Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Can You Stay Calm When Your Buttons Are Pushed?

Can you stay calm when your buttons are pushed?

Can you stay calm when your buttons are pushed?

I’m writing this week from the Frankfurt Airport, on my way home from a long weekend in Basel Switzerland with my wife. I really needed this weekend away, as I’ve been pretty wiped out by the push to finish the book, and the follow on sinus infection.

Just before I left, my Mussar practice shifted to Equanimity, which is also known as “Calmness of the Soul.” My initial thought was – perfect, some rest and relaxation, just what I need to restore my Equanimity. As is often the case with Mussar, the truth is a bit more complicated.

Most people can relax and become/maintain calm when everything is perfect. When we’re rested and our needs are taken care of, it is very easy to keep your cool. Retreating to a quiet place for a weekend to meditate doesn’t really help in the day to day. For example, many times when I was in the working world, I’d return from a vacation refreshed and renewed, which lasted for about 90 minutes. By the second or third email/phone call of substance, my stress was pegged again. While vacation is important for rest and renewal, it is not the same thing as building “Calmness of the Soul.”

This week, I’ve been looking at stress points as opportunities to practice Equanimity. This awareness in itself has been transformative. For example, one morning I woke up early and decided to meditate. There was a loud noise from the other room that was trying to bother me. I say trying because I said to myself, ” This is a test. Can you continue the meditation with that constant irritant?” It took an extra level of concentration, but I was able to do it. I think the secret was that I primed myself to look for opportunities to stay calm when normally I would become irritated.

I’m curious to see how things develop for over the remainder of the month. Often I start strong, but get tired trying to maintain Equanimity.

What has your experience been? Can You Stay Calm When Your Buttons Are Pushed?

Is It Easier For You to Identify Your Leadership Strengths or Weaknesses?

is it easier for you to identify your leadership strengths or weaknesses?I’ve come across an interesting dilemma. My Mussar studies this month focus on leadership. Rabbi Avi Fertig teaches that Leadership is not a single soul trait, but the result of multiple soul traits working together. He suggests a reflective exercise to examine three examples I demonstrated good leadership, and three where I did not. For each case, I am to identify two soul traits. By examining the whole, I can then select  two soul traits where I am strong wrt leadership, and two where I am weak. It is very easy for me to look and see where I have made mistakes, and to point to the soul trait imbalances that contributed. It is much harder for me to focus on the strengths. Why is that? Is this just me, or is it hard for you to recognize your strengths as well?


True self-reflection is never easy of course. We can identify surface issues, but getting to the deeper root cause is harder. For example, what soul traits of mine helped me be an effective leader for An Afternoon of Mussar a few months ago? On the surface, I might say Order, because I called meetings regularly, had agendas, and the day was well organized. However, I relied on others to teach me how to write agendas and plan the details. Underneath Order, I was practicing Responsibility, in that I was taking accountability for the outcome; and Compassion, in that I made time to check in on the welfare of the people on the team. Order then, was merely an outcome from my work in these other areas.
Ok, that felt good. For some reason it has been hard for me to do what I just wrote about in the above paragraph. Although it seems simple, I’ve been blocked for days from doing that analysis. What was so hard for me about looking at my good qualities? I’ve done this enough to know that something is there. Once in my class, I asked everyone to do a quick self-evaluation. One of the students freaked out and got anxious. I didn’t push it further at the time, but it stuck with me. A strong reaction is a red flag that there is some soul work to be done.
What has your experience been? Is it easier for you to identify your leadership strengths or weaknesses?
If you want to learn more about Mussar, visit my other website

Why You Should Read Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook Post

Sheryl Sandberg's Facebook post

Resilience by Alan Levine via Flickr CC

Amid the excitement of my daughter finishing her first year of high school, and a pending visit to Syracuse to visit my parents, it has been an interesting week. I’ve been in a good writing groove, patching some holes in the early middle of the book. And in Mussar, I’ve been practicing Loving Kindness, which led me to read Sherryl Sandberg’s Facebook post about the grieving process for her husband, who died of a freak accident at the age of 46.


It is heavy and moving. If you have ever experienced grief, you’ll know what she is talking about. If you haven’t, you’ll learn that grief is not what we see in the movies. Grief is an adult woman who is held by her mother every night as she cries herself to sleep.


Sandberg taught me a lot about Loving Kindness. Loving Kindness is doing something for someone else, with no thought of a reward, even if they don’t deserve it. Loving Kindness goes beyond being nice. It is one of the three elements that the world is built on, and thus acts of Loving Kindness also have an element of sustaining other people.


Sandberg’s openness of her pain is a gift to the world. She teaches us what to say and what not to say to someone in grief, and she offers community to those who are suffering grief around the world. She also shares how she has opened a space to talk about it with her uncomfortable colleagues. We are given an opportunity to practice Loving Kindness by reading her words, and sharing her pain in silent fellowship.


This may seem scary or unappetizing. Life is stressful, and who needs to take on someone else’s grief? We all do. Last night I was meditating on Loving Kindness, and I had an image of a brick with a smiley face on it. Then there was a second brick, then another and another, and before long a huge wall was built that stretched up to the heavens and in all directions. The world is built on Loving Kindness.


Someday we will be the one in grief. Someday we will encounter someone who has lost the person they love the most in the world. I guarantee you, when that day comes, you’ll be happy that you read the post because it will teach you how to act.


Now, we can saver that Today Is Not That Day. We can celebrate and be thankful for all that we have. If you haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook post, read it now, and then do an act of Loving Kindness.

The Spiritual Side of Going to the Bathroom

spiritual side of going to the bathroom

Don’t float your ears

I had an interesting experience recently with one of my study partners. We were reading a 15th century Rabbinic text about the Mussar soul trait Enthusiasm, and the author wrote the following:

“One must be especially zealous not to delay evacuation, both defecation and urination, even one moment”

This sentence was amidst the discussion about rushing to do good, and working to remain positive even in the face of difficult situations. HMMM
Like many such teachings, at first it seems a bit out there. But then I remembered that when I get very focused on my work, I delay using the bathroom, sometimes until it is quite urgent. Later, my daughter told me about a Tumbler post saying “To all my followers, stop holding your pee for so long.” Then I remember countless times when I was in corporate of people saying “I was so busy I haven’t had time to use the bathroom all day.” More than once a woman I knew would run out of the room when it was time for a bio break.
What is so important that we can’t take a two minute break for personal relief? We have a duty to take care of ourselves. It is also counterproductive to wait. I admit it, more than once I’ve been on a phone call when I really have to use the loo. It is distracting. It is hard to be my best self when I really have to take a leak. When  we don’t take time to take care of our basic needs, how much harder it will be to get to the gym, eat right, sleep, and all of these other more time consuming and less convenient ways of self care.
What do you think? Is there a spiritual side to going to the bathroom? Should we rush to use the bathroom as soon as we have to go? I can’t see myself going there (no pun intended.) But, I will try to be more mindful about my bodily needs, and take care of them in a timely way.
If you are interested, you can read the original text from Orchot Tzaddikim, The Fifteenth Gate: The Gate of Zeal here. It is on the bottom of the second page.