Monday, November 14, 2011

Spiritual GPS

I spent last Shabbos in Brooklyn for a singles weekend. It was interesting. No attractive men, of course, there never are, but I only saw about 5 men I'd gone out with, which isn't bad. And no recent word from EG, except another email on 11/7/11:

Had a great time Saturday. The boys want to keep the haunted house up for another few weeks so other people could visit them in it. they said. And don't get me started about the new Twister addiction! Did Puss in Boots yesterday before calling it quits. Now off to another work-week...

And... silence.

But what I want to blog about is a lecture that Alona and I attended on 11/6/11. Sara Yocheved Rigler is a lecturer and author. According to her website,

Mrs. Rigler has been navigating the spiritual path since her first trip to India in 1968. She spent an intensive fifteen-year period living in an ashram, practicing spiritual disciplines such as meditation. In 1985, she made a dramatic change of spiritual path, returning to her Jewish roots. She moved to Jerusalem, began studying Torah, and became a highly committed observant Jew. 

She is very big on mussar, which Aish defines as "a traditional Jewish spiritual discipline that offers sound guidance to help you cultivate the qualities of your soul." I had read a few of her articles but really didn't know what to expect from the lecture. I basically went because Alona was going and we were going to Ozer's for lunch afterward.

Mrs. Rigler began the lecture dramatically.

"Imagine that for some reason you're in Harlem at night," she said, "and on your right you notice a very nasty-looking person with a knife walking toward you, and on your left there's another person with a gun walking toward you."

Alona and I exchanged a shocked glance.

"What if I told you that you had a button, and if you pressed that button you would be immediately transported to the Kotel, in the daytime, where you'd be surrounded by hundreds of fellow Yidden?" she continued.

I considered getting up and walking out. If I weren't on lithium, I may well have. But I kept my seat. Because Mrs. Rigler promised to give us the secret to happiness -- a spiritual GPS system we could use to navigate out of anger, jealousy, worry, fretfulness, and other dysphoric states. Those are signs that you are in Olam HaZarut -- the world of alienation. Alienation from yourself, from God, from others. It's parallel to Olam HaYedidut -- the world of connectedness and contentment. You cannot be in both worlds at once. Getting from Zarut to Yedidut is a three-step process, and it actually fits very well with CBT.

Step 1: recognize you are in Olam HaZarut. That's mindfulness. Become aware that you are upset and ruminating about something, which makes you feel miserable and doesn't solve anything.

Step 2: choose your destination. Decide that you want to be in a better frame of mind. That's basic CBT: recognizing that thoughts shape your moods.

Step 3: give. GIVE. Giving takes you from the world of alienation to the world of connectedness. And you don't have to give a lot. You can give a smile. Give someone the benefit of the doubt. This has a sound research basis as well. Altruism is known to boost mood; people volunteer because it makes them feel good. Also, taking care of others takes your focus off yourself -- and interrupts rumination.

So far, so good. But then Mrs. Rigler decided to talk about two examples of women who successfully used this GPS to make happy marriages. And that infuriated several of the single women in the audience.

The first example was of a wealthy, shomer shabbat woman who married a twice-divorced, non-religious musician. She realized that she could give a lot to him, and now she's blissfully happy. He decided to become frum, and now he learns every day and teaches shiurim. Apparently marriage pays a lot better than running after performance gigs.

The other woman was an athletic 52-year-old who married an arthritic 65-year-old. She was concerned that she'd end up like her 70something-year-old mother, who spends most of her time taking care of her 80something-year-old father. Apparently all of her mother's friends are in their 70s, and they're all exhausted from caring for their 80something husbands.

"That's exactly why you should marry him," Mrs. Rigler told her.

After the lecture, I met up with my friends Aviva and Shaindel. Both were livid.

"I would have liked to present a counterpoint to her stories," fumed Shaindel. "I have a number of friends who are stuck in horrible marriages with men who don't work and just take, take, take... and they are miserable. Since when are women supposed to work their fingers to the bone to support their husbands?"

