Leonard Felder's "Here I Am"
April 10, 2012
Every so often, it's a good idea to sit down and ask yourself, "How am I going to improve the way I deal with the pressures, complexities, and stressful moments that are now an undeniable part of my life?"
Such a question doesn't mean that you've been doing something terribly wrong or that you need to turn your entire life upside down to improve things. Rather, it's about being honest with yourself and looking for realistic ways to be healthier, more centered, and more effective in your work and personal life.
That's the beginning of Dr. Leonard Felder's book Here I Am: How to Use Jewish Spiritual Wisdom to Become More Present, Centered, and Available for Life. In today's world, who isn't dealing with pressures, complexities, stressful moments, the occasional bout of overwhelm? (Take me, for instance: I received this book to review back at the start of August, a mere month after I'd begun my new job. Here it is April and I'm only now getting around to reviewing it. Oy.)
Dr. Felder offers eight methods/remedies for stress and overwhelm, drawn from Jewish sources. He writes, "What I find most helpful about these methods for stress reduction and refocusing is that they address not only the physical aspects of stress but also the deeply spiritual and personal questions that tend to arise when you feel constantly interrupted by too many challenging situations on a hectic day." Not surprisingly, I like his point that
What are the eight remedies? In a nutshell:
For times when you're feeling fragmented or pulled in two directions at the same time, there's the "Hineini / Here I Am" method. When you're impatient with yourself or others for something which is not perfect, he recommends the "Radical Amazement" method. When you're too busy to listen to what your body requires, try a daily moment / prayer of gratitude for your body. When it's hard to delegate, the "tzimtzum / pulling back" method (named for the kabbalistic concept of tzimtzum, God's withdrawal or pulling-back in order to make sapce for creation.) When there are draining people or situations in your life, try the method he borrows from "Pirkei Avot / Sayings of the Ancestors" to increase compassion and wisdom even in the face of harsh and irritating situations. If you're dealing with loss or trauma, try "Gam zu l'tovah / even this can be for good." When you lose sight of your inner strength or your purpose, there's a meditation on the "pure soul" to help with that. And when you feel stuck in a rut, he offers the shehecheyanu practice (named after the Jewish blessing for sanctifying time) to lift you up.
Felder explores these teachings from a practical point of view (via stories from his practice of psychotherapy), a neurological point of view (examining what neuroscience has to teach us about these ideas), and a spiritual point of view. Not surprisingly, I gravitate toward the spiritual material, but it's all well-interwoven. And I like his point that regardless of which of these aspects of the teachings draw you in, they work equally well in every paradigm:
Regardless of whether you say, "Hineini. Here I am," as a way of answering God's still small voice or simply as a way to activate a greater portion of your brain's capacity, each day of your life will present you with crucial opportunities for choosing either to show up more fully or to run away and hide.
Many of the chapters end with direct suggestions or questions for the reader. For instance:
When you feel frustrated that your busy day is overloaded or stressful and you're not able to be fully present or focused, take a deep breath in and out as you clarify where you are. Then a few moments later, take another dep breath in and out as you switch on the strongest and wisest parts of your essence by saying silently, "Hineini. Here I am!"
One of the things I like about the phrase "Gam zu l'tovah. Even this could possibly be for the good" is that it has a humble openness and a gentle curiosity about it. The Hebrew words have a rather Zen-like equanimity about them, as you essentially say to yourself, "I am going to breathe calmly and keep my heart open to all the various possibilities, even though I am witnessing a lot of pain and distress right now."
(Felder also takes care to explore how "this could turn out for the best" can be a hurtful and insensitive thing to hear -- after, for instance, the loss of a pregnancy. But, he notes, times of crisis and suffering are often times when we learn who we can really count on, sometimes in ways we never imagined before.)
If I truly believe that God or life has given me this extremely precious and fragile gift of a complicated body that has hundreds of openings, valves, and organs that can easily be ruptured or made ill, what am I willing to do -- starting today -- to be a better guardian or caretaker of this gift?
I find that, in reading this book, I gravitate toward the spiritual lessons with which I'm currently working the most: remembering to be present in the moment, increasing compassion and wisdom in the face of interpersonal challenges, pulling back when I need to. You may find that different parts of the book speak most to you.
I'm not sure anything in this book surprised me. But that may have more to do with my own immersion in these practices and these ideas over the last several years than it does with the book per se. The book's website features a free excerpt; take a look, see if this is something which might be helpful to you.