True Love is Never Blind

“The whole of life lies in the verb seeing.”

– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

imagesLike so many things in life, the email over promised and under delivered. Snagging my attention with the subject line by Ticketmaster, “Your Personalized Event Line Up,” I assumed that this was a select and targeted list of local events I would find interesting and therefore, might want to attend. I am out of the loop when it comes to the entertainment options in my city, and so I opened the email with a bit of excitement to see what curated fun looks like.

Putting aside for the moment the fear I should have of the Big Eye in the Sky that records and logs for eternity each preference, purchase and Google search I ever made, I was willing to sacrifice my privacy for the sake of the convenience of algorithms that know me better perhaps than any human being.  With a very wide and eclectic range of interests, I was curious: “Oh holy data gatherer who sees all, when you look at me, what do you see?”

As I started to scroll down the suggested list of entertainers, I was puzzled: never heard of ‘em, never heard of em, never heard of em. “Peppa Pig’s Surprise,” which I assume is a show for children, or for butchers, or maybe a twisted animal revenge theme, is playing on a Friday night (Shabbat) in a theater about two and a half hours from my home. Three strikes. I continued to scroll down the email to see ads for boxing, football, and other attractions you couldn’t pay me to see; obviously, this list was not tailored to my tastes whatsoever. Offended by its false promise, I deleted the email and unsubscribed from the site, frustrated that my inbox seems to fill up with impersonal mass marketing emails faster than I can delete them.

The Need to Feel Special

After the flash of self-righteous indignation passed, I felt a little bit pathetic. Ugh. Wounded Child strikes again, looking to be acknowledged as a unique individual rather than a commodity – even by an innocuous online marketing service. Says clinical psychologist Edward A. Dreyfus: “The need to feel special is common to human beings. We want to know that we matter to others; we want to be seen.  We strive to achieve some special status in the eyes of others; how we are viewed by others matters to us.”[1]

To See and Be Seen

In Abraham Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs, after our basic needs for shelter and safety are met, human beings have psychological needs, such as belonging and love, which are satisfied by intimate relationships and friends. Intimacy, best understood as the oft-quoted phrase, “Into Me See,” can only exist when others truly see us. To be truly seen, however, depends on the courage to be vulnerable. The willingness to disclose our inner selves, in the face of fear of rejection, is nothing short of an audacious act of bravery. This takes real love, genuine connection, and sincere empathy. Unless you sincerely know someone, how can you truly see this person? And without seeing, how can you say you love him or her?

What Do We Se

“Re’eh” means “see,” where Moses is telling the Jewish people: “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” While we may think the difference between a blessing and a curse is obvious, it is not.   First, we don’t have objective eyes that see reality clearly, in that we constantly filter out sensations and billions of bits of information per second. Our attention is discriminating, and therefore, we can fail to see what is in front of our face. Take the Selective Attention Test and see for yourself.  Second, we have biases that shape those bits of information into personal meaning. We all watch the news. We all see the same videos. But each of us processes the information according to our values and standards. And with a predisposed bias, we see what we are looking for – 100% of the time.

Looking with Godly Eyes

In the words of author Brad Meltzer, “There’s nothing more intimate in life than simply being understood. And understanding someone else.” So it’s not a coincidence that the biblical term for sexual intimacy is “to know.” True knowledge, however, requires the commitment of time and investing in the relationship. But unless we look at the people we love with the right lens, our vision is faulty. We maximize the bad and minimize the good, sometimes to the point of no longer seeing the positive – even when it is in front of our face. Whether you see a challenging situation as the blessing of growth-waiting-to-happen, or a bitter disappointment depends on you. Therefore, God exhorts us to see reality – not with our eyes – but to train ourselves to see reality with Godly eyes. For when we fail to see and appreciate our blessings, then we are truly cursed.

[1] http://docdreyfus.com/psychologically-speaking/the-need-to-feel-special/

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo

Keeping Your Why Nearby

imagesIt is said that that the definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing and hope for a different result. Nevertheless, today, I joined Weight Watchers for the umpteenth time, with gritty determination that this time it will be different, and as I sat in the unfamiliar room, I took stock of my surroundings while waiting for the meeting to start. On the wall hung a poster with the slogan: “Keep your why nearby.” Worth the price of admission right there, I thought, as the crux of any endeavor is to align what we do with why we do it.

If I could sum up the directive of Eikev, where Moses uses his remaining days to instruct, inspire, and strengthen the Jewish people as they were about to cross the Jordan River without him, it would be those same words: “Keep your why nearby.” As long as we were still in the desert, we lived in a sort of cocoon, not just with each other, but also with the overt presence of God. We were cared for with daily open miracles. Foes were vanquished; transgressions punished.

