Who better than a parent of an autistic individual would have been prepared for what has befallen the world in 2020?
I know how you feel. I know the panic. I know the overwhelm. I know the need for over preparation.
I know that we need extra planning. We need to overthink. To foresee each step ahead. To structure the day. To expect that all will go according to plan, and to pivot in a split second because it does not. And in the face of the turmoil to keep a straight face, a loving demeanor, an understanding of the other’s fears and anxieties.
I have been there.
I trained in full confinement since the day my first-born was diagnosed with “moderate” autism, back in 1998. I had to adapt to a new “not-normal” and to live through social distancing not by choice to preserve our health or our loved ones’ health or the world’s health but because that is the nature of the beast when you are thrown into a world that places you in the “different” category.
Today, everyone is in the pit.
It is amazing to see.
It feels so surreal to many of you, and to many others, it feels scary like hell with thoughts of doom racing through your head and probably paralyzing ideas that you can’t survive such drastic isolation from others while you are quarantined in your own home with your loved ones or maybe even with your mother-in-law, who knows.
It is not doom.
It is not doomsday. It is a pandemic. It is new to most of us because this might be the first time we have to shelter in place with the resources at hand.
These resources were already prepared before we even knew it.
If you are reading these words that I post online, it is because the internet connects all of us. Even when we are separated by oceans, mountains and by time differences.
Technology has brought us immediate access to those we trust for wisdom, knowledge, information, inspiration. Solidarity springs like the birds who are ready to welcome the new season. Everyone is ready to offer a virtual hand through their shares.
This might be an extraordinary time in our lives and it will change our world for the better if we choose to react with our best selves.
When I started my first blog – in French – I chose to name it “One Day @ A Time” for a good reason: I was living a situation that was so overwhelming that I could only take one day at a time, each day I was “surviving” felt like the best accomplishment I could account for. I was proud of small steps, I was celebrating menial feats, I was immensely grateful every minute of every day because each of them was a treasure, one that kept giving, I had never imagined I was that strong and determined, I had never envisioned I could take in what I was taking in.
And yet I did.
Because I had a community, actually many communities, too many to even list them here without losing track. They know who they are. They are still in my life and smiling at these words. They know how grateful I am to them. They know the love we have shared at each step that we walked together, holding hands on the long and difficult path.
Today, you can have what I had then.
Communities are all there. You are part of them. Knowledge and wisdom are flowing in ways that we would have not imagined twenty years ago.
Our children are so much smarter than we were, their creative minds are bursting with ideas and joy, do not forget to celebrate them for how they will teach you news ways. They have not known the limitations we impose on our feelings of doom because their doom is at the end of the hour if their promised moment of delight is removed from them, not next year. They take one day at a time because this is all they have and they are so good at making the best of each hour.
Pay attention to what they say. How they say it. Their emotions. How quickly they recover. How resilient they are.
Even if you feel that confinement is a catastrophe, remember that it is just a moment in your life. One moment.
There are no “but”, there are “and”… and this moment shall pass as well.
I wish you all to be able to share each moment with joy and love, the same I have always wanted to do and known that it has taken me to this day, with faith and hope that all is good because honestly, it is.
ON SOLID GROUND
"And you shall make the planks (kerashim) for the Mishkan of acacia wood, upright.” (26:15)
Many insights come from this verse in Parshat Terumah however one from the Besht stands particularly out. He explains that keresh (plank) is man. The letters for keresh are kuf, reish, shin which can also spell the words kesher (connection, joining) and sheker (a lie).
Each of us is able to make sacred connections with the supernal worlds through all that we do. Everything we want, think, speak, feel and do has a rippled effect in the universe. Each of us has the ability to form a mishkan, a holy space, in our life and enable G-d’s awesome presence to be felt in all of the worlds. All by simply wanting to form a close connection to Him.
When we chose to find and attach to Hashem in all of our experiences, we create a plank, a solid foundation on which we safely stand. Our continuous drive to find G-dliness creates the structure and becomes our temple, through which we function. Our mundane activities become holier thus more open to receive Heavenly blessings.
However, many lose focus of their avodah and find themselves lured into playing with the materialistic ‘toys’ of life which are transient and serve no eternal value. Their connections are false, filled with lies, their sanctuary built on faulty ground.
Rosh Hodesh Adar
A 9-step TIKKUN HAMIDDOS process
BASED ON THE BAAL SHEM TOV’S “HAALOT HAMIDDOS”
I find myself in a challenging life moment that has knocked my daas into exile, leaving me unhappy with one or all of my thoughts, feelings, speech or actions.
While my animal nature seeks to blame the external situation or person on my state and response, a moment of daas-awakening allows me to shift from blame to the ultimate reframe: it’s not really them – it’s me.
