughts need their time and place. Somewhat like a nagging child’s moans, the request can be valid, but if made at an inappropriate time, we’re not interested in listening. We can push away the child, but he’ll keep nagging. So what’s the solution?
When an intrusive thought exists, I want to be in the driver’s seat of how to handle it. That means being proactive — I need to create boundaries. Giving it a proper time and place to have its “say.” To sit down, actively think about it, and decide if that thought needs some attention and/or action to resolve it.
Then, if it rears its head throughout the day, I can tell it: “not now, later.” And it will be an authentic “not now, later,” because we know what happens to the kid who is always told “soon!” and soon never comes…
My goal this month is to give clear boundaries to things that intrude on my menuchas hanefesh. A stressful thought, a phone call from a difficult person, a loaded conversation — they all need attention, but it doesn’t need to be right now.
THIS MONTH I WILL
Get a planner (to keep track of events, and anything else I want to make sure to remember but can’t think about now)
Not answer my phone when I get calls at a time when I cannot give that person my true attention
Mentally tell a nagging thought: Not now, later.
Avoid discussing important/stressful topics immediately, rather set aside a time that will be more productive
MANTRAS OF THE MONTH
“Al tivahel maasecha — don’t be hasty in your actions.” (Orchos Chaim l’Rosh, 100)
Not now, later
Good things come to those who wait
“You gotta have patience” (from the “Savlanus Song” by Abie Rotenberg)
Mindel Kassorla has been advising students — both in Eretz Yisrael and beyond their seminary year — for over a decade. She lives with her husband and children in Jerusalem.
Are you taking this journey with us? We’d love to hear about your experiences at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 710)
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