Posted by Harriet Rossetto
Gracing us with the gift of her wisdom and honesty, Harriet Rossetto has given us a sneak peek into her book, Sacred Housekeeping, A Spiritual Memoir. The official release will be in March of 2013.
Sacred Housekeeping…It’s All In The Details
I hated routine for many years, but now I perform my rituals and routines with missionary zeal so I don’t lose my footing. These are my “mitzvot,” sacred acts. They are personal, not communal; chosen, not commanded. They remind me to be grateful to God for life: to “eat, be satisfied and bless.”
I have the same conversation with myself every morning when one part of me wants to sleep an extra hour and the other one wants to get up and work out, and every night when one of me wants to drop my clothes on the floor and the other one is committed to hanging them up. Leave the dish in the sink? Wash it and put it away. It builds spiritual muscle.
All these years later, it’s still a daily battle. I still get lazy and busy with distractions and acquisitions. I buy new underwear at Costco and don’t bother to throw out the old. I keep things that I don’t wear for over a year, a gross violation of The Organizer’s Manifesto. I buy things I don’t need because they’re a bargain, another violation. But what’s different is that now, from time to time; I force myself to face down the monster and to weed the overgrowth.
I no longer view my defects of character as evidence of my failure or as enemies to be vanquished. They are evidence only of my humanness. My daily spiritual struggle is to own them and “invite them in for tea,” as Ram Dass taught.
During group sessions at Beit T’Shuvah, I began to notice that residents were adapting my evolving insights and epiphanies. A sweet and sardonic 24-year old girl who had been in eight rehabs lit up when I told my story about housekeeping as an antidote to existential despair: “I finally did my laundry after putting it off forever,” she said. “I was folding the towels when I got that it’s not about finding God in the Burning Bush… it’s about doing your laundry. God really is in the details.”
Harriet Rossetto, Sacred Housekeeping
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November 13, 2012 | 2:46 pm
Posted by Michael Welch
Taking care of ourselves and the practice of emotional maintenance has evolved into far more than what our Ten Commandments originated as.
When Moses and the Israelites first faced G-d's covenant, they were both terrified and obedient.
I generally have the opposite reaction when I hear about modern day, alternative therapies. I would have to suspend my disbelief to buy in, a personal impossibility.
I, like many others, find it necessary to rebel when posed with "cutting edge" cures including Equine Assisted, Hyperberic Oxygen, and Reiki Therapy. Although I am confident that there must be some usefulness in these methods (much like lobotomies), they are no match for the profound and simple road map of the Commandments: Don't murder. Worship God. Do not injure family bonds. Do not bear false witness. Honor your parents. Tell the truth. Most importantly, don't take my property and put it on your lawn claiming it's yours.
These countless alternative therapies, risk a grassroots approach to living and coping with emotions appropriately. The Torah and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous provide a parallel message of serving G-d and our fellow man/woman. If you ever question the validity or relevance of your existence, these two texts provide answers no matter how hard you try to bastardize or blaspheme either one. Each point to the ultimate reference of existence as the extension of one hand to another and staying connected to our common welfare of unity. These texts say that, “without you I don't exist,” and visa versa. The power of the group is stronger than a strayed individual.
Moses and the Israelites showed us this. It couldn't be more clear. They didn't need analysis; were was no moment of “floral group processing.” It was a poetic display of faith. Faith in G-d and faith in others.
So if you, like I, know these simple truths, and struggle with the notion of paying (x) for an individual therapy session, have an expectation of making life less complicated, then how is it that I find myself in line at the new high-end "magnet therapy" clinic in Beverly Hills?
November 12, 2012 | 2:14 pm
Posted by Yeshaia Blakeney
Absolutely not! Well, kind of. The Rabbi at Beit T’Shuvah and I have a decade-long argument, which for the purposes of this blog, I'll label the Cwon’t (can’t/won’t) argument. He believes (in general) that people willingly won't change. I have always said that if they could they would (can't), and that they are stuck in behaviors that have a hold on them. That makes him the tough Rabbi and me the empathy. It makes me the cynic and him hopeful, but frustrated.
