Growing up in New Jersey the first warm breeze of April lifted my spirits; now it’s hearing Vin Scully’s voice that triggers memories of brighter days coming. The message of spring is often bittersweet as age strips away much we thought we couldn’t live without. April showers can feel like torrents by the time we get to May flowers. As a counselor sometimes the only thing I can do is hold the umbrella. My life’s work has been to discover ways to go through storms like Gene Kelly, singing and dancing in the rain.
Carl Jung said only paradox can explain life; only paradox can do justice to the injustice of life. That’s why I talk about how a sane response to an insane situation is insane - and that is a wisdom that only comes with age. I have a needlepoint that says “why didn’t all of life’s problems hit me while I was a teenager and I still knew everything.” As we age we start looking for the right questions.
I was reading an interview with Rick Warren and he reminded me of a way to view life - it’s not a roller coaster -it’s like a train. On one track is our pain, struggles, fear and on the other is the joy, blessings and gifts that we have. Everyday we have to decide which track to which to shift. Another story which illustrates this tells of the Indian elder who is teaching his grandson about how each of us have 2 wolves battling inside. One wolf is fear, anger, hatred, and evil - the other wolf is hope, compassion, gratitude and joy. And these wolves constantly struggle for control of our thoughts. His grandson asks which wolf wins and the grandfather replies “the one you feed.”
Three hundred years ago in the villages of Europe , Chassidic rabbis, the people known as “freilich” the “happy ones” were teaching the same message. Our emotions come from our mind. We can’t control our emotions but we can control our thoughts.
So when I read about a 6 week class called Pathways to Inner Joy - a Jewish Guide to Happiness I was there. I always thought Jewish Happiness was an oxymoron, but the Chassidic view is that our only purpose is to serve God joyfully. Therefore, a life lived Jewishly is a life lived optimistically. Imagine that you truly believe that everything that happens to you comes from a loving God who knows what you need at all times. Their genuine joy comes from a profound spiritual awareness of life and living for a purpose.
Sadly, I’m not there yet. I thought I was serving God in an advisory capacity. I’m an optimist out of sheer terror. Maybe I need another incarnation (another revelation -I didn’t know reincarnation was part of Jewish mysticism but it would explain some of my relationships in this life).
Ashley Montaige advised “in terrible times, one must adopt the only tenable position - optimism.” The only difference between an optimist and a pessimist is the story they tell themselves. We can choose to “feed the good wolf” In words that were life changing to me Viktor Frankl learned in the concentration camp that “everything can be taken from a man but the last of human freedoms, the right to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances the right to choose one’s own way”