I realize that my middos are triggered because I’m expecting to have them somehow satiated by the external world rather than the internal world.
The external situation is just a Divinely ordained trigger and stimulus that is awakening me to the disconnect I’m carrying within that needs healing, re-aligning and elevating.
As opposed to repression, suppression is the healthy, conscious and intentional exclusion from consciousness of middos ra’os - destructive thoughts or feelings.
Suppression means not allowing the destructive desires of the middah to continue to flare up and control your consciousness and sending you into exile - thus containing it and forcing it out of the realm of your machshavos and dimyonos, dibbur and maaseh.
This can be achieved in numerous ways, including:
- showing the destructive middah force and aggression from your daas;
- expressing compassion, validation and love for it;
- or finding where the destructive middah is located in your body and visualizing its color and shape.
Use whatever tool works for you – since, in this moment, you are fighting for your life, mind and soul.
We must now seek to clarify: What is the middah and what is it lacking?
Become fully aware and cognizant of the true nature of the middah that causes this destructive response in thought, speech or action.
What middah is it – exactly?
Peel down through its onion-skin levels to find its most core feeling and desire.
Use these questions as a guide:
- What’s the middah behind the middah?
- The feeling behind the feeling?
- The need behind the need?
Remain cognizant that no matter how dark the middah feels at its root, it is really a fallen version of something truly Divine, currently in a state of exile, disconnected from its Infinite source and seeking to return to its positive expression.
This adds an essential tone of rachamim/compassion to the process.
When the base level desire is finally identified, now ask and sense: what does it feels its greatest lacking is?
Now that we have identified the middah’s fundamental feeling of lacking, let’s flip it to understand what is the hamtaka or antidote -- the positive emotion or energy that it most desires and that will most satiate it?
Ascertain the complementary Divine emotional state that will repair the current sense of constriction.
Which particular light, energy, sefirah, Divine name or middah will counteract the lack? (e.g. If you feel disrespected, you might need honor, reassurance, respect).
Alternatively, determine the positive equivalent of the fallen middah to which it may be desiring to re-connect (e.g. Crippling fear seeks to be elevated and transmuted back into Divine fear).
Now recruit your dimyon back to the side of your daas, and create a precise Machshava Map of positive images, beliefs and emotions to counteract the lacking.
Directly present the middah with what it most desires.
Proceed to cycle around that map, visualizing and generating the desired complementary state to satiate the emotion.
And remember – your heart doesn’t know the difference between reality and that which is vividly imagined.
Launch beyond machshava level to deveikus level in order to connect to the Infinite and all-abundant light within.
There is nothing we seek in the external world that cannot be more powerfully felt, experienced, satisfied and satiated right now and here from your Divine source.
Draw in the complementary Divine light that heals and elevates the middah ra’oh.
Either feed it that which it most needs (e.g. send the crippling fear Divine love) or elevate and re-integrate it back up to its Divine equivalent (e.g. elevate destructive fear into Divine fear).
Don’t stop until you can feel the melting and dissipating of the external part of the middah i.e. the klippah.
This will allow you to feel more relaxed, calm and open again.
After that, you may also choose to experience the inner holy light of the previously destructive middah now elevating and re-integrating back into your daas.
This experience of transmutation can bring with it a rush of expanded, blissful state of consciousness called gadlus hadaas (greatness), and sometimes even a download of deep psychic insight, too.
Through this process, you have created a cosmic rectification: returning the “fallen Divine spark” back to its Source and allowing it from now to function in its fully rectified, elevated and Divine state.
Bliss and deveikus are not enough.
Now comes the opportunity for complete birur, purification and clarification of our animal self.
The next step is to choose to allow the transcendent light we are experiencing above to penetrate back down into our thoughts, beliefs, feelings and actions and, in the process, heal, re-order and re-align them on each respective level.
Don’t be afraid to bring up any remaining darkness and consciously contrast and compare it to the sense and sensitivities of the light. This causes the final dregs to wash away, leaving a re-constructed and newly aligned self in the Divine image.
Now, project that new, emunah-filled perception back into the original challenging situation or dynamic that triggered you.
Be conscious and appreciative of how your beliefs and perceptions about the original issue have shifted.
Now that you’ve realigned our mind and heart to the Divine intent, you can re-enter the world of action with new and expanded opportunities for your choice of response.
Proceed to act in a new way, with a new direction, that generates new results and destiny.
Alternatively, if the moment for action has passed, or the current circumstances no longer allow for a different response externally, make it internally!
As our tradition teaches: positive intent to act, combined with strong visualization, is considered by Hashem like an action itself, and has the same transformational effect on our consciousness and our destiny.
