I came to Israel as a spiritual seeker and all I got was this grown-up life.

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, AKA – the holiest day of the year.

It’s a seriously big deal on the Jewish calendar. It’s a time for fervent prayer, when Jews who do nothing else Jewish all year flock into synagogues around the world. Many wear all white as a signifier of the elevated spiritual state we are capable of attaining. For one day, we transcend the boundaries of our humanity and soar into the heights of…

I think you can get where this is going. That was NOT my Yom Kippur this year.

I spent the day in bed, feeling pretty miserable, trying to avoid snapping and grouching at my  husband. I am nursing a toddler, which makes fasting – even with the accommodations available to drink small amounts – basically horrendous. My husband who was “supposed” to take our son all day expect for nursings was unwell the day before Yom Kippur and went into the fast sick and underfed. The aforementioned toddler had diarrhea. We basically spent the day, both of us in bed, with the toddler frolicking all over us, wondering why we were being so boring and throwing magna-tiles at our heads. The few times my husband did muster the energy to take him outside the outings were cut short by the above mentioned diarrhea.

Over the last few days, after the huge high of Rosh Hashana (which I haven’t written about, sorry) I have just sunk into a malaise. I feel like my life has several big ticket issues in it that I am just not equipped to perfectly handle. And I am supposed to handle things perfectly.

There is a particularly unpleasant voice in my head that is ready to flood me with hateful messages the moment things get too messy. And when I try to run away from that voice the only way I know how, by drastically shifting things around in my life (see my previous posts about the moving obsession) I find myself stuck. There seem to be no good options.

Sometimes this angry thought occurs to me – “I didn’t sign up for this.” I think anyone who choses a life or a home that is radically different from what they grew up with is going to have this pop up from time to time. Mostly I just try to remember that this isn’t a productive way of thinking and to remember what is amazing about my life.

However, recently I realised that there is something really deep here.

I didn’t get what I signed up for. I signed up for a super intense, high-flying spiritual journey. What I got – is a grown-up life. 

In my old world, I could have happily avoided this for years and YEARS. In that world, I was still basically out-earning my own financial irresponsibility, there were no tiny humans dependent on me and relationships could be picked up or dropped with few consequences beyond awkward meetings in the future. I changed my hair, my jobs, my boyfriends, my style, my location with ease and I basically liked things that way. It was comforting and exhilarating to know I was free to do what worked for me and when it stopped working, well, I dropped it.

Somewhere at the end of this whirlwind journey of bumping around the back streets of Sydney with a bunch of political hacks, I encountered Judaism and made a committment that radically reshaped my future.

Today my life is characterised by committment. Committment to the Creator, with whom I have had a bond with since I was little but now have healthy and meaningful ways of recognising and connecting to.

Committment to the man that I chose to marry who never ceases to surprise me with the fact that he really, deeply, actually is not-me.

And committment to the child that I brought into the world, who has seamlessly molded himself to my life in a way that these days I can’t imagine living without the unique daily rhythm of our love and care for each other.

And on a much less existential level, I am committed for the next three years to a PhD program at Bar Ilan University, which I have ironically been “shocked” to realise, means spending the next four years of my life doing, essentially, the same thing.

These commitments have made me face myself in ways that I have never done so until now. I have had to face those times when the last thing I want to do if fulfil one of my obligations to the Creator and do it anyway. And no, this story doesn’t always end in “and then I felt the whole room lighten up around me and I was flooded with love and awe…” Sometimes it ends with being so stressed and distracted that you say the blessing for washing your hands over the Shabbat candles. And life goes on, and next week you light the same candles and the week after… inspiration returns, flickers, disappears again, returns. But the rhythm of the committed life continues.

I have had to face down the desire to run from my home, run to the hills, to a place where my relationships could be more fleeting and not challenge me to the very core of my being.

I have had to face the immense transformation of my days, my life, my schedule, my freedom that being a mother has meant. I am dependent now in ways that I never have been before. Financially, physically, emotionally dependent in ways that make me so uncomfortable.

I have essentially had to start seriously facing up to who I am, my humanity, my vulnerability, my emotionality, my mistakes and my choices and their consequences. In other words, I have had to grow up.

There is a somewhat kitschy line,  used frequently by popular Orthodox Jewish speakers when speaking to the non-observant, that Judaism offers spirituality in the real world. We are not a religion, the line goes, that demands years of silent meditation on a mountaintop ashram or a life withdrawn from the world. Instead Judaism offers a part to make the mudane into the holy and to elevate every aspect of our lives.

I am not sure if I felt this as a reality yesterday, in my hunger-headache induced haze. I can’t say that I walk around feeling like I am generating holiness wherever I go on a day-to-day basis.

But sometimes I do.

And what’s more, whether it’s felt like a spiritual high or not, this life has turned me into a grown up.

