I received this sweet, playful but also meaningful e-Rosh Hashanah greeting from a dear friend and colleague this week. Eight Israeli chocolate bars that each wish a different blessing.
Beginning with the red one at the top and moving clockwise, they read:
- Nachat/Nachas: Rest/Pleasure/Pride and Joy
- Briut: Health
- Hatzlacha: Success
- Shefa: Abundance or “flow”
- Sigsug: Prosperity
- Hagshama: Fulfilment/Actualization
- Osher: Happiness
- Mazal: Good fortune
I stared at this cornucopia of goodness and thought about how hard it is to have all those wonderful things. But then my mind went back over a decade to, of all places, the best yoga instructor I’ve ever had. His name is Mark. During the weekly yoga class that I used to take with Mark, he would calmly ask those of us breathing heavily or holding our breaths in excruciating toil, “Do you need to exert effort or to relax your effort to achieve a strong, balanced pose?”
Even though I use all 11 years of my post-graduate education regularly, it was Mark who taught me one of the most important lessons about teaching and learning. I just couldn’t stop thinking about this question, and how difficult and important it was for just about every aspect of life.
We tend to think that growth and learning come solely from taking a deep breath and tackling challenges head on, charging into them. Extra time, extra energy, extra focus and concentration, extra perseverance, are what allow us to triumph over life’s challenges, right?
Often, yes. Probably most of the time. But it turns out, not always. Just as we take deep breaths in to power up our physical and emotional muscles, there are also critical times, when a (life) stretch calls for exhaling. As counter-intuitive as it feels, the discipline required of us at those moments, is to let go.
Last week, one brave little boy at CJDS had a monumental breakthrough with his panic about math because he allowed himself to be released from the good “fight.” He knows what it feels like to be good at many things, and it frustrates him to no end that math feels so consistently challenging for him. But over the past few years, he has been strengthening his muscles of trust. And last week, just when he could feel like he was losing control and slipping into that all familiar panic zone, he suddenly stopped and looked up at his teacher and said, “Wait, I’ll be right back.”
He went back to his desk to retrieve a tool that he had for working on math problems like these, and he came back and said, “I can do this. Will you help me?”
And he did it. The teacher could not hold back her own tears of joy as she beheld this boy’s tremendous victory. News spread quickly across other teachers in the school, and the boy got warm and knowing high fives of celebration all day.
At least 5 of the Rosh Hashanah blessings washed over him instantaneously – pride and joy, success, abundance/flow, fulfillment, happiness – because he was able to exhale into his stretch.
Perhaps surprising, or not, we all seem to need so much more courage to let go, than to exert effort. But sometimes – and to be sure, it’s not always clear when – learning, in life and in school, calls for the opposite of exertion.
May 5779 be filled with blessings for you and yours.
On behalf of all of the faculty and staff of CJDS, I wish you Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah U’metukah, a sweet and happy new year!