Mindful Insight

One of the gifts of My Container Project is how it has heightened my mindfulness. I have stepped out of my regular habitual motions and am actively attentive to my limited palette of Container choices. It is fascinating to observe my thoughts and feelings at each particular juncture. For example, yesterday morning I have a busy day with morning meditation, a spiritual group meeting, food shopping, commission work, writing a blog, and teaching a class. What will I wear?

The-before-container-me has a huge walk-in closet with way-too-many choices. My mind wanders through the collection and discards each possibility as not quite right for a host of reasons like the fit, or the color, or the sleeves. It takes me forever-and-a-day to finally be dressed and as a result of the process I don’t feel too good about my selection process, my choices, or myself.

The uniform from my container is perfect- Capri knit pants with pockets; a long knit flowing blouse with a second layer fluid knit no-button cardigan and sandals. It takes me seconds to get dressed; I am comfortable and feel put together and have no clothing issues for the entire day.

There is a meditation technique called vipassana or insight that teaches a state of uninterrupted mindfulness. It begins with a moment of simple, soft-focused awareness where the thing is simply observed without a story. Mindfulness observes the physical, mental, and emotional experience of what is present in the here and now with no feeling.

I am watching myself in process with My Container. I have totally limited my choices to things I know I like, make me comfortable and will work in my situation. I am grateful for My Container that keeps me mindfully to task, no longer stuck in my habitual wanderings and diversions, clear and ready to be with my day.

Is it possible My Container will have a profound impact on my universe? I will continue nonjudgmental observation of my process with no pride, no shame, and nothing personal to win or lose. It is what it is and my experience will be what it will be.

What Ever You Do, Smile

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

This past July when President Obama turned fifty, there was a great article in the New York Times about his aging face. The bottom line is that no different than any of us, Obama is getting older and grayer.

Time, heredity, sunlight, illness, mood, good and bad fortune leave their mark on our faces. Here is a timeline for an aging face and some suggestions to help cope.

There is only so much you can do about wrinkles, crow’s feet and hanging jowls, but there is one facial expression within your control that can make a difference. It is your smile.

Our smile is our power and the source of our joy. Smiling works proactively to put others at ease. It’s the one thing that radiates out into our universal language of love. Smiles have no demarcations in race, gender, class and, best of all, age. When all else fails, as it will, smile to your past, present and future.

A Time To Forgive

Here we are in the month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Elul is a sanctum for introspection and self-assessment as we conduct a full Cheshbon Ha Nefesh, an accounting of the soul. During Elul we separate from our material entanglements to audit our spiritual accounts and restore our desire for true teshuvah, repentance.

In the Hebrew Bible, Moses ascended for the second time to the top of Mount Sinai on the first of Elul to plead for forgiveness for the Israelites because of their worship of the Golden Calf. He remained there for 40 days and created the second set of tablets of the Ten Commandments.

Allocate time during this month for personal reflection, meditation and prayer. Listen to the sounding of the shofar as a call to repentance. Read the Psalms, particularly Psalm 27. Visit the burial place of your loved ones. As the month draws to an end, add Selichot prayers that include the 13 Attributes of Mercy, the very words of the Israelites used to beg for divine compassion.

Twenty-Seven A Song of Morning
By Debbie Perlman
Let me slide into the morning, Dawn Bringer,
With a smooth joining.
In the last glimpse of dreams,
Open my heart to a day
Poised to fill with goodness.

Let me move into today, Time Maker,
With a firm footing.
With Your name upon my mouth,
I translate my praises into action,
Repairing my section of the world.

You recall to me my story;
You let me describe its sequel.
At day’s beginning, You comfort me,
Offering a Hand filled with courage
To sustain my work.

Let me glimpse tomorrow, Eternal Planner,
With eager memories.
Breathing deeply to set my heart
To the rhythm of creation,
I continue Your work.

You bring me to my beginnings,
To the beginnings of Your People,
Connecting my days to all other days,
Tying my work in the work of Your hand.

The Essentials-Part II

The selection process is complete and my container is ready to go. I will live from it beginning tomorrow morning, Labor