As I walked into Trader Joe’s for my weekly shopping, a sadness descended. I realized that I would no longer bump into our congregant as I did most weeks. She had died suddenly last week, leaving a husband and two teens. Funny, we didn’t speak much at Trader Joe’s. Just a “hello” and an inquiry about each other’s spouses and kids. A sweet, caring woman. May her memory be for a blessing.
I wrote last week about how the ping-pong effect – bouncing between the sadness of her death and funeral, and many simchas (joyous moments) – began to overwhelm me. Many readers were fascinated and supportive to learn about When the Responsibilities of the Rabbi Begin to Overwhelm. They wondered aloud how rabbis find balance again. Here are my secrets. (Perhaps you will share yours in a comment…)
Finding Balance Again: 7 Balancing Strategies
Here’s what I did and do when it begins to overwhelm me:
- Recognize what I am going through. Sometimes I can name the feelings quickly. Sometimes I need someone from outside my head and heart to point them out. My wife Michelle and my friend Rabbi Ron Stern are the best at quickly identifying and name for me such feelings. I always know that when my wife starts texting me multiple times during the day just to check in, that I must be going through something challenging and/or difficult. Once I can grasp the kinds of feelings and the roots of the challenges, I find it becomes easier to deal with them.
- Exercise. Whenever I used to call my mother Linda Kipnes to unload sadness, frustration or overwhelming feelings, she often suggested that I go for a long walk. As a graduate student and as a young husband and father, I used to laugh off this advice. Today I understand the wisdom: exercising gets me out of my head/heart and allows me to work through the excess energy. Walking, practicing yoga, or running on the treadmill are my favorite forms of exercise.
- Meditation. At the Institute of Jewish Spirituality, I learned Jewish meditation. To get out of my head, or more specifically, to be so mindfully aware of how my mind is working that I can let it go for a bit. Focusing on the breath – instead of the stories my mind tells me – allows me to just “be.” Sometimes in the midst of Shabbat services, while the Cantor is leading the prayers, I will close my eyes, focus on the breath, and just meditate.
- Reading. Nothing transports me more quickly from one place to another than reading a good book. With my iPad and my Kindle (the latter was recently kidnapped by my wife), I always have a few good books to take me away. Just 15 minutes reading a good book provides me with some relief.
- Colleagues to talk with. I have a few colleagues – rabbis, Jewish Family Service social workers, my wife, and the therapist to whom I refer many congregants. Each of them provides me with a wonderful sounding board, off which I can talk through the pressures, stresses and sadness.
- Count my blessings. I have gotten into the habit each day of trying to count 3 experiences that brought blessing or goodness into my life. When frustration or sadness threaten to overwhelm, I can step back and recount these blessings. (Sometimes I just turn on the news which reminds me that there are so many people who have such tsuris/problems.) It puts it all into perspective.
- Take a break, a mini-Shabbat. Sometimes I just have to turn myself off. Sometimes I just need to step away. Sharing the responsibilities with a compassionate cantor and a newly ordained second rabbi, we each now have the opportunity to take a moment to breath. A walk with my wife. A lazy lunch the next day. A good read.