The medical community has adopted a disease model of addiction that centers on physiology, possible genetic components, and habituated behavior. The story goes like this: addicts have a pre-disposition in their genes (or temperament) toward a particular sensation, engage in use of a substance, get stuck in a cycle of behavior against their own will, create strong neural pathways and get more and more entrenched in a destructive pattern of substance abuse. They label this phenomenon a disease. From this point of view the addict is a victim of a vicious disease that ravages the life of the addict and creates turmoil in their circle of friends and loved ones. From this point of view the addict CAN’T get sober without serious intervention and long-term care to arrest the disease. However, if an addict goes to see a psychiatrist for their condition, nine times out of ten, here’s how the story goes: psychiatrist assesses client; tries a little therapy, maybe some medications; client does not stop abusing; and after a few months (or years) the psychiatrist says, “I can't help you unless you get sober. Go to AA.” What are the things that happen in AA? Well, moral inventory and belief in a higher power are the fundamental building blocks of the program.
So we have a real conundrum, on the one hand the medical community will say addiction is not a moral problem it is a disease, on the other hand they are quick to prescribe a moral solution. So here’s the deal: this controversy around addiction is tied to an age-old philosophical question around freedom, free will that is, and its limits. Are people (addicts) choosing to destruct their lives, consciously making negative moral decisions? Or, is something choosing them? Hence, we have the Cwon’t dilemma. Choice or no choice—that is the question. The answer is...Yes! Addiction is paradoxical, intrinsically. It has two incompatible, polar opposite characteristics that define it: addiction is both a choice and not a choice. Addiction is a malady of the body and the mind. It confuses emotions and weathers the spirit. Addiction is a condition that gives great insight into the paradoxical nature of human beings and points to a richness and complexity beneath the surface of reductionist views, and detached systematic thinking.
If I reflect deeply on my life, it has these same contradicting polarities that shape it. My life is both mine and not mine at the same time. Think deeply about your existence, how much of it can you really take credit for? I recognize that I play a part in my life, am responsible for it in ways, but much of my life is way out of my scope and is driven by an infinite amount of variables. My existence is immersed in mystery, internally and externally, my choices in life, at times, seem unconscious, automatic, driven by instinct and plucked from a random stream of thought that I myself have little to do with. On the other hand some choices flash in from the depths of me with exacting certainty guiding the general course of my life. In this mysterious cauldron of potential and happenings, where does our free will lie? Who or what is directing the course of our lives? Is it our genes? Our environment? Is it our minds? Our souls? G-d? Some admixture of all of those? That answer lies beyond the horizon of time and space and dwells in the land of the source of all. In Jewish thinking every single thing in the universe does exactly what G-d commands, except for us, we (at times) have the freedom to do the opposite, but that freedom is not all encompassing, it has limits. The fabric that weaves our existence together is this constant tension between our real human capacity to choose and create in the world and our powerlessness, even in our own lives. We are both matter and spirit. Sometimes we make choices, sometimes choices make us. It is this paradoxical admixture that causes our pain, allows us to triumph and most importantly creates our freedom. We understand small bits of existence and will never understand all.
Addiction plays a part in the daily life of every human being. Some addictions we label as destructive, some we label as constructive and those labels are contingent upon various social and cultural trends. Addiction is a necessary component of living, it is rote and automatic, and without that mechanical function we could never have the depth of living that we enjoy, in short, we could never build. Addiction is instinctual and instinct is a necessary, but insufficient, condition for human living. To be human is to be able to override instinct or programing, it is to be able to do the right thing against everything, it is the infinite potential of the human spirit that one witnesses when someone transforms his or her life for the better.