Like a newborn emerging from the womb, however, we were headed to an entirely different reality and experience. We wouldn’t see an obvious connection between our actions and subsequent reward and punishment. We would face individual and national challenges where we would have to rise to the occasion or fall dismally apart. And so, whether in the heat of battle, the challenge of the market place or the grind of daily living, we could come to feel disconnected from God.

And instead of dwelling together in an orderly encampment around the Mishkan (the portable Tabernacle), we would become spread out over the land; eventually throughout the globe, as we would be forcibly exiled from the homeland we were about to conquer. How would we remain a unified people connected to each other under those circumstances? How would our hearts break when we hear news of Jews being murdered thousands of miles away, and what would we be willing to do about it?

What is Your Why?

Says the famous visionary Simon Sinek, “Everyone has a Why. Your Why is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do.” During the 40 years of wandering in the desert, we were learning laws, laws, and more laws. Why? What was the point of it all? Declares Moses; the point is to love God, to attach to God, to emulate God and to walk in His ways. But what does that look like outside of the desert? It looks like acts of loving kindness to each other: taking care of the needy, the poor, the widow, etc. Unless these tenets drive the “why” of what we do, the “what” will be rather inconsequential.

Give and Take

The stone tablets of the Ten Commandments are rounded at the top. It is not a coincidence that these shapes allude to a woman’s breasts. Kabbalah teaches a beautiful idea that God’s giving the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people is like a mother nursing her children. Just as an infant needs to suck, however, so does a nursing mother need to give milk. And so the role of giver and taker is as one; giving and taking need each other for fulfillment.   When we give to the poor, for example, it is not a one-way street; the giver and recipient are part of a bigger reality that embraces them both. Thus my life does not revolve around a self-centered “I” but encompasses a greater communal and shared identity; and those of my actions, which are rooted in empathy, will have a greater and more meaningful impact.

The Why of Relationship

How does this play out in relationships, especially marriage? Successful and happy marriages are based less on conflict resolution and more on sharing (and consciously keying into) a mutually created culture of a shared “why.”

According to relationship expert John Gottman:

Marriage isn’t just about raising kids, splitting chores, and making love. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together – a culture rich with symbols and rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you, that lead you to understand what it means to be a part of the family you have become….Developing a culture doesn’t mean a couple sees eye to eye on every aspect of their life’s philosophy. Instead, there is a meshing. They find a way of honoring each other’s dreams even if they don’t share them. The culture that they develop together incorporates both of their dreams. And it is flexible enough to change as husband and wife grow and develop.[1]

And so the poster on the wall reminds me that if I want to achieve a certain result, keeping my “why” nearby will keep my values in the foreground so that the choices and decisions I make are congruent with my goal. Without a strong commitment to my own “why” my behavior will be haphazard and ineffectual. Simon says: “Values are not simply posters on the wall. In order for a culture to be strong, your values must be clear and your values must be lived.” So what is your “why,” how will you keep it nearby, and how will you honor the shared cultures of your life?

[1] John M. Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Three Rivers Press: NY) pps. 243-244.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Being that women made up roughly half of my law school class (and this was in the 1980’s – back in the last century), and that one third of the current U.S. Supreme Court justices are women, I don’t think much about gender equality in the law.   Historically, however, while there were exceptions, most law schools did not admit women until the early 1900’s. When I discovered that fact, my thoughts were, “Wow, it was only about 60 years before I went to law school that we couldn’t get in.” Notice the personal pronoun. Even though I didn’t experience this personally, I emotionally perceived this as a shared “we” experience.

Similarly, I live in a neighborhood, which I jokingly refer to as an “upscale shtetl,” yet I know that that several decades ago when my great aunt was looking to buy a house in this area, Jews in general (we) were not allowed to live here. Again, since I identify with this group, I feel the right to take on their experiences as my own.

In Va’eschanan, Moses recounts the experience of Mount Sinai, by reminding the Jewish people:

You approached and stood at the foot of the mountain…Hashem spoke to you from the midst of the fire, you were hearing the sound of words…He told you of His covenant that He commanded you to observe, the Ten Commandments….”[1]

This speech by Moses, however, occurred shortly before the Jewish people were to cross over to conquer the land of Israel. This was the second generation; they weren’t at Mt. Sinai!   Hearing these words, however, the Jewish people were to understand that the Jew of the past is the Jew of the present and that the “me” becomes “we.” Later on in the Torah, Moses tells the Jewish people that the Covenant is binding on everyone who was standing there that day – as well as anyone who was not there – thus binding the Jew of the future.