Thus: while in deveikus, take the time to visualize in depth the challenging scene that occurred, but this time envision yourself enacting the right choice in the end - that which you would choose if you were given the chance again.
Replay and watch and re-choose over and over, rewriting the script and generating a different ending, until your heart is rewired, and nature is rewired, forever transforming your consciousness and destiny.
There is a wonderful and very unique theater in my neighborhood.
It has delighted me since it opened about three years ago and I could not wait until I had an opportunity to bring my elder son who has severe autism to a movie I thought he would enjoy.
The Prospector Theater had a sensory screening of “Beauty and the Beast” the other day.
We went and we loved it!
You see, it is a place where all workers are called Prospects and they all fall in the society’s named category of people with disabilities.
It’s a place that is beautiful with a sparkle.
Its welcoming atmosphere goes beyond anything one could dream of: a place where everyone is extraordinary and proud to offer entertainment and respite from the world that is not always as accepting of differences as it should be.
My son immediately beamed at “Bonjour!” of course.
He then delighted in each and every musical scene and was elated with the ballroom extravaganza.
Thanks to the sensory setting the soundtrack was not overwhelming and we were never in complete darkness which helped me too!
There are so many beautiful things about the Prospector theater.
There, everyone is unique and working to make you feel happy and it is not in vain: I came out of the two hours movie as elated as when I was a kid, completely rejuvenated by the love story (I know, I am a total sucker for fairy tales) and by having been able to enjoy the sheer pleasure my very special son obviously experienced.
If you would like to support the mission of this very unique place, go now to their website.
Read more about the Prospector Theater: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/nyregion/in-ridgefield-a-movie-theater-with-a-lofty-mission.html
An interview from the year 2011 with Deborah Fishman on http://hachavaya.blogspot.com/2011/12/laurence-furic.html
What’s the difference between a network and a community?
A community is already there when you arrive at a place – either you integrate into it or you don’t. A network is something that has a life of its own. It’s like a living organism. It’s something you have to be active in; it doesn’t exist if there’s nothing done. I like the image of “network-weaving.” It brings to my mind something colorful, like Joseph’s coat, the coat that was weaved by his mother. I envision all the colors and possibilities in it.
What are some characteristics of network-weavers?
You have to have a lot of humility and you have to have no ego. Things shouldn’t happen because of you – even if they did happen because you were there, you don’t have to take credit for it. A network-weaver is a connector that electricity goes through; it isn’t the electricity itself. You also have to avoid doing things for people – you have to stimulate them to do things themselves. Everyone has to feel how important they are. In addition, you have to be very organized, available, like people, and to listen.
I think it takes humility to be a networker because we don’t control what’s going on. Some seem afraid of social media because they are used to having control and seeing the process, but with social media you don’t see where it’s going. I like it – I like the adventure of it.
How do you measure the impact of a network-weaver?
Personally network-weaving is working when I see that someone else has my own ideas. I recognize something and feel like it’s something I had in my mind, but here it is already existing somewhere else! Sometimes it’s not because of what you have done; it’s just in the air. Either way, I believe I am successful when something I believe in takes traction.
What networks have you helped weave?
I moved to the US from France 14 years ago. I belong to many communities – Jewish, French-speaking, hometown, family, and I’m also very involved in the autism community. Within all those communities, I’m a networker.
In 1994 – before Facebook was even born – someone in Israel started a small community of French-speaking olim. He put up a website where there was a discussion board, and I got very involved in it. I’m still involved – it’s a huge network now. At the same time, as a young mother participating in parenting groups in French, I was part of a group of Jews who got fed up because of anti-Semitic remarks. We decided to get out of that group and create our own group, Pilpoul. It still exists, we are all best friends, and we have meetups in Belgium, France, and Israel. Each of these has developed its own networks as well.
How will technology affect American synagogues?
Coming from France, I was a little taken aback by American synagogues. Belonging to a synagogue seemed more like being in a social club, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. I think this is what’s going to change because of the new tools: from belonging to a close club to really being involved in Jewish learning and discovery. In time, synagogues will definitely use all those tools in a more integrated way, and it may allow someone who is not observant to become engaged in reading things from the Mishnah or studying the weekly parshah.
I hope the tools will also allow for more of a blend between the denominations. In my networking efforts, I’m trying to advocate for less polarization between Orthodox and Reform Jews. I was raised in country where everyone was officially “Orthodox” but a lot would be called Modern Orthodox or Traditional. I think new networking tools will show that there are so many paths between people, and you have more in common than you might think. I’m a big idealist – I think in the end technology will allow us to make peace between different peoples, and to understand that we have more in common than what’s separating us. It’s something I’ve taught my children – I can see how open they are to other people, and I really love that.