Add a helping of balance to your life this Thanksgiving
What if you could enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers all year long?
The turkey and stuffing will go bad in a week. Same for the pie. You might get a month out of the cranberry sauce, but that's pushing it. I know you must be thinking that I added a bit too much bourbon to the pecan pie. Surely nothing from Thanksgiving lasts a year. Except for one thing, and that thing is at the heart of Thanksgiving. What can last a year is a mindfulness technique I call spiritual balancing, which is the essence of all thankfulness. Spiritual balancing will help you through your grief work. Spiritual balancing is the foundation of character and virtue, and it outlasts stuffing by about a lifetime.
I learned about spiritual balancing from studying Buddhism, reading the Psalms and watching a plasterer by the name of Mladin Keladin.
Let's begin with Mladin Keladin. He was helping us an old house in the '70s remodel in Evanston, Ill., when I was at Northwestern. It was a big house and it was way beyond both our physical and our financial means to get it in shape, but we did our best. One day I saw Mladin walking upstairs, lugging two heavy buckets of spackling compound. I shouted at him, "Mladin! Are you nuts? Why are you taking two buckets up at the same time. Just take one at a time." He put down the buckets, turned and said to me, "With only one bucket I'll get pulled to one side and hurt my back. With two buckets, I am balanced and straight. I can carry twice as much and still not be hurt."
Buddhism teaches that suffering, called dukkha, is the first truth of life. It cannot be avoided. Suffering is an inescapable part of the human spiritual condition. However, there is a path, a teaching that can help people balance and overcome suffering with proper thoughts and proper actions all of which leads not to the end of suffering but rather to its transcendence in enlightenment, nibana.
The most famous Psalm is the 23rd Psalm:
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
These glorious words of God also comfort us with the teaching of balance. Though we are walking in "the valley of the shadow of death" we are also being led towards green pastures beside still waters. Though we are surrounded by enemies, we are also sitting down to a banquet set by God for us to enjoy. We may encounter suffering but we are always accompanied by goodness and mercy.
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Just like balance is the key to moving forward in the physical world, so too balance is the key to moving forward in the spiritual and moral world.
Here is a technique that will help you achieve some balance in your life if you are going through a tough patch, which means that you are alive ...
For a set period of time (start with five minutes or fewer), think about your burdens. Let your fear and anger and jealousy and loss and failure come to the surface. If you are alone, speak of them and do not hold back. I think it is better for you to speak out loud because if you are just thinking, your mind can wander. Feel the pain of loss. Feel it without protection. If you are angry with God, yell at God -- accuse God.
Then wipe your eyes, take some deep breaths, and for exactly the same amount of time, speak about or think about your blessings. Speak about all the good things that have happened to you in your life and all the blessings that you currently enjoy. Speak about how these blessings inspire you and keep you alive. Thank God for each and every one of these blessings. Thank God deeply and fully.
Then stop and reflect. My guess and my hope is that after balancing the time you give to thinking about your burdens with the time you give to thinking about your blessings, you can indeed carry twice the load and still not hurt yourself.
God bless your balanced life.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including "Religion for Dummies," co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)(c) 2017 THE GOD SQUAD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.