I went to Israel to be a spiritual seeker, and all I got was this grown-up life. 

And you know what, I think that’s the gift my observant life has given me, even when it doesn’t feel great, because it’s by being a grown-up that we start the spiritual search.

Advertisements

Learning to Wait – deliberating about moving (part 2)

Alley_in_Nachlaot

The area of Jerusalem that we actually want to live in. (Wikimedia Commons)

As I wrote about in the last post, we are considering moving.

Over the course of the week and a few discussions with my husband and some trusted friends, we have decided we want to live in Jerusalem.

No sooner had we decided that, than we had found, what seemed like, a perfect offer on a place. No crippling real-estate agent fees, a price better than what we are paying now and convenient to the Jerusalem Light Rail, for me to commute into the University. It was two bedrooms, with a spectacular view of the Judean Hills… and, wait for it – dog friendly.

I was basically ready to sign the lease.

However, when we went to visit, we found that the area was further away than we thought from the centres of action in Jerusalem, and well, how should I put it, er….*searches vocabulary for polite terms*…. not the socioeconomic bracket I prefer to reside in…*cough cough – looses all working-class credentials*.  As I said to my husband as we left the building with fallen faces and a two-hour bus ride back home ahead of us, “this might be my budget, but it’s not my scene.”

***

This week I had a long conversation with a wise friend, who told me how for many years, she felt that she has been “a year ahead” in terms of what she wants for herself and her family. She’ll decide she wants something. It sounds outlandish at the time and is shot down, only to find that the whole family spontaneously gravitates towards it a year later.

As I reflected on this, I actually had to choke back laughter. In my case, was it a year? How about two… or even five?

I was caught by a sudden recollection of my last year in high school. I remember complaining to anyone who would listen how I was over school, done with being treated like a kid. I wanted to be 18, legal, out-of-home, fully grown up – yesterday! When the bell rang for the last time on my final exam at school, I lept up, drove off and a matter of weeks later, I was set up in my own place in Sydney.

I jumped from place to place, moved in too fast with a boyfriend, landed a good job, quit it for a better one, quit that a year latter for an even better one. By this stage, I was thoroughly embroiled in the organisational politics of one of Australia’s largest political parties and climbing the ladder. This journey took me to the National Campaign Office of the then Prime Minister, glamourous advertising firms and the vice presidency of the youth wing of the Party. The journey culminated with my own attempt to win office on the local council level. I won an impressive percentage of the vote, but a number of bad decisions, as well as just the sheer luck and charm of the democratic process meant that I wasn’t elected.

Burned out with the weight of said bad decisions and reeling with shock and embarassment, I shortly after left an active role in the party.

I was 20 years old.

I remember that throughout this whole story, well-meaning people told me to slow down. I remember once, a young man from the party, actually taking me out to dinner to caution me against burning myself out and to make sure that I was engaged in other projects.

I remember being highly offended.

I remember deciding to make the tilt at council. I remember someone telling me: “You can wait three years for the next election. At least then you will have finished your BA.” It seemed like a generation away.

I wasn’t persuaded.

***

Fast forward and I have jumped into more decisions that I care to admit. I jumped into living in Israel. I jumped into marraige. I jumped into having a child. Jumped in and out of no less than five apartments in my nearly four year marriage.

Over time, I have developed some better tools for making decisions about where to jump. For example, whereas many of the things I did during my political career were actually bad decisions that I would not take again, life in Israel, marriage and my son are all good decisions that I stand by and am grateful for. I even stand by some of the apartment choices.

But – and here’s the huge but… how much more comfortable would every single one of those transitions have been, if I had just waited one more year? 

***

I have a lot of energy to get things done.

I am pretty unstopable once activated. It’s easy for me to thrust myself into things on a wing and a prayer and a lot of hard work. Even if I am not ready for them.

Yet this time, the fact that I have to admit to myself is this: we want to move. Our home is very small. We make use of every square inch, are minimalist about our possessions and it’s still a tight fit. I would love if my mum could have her own room when she comes to visit.

But we are not ready to move. 

We don’t have the savings to pay for the move in cash.

We don’t have the income to live in the area of Jerusalem we want to live in.

It’s as simple as that.

Sure I could cobble together a half-baked move to Jerusalem, to a neighbourhood and house that leaves us half-satisfied.

Or I could do the unthinkable.

I could wait.

The Terror of Indecision

There are few things I am more terrified of than uncertainty.

Recently, I have been pondering the question of whether to remain in our current apartment, or relocate to a larger apartment, a cheaper apartment, or a new city entirely. There seem to be dozens of variable. Should we be finding a place with a room where my husband can practice his massage? Do we need  to be  paying less rent so we can save money and pay off debt?  Should stay put because we are so close to the university? Would it be better for us to live in a quieter, rural location, where we could afford a car and scale back the pace of our lives a little. What is the priority?

