I have another blog that revolves around music (Marc’s Muse), and the goal I had set for myself with that one was to listen to an album a day for a year straight, and blog about it. I could not miss a day, no matter what… sickness, travel, etc. I lasted for 550 straight posts! And then I needed a break. Actually, I need to get back to a more regular schedule on that one!
Not all my posts were good… in fact, many were begrudgingly done… written because I had to stay on track… but I would venture to say there are a few gems in there… posts that inspired and are worth re-visiting and re-reading.
The real victory, was that it gave me discipline and focus, helped me find and refine my writer’s voice and was an amazing experience. It connected me to a world of people… literally.
But… I feel a bit more pressure with this blog. Yes, I strive to be profound and learned, but there are some days, like today, where my mind goes a bit blank, and I wonder if I truly have anything worthwhile to say.
The end goal for me is not to dazzle and impress, but to be open and honest and share my journey and path as sincerely and truthfully as I can… and hopefully… to create a dialogue and share both what we have in common, and what sets us apart. I yearn to learn from you, and hope that something or things I say are practical and useful and at least move your brain to stir and question.
So for today’s post, I would love to hear the things you do to get through those moments when you are stuck… and questioning… and confused.
I remember when I first starting wrapping Tefillin… a mere two years ago… and I would have some very emotion-filled, powerful and really connected moments. It was beautiful and unexpected, and so potent and moving.
But a short while in, I began to have some struggles… mostly on the time front… which would lead to a truncated morning prayer… but also on my concentration. My mind would wander… a lot… and I would fight to pull myself back in. It still happens… and it happens a lot when I meditate.
Now in meditation, they tell you to not fight the mind-drift… to just acknowledge the thought… and then easily and gently let it go. I try to do this in prayers, as well, but then really put my focus back on who I am talking to (Hashem)… and why I am praying to begin with.
And yet… those impactful and amazing prayer experiences… where I am actually brought to tears or overwhelmed with emotion… seem to be few and far between lately. Not rote, but… sometimes maybe close to that. Many mornings my prayers feel automatic… and no matter how I try to shake it up and re-connect, I just struggle through.
My friend, Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld says these are the times that mean the most. It’s easy to pray when it’s easy… when you feel connected… inspired, etc. But on the days that you don’t and you do it anyway… That’s a victory… a big victory. For yes, prayer is a battle… a struggle… a wrestling with yourself and with G-d.
I keep this in mind when I grapple with the why… and the other questions that go along with that… but I get concerned when I ask: Why am I praying? What’s the point? Why hasn’t my life changed? Why haven’t I accomplished what I want to, etc.
Shlomo uses Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof as an example of a very specific way of praying… a true dialogue and conversation with G-d… and not always smooth and easy. Sometimes I’ll find I am doing something similar… Looking up to the Heavens, shaking my hands, questioning and prodding and struggling.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov formalized this in his practice. Serving Hashem with joy… Serving Him with music and dance. Taking an hour each day to pray and meditate in nature. To read a set list of Psalms. I am a big proponent of his teachings, but will admit to not fully being able to embrace all of this… yet.
And yet, what is perhaps most amazing about him, is that he knew this would be an issue. He wrote and spoke of his own struggles and lets us know that we will have many of out own.
According to Rabbi Louis Jacobs, who speaks of Rebbe Nachman on the great site My Jewish Learning, he says that Nachman knew we were “bound to have religious doubts” but “the only way to find God is through faith which alone can raise the human soul beyond the void.”
“Nahman remarks that G-d gives a man the desire to journey to the “true Zaddik,” but then he meets with obstacles; these obstacles are presented to him in order to awaken his desire, since whenever a man meets with obstacles in his desire to achieve something, the obstacles he has to overcome strengthen him in his resolve and his desire to becomes even more powerful.”
Before I pray… and sometimes in the midst of prayer, when my mind goes off on a very different track… I try, without too much of a fight… to bring myself in. While faith is never an issue… or rarely an issue… something only very recent for me and still somewhat surprising (in a pleasant way, of course)… I do sometimes wonder if my prayers make a difference, as I stated above.
One of the great tools I have is to simply remind myself of the seven things Rabbi Shalom Denbo taught me…
1) Hashem loves me
2) Hashem is totally aware of me
3) Hashem has the power to give me everything I want
4) I do not have the power
5) Hashem has given me so much already
5) I do not have to deserve it
7) Hashem knows what is best
This is my way to humility and gratitude… a pretty great place to start and finish and keep in mind throughout my davening. I still have blocks… with the pen and the prayer… but I am learning to fight through it… without fighting… fighting and struggle cause more attention to go to the problem. So I attempt to ease myself back in and to connect or re-connect.
What issues do you face? How do you overcome the blocks and move forward? How can we all better connect and serve?
I look forward to hearing from you… and as always, thanks for reading.