Friday, June 21, 2013


It’s been a long time since I wrote about the transformation I underwent in the past year with regard to diet, exercise, and my vastly reduced waistline. One could easily assume that having accomplished my goal, I was done. Oh, if it were only that simple! The truth is that for someone even mildly addicted to food, it is an ongoing, daily, lifelong challenge to maintain the consciousness, discipline and healthy choice-making required to maintain what is widely considered a healthy weight. This comes as no surprise. Like the cigarette smoker who says, “Quitting smoking is easy, I’ve done it many times.” I too have said all along that I have no problem losing weight (although it was easier when I was younger, no doubt), but maintaining that weight loss is another matter. In the same vein, when undergoing the rapid weight loss of the severe first sixteen weeks of my program, I often commented that I find extreme behavior relatively easy (960 calories of protein bars and shakes per day, for example), but moderation a much greater challenge (say 2000 calories of real food per day required for maintenance). It’s time to reflect, not only on the state of my maintenance, but also on some curious parallels I’ve been noticing with regard to maintaining focus in other areas of my life. 

First, let’s do the numbers. My original weight loss goal is a little fuzzy. As far as the clinic was concerned, I was to lose 40 pounds. In my mind I had loftier goals which got progressively more ambitious the closer I got to them. To be firmly in the “normal” BMI range I would have to lose 45 pounds. To guard against the 5-pound bounce back that we were told is common I would have to lose 50. As I accomplished these goals in succession, the poet in me got greedy. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to lose 65 pounds at age 65!” I never did manage that, but I was very pleased at the end of a day of Yom Kippur fasting to have reached (for about 15 minutes) 60 pounds of weight loss! An artificial measure, true, but it felt great saying I had “dropped sixty.”

The promised bounce back came quickly, as I flew back East for my cousin’s wedding the following weekend and inhaled all sorts of sumptuous Southern delights. For a while I still felt pretty good to say to myself and others—somewhat apologetically—that I was down fifty pounds. But now that that number has shrunk to forty I have to do some serious reevaluation. I still look damn good, I say in all modesty. Some would say I look better now than when I was down fifty to sixty pounds. I still fit into most of the new wardrobe that I purposely bought at my low in order to keep myself aware and motivated, but “truthfully” some of those pants and shirts are starting to shrink a bit.  

Back in August 2012 I wrote a blog about what it was like to abandon my healthy eating for a couple of days but to bring myself back to the plan right away (viz., Screw It!, In that essay I affirmed my commitment to maintain the healthy lifestyle. I suggested that I only needed to look at my “before” picture to find the incentive to do so. There is much truth to that, but one could argue that it is more effective to look at the “after” picture, to keep a positive image of the goal in mind than to dwell on the negative vision of the past.

I commented above about seeing parallels between maintaining focus on healthy eating and focus in other areas of my life. This seems to be coming up repeatedly lately—mindfulness is the pop term for it. In a recent blog (viz., Every Moment,, ostensibly about meditation and prayer, I expressed my excitement about realizing that “every breath—even every keystroke or mouse click—every moment can be a meditation, a prayer.” That’s easy. It just takes constant mindfulness of the spiritual aspect of every moment—nothing to it (apologies for my sarcasm). That mindfulness constitutes the same practice required to perform at a high level in virtually every aspect of life—whether it be the work ethic I apply to accomplishing my professional goals, or the proper conduct I aspire to in my speech and interpersonal communications throughout the day—not only with loved ones or the homeless man standing on a street corner asking for a donation, but with the “idiot” driver who cuts me off, or even the inanimate phone tree voice that seems designed to frustrate my quest for information when I call a major corporation. 

I have come to look at all of these performance goals as having the same set of instructions as provided by my first teachers of Transcendental Meditation over forty years ago. In all cases we start with an intention—eat well, behave civilly, repeat a mantra. Then we naturally lose focus. We become distracted. We pig out. We lose our tempers. Our minds wander. Eventually we notice that we are no longer engaged with the mantra (or other activity) and our job is simply to notice, not to cling to the distraction, nor to resist it, but to gently return to the original focus without self-judgment.

These instructions apply across the board. These are the instructions that will allow me to return to making life sustaining choices in all venues—the dining room, the gym, the highway, my home office, the meditation bench in my garden. It is so simple and so elusive all at once. Consciousness. Mindfulness. Distraction and return. It is the same return we speak about at Yom Kippur—making teshuvah*—an endless cycle of intention, distraction, and return. This is why achieving my healthy weight goal was not an end, but only the beginning of a lifelong challenge.   

*The Hebrew word teshuvah is usually translated as repentance, but is more accurately translated as “return” and signifies a return to the original state.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Every Moment

A couple of months ago I posted a blog entitled Fruit Salad[i] in which I considered my continuously growing tool box of contemplative practices (traditional morning prayers, meditation, stretching, writing prose or poetry, chanting, drumming, yoga/energy tune-up, etc.), and the challenge of incorporating them into my life in a consistent manner. I wrote, “There are so many ways to begin my day that recently I found myself trying to cram as many of them in as I could in a couple of hours before breakfast.” I concluded that it was all right if I didn’t use every tool every day, but selected from them, and just managed to at least engage in some sort of morning practice if, albeit, not a consistent one.

Apparently, that didn’t really stick. I’ve continued to ruminate about the lack of consistency in laying the spiritual foundation of my day. Each of these tools seems potentially so valuable that I’ve been loath to sacrifice any to other demands on my time. Unfortunately, facing so many options I sometimes find myself abandoning them all, just throwing myself headlong into the business of the day without the benefit of the spiritual grounding they might provide. As I’ve been describing it to others lately, my concern has been that to engage in all the practices I’ve learned, I would have to spend the whole day tending to my “practice” and would have no time left for “performance!” Someone responded that that’s exactly what some monks do. For the record: I am not a monk.

In speaking about this to two of my spiritual mentors in recent weeks, I have gotten similar responses from each. They have pointed out the false dichotomy that I had created between “practice” and “performance.” Why would I feel that the focus, consciousness and intent I bring to it would be relegated solely to my morning ritual? Every moment throughout the day, active or passive, whether engaged in the inner or outer world, has the potential of being done with focus, consciousness and intent. My monumental task is to tend to all the day’s activities with similar consciousness, but surely not with a prescribed set of tools. Each teacher suggested that I continually ask what each moment demands of me. (Who I ask this of may be a matter of theology. I think they would easily say I ask God. That may be, since they’ve found more peace than I in using that specific terminology. Looking for guidance, from within or without, from an intuitive center, a spiritual source, the Universe, my kishkes, God, all amounts to the same thing. The search is the important part.

This conversation reminded me of the prayer, Sheviti adonai l’negdi tamid—I place God before me always[ii]. I only became aware of this prayer in recent years and, in moments when I find myself less resistant to the G-word, have remarked that it seems like the only prayer one would need. When I mentioned this to Rabbi Shefa Gold, she pointed out that one prayer would be sufficient if we could maintain it constantly, but we cannot maintain one prayer. It slips away. That's when the vast tool box becomes particularly handy. That is precisely when we must ask, “What is needed right now?” be it another prayer, or a chant, a meditation, or what have you.

Shefa defines prayer “as the flow of connection between the finite and the infinite.[iii]” We don’t restrict that connection to moments of literal praying. Every aspect of life has the potential of providing that connection. Therefore each moment provides a unique opportunity to be prayerful.  Shefa told me of wise counsel she had once received from a teacher who said, “Enjoy your breathing! Enjoy this very breath! Do not take it for granted!” 

It’s liberating to know I don’t have to get X, Y, and Z rituals done in a precise order at a precise time every day to be connected. It’s both daunting and exciting to know that every breatheven every keystroke or mouse clickevery moment can be a meditation, a prayer.

[i] Yesh Indeed, Fruit Salad,
[ii] Psalm 16:8
[iii] The Magic of Hebrew Chant, Healing the Spirit, Transforming the Mind, Deepening the Love, Rabbi Shefa Gold, Jewish Lights Publishing, p. 45, 2013