I have been chewing over this problem from all angles, obsessively scoping out real estate sites and generally, making myself crazy.

I desperately want to just know already. I want to be resolved and be ready to go. Even if there is some waiting involved,  that would be infinitely preferable to the sheer abyss of not knowing. It’s the indecision, the not-knowing, the state of being unsure, undecided and uneasy.

When I was younger, I always had a plan. I think I had five year, ten year and twenty year plans from the age of – twelve? Of course, these involved outlandish ideas like a five year stint in Japan learning to be a Maiko (which is the actual term for a what we think of as a “Geisha” ((Don’t ask!)) ). Also on the agenda were restoring democracy in Burma and ending poverty in Australia. Eventually, I my plans became rolled into my political involvement, and I meticulously planned out my rise up the ladder.

Planning was something that was heavily encouraged in my environment. At school, kids who “didn’t know what they wanted to do” were looked on with anxiety. They had to have career counselling and it was feared they might fall of the tracks entirely, into that dark realm of disrepute that school was supposed to protect us from. I was never that kid, I always had plans and I always had somewhere I was going.

In recent months, I have been thinking a lot about decision-making, and it has suddenly become very clear to me that I have an intense fear of being in the space of uncertainty that comes before the decision. Usually what I do, is shut down the decision as soon as possible, taking whatever decision is quickest – even if it’s not the easiest.

I have been seeing a therapist recently, and one of the things she suggests is that it is entirely possible to expereince this place before the decision as a both the place where it is possible to have the most fun and experience the most creativity. This is really deep and true. In that moment of quiet before we make decisions, these really are the moments where living an intentional life becomes a reality, not a theory, an experience and not a blog post. My issue is the place before decisions is not quiet. The place before decision right now is full of terrified voices screaming “DO SOMETHING! NOW! GET US OUT OF HERE!”

For now, the most difficult avodah (spiritual practice) and also the one that I am being called to, is to sit and wait and cultivate that quietness.

It’s true there are many variables, it’s true I am not sure what I want to do. For now, I am just going to sit. This sitting might involve a little research into options, but any time I feel it becoming frantic or stressful, I will stop.

Don’t just do something, sit there.

 

 

Suffering and Intentionality

Bright Autumn-2-12

(c) Robyn Lang

This post has been gestating for some time. It was sparked off by something I read on the 9th of Av, when I try to make it my practice to read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, which recounts his experience in concentration camps, as well as the basics of his psychotherapeutic approach – logotherapy.

In the book he writes:

“There are three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life. The first is by creating a work or doing a deed. The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone… Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life: even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by doing so change himself.” (p. 145 – 146).

“Is this to say that suffering is indispensable to the discovery of meaning? In no way. I only insist that meaning is available in spite of – nay, even through – suffering, provided, … that the suffering is unavoidable” (p. 147) [emphasis added]

I listen to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of blogs exhorting me to an intentional life. The message that I take away is that enough savvy budgeting, enough intentionality with my spending, enough self-growth and personal development, enough decluttering of my things and schedule will surely bring me happiness.

I can honestly say, I love this stuff. I want to improve my situation. And I am the kind of heads-down, hard-work person that if I decide something is needed, I am pretty quick to make it happen.

Something I have realised over the last week or so, however, is that perhaps all this self-improvement might be a way to avoid feeling suffering.

There are some things in life that are hard. Some suffering is inevitable.

We are all in a specific life situation, and in all of our life situations, there are painful aspects that cause us suffering.

Sometimes even the most intentional choices have consequences that are painful. I think of the choice I make on a daily basis to live in Israel. Whilst this is a beautiful country and my spiritual life here is enriched by so many opportunities to be around and learn from truly inspiring people, I miss my family and I miss the familiarity of home. Is it an intentional choice? Yes. But is there suffering involved, you bet.

There is a saying in AA that I read in a book recently. It goes something like this, “don’t just do something, stand there.” The idea is that for many of us, it’s easier to run from our feelings into concrete actions than it is to face and acknowledge them.

I know that for me, it’s so much easier to start a new budgeting system or throw away half my wardrobe than it is for me to say something as simple as “I am afraid.”

I am slowly coming to the realisation that an intentional life and a richly spiritual, meaningful existence doesn’t mean being without vulnerabilities or suffering.I am trying to let go of this idea that one day I am going to make it – transform myself, be better, be… different.

There is so much self-loathing inherent in this desire to intention myself out of the picture. I have come to see it as a desire fueled by an unwillingness to see and recognise my own vulnerability, my dependence and my potential for suffering.

In Kabbalah there is an idea of “kelipah” – the word in modern Hebrew means a “husk” or “shell” that surrounds fruit. On a spiritual level, the kelipah refers to the idea that around anything good or worthwhile, there is often a whole lot of unhealthiness or negativity that can tack itself on and come along for the ride. Our job is to do the work of separating out the good from the husks.