So as I read these words, which are over 3000 years old, the “I” becomes “them,” for Jewish mystical tradition teaches that even though our bodies were not physically present at Mount Sinai, our souls were.   I don’t know about you, but this shared spiritual memory is a “feel-good” moment. However, this ends satisfaction abruptly when Moses goes on to forecast a dark future:

When you beget children and grandchildren and will have been long in the Land, you will grow corrupt and do evil in the eyes of Hashem, your God, to anger Him….Hashem will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be few in number among the nations where Hashem will lead you.[2]  

Having seen countless movies where the leader makes a passionate and rousing speech to boost morale, Moses’ chilling prophesy on the eve of battle had to be a real downer. One has to wonder why the Jewish people didn’t opt to stay in the desert and not bother. After all, what’s the point in displaying enthusiastic valor for a battle that is ultimately for naught? And while I was also not there to commit the acts of idolatry that got us booted out of the Land, as a Jew in Diaspora, I am living the consequences of their actions. Just as I enjoy the spiritual benefit of having heard the word of God at Mt. Sinai, surely I bear some of the burden of those who did not head those words generations later. Not such a feel-good moment for collective experience. But then Moses consoles us with a vision of future redemption:

From there you will seek Hashem, your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and soul. When you are in distress and all these things have befallen you at the end of days, you will return unto Hashem, your God, and hearken to His voice. For Hashem, your God is a merciful God, He will not abandon you nor destroy you. He will not forget the covenant of your forefathers that He swore to them.[3]

After all, as Moses emphatically reminded the Jewish people, not since the beginning of time itself was there anything like what the Jewish people experienced, such as the miraculous Exodus for example; nor has there ever been a people who have directly heard the word of God. And why would God do these things? Because Moses also tells us that God loves us. There is an endgame here. A loving God set these things into motion – not to end in futility and for nothing – but for us to go through a necessary process of disconnection for the sake of connection, a stronger bond forged in the fire of experience and growth.

If we can hold these multiple realities as our own experiences, we can apply a great lesson to our relationship with God, and with our loved ones.   Every intimate relationship starts out with great fanfare, connection, and hope for a loving, happy and bright future. And every close bond has moments of broken faith, bewilderment and despair, where one feels exiled from the sacred space of relationship. That’s the moment of choice. Do we accept the chasm in the relationship as the new norm, and adopt a relationship reality that hardens over time into an endurance test? Do we accept defeat, play the victim and walk away?

Or do we search our hearts and souls to find a way to turn towards the relationship and restore connection? While not every relationship is capable of being sustained, many do not reach their full potential because one or both people do not know how to how to renew their faith in each other.

It’s Not a Question of Love

After we experience a fight with a loved one, and we calm down, we know that somewhere deep down, we “love” this person, and sometimes we will even bravely admit it: “You know, I do love you.”   So why isn’t that enough to end the conflict and restore connection?   We take for granted being loved by our loved ones; what we aren’t so sure about is whether they like us.  Do they love, appreciate and admire us? And in the case of God, we all know people who even in the face of extreme personal tragedy maintain their certainty that God loves them. But does God like them?  

In our personal relationships, we have work on the deep friendship that is critical to intimacy and trust, which lays the foundation to stay afloat even in the waters of conflict. Without a sense of mutual respect, regard and gratitude, love alone does not carry the day. Says Zach Britle in his post, The Phrase That Helps couples Heal After a Fight:

Maybe you’ve heard that love covers a multitude of sins? Maybe that’s the problem. The ‘multitude of sins’ is what erodes the integrity of a relationship. You see, it’s not necessarily the gigantic betrayals that destroy a relationship but rather the little, day-after-day ones that chip away at trust.

Because of my personal baggage, I had a hard time believing that God loved me. I finally overcame that hurdle when I accepted the idea of a loving and beneficent Deity. But then what? Love is universal; we are even commanded to love our neighbor. But we’re not commanded to like him – because liking someone can be more complicated and challenging than love. My relationship with God became personal when I realized that God likes me as well.

As the Master Plan plays out over the millennia, and as we live out the dynamics of our relationships, we will experience innumerable instances of disconnection and reunification as part of the process itself.   The best thing you can do for your relationships is to communicate and show the people you love all the ways you like them as well, thus laying down a foundation of positive regard and good will. When I notice all of the ways that God shows up in my daily life with moments of personal spot-on cosmic synchronicity – “God winks” – as they were, the foundation of an abiding trust and everlasting friendship carries me through the rocky bits.  And that will do for now.

   

[1] Devarim/Deuteronomy 4:11-12.

[2] Devarim/Deuteronomy 4:25-27.

[3] Devarim/Deuteronomy 4:29-31.