"Don't tell me I don't give," said Aviva. "I make tons of Shabbos meals, and I invite people who never invite me back, or who need a place and would otherwise be alone all Shabbos. So don't tell me I'm still single because I don't know how to give."

And I have to say I agree with them. I'm 10000% willing to give. I'm eager to give. I'm dying to give my best to a man I love and respect, and children if we have them. But if I'm going to be changing diapers soon, they're not going to be Depends.

I've tried to utilize this spiritual GPS. Sometimes it works. There are a lot of people I can give a smile to in the methadone clinic. And today I went to another treatment facility near work and volunteered as a detox acupuncturist. Giving definitely helped. But then I come home to my empty studio, and I'm alone again. Not many people to give to here.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"


  1. Great, she studied in India, then became frum, and all her exotic studies did nothing at all to keep her from absorbing (like a sponge) all the racism and insulting misogynistic stereotypes typical in much of the frum community.

  2. Out of curiosity, what was her point about the button that transports you away from 1970's Harlem to the bosom of non-goyim at the Kotel?

  3. IMO, the "Torah" (read: Charedi) world has very little to teach Modern Orthodox. Why do MO institutions keep inviting close-minded chauvinists to speak?

  4. Her point about the button in Harlem was that her spiritual GPS three-step plan works as quickly and seemingly miraculously to get you from Olam HaZarut to Olam HaYedidut. And I don't know why OZ invited her. I agree that charedim don't have anything to offer us.

  5. Philo, while I agree with your point in general I wouldn't say this woman was charedi (more right wing orthodox, if that is not too subtle a distinction). And as Ayelet described it, the problem wasn't what she said, it was how she said it. Mindfulness is a useful discipline.

    The Harlem reference was tactless and offensive but it dates her as someone who grew up in the '60s or '70s. I used to have nightmares about taking the A train and forgetting to get off at Columbus Circle and landing in Harlem.

  6. Also, Philo, ''ivdu et hashem besimcha''--approaching Gd and religion with joy--is a worthwhile concept. Of course I share your antipathy to Charedi narrowmindedness overall. Just don't like statements that are absolutes.

  7. FTT,

    I don't think that Charedim have a monopoly on Ivdu et Hashem BeSimcha. But I understand your point. To elaborate on my original comment - while I do appreciate individual charedim and will enjoy a shabbat lunch with them, I think that institutionally, the vast majority of charedi speakers & organizations have little to contribute to the Modern Orthodox community. I'm more annoyed with certain elements of the MO community than with Charedim. It's those elements that seem to hold the Charedi world in some sort of high regard, as if they are on some higher plane, like YU students inviting Chassishe Rebbes to YU. (see here. While I dont agree with a good part of his tone, he does identify a disturbing trend.

  8. Agree with you, Philo, about how YU types have frumkeit inferiority complexes and revere chassidim. But to be honest the reason right wingers surface at place like OZ is in part because they are readily available and affordable as speakers! Either way, a disturbing trend.

  9. i know these comments are from awhile ago... but i looked up a word that put me on this blog! i dont understand why you guys are judging Mrs. Rigler and her shuir she spoke about?!?!?! I'm taking her workshop right now and shes not the person youre describing! Did you ever think that you took what she said wrong? Or wrote what she said but left a few key words/phrases out? I just finished listening to her shuir on Spiritual GPS and you are missing a few keynotes!!!
    *Judge a person favorable and ask questions if not understanding what was said!!

  10. AdinaF, a number of us heard what Mrs. Rigler said, and even asked questions. She is asking women to sacrifice themselves to men in order to find true happiness. Because you only find happiness through giving.

  11. thats not true!! as i said... i just finished listening to her class and shes not saying to b the giver in the relationship!

  12. Maybe not in the classes you've attended, AdinaF, but that was definitely her message at the lecture my friends and I heard.