Letting Go, Mindfulness, Spirituality

Think lovely thoughts

Reading the blog yesterday of a childhood friend who grew up to be a rabbi, I came across a phrase I’ve heard before but had forgotten for a long time.

Thought experiment

I love this phrase.

In two words, it implies all that I believe about thinking.

That thoughts are ever-changeable.

That we can manipulate our own thoughts or the way others think about us.

That we have power over our thinking.

That we can be playful with our thoughts.

Make fun of them.

Laugh at them.

Shoo them away when they’re getting in the way.

Caress and nurture the ones that stir our hearts and bellies.

Abandon the ones that have stopped serving us.

Experiment with our thinking. Approach our thinking like we would scientific research — as an experience or an equation that is observable, malleable.

I believe in this method, and yet I often have a hard time employing it.

Like many scientists, I am a firm believer in what I know to be true.

In the facts of my life.

“He is …”

“She does…”

“I will always be…”

“It’s like this…”

“He’ll never…”

Those facts serve me. They allow me to be right about the world I live in. They allow me to make difficult decisions based on previously established and agreed upon evidence. They allow me to feel safe and secure in an existence that is often tenuous and unsure.

Therefore, it’s not so easy to approach those facts (my thoughts) as an experiment.

It means I have to give up being right: About the world, about people who’ve hurt me, or about situations I’ve long ago thought I forgot.

Not to mention — thought experiments are rarely controlled experiments. You’re not alone in a cozy lab coat in a quiet room with no other people, no additional stimulation. During your average thought experiment, it’s NOT just you, just your thoughts,  just listening carefully and watching and taking notes.

Yup. You are right there in the middle of it. All the time.

Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking.

And there’s noise. And hunger. And resentment. And perceived requests, demands, insults.

All that thinking and feeling leaves little room to experiment.

And, if you’re like me, you’re not just thinking, thinking, thinking. Feeling, feeling, feeling.

You’re thinking about the thinking. And judging the feeling.

Not very playful. Not very fun.

Not very experimental.

This is why — and I’m having a light bulb experience myself RIGHT NOW as I write this — I meditate. And this is why I sing. And why I pray my version of prayer; keep my version of Shabbat. And why, on occasion, I seek 20 minutes alone in the bathroom pretending to poop.

So I can have my very own thought experiment.

So I can allow myself the opportunity to observe, explore, and possibly, change my thinking.

Do you do this too?

Do you give yourself an opportunity to thought experiment?

And does it work?

Politics, Relationships, Religion

The dichotomy of a bug

Lately, I find myself seduced by bugs.

Photo by Jen Maidenberg

On the one hand, they’re so, so ugly.

So disgusting.

I don’t want them anywhere near me.

And yet, I can’t get close enough.

I want to examine them. Study their intricacies. See how they’re made. Gaze into their eyes.

I’m fascinated by their beauty. By the very clear and intentional design of their wings, their backs, their stingers.

Who made bugs so beautiful and so ugly at the same time?

I often ask myself the same question about religion:

Who made religion so beautiful and so ugly at the same time?

Who made it so I could find solace and comfort in prayer and community, while at the same time feel so ashamed at the behavior of  my community leaders and fellow members?

Who made religion so beautiful and so ugly at the same time?

Who made it so I could be so energized and enlightened by religious texts, and so confused and hurt by their antiquated, yet still upheld laws?


Who made it so beautiful?

Photo by Jen Maidenberg
Photo by Jen Maidenberg

So ugly?

At the same time?

And, perhaps the better question is why…

What purpose does this dichotomy serve?

Religion, Spirituality


Last night, as I was trudging through the final half hour of John Carter with my husband, I noticed a word in the Hebrew subtitles at the bottom of the screen.


This is something I like to do when watching an English program on TV. Especially, when I’ve lost patience for the show I’m watching.

Subtitles make for good learning opportunities.

But, the reason this word caught my eye is complicated in the way that only religion can be.

My mind didn’t just notice this word. My mind remembered this word.

In a sing songy sorta way. In a dressed up in my Shabbat clothes sorta way.

השתחוו לאדוני

I could hear a familiar tune in my head. Feel joy in my heart.

I knew this word. From Kabbalat Shabbat. From Friday nights on Hannaton.

I recognized the word, but had no idea what it meant.

I turned to my husband, and asked.


What does it mean?

Bow, he told me. That woman just told John Carter to bow to him.

Ah, now I understand.

It’s a funny thing, this journey of mine.

As I become more Israeli, I become more Jewish. And as I become more Jewish I become more Israeli.

I’ve known the Shema prayer by heart for more than three decades, for instance, but only now do I understand many of the words.

I can’t say that they resonate with me. But at least now I understand most of what I’m saying when I sing it.

Is this what they call prayer?

Is this what they call “observance?”

Is it prayer when you sing a Hebrew song praising God, but don’t know exactly what you’re saying when you sing it?

It it prayer when you finally do understand the words but they still don’t resonate with you?

It is prayer if you don’t believe?

Is it prayer if singing it opens your heart?

Is it prayer if your heart closes once you know the meaning of the words?

Many Jews in America learned Hebrew; learned Jewish prayer; the way I did.

We were taught the letters, the sounds, how to string them together so we could read them, speak them, sing them.

But through all my “learning,” I was never inspired enough to feel those words — old, antiquated translations of old antiquated words.

Not until I made Aliyah — until the language became a language I needed to use to express myself — did the words touch me.

The words haven’t changed.

But I have changed.

And my understanding of the words has become deeper. On many levels.

Is it my connection to Israel that connects me to the prayer? Or my connection to the prayer that connects me to the language of this country?

Or neither? Or both?

And does it matter to anyone else but me?