The 77% Weekly Newsletter
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In the most recent issue of the 77% Weekly, I wrote about the spiritual practice of asking for help.
I got a number of responses, like the following from Karen:
- Thanks for suggesting.
- I will try but hate asking.
- Hate but will try… 😉
I responded to her, as I responded to a lot of people,
- Do it. Do it.
- Just practice something small.
- If you do it by Friday, I’ll send you a gift.
A lot of people have a hard time asking for help.
Here’s the thing about asking for help and all aspects of spiritual fitness: how do you expect to get better at it unless you practice?
You need to practice asking for help if you expect yourself to improve at it.
We’re interdependent. You need the ability to ask for help in this life. Asking for help is a skill you need.
Last week’s topic of spiritual fitness: asking for help.
This week’s topic of spiritual fitness: acceptance.
I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve gotten pretty spiritually buff when it comes to acceptance. And, like those Charles Atlas bodybuilding ads from comic books, I want to tell you that you can be buff like me!
A story about acceptance
Let me tell you a story that happened last Tuesday, January 8, which was my 49th birthday…
I arrived at the door of the Oasis III room on the third floor of the Palm Springs Hilton at 1:45 in the afternoon. I was there to give a presentation entitled “How to Talk to Adults about Gee-Oh-Dee” at 2:30.
It was there – at a conference of rabbis – to present on 18 modules I’ve developed that help adults to explore the topic of God.
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I wrote the world’s second theology workbook. Gordon Lewis wrote the first. Mine pushes adults not to Jesus, but to a user-defined sense of a higher power.
Because this is the way of things – when I arrived at the door of the Oasis III room, it was locked.
I put my canvas tote and backpack down and fished my room key out so I could try it on the magnetic card reader, but no luck. An employee pushing a room service cart passing by told me he didn’t have the key, but the conference staff did.
I headed to the lobby, told a woman at the front desk about the door, she radioed it in. I went back upstairs. The room was open, but my backpack was missing. It was gone. The tote bag was there, but my grey Jansport backpack, the one that I’ve had since 10th grade, that had my computer, my sunglasses, and my jacket in it, was gone.
It was gone!
Last known image of the missing backpack.
No images of the computer could be found.
It was a MacBook Air, black-case.
I paced back and forth. I checked the room over and over again.
I found myself jumping up and down a few times in a spontaneous interpretation of a temper tantrum.
In the hallway, I found a woman named Maria who was cleaning a nearby room. She handed me her phone, which was patched through to Raymond, the hotel manager. While I was waiting for him to arrive, I saw a woman approaching, holding two clipboards and a plastic bag with two apples in it. The clipboards were mine; they were for my presentation. (So were the apples, although there had been three in my bag.) The woman’s name was Elena, and she told me she had found all of it as she was walking up the stairwell at the end of the hall. I ran down to the stairwell, up and down the stairs, in and out of every place I could look, but I found nothing. When I returned, Raymond was there, and he assured me he’d look at the security footage. (I can tell you from knowledge of how this story works out, there is nothing found on tape.)
At two o’clock, I jumped up and down a few more times, called Jane, reviewed my notes, put the handouts on seats, and started to consider what I was going to do about telling those who were in attendance. I had to tell them that my computer was stolen because part of talking about God is being honest, being upfront, being in the moment. And as I was somewhat agitated, it wouldn’t do to pretend to be otherwise.
Not losing it
The presentation went beautifully. I sold all but two of the books I had brought with me. I chatted some with folk while packing up and then headed to the airport to fly home to Portland.
Situated, at the gate early, I used my phone to respond to the hundreds of electronic messages and I made phone calls to my dearest ones who have called me to wish me a happy birthday.
“Your computer was stolen!” my sister exclaimed as I told her.
“Yeah, but it was a great day for it to be stolen.”
“Your computer was stolen,” she said again.
“Yeah, but on a regular day, it might have been really bad. Today, I’m cushioned by all the love in the world coming at me. If it had to be stolen, today was the right day.”
“But your computer was stolen,” she repeated.
“I know,” I replied.
“I can’t stop saying it,” she said and continued, “Your computer was stolen.”
I explained to her that it was just a matter of some time and some money – all of the data is backed up – losing a computer today isn’t like losing a computer five years ago. Every single piece of my computer exists in some way, and I will be able to recover it when I buy a replacement machine.
You might remember a little about my badly-beaten computer. My laptop wasn’t in very good shape anyhow.
I texted with Raymond, the manager, a few more times before I boarded the airplane. He told me how sorry he was. I thanked him for his help.
> So, what didn’t I lose that I could never replace?
>> My calm.
How I did it
So how did I do it? How did I not get terribly upset? How did I not lose my entire temper, how did I maintain myself, how did I do it? What magic do I possess?
I spent the flight thinking about this. I could think of two reasons, both of which involve practice.
I’m not going to write more here about practice. You know that you get better at things you practice.
“There is nothing that does not become lighter through habit and familiarity.” – Shantideva
Here are two practices that lead to grooving like me:
- A practice of acceptance
- A practice of being real
A practice of acceptance
I have been practicing acceptance for years. I know that it has been at least eight years, because I’m culling the below from a 2011 article about practicing acceptance.
If you can master the ability to handle the small stuff – like something small breaking; food that is too hot or too cold; or an automated recording telling you to “Please hold, your call is important to us” (while subjecting you to bad music in the background) – then you’ll have a much greater chance at handling the big calamities in life.
We can’t expect ourselves to be all right with a laptop being stolen if we can’t handle robocalls. You cannot expect that you will be able to accept the big problems you face until you’ve mastered acceptance with the small ones. Practice accepting small irritations and you will develop your acceptance muscles.
Try the following exercise: next time you experience a small calamity, I want you to think of it not as a problem, but as – dare I suggest – an opportunity.
Work out your problem-handling muscles with your small, bourgeois problems.
Half-way through the flight on the way back to Portland, the flight attendant came up with the drink cart. The man sitting next to me, in seat 16B, said, “We are nearly in Oregon and we’re just getting our drinks now. The food service was a bit late today.”
Take an honest assessment of yourself.
How well do you deal with reality not being as you think it ought to be?
A practice of being real
I remember a day my first semester of Tufts University in 1988. I was walking on the uphill quad towards Wren dormitory, and realizing that somebody had insulted me about 10 days beforehand.
What I most remember was thinking that it was odd that I didn’t realize I had been insulted until 10 days had passed. I gathered some more evidence, and came to realize that I was on what seemed to be about 10 day delay.
I made a real life goal to minimize the time between when something happened and when I realized my reaction. I figured it was possible to live in real time feelings and, thanks to Jane, a mentors, therapists, and my children, I live with real time feelings. (My children were great teachers because they were learning in the opposite problem – they had to learn to sublimate.)
How does living in the here and now have to do with the lost computer?
As so long as I’m processing in real time, I don’t have a large backlog of an unprocessed hurts and anxieties. And, without that baggage, when something happens to me – like a computer gets stolen – the backlogged issues do not come out at that time in a large frustration dump.
This to takes great practice.
But it’s worth it – to be real and in realtime.
Equanimity is knowing what you can control.
This quote is worth writing down.
You cannot control someone stealing your backpack.
But, you can control, or at least learn to control, your reactions.
HELLO, JEWS My four-year incarnation as a rabbi in the form most people would recognize began in 1997. I stood in front of 750-plus people to lead High Holy Day services at Temple Judea in Tarzana, California. This wealthy suburb of 40,000 named for the estate of...