I see this as being very relevant to this particular experience.

There is so much good, so much awareness and so many strategies that I have learned from the many amazing people out there who want to guide us towards a more meaningful and intentional life – this is the good stuff, the fruit. However, I have also just begun to realise, how whilst benefiting from these strategies I have attached my own kelipah/shell to it. I have brought my fear of my own vulnerability into these strategies and used them as another way to avoid feeling my feelings and accepting my imperfection.

By taking the good from all of these positive movements to create an intentional life and surrounding it with my deep insecurity about my own human vulnerability and imperfection, I am not allowing myself to bite into the fruit and really enjoy it. It’s like trying to eat an orange with the skin on.

Part of writing this post is an exercise in awareness. Awareness that I have been doing this and that I don’t need to make projects out of my suffering. I am allowed to feel it.

 

Destruction and Grieving: Confronting Trauma and Returning to the Authentic Self

Photo 13-04-2016, 21 31 09

A Time for Grieving

The period of the Jewish calendar that we find ourselves in now is a time of sadness. Observant Jews engage in various mourning practices to mark this time. On the 17th of the Jewish month of Tammuz, and then on the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av, we fast and mourn.

When I was new to Jewish spiritual practice, I found this cultivated sadness to be somewhat of an unnecessary downer. “Is it not the case,” I thought to myself, “that everything comes from the Divine? That surely means that we can be positive about everything?” “Isn’t the purpose of religion to help us be happy?” I thought naively.

As the years passed and the cycle of the Jewish calendar rolled by me, I came to appreciate its distinct seasons. There are times of unbridled joy, times of renewal, times of reflection and anticipation, times of celebration and, yes, times of sadness.

The “Three Weeks” leading up to the 9th day of Av marks a series of calamities culminating in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people from their ancestral homeland. This in fact happened twice, and both the first and second temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on the 9th day of Av. As I have written elsewhere, during this time we mourn for the loss of the temple, but we are mourning not only the physical loss, but the spiritual loss of the intimate connection the temple facilitated between ourselves and the Divine Reality.

The National Trauma of Exile

The destruction of the temple was a trauma event in our national history. It began the period of time that we describe as exile. As a nation we were physically exiled from our land. However, our tradition maintains that it was not just our physical forms that went into exile. The Gemara describes the dimension of G-d’s presence called the Shechina also going into exile (Megilla 29a). The Shechina can be understood as referring to that aspect of the Divine that allows us to manifest our truest selves in our actions. Rebbe Nachman, one of the Hassidic sages, also writes that the significance and grace of the Jewish people also was also lost (Likutei Moharan 1)

With humility, I propose that these sources are hinting to a national trauma experience. When the temple was destroyed and the Jewish nation went into exile. Our mental processes became skewed and distorted. As a result, our actions no longer manifested the Divine Reality. Consequently, throughout this long exile, we have found that even despite our best intentions and efforts to the contrary, our actions as a nation simply do not reflect the highest potential of the Jewish people. As Rebbe Nachman says, our grace and the significance as the Jewish nation has been lost.

Bright Autumn--264

Pia Mellody, a counsellor and one of the leading thinkers in the treatment of codependence, describes trauma as having the effect of preventing moderation of experience and expression.

She explains how trauma distorts our perception so that our reactions are either too strong or not enough. The traumatised person either explodes in overreaction to minor issues, or is deadened and apathetic to major concerns. I cannot think of a better way of characterising some of the current trends in our Jewish national life. In some areas we find the strength and intensity of our response to be frighteningly overstated and dramatic. In other areas, our community fails to act and speak out where it is needed.

Pia Mellody also writes that one of the central aspects of the damage done by trauma is the erosion of boundaries. I think it is not an accident that we begin the period of mourning that leads up to 9th of Av with the fast of the 17th day of Tammuz. On this day, we remember that the walls of Jerusalem were breached. We commemorate the boundary violation that preceded the trauma event of the temple’s destruction.

The Trauma of the Individual

The Arizal, one of the great masters of the Kabbalah from the 16th century writes that the world is a large person, and the person is a small world. We therefore find that the trauma of exile is not just played out on a national level. Many of us experience it on an individual level.

Many of us were not brought up in homes that nurtured our deepest selves and helped us develop our natural connection to Divine Reality. Many of us grew up in homes that distorted our perception and left us ill-equipped for the realities of adult life. Just like the story of Tisha B’Av, these trauma experiences began with the violation of our boundaries and ended with the destruction of our authentic selves and the severance of our connection to the Divine Reality.

