Daily practice

The other day I discovered the blog of writer, investor and entrepreneur James Altucher. Someone at work forwarded me a tech-related post Altucher had written; and after exploring his blog a bit I realized that 1) he has a foul tongue (and I like it!) and 2) has much more to offer than subjective evaluations of the market and tips for entrepreneurs: He’s insightful and introspective.

In particular, his August 20 post, “How to be a human,” was chock full of topics of interest to me — the end of the world, the fate of humanity, and the fear and anger that leads a person to spew hatred at a stranger on a public forum.  Certainly, as I am not addressing on this blog a virtual audience the size of Altucher Confidential, I don’t come up against as much public defamation as he might. But in the 15 years that I’ve written for public audiences — in newspapers, magazines, and extremely opinionated blogs — I’ve certainly set myself up to be taken down. And it’s a lot less fun than when someone shares your blog post on their Facebook wall; or when a more celebrated blogger mentions you in their weekly newsletter.

Altucher claims not to care; not to be impacted by what others write to or about him. He instead acknowledges their anger as representative of and outlets for dealing with past trauma (ie. “Their fathers or mothers didn’t love them;” Other kids beat on them; “Girls or guys didn’t like them or called them names.”)

Altucher credits his humanity for providing him with the ability to rise above his own past traumas; to stop him, he writes, from lying, cheating, stealing, and even killing. In particular,  Altucher credits what he calls “The Daily Practice” as the force by which he remains sane and suitable for society.

His “daily practice,” Altucher claims, is “the only way I’ve ever been able to rise above animal and be human.”

I like this. I like this a lot.

I absolutely agree with Altucher that the world is full of angry, scared, depressed people that often act like animals, but moreso I like how he offers useful tips in a frank, yet accessible voice. Tips that might, just might, lead an Average Joe to be more contemplative, seek help, or better yet, take action.

(In fact, he reminds me of someone I know and love who strives to do the same.)

In questioning the nature and formality of my own daily practice, I realized there is one thing I have committed to each and every day since I moved Israel — Something that is often difficult, very frequently humiliating, and yet so nourishing for my soul.

Every day, I choose to have one uncomfortable conversation.

Typically, my uncomfortable conversation is in Hebrew, but sometimes not. Sometimes the uncomfortable conversation might be with my English speaking neighbor or boss, on a topic that makes me squirm, like money.  And sometimes it’s on a topic I’m emotionally invested in, and the uncomfortable conversation is with my in-laws and or my kid’s teacher.

The more uncomfortable the conversation, I’ve found, the more I learn about myself. The more uncomfortable the conversation, the more I grow.

Particularly for me, the uncomfortable Hebrew conversations have been humbling…which I think my soul really needs. Like Altucher, my daily practice has taught me how to be more human. In particular, to listen, to feel, and to do both with compassion.

But uncomfortable conversations, I think, could be a useful daily practice for almost anyone.

For my shy husband, for instance, the daily practice of having an uncomfortable conversation might be empowering. Or, for my son, offer the thrill of independence.

The uncomfortable conversation can break down walls and stereotypes. It can open doors…and close them. The uncomfortable conversation is often less scary than you think. Instead, it’s often surprising and enlightening. It’s a daily opportunity to practice self-restraint, love, and compassion.

Based on the progress I’ve made since I started taking on the uncomfortable conversation as a daily practice, I daresay, it might be the key to Middle East peace. It might be the answer for world hunger and all that ails the world.

The key for progress and improvement lies somewhere within the uncomfortable conversation, I am sure of it. More specifically in the courage and compassion required to conduct the uncomfortable conversation (as opposed to the uncomfortable screaming match or the uncomfortable revolution or the uncomfortable war).

The uncomfortable conversation, by the way, doesn’t require two consenting participants. It only requires you: Committed, compassionate, humbled and empowered you.

You, as part of your daily practice, trying to be more human.

Kadima!

Spring is often used as a metaphor for rebirth. Combine this with the Jewish tradition of cleaning house before Passover and you’ve got yourself a good season for change here in Israel.

And so it is for our family.  Changes abound that are already impacting our immigrant experience…and more so mine than anyone else’s.

I blogged recently (in my regular Patch.com column, “That Mindful Mama”) about our family’s “team trade.” More specifically, how I recently accepted a full-time position as a marcom specialist for a hi-tech incubator here in Israel, and will be leaving my position of the last five years: part-time primary caretaker and work-at-home freelancer. In addition, my husband will consult part-time (he’s a grant-writer and fundraiser, work that may be done from home), but will take over responsibility of caring for our kids and maintaining our home needs. 

This is a huge shift for us as a family, and for me as a new olah.

First of all, it means I need to leave my bubble. My safe little kibbutz cocoon. It means I need to get in my new car, figure out the different mechanisms (like how to work the windshield wipers), and brave Israel’s roads. Worse than navigating the hilly, foggy roads in the morning is navigating psychotic Israeli drivers who are either constantly riding up my rear or trying to run me off the road as they pass me.

Most of all, getting a job means I need to interact with a lot more people who might want to speak Hebrew with me. However, I have a feeling, that just like an enema, this decision might make me momentarily uncomfortable, but is likely exactly what I need to get things moving in the right direction.

My new job is at a mainly English-speaking company with many Anglos on staff. It’s also primarily an English-speaking position.  While a high level of Hebrew is not required for the position, the office is not a Hebrew-free zone. Mostly everyone except for me speaks a fluent Hebrew and when an Israeli is in the conversation, the language quickly converts over to Hebrew. Therefore, I’m required to listen and understand or, at the very least, nod as if I do.

Most of my new colleagues have been told that my Hebrew is still “a work in progress,” but that hasn’t kept all of them from trying. Which they should and which I reluctantly encourage. Reluctantly because it usually leads to some level of humiliation and discomfort for me.

At least twice during my first week here, I thought someone was speaking to me — they were looking straight at me, after all– but it turned out they weren’t.  I’ve also been spoken to without realizing it was me who was being spoken to. In those cases, I learned, a smile and nod only get you so far. If the statement ends in a period, there’s a 50-50 chance I can get away with a simple smile. If the statement ends with a question mark, however, I might be in trouble. “Ken” or “lo” only get you so far in the workplace.

Thankfully, I haven’t yet been made fun of or chided for my lack of Hebrew. So far, most people here seem to think my broken Hebrew is cute and endearing. However, I am fully aware the “olah hadasha” tag will only work its magic for so long.

The big question is: How long?

When are you no longer considered an new immigrant? When do you make the transition over to just plain old immigrant? Or “olah vatika?” (“Seasoned oleh”) How is my status measured? In “daylight, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee?” Is it when the sal klita ends? When my kids are fluent in Hebrew? When I make five Israeli friends?

I certainly hope getting a full-time job doesn’t prevent me from milking this status for as long as I can.

I need all the help…and breaks…I can get.

(This was previously published as part of my blog, “Israeli in Progress,” on The Jerusalem Post.)