A Chasidic master once instructed people to carry one piece of paper in each pocket, on one write, “for my sake the world was created,” on the other, “I am nothing but dust and ashes." What does this mean? We are the dust that bears witness to creation, and indeed have the capacity, the freedom to create, as well. Our lives are both dust in the wind and whirling manifestations of the inexpressible. We are all fighting against the pull of our lower selves fighting to be more than dust, and we win some and we lose some. Therefore, in the final analysis we all must stand together, humbled by the eyes of eternity, for if you are not good enough, neither am I. Addiction is a moral issue, we have the moral obligation to see ourselves in the eyes of others.
November 9, 2012 | 12:04 pm
Posted by Rabbi Mark Borovitz
The title of our Blog is Addicted to Redemption. To redeem means to buy back, to recover, to free from distress, etc. This week you have read blogs by different people associated with Beit T’Shuvah who have written about their experiences of being free from the distress of living false scripts. This is what I am addicted to: extricating myself and others from living inauthentic lives.
In looking at the election season, I am struck by the lies and inauthentic things people said in order to "win.” This is what we need to be redeemed from most of all, I believe. Whether it is a candidate for President of the United States of America, for the Senate, House of Representatives, Governor, Mayor, Judge, the head of another country, CEO, worker, father, mother, child, teacher, Rabbi, Priest, Imam, etc, we all have to stop trying to win!!
Our challenge as a person is to remember that we are all created for a purpose that no one else can fulfill. We don't have to "win" against anyone else. We have to fight the inner battle to detach ourselves from the distressing situation of living an inauthentic life.
How do we do this? By being in recovery from the need to compete—that need to "win" at cost to ourselves and others. Despite how long we have lived a life in opposition to who we truly are, we can redeem ourselves and live the life that God created us for. I know, I lived a false script and caused much damage and heartache to the people in my life for a long time. Through the support of others, God, and myself, I have been redeemed in these past 24 years. I have been rescued from many distressing situations by teachers, loved ones, myself, God, and Judaism.
Moses was not the last Redeemer. There are Redeemers in our lives today. Please God, let us hear their call, let them hear our call for help and let us all listen to the call of God and our own souls.
November 7, 2012 | 11:27 am
Posted by Ben Spielberg
There have been two events in my life in which I have found a phone.
Four years ago, I was in line at a bagel shop. I was squirrelly and sweaty and my foot would not stop tapping. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a shiny BlackBerry sitting on the counter, unclaimed. I walked up the counter and I smiled; I flirted and winked and as I ordered “one everything bagel with butter,” I slid the entrancing BlackBerry into the front pocket of my greasy and tattered jeans.
The phone began to buzz and beep and make stupid mechanical noises. I licked the butter off of my bagel and threw the rest of my meal in the trash. While walking away, a teary-eyed blonde woman approached me and asked if I had seen anyone with her brand new BlackBerry. I negated her question and walked away. The phone continued to ring, vibrate, and yell 8-bit tones at me until I dropped it into the hands of my dealer the next day.
Six months ago, I was on a hike (and coincidentally, just as sweaty as I was in the bagel shop). My feet were tired; I was thirsty and annoyed. On the ground, there was an abandoned iPhone. It was dirty and the screen was cracked and the battery was almost dead. After asking people in the surrounding area if they knew the owner, I took up the duty of returning the phone to its rightful owner.
It was not as simple as one may think. The iPhone’s language was Indonesian (of which I am not fluent) and there was a passcode required to make phone calls. I wiped the dirt off, gave it a full charge, and waited for the high-pitched blips and twangs of one thousand phone calls and text messages. There were none.
The next day, I managed to access and text six or seven foreign numbers from the phone. Moments later, I received a call from a not-so-foreign number (323) and was greeted with excitement, joy, and praise. The phone belonged to a nine-year-old boy who was heartbroken to have lost it. They picked it up the next day and brought me Indonesian cookies in celebration of my efforts. The cookies were disgusting (I ate all of them), but I felt good about myself.