Many of us carry around tremendous pain. Having lost touch with our authentic selves, survivors of trauma often do not fully mature. We also experience immoderate reactions to the world around us, reactions that shock us with their intensity and have more to do with stories that we have learned about ourselves and the world in childhood than they do with anything that is happening now. Having had our boundaries violated, we now find it difficult, if not impossible to establish boundaries with others. We either act without boundaries, or put up boundaries that are so impenetrable that they do not allow us to relate to those around us. Still more of us have developed various coping mechanisms and adaptations that worked for us in our dysfunctional homes but now present a liability to mature relationality.

Research into the brain has uncovered such processes as neural pathways and is just beginning to reveal the extent to which the Hasidic teaching “wherever your mind is, so you are” is true. For survivors of trauma, when they experience immoderate reactions based in trauma responses or when they engage in old coping mechanisms that are now out of place and out of context, they are not doing so because they remember their trauma. They are doing so because in a very real way, they are reliving their trauma in the present moment.

A simple and not-too-personal example of this in my own life is my relationship to having a clean house. Because of my trauma history, I have a difficult time esteeming myself and have relied a lot on the esteem of others to assure me that I have value. Part of getting this esteem from others has been keeping my living spaces “impressively” clean. This means that when my house gets messy, or my husband doesn’t clean to the standard that I think will impress others, I often have a reaction that is based in my trauma. I react as though it is my self worth that is at stake, not my floors. In those moments, I am not an articulate and powerful adult woman. I am a small child, convinced that I need the love of others to stay alive and that I will only be able to win their love by impressing them with my clean house.

If there was nothing else to justify the mourning of Tisha B’Av, the damage done to this child that lives on inside me, would be enough.

Canada proc-790

Baseless Hatred and Trauma Responses

I believe that these trauma responses are the key to understanding the idea of “baseless hatred,” which the Talmud cites as the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple (Yoma 9b).

Whilst the First Temple was destroyed for blatant wrongdoing and crimes like murder and adultery, the destruction of the Second Temple was destroyed because of the much more subtle wrong of “baseless hatred.” In explaining what this means, the Talmud goes into great detail over what seems like little more than a guy being mean to a guest after a case of mistaken identity at a party (Gittin 55b).

Whilst the idea of completely baseless hatred probably doesn’t mean much to anyone who has chosen to be on a spiritual path, I think many of us can recognise in our behaviours the immoderation of trauma responses. We see ourselves over-reacting, acting out of context and responding in ways that don’t reveal our higher selves. We act from the part of us that is reliving the trauma.

Grieving Our Way Out of Trauma

The time of mourning surrounding the 9th of Av gives us the opportunity to confront these emotional responses and call them out for being baseless. That does not mean that they are bad or unwarranted, just that they emerge from our trauma histories, and not from our present situation.

As various writers on trauma have noted, I am thinking in particular of Pete Walker, Pia Mellody and Terry Real, the way out of trauma is grieving. When we honestly acknowledge the damage that was done to us, stop pretending and relying on coping mechanisms we allow ourselves to recognise the pain we have felt and what we have lost. When we experience all of this with honest tears of self-compassion and sadness for our own experience, we can begin to move from trauma to renewal.

Through acknowledging our loss, on both an individual and national level, and beginning to recognise where our actions are baseless and generated by trauma and not reaction to the present, we can start to reconnect with our true selves.

Rav Gerzi, my Rebbe and teacher, says that Tisha B’Av is the beginning of the work of the Jewish New Year, the time of personal and global renewal. I believe that what we can learn from this statement is that the way to our renewal and rebirth as authentic selves comes from the walking the path of grieving. It comes from recognising what we have lost due to our trauma history, grieving for it and acknowledging it. Then we can begin to walk the path towards our renewal.

This task needs to happen on a national level and on an individual level. For those of us who have survived trauma, we must face it and do the difficult work of acknowledgement and grieving. And as a nation, we must begin to acknowledge the pain, trauma and distortion of self that has come from millennia in exile. We must acknowledge where our responses are immoderate and either too intense or not strong enough. We must recognise where we are acting from our national coping mechanisms and not from a sensible and moderate response to the present moment. We must begin to grieve for what we have lost and seek to reconnect with our authentic national identity.

This path of grief and acknowledgement, followed by the hard work of developing healthy boundaries and reconnecting with the authentic self is the path to redemption. I believe that this is why the Talmud states that the redeemer will be born on on the 9th of Av (Eicha Rabba 1:51).

Placeholder Image

This is a creative piece based on Torah sources. There are many truths in Torah. This is not the only way of understanding these sources. If this does not resonate with you, I encourage you to continue to engage with the sources in your own way and walk your own path. Every soul has the potential to connect to these sources in a unique way. 

If you resonated with what I have written about trauma and believe you might have a trauma history, please look into it further. I recommend the following books: I Don’t Want to Talk About It by Terrence Real, The Intimacy Factor by Pia Mellody and The Tao of Fully Feeling by Pete Walker. However, nothing is a replacement for a good therapist.

All Photos are copyright Robyn Lang. Please do not reuse without the photographer’s permission.

