Sunday, July 29, 2012

Moderation Is the New Extreme

People remark on the amazing discipline I have shown—the self-restraint in sticking to my extreme weight loss diet while others around me gaily ingest all manner of delectables. I repeatedly respond by saying that I do extreme behavior exceedingly well, it’s moderation I find a challenge. What brings that up this morning is that today is Tisha b’Av, literally the ninth day of the month Av on the Hebrew calendar, a day in which we commemorate a litany of tragedies that have befallen our people over the ages, and a day of fasting. So here I am, in the midst of a 16-week “fast” taking it to a new level, going from 960 calories a day to zero.

I awoke with the same question that frequently has run through my mind since and even before this all started, “After the crash diet, will I be able to maintain the moderate diet required to sustain the weight loss?” The answer may come from reframing the question. For maintenance, the experts recommend a behavior consisting of daily meal planning, recording of calories consumed, regular exercise, etc. That is anything but moderate. It requires extreme vigilance. It demands absolute consciousness, determination, commitment, and discipline. It may be deemed “moderate” in the sense that large quantities of high calorie meals and snacks are abandoned in favor of more modest amounts, but as changes in behavior go, that’s anything but moderate. It is a radical transformation. It is extreme. Therefore, I say, “Moderation is the new extreme.”

It has crossed my mind more than once that they are taking a population of people for whom food has been an obsession, and not ridding them of the obsession. They are merely asking us to obsess about food in a different way.

As I further contemplate the discipline that this will require I think of one of the assistants at Kol Zimra, the recent workshop I attended on Jewish chanting. As we all did, she selected a middah[i] to focus on in the next six months. As one who sees herself as a free spirit who is embarking on a new field of study in a rigorous academic setting, she realized that discipline was the big challenge and the path to her success. I can relate to that. So she selected discipline as her middah.

It got me wondering about the middot of all the other attendees at Kol Zimraawareness of God’s presence, courage, devekut[ii], faith, flow, generosity, inner calm, lightness (the middah I chose), mindfulness that life is good, openheartedness, openness, rest, self-love, self-trust, surrender to God’s call, trust. Is there any one of these I would not aspire to? I should think not. Those of us in Kol Zimra have added the daily practice of holding one another in our hearts and praying for all to attain their aspirations. Why not accept all of these middot into my heart for myself as well? This reminds me of the long list of blessings I developed for my family as part of my ethical or spiritual will.[iii] After penning all those blessings for them I realized they were really blessings I would like in my life. Perhaps that’s the way it works—we confer blessings on others and we too are blessed.

If it is lightness that I pursue in body and in spirit, it may require similar discipline for bothan extreme commitment to daily, conscious, loving, and moderate actions.

[i] Quality of Presence, viz. previous blog, The Incredible Lightness of Being,
[ii] Devekut, deveikuth or deveikus (Heb. דבקות, Mod. Heb. "dedication", traditionally "clinging on" to God) is a Jewish concept referring to closeness to God. It may refer to a deep, trance-like meditative state attained during Jewish prayer, Torah study, or when performing the 613 mitzvot (the "commandments"). It is particularly associated with the Jewish mystical tradition.
[iii] viz.,

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