We practice T’Shuvah as an action, but it doesn’t have to be a monumental action. T’shuvah can be taken in microscopic doses; administered in small strides to make the world a better place. The major differences between these two experiences is not that one happened “in addiction” and one “in recovery.” The difference is that one involved doing the next right action and one did not. My actions six months ago did not offset the actions I took four years ago, but I can still do the next right thing--one trendy cell phone at a time.
November 6, 2012 | 12:45 pm
Posted by Cantor Rachel Goldman Neubauer
In my experience, Beit T’Shuvah is the sort of community where it’s hard to fit in unless you are either aware of or are in the process of becoming aware of your dark horses and battling them. And no, those dark horses do NOT need to include alcoholism of some sort (hopefully you have picked up on this from previous blog postings.) However, since every human being has at least one demon that they struggle with, it’s actually a pretty easy community to become a member of—maybe the easiest and most inclusive of all—and your membership hinges only on your level of openness. Since I am, first and foremost, a proud member of the Beit T’Shuvah community, I will introduce myself like this:
Hi my name is Rachel and I am a perfectionist (amongst other things, one of which being the acting cantor at Beit T’Shuvah). How did I come to that conclusion, and why is that relevant to Beit T’Shuvah?
I started singing at a very young age, and hit a professional level when I was only 11. By the time I had finished high school, I was on a path to train to be an opera singer as a permanent career. What had started out as an extracurricular hobby that made me smile turned into the end-all be-all purpose of my life by the time I hit college and declared myself a Vocal Performance major.
There are so many aspects in the music world that are terrifying. In the classical world, perfection is constantly sought after and applauded. In the recording world, perfection is even electronically manufactured and therefore expected as a norm. For me, when I took the hobby and passion that had grounded me and handed it over to this world of demanding perfection, I was completely unprepared. Nothing could have more greatly demonstrated to me how un-whole I was. The only thing I was aware of in my early college days was this: anything less than perfection made me feel unequivocally unworthy, and I was supposed to be ok with that. As soon as things got even the slightest bit difficult, I started to drown. My body and my mind could handle this constant striving to be perfect, but my spirit could not. I thought it was my singing voice that was my curse and for many years had stopped singing altogether, but I now know that it was buying into this belief that was being shoved down my throat—this belief that, if I tried hard enough, I could be perfect.
Letting go of this belief could very well have been as hard for me as it is for a junkie to kick heroin. The thought of being perfect and chasing after its possibility is alluring, intoxicating, and incredibly addicting. And it is just as false as the belief that drugs will make everything better. Being in recovery from perfectionism, though, is just as rewarding to me as I witness any other recovery to be (and I get to witness a lot of recovery).
Though music is back in my life, I no longer buy into perfectionism. Instead, I put my stock into knowing that I am ok as I am, no matter what. No longer do I have some impossible standard that I hold myself to or perceive others to expect of me. And that, in my opinion, is also redemption.
November 5, 2012 | 10:46 am
Posted by Yeshaia Blakeney
I was one of a handful of people at Beit T’Shuvah asked to write a weekly blog from my perspective as a Jew in recovery. This is the first shot, an introduction if you will. Before I introduce myself, I want to speak about what this task brought up into my consciousness. I wondered why the Jewish Journal was interested in our perspective. I believe there is dead knowledge and living knowledge. Recovery is the process of change and renewal, transformation and growth; in short the process of keeping life fresh and connected. This relates to the practice of Judaism which at Beit T’Shuvah we label “relevant Judaism” (not that you’re practice is irrelevant I’m sure it means something to you!). Relevant Judaism is living knowledge; living tradition applying the spirit of the Jewish tradition to everyday life where it is most needed. My Rabbi, Mark Borovitz, is continually preaching about the poor the widow and the orphan as examples of that need. It is in the problems and tragedies of living, those of us who are hurt, forgotten and lost, that this recovering relevant Judaism becomes alive. So I imagine the Jewish Journal wanted our perspective because the recovery movement at Beit T’Shuvah has breathed new life into the practice of Judaism, and has different insight into what it means to be Jewish. M. Scott peck in his sequel to his bestselling book The Road Less Traveled describes addiction as a spiritual disease. He believes this to be so because in order to recover from addiction one is forced to wrestle with all that they are in the depths of themselves. As Rabbi Hillel taught: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am 'I'? And if not now, when?"