Out of the Box Childcare Arrangements

I guess this just proves the case that there is nothing more motivating that relieving yourself from artificially imposed pressures. Because here I am, finding time to blog after my self declared hiatus.

I wanted to share this article I recently read, that was shared with me by Kristen Burgess of Natural Birth and Babycare.com . The author, Arianna Taboada describes her decisions surrounding child care and makes the case that it doesn’t have to be a black and white decision between working and staying at home. I have actually had in mind to write an article like this myself for a while, because I also feel like I have discovered this “secret,” namely, that it is possible, with a bit of perseverance and willingness to go against the grain (well actually a lot of those things!) to come up with a child care plan that is totally tailor-made to fit your circumstances.

I went back to school (or uni, for my Australian readers) a month after my son was born. I brought him with me, on the one and a half hour bus commute, to my classes and back home again. It was draining and during those early newborn months, as soon as we got home, usually around 6pm, we would both go to sleep! That said, it worked and allowed me to stay on my track to doctoral studies and be with my son full time. Of course this was dependent on my awesome professors, who agreed to my son being there in class with me.

In second semester, when he was about eight months, I started hiring babysitters to take him while I was in class. They would call if he needed to nurse or be with me. It worked really well, as well and I was lucky to find some great babysitters who I felt at ease with. Knowing my son was often literally just down the hallway, sometimes I could even hear him screeching and laughing from my classes, was a huge relief.

At the start of this academic year, I tried this arrangement again and it totally flopped. My now 14 month old was happy to play on campus with a babysitter, but the bus rides and waiting for the bus by a busy highway was not such a positive experience.

What we ended up doing was a bit outrageous, but again, it worked for us. We didn’t want to put our son in daycare from very early in the morning until I returned from university, so instead, we moved to the neighbourhood that borders the university. We decided some time in November, and by the 1st of December we had crash landed in our new home. Again, crazy, yes. Working, also yes.

These days our childcare arrangements are a bit ad hoc and in transition as my husband has recently begun a new job. But essentially, he looks after our son in the mornings while I am in class or working on my thesis and I am with our son in the afternoons and evenings while my husband works. I have an extra two hour work session some time in the afternoon when a babysitter comes to take our son to to the park. I have found that in between his nap and the two hours of babysitting I can get an impressive amount of work done, but it demands a level of focus during the hours I am working that I am not used to. Before I was a mum, I could spend hours working on the same projects, getting in and out of flow and distracting myself when I needed a break. If I know that this is the time I have to work, it is less easy to go with the natural rhythms of inspiration and distraction that I experience.

The point that I am trying to make is that like the mom in this article, we have found that some kind of alternative where in a certain way we are enjoying some of the best parts of both the working and staying-at-home lifestyles. It’s been busy and difficult, but like the author of the linked article, I think there is a lot to be said for thinking out of the box when it comes to creating the kind of family life we want and need.

 

Blog Hiatus until first week of July

Hi all,

The blog is going on hiatus for the next two weeks until the semester break. Just making official what has been the unfortunate reality for the last few weeks, I simply haven’t had the time or extra space in my brain to put together blog posts.

I am busily preparing for the International Simone de Beauvoir conference see details here, where I am presenting next week and generally keeping a lot of plates in the air at once.

I am hoping to get back into it during the first week of July but may need to reassess the weekly posting schedule.

All the very best!

Home Remedies for Anxiety

Bright Autumn--264

Photo Credit: Robyn Lang (c). Used with permission. 

In some things it turns out that the stereotypes are true.

I have been experiencing a lot of anxiety lately. There is the end of semester build up, compounded with my husband’s new job which has thrown our previous schedule for a loop and for a few weeks in there, our babysitter was in America.

I wanted to share a few things that have been working for me.

  1. Breathing
  2. Sharing “stresses” with my husband
  3. Being really really there when I am spending time with my son.

It turns out, breathing is something you can do everywhere. It’s actually amazing. The trick is, turning off the part of the brain that notices your mind has been wandering away and makes remarks like “oh, I knew you wouldn’t be able to focus on that for more than a minute.” That’s the hard part. I have found that if I can just give myself permission to be kind to myself, and tell those mean brain voices that it’s okay and they can have a hug or whatever it is they need, the breathing really, really helps.

John Gottman in his book Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work  discusses the idea of a stress reducing conversation where couples sit together and take turns for a timed period of time, discussing any and all stressors from outside the marriage. It really works. I recommend the whole book, but this activity in and of itself I find incredibly helpful.

Finally, I get a lot of relief just using play time as a time to let myself be truly present. I think it works especially well because I have son there showing me exactly how it is done! He could be the poster boy for The Power of Now, he’s so in the moment. I find that just letting myself release whatever thoughts I am having and focus on the play and accept whatever feelings I am having without needing to control them is very healing. It also stops me from getting overwhelmed by frustration when I sing Old Macdonald for the twentieth time in a row!

