A Three-Legged Approach to the Awesome Days Ahead!
As we approach the upcoming Jewish holidays, many of us become anxious and stressed out. Some of us are concerned about guest lists for the holiday meals, some about Yomtov menus, others become overwhelmed about grocery shopping, Judaica items, clothes or shoes purchasing, and more. Ironically, we may get so overwrought with mundane matters that we forget about the whole point of our spiritual preparation for these days of Awe and Judgment before Hashem. Ironically, if we think deeper into this matter, the internal and spiritual preparation should be of greater import and impact! If anything, “should” stress us out, it should be this! As it says in our Rosh Hashanah prayers, on these days, we are judged – “written and sealed” regarding, “Who will live, and who will die? Who by fire…and who by the sword?” (Rosh Hashana Liturgy). Pondering these issues of “life and death” is enough to put someone of great fortitude into a tizzy. Maybe that is why we often throw ourselves into the mundane preparations, in an unconscious avoidance of the truth – the emes.
How can we practically prepare ourselves spiritually, mentally, and physically for these days of awe?
As a therapist, I often work with clients and students to alleviate anxiety and other challenges. Various cognitive-behavioral techniques as well as meditation and relaxation exercises can be beneficial, life- changing skills for personal wellbeing and happiness. However, in treating anxiety disorders, or even just worrisome thinking, I believe we need a third approach. Just as a stool can only stand when there are at least three legs, we need to work in three directions – body, mind, and soul. In the various courses I have taken at great institutions such as Harvard, they are just beginning to acknowledge the importance of our spiritual side. It is considered so important now, that it is a factor for greater longevity!!!!
The three components of my holistic system, “The Three-Legged Stool,” are body, mind, and soul. In calming oneself down on all three levels, one is best able to stay present and confident to choose good decisions, choices, and behaviors.
1) The first element is to calm the PHYSICAL BODY down. When the Stress Response (Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn-mode) occurs, one’s Sympathetic Nervous System is activated. The heart rate and blood pressure rise, cortisol, and norepinephrine course through the system, etc. In my GIFTPAK to the readership, I am sharing some basic techniques we can all employ as we get ready for the awesome days ahead (and any days in this 21st Century). The first technique to relax the body only requires two or three minutes nightly of a slow, deep, intentional breathing technique – The Breathing Contest.™ Additionally, I recommend that everyone try to breathe as often as possible through the nose (vs. mouth breathing or “over breathing”). For some people, this is very difficult. As in any new effort, the beginning’s sincere and consistent efforts will bear significant fruit. Since there are dozens of benefits to doing nostril breathing, this may need to be addressed in more detail in another article. Suffice it to say, that these few benefits are worth the effort: the filtration of the oxygen as it enters the nose via the small cilia hairs inside the nostrils , the cooling (or warming) of the air to allow it to acclimate to the body’s own temperature diminishes over-breathing (which has dozens of problems associated with it) since the air is going through a much smaller aperture than the mouth, increases Nitric Oxide (NO) in the system, which is good for immunity and heart health and more.
2) The second element is to calm down the MIND. Although all of us have stress in our lives (financial, interpersonal, work or growth related, etc.), different people react differently under pressure. It is known and proven that the magnitude of the stress we experience is more dependent on our attitudes and reactions to what occurs than the actual issue at hand. Some of us take things in stride, and some of us get “hooked” on, or paralyzed by basic life challenges. Some “Let go and let G-d” and others become immobilized and stuck, hijacked by unhelpful thoughts, ideas, projections, and perceptions. In this element, we learn how to reframe things, looking from a different, more positive perspective. In his famous book, The Will to Meaning, Dr. Viktor Frankl said, “To detach oneself from even the worst conditions is a uniquely human capability.” Additionally, use of meditation techniques to settle the mind are extremely useful. This creates a “slowing down” of thoughts so one can respond to situations more sensibly versus reacting in a “knee jerk” fashion. As Dr. Frankl, again so aptly put it: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response, lies our growth and our freedom.” Through meditation and relaxation techniques, we can create a longer “space” so we have the power to choose our response. This is what I call, the ability to respond, or “ResponsAbility.” It is the “responsible” thing to carefully choose our response. The Beginner’s Meditation on the Breath™ is only needs 6 minutes long, and when done daily brings amazing benefits within a very brief time. (This is in your GIFTPAK, as well.)
3) The third, and possibly the most important leg of the stool is “to calm the SOUL.” In my estimation, a person living in these complex times cannot completely feel truly peaceful and tranquil without belief in Hashem – G-d. Upsetting events and circumstances can leave a person at a loss if she or he does not believe there is meaning or divinely orchestrated plan in the works. The third leg is BITACHON – TRUST and assuredness. When one knows that Hashem has a reason for every circumstance, and we trust that He knows what is best for us, we can be calm and tranquil, resting assured. I suggest that my clients read either Chovos HaLevavos, Sha’ar HaBitachon – Duties of the Heart: The Gate of Trust, or In Good Hands: 100 Letters and Talks on of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Trust in G-d.
In short, since we are one holistic being, we cannot have an incomplete approach. We must enhance ourselves in body, mind, and spirit to best respond to our loved ones and especially Hashem with the holy days approaching. May we all have a blessed year of GeFeN – Gezunt, Parnosso, and Nachas – Health, Livelihood, and Pride for our loved ones. Enjoy my gifts to you, and may they help you get through these Days of Awe and all your future Awesome Days!
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