So who am I? I’ll let you know after I’m dead. However, I can give you some background information, some memories, some facts—a short story. Yeshaia Blakeney. Yeshaia named after the prophet Isaiah. Blakeney is English; it is the name of the slave master who ran the plantation that my ancestors on my father’s side worked. I come from slaves on both sides, my Jewish ancestors were enslaved Israelites thousands of years ago, my black ancestors were slaves to Americans a few hundred years ago. My own slaveries have been to Alcohol and drugs, women, fame and fortune, and a misplaced urge to transcend. Not to mention being a slave to our current society’s ills: injustice, moral paralysis, violence, mindless entertainment, distraction, fundamentalism, image, racism, sexism (and all the other isms we have categorized since the beginning of the enlightenment) and disassociation from ourselves, each other, and G-d. “The old G-d is dead,” Nietzsche famously said (of blessed memory (G-d not Nietzsche)). He has been replaced by YouTube and if Nietzsche had known that, he would have tried to revive him. I digress (one of my favorite things to do). Back to me, my parents are both Harvard Psychologists, which gives you little insight into who they are but seems to get people’s attention none the less. I am the Rabbi in training at Beit T’Shuvah, fondly referred to as the “Rappin’ Rabbi” because I am a hip hop MC and have been rapping since I was 11. The Rabbi part is because I’m studying to be a Rabbi, specifically the next head Rabbi at Temple Beit T’Shuvah. I am 31 years old. I am married to a wise successful entrepreneur named Emily and we have two daughters: Eden, our six year old, and Stella, our two year old. I am an alumnus of Beit T’Shuvah which means I went through the program because I had the kind of problems that our society frowns upon and sends you somewhere to deal with (unlike greed, or workaholism which our society rewards). I am pretty radical and impulsively honest and am uncomfortably comfortable writing this much about myself. (Do you ever think about how if you put something online it’s there forever? Scary, fortunately were not (here forever that is)(except in the world to come of course!)). I can’t wait to talk about addiction, politics, philosophy, and G-ds great drama that we call life with you. And your feedback and comments are welcome.
G-d bless you
October 26, 2012 | 3:21 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
Rabbi Mark is my messenger, and I hold him responsible. Responsible for the tremendous significance of his messages, and responsible for integrating the stories that contains hidden messages into my daily life.
A messenger who cannot do as much may be unfit; a messenger must call upon a message with an obligatory duty--in the case of Rabbi Mark, the preponderance of his message embodies aspects of Judaism, Torah, mentorship, and living well. The familiar messages of Rabbi Mark stood still against myself--an Irish Catholic with a rampant and insubordinate life. Despite the religious differences, Rabbi Mark’s message clasped against my skewed perception, enabling me to see the Whole message--sans messenger.
I must ask myself whether Michael has taken society’s stereotypes a bit too far. As they say, if you focus on the differences amongst human beings… you will find them. There should not be an analysis of the reasoning behind one man’s ability to hear another; there is no benefit to a rigid and uniformed means of communication. I am not here only to speak to Jews. I am not here only to speak to ex-cons and addicts. I am here to speak with and to anyone who would like to engage in a dialogue
I too am learning, a student of life. Heschel, Obama, Rossetto, Welch… they are all my teachers. We are not the same race, creed, age - we don’t dress the same and we certainly don’t have the same lifestyles; our places in society range from treatment resident to White House President. However, I engage as do they and we are all messengers... that, if listened to closely, makes us recipients as well.
So I say to Michael, while I am humbled by the emphasis you have placed upon my teachings, your willingness to hear the message is your doing, your accomplishment. Being addicted to redemption, my focus lies on my mission to help others do the same.