It’s very much a work in progress, just like I am. I wanted to share these ideas because they helped me, but I am equally excited to learn more things that can help one achieve calm during the busy seasons of life.

Baby Life, Toddler Life.

Bright Autumn-2-9

Photo Credit: Robyn Lang (c). Used with permission. 

I have been musing over the last few months about a particular aspect of my parenting journey. Namely, how difficult it is to spend the day interacting with an adorable, yet volatile toddler who is prone to be a danger to himself and others right at the moment when I am trying to take the pasta off the stove or use the bathroom. My dad told me that this age, around one and a half to two is “kid heaven” and that they never get cuter. I am inclined to agree. Watching my son stomp around the house, declaiming profoundly in his 15-or-so word vocabulary and pulling me over to a chair to nurse is basically adorable.

However, on the other side, I am exhausted and the constant vigilance his care demands (especially now that he has learned to climb!!!) wears me down. It has suddenly hit me that mothering my son at this age is a LOT harder than it ever has been, even when he was a newborn.

I think part of the difficulty has been adjusting my expectations of what it’s possible to do with my son in tow.

A baby, after all , when they are nursed on demand, carried in a baby carrier and nursed in a baby carrier is basically portable. I took my son to university with me throughout the last year of my masters from when he was three weeks old to when he was 9 months or so. It was pretty tricky but mostly because of the long bus rides to get there. Nonetheless, we always had everything he needed (basically just nappies and me and a nursing-friendly top) and if he started disrupting the class I could usually just nurse him. I ended up getting a baby sitter to watch him while I was in class during the second semester, and so long as she pushed him around in the stroller and showed him interesting things and called me to duck out of class whenever he wanted to nurse he was A-OK.

I got used to doing everything with him and I learned to do an amazing number of things with him latched on: cooking dinner, negotiating with the bank, having interviews with potential thesis supervisors, listening to online classes…. and that’s just what I remember.

But now things are different. My little boy has a will of his own and it includes things beyond me. Whilst it’s clear that I am still in a lot of ways the centre of his universe and if possible he’d like to do everything with me close by, he has started needing a lot of time outside and he needs to walk around and explore freely, so going to a shop and expecting him to sit still in the stroller or the carrier isn’t as simple. We need to bring food and water because nursing alone isn’t going to satisfy his hunger these days. He loves playing with little friends (and their stuff!) so we have to find them and go to park days and friends houses. Sitting inside playing with toys or whatever of our household goods I have to hand just wont do it for him anymore.

In short, caring for him has become something that demands a lot more of my creativity and effort than it did previously. He wants things I can’t give him (like huge sharp knives) and those situations need to be defused with cunning political skill. He wants to be involved in what I am doing and I have do devise safe but satisfactory ways for him to do that. He wants to sing Old MacDonald for ten minutes straight and I have to wrack my brain for whatever sound a goose makes – which, for the record, I think is HONK.

It’s fun but it’s tiring and I am beginning to find my previous arrangement as a work at home mum doesn’t seem to be working out. I feel constantly behind on my thesis, even despite my writing productivity boost. I am having a hard time keeping up with my research job. I feel constantly behind and it feeds a gnawing pit of anxiety that makes it hard to be really present with my son.

The reason I thought this was so interesting is that I think that popularly, children are portrayed as beginning life completely dependent and then gradually becoming more and more independent. Whilst a newborn does have intense dependencies, I found them easier to work with. Firstly, I was expecting it and gave myself a long and well planned do-nothing period following my birth. Secondly, the needs of a newborn were in my experience simple. So long as I nursed when he wanted it and carried him around everywhere he seemed completely contented.

I think it’s popular to say, and my experience has taught me that life has seasons, the semester is over in another six weeks and I will have both the opportunity to take a breather and also devote some good thinking and strategising to the question of how I can keep making this work as my little boy needs more and more of me.

 

Happiness and Consumerism – Coming to Terms with my Financial Reality

Bright Autumn--40

Photo Credit: Robyn Lang (c). Used with permission.

Apologies that this post is a little late. It has been a bit of a difficult week. My husband started a new job that has a lot more hours and travel time involved. Whilst this is something that we have both been hoping for, it has called for some big changes in how we organise our days and in particular who is looking after Yitzhak and when. So far the dust hasn’t really settled yet. Right now I have that knotty feeling in my stomach that not enough of anything is getting done and it’s taking all my strength just to try and stay present and breath.

So that’s enough of an update.

I wanted to write about money. I have been listening to the podcast Budgets and Cents with Cait Flanders and Carrie Smith and also checking out Cait Flanders (formerly known as “Blonde on a Budget”)’s blog.

On the blog and in the podcast, Cait raises some really interesting questions about what money means to us in our lives. In particular, what spending means in our lives.

For me this has really been an opportunity to confront some of my issues in this area and unfortunately, it’s just not pretty.

In my family, money seemed to grow somewhere in the backyard behind the bird’s bath. Whilst, especially in my younger childhood, I was aware of times when money was tighter, by the time I was older, money seemed to be something we had and could use whenever the need or desire was pressing enough. If I could characterise the spending ethos in our home it was something like, if you need it, you should buy it. Whilst my parents generally seemed to focus on buying only that which they needed, “need” could be pretty loosely defined and included things like “needing” to go out to dinner to celebrate. They also instilled in me the value of good taste and the idea that it’s better to spend more and buy one item that will last a long time and serve you well, than to buy a cheap version that will invariably have to be replaced. We didn’t seem to spend much time doing consumer research and it didn’t seem like we needed to. This is in no way intended to knock my parents spending style, some of my happiest memories with my parents were in restaurants enjoying luxurious food or going “luxury shopping” at the local mall.

Working in politics, I took this and ran with it. I remember always having a lot of disposable income for whatever I “needed.” What I needed was new designer clothes, petrol for my car, heaps of restaurant or take-out food (I had no time to cook, and besides, there were friends to be won and people to be influenced at the various bars, restaurants and haunts of the Party), rental properties in inner city neighbourhoods, and literally hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars worth of alcohol.. But whenever something happened, like the car insurance was due when I wasn’t expecting it (and I was never expecting it) or I crashed my car (as happened more than once if I remember correctly) – I never had money on hand to deal with it. It was like it had all disappeared.

These days, my financial life couldn’t be more different. The simple fact is, that I am by choice neither a minimalist or frugal, although these are cute labels to help me feel a little more trendy. The fact is that we don’t have a tonne of money. We live in a pretty small place – although as I find out when I listen to American podcasts, “small” is a very relative thing and by some definitions our home is tiny. Luxurious dinners out are distant memories, clothing purchases are always guilty occasions and it seems that because of our budget and the high costs here, everything I buy is so poor quality that it just doesn’t last or look good for more than a few months. We eat a frugal, vegan diet. We often go without things that I didn’t even know it was possible to go without – like moisturising lotion and snack foods. We are absolute pros at making a delicious and interesting range of foods from dried beans, chickpeas and lentils.

There’s a combination of factors at work here that brought about this change. The standard of living is not as high in Israel as it is in Australia. Pay is low and things are expensive. That is just part of life here. Also, I have traded my place as a child of the Australian upper-middle class with cultural capital to spare for that of an immigrant without full language proficiency or family and social networks. Most of the people in my new social networks are also immigrants. I am also a mother now, which has significant financial consequences. Finally, I am a PhD student which seems to basically mean poverty regardless of where you live.

However, regardless of the causes, the simple fact is that in my life in Israel I just don’t have the options for consumer fun that I had when I was in Australia. When I first got to Israel, ablaze with spiritual fire and having just finished an honours thesis on the evils of consumerism, the opportunity to live a simple life dedicated to the important things like the pursuit of meaning, relationship with the Divine and growing a family, really appealed to me and I thought that I would never need anything more than a black skirt and a couple of polo shirts again. But slowly the enthusiasm faded.

Over the last year or so, I started shopping for clothes again and became more and more concerned with my appearance. Having a home – a “grown up” married people home – led me into all kinds of pressure to furnish it with respectable pieces that would demonstrate my class, taste and having-it-togetherness to all-comers. I began to think that I need to have coffee when I go to University because it makes me happy and reminds me of home. I got increasingly emotionally connected to these kinds of material things. What made it worse is that as our financial situation became more and more difficult and we didn’t have enough money sometimes even for things that I thought were absolute essentials, this was all experienced by me as an emotional blow. I lamented our situation. I blamed everything. I was in general, pretty bummed out about the whole thing.

I have come to the conclusion that what is really going on has less to do with being poor and more to do with not having learned ways of caring for myself that do not involve spending money. My idea of self care is going and sitting in a cafe or restaurant, extra points if it is one of those cafe-restaurant-bookshop places and spending a lot of money on yummy food. Or going to the mall and buying myself new things. And if I look back, that is essentially how I learned to relax and kick back in both my family and culture of origin.

Now that those options aren’t so readily available, I feel like I am living in a permanent state of deprivation. I miss those comfortable material aspects of my old life, although I know that if I was jettisoned back there, sooner or later I would have had to come to terms with my financial issues as well. I assume my parents wouldn’t have continued cleaning up my traffic fines for ever…

I guess the point of this somewhat rambly post is that I need to find new ways of relating to money.

I am considering trying a shopping ban, Cait Flanders style. I can imagine there being tremendous comfort in knowing that no matter what, anything that isn’t essential just can’t be bought. Stay tuned. I’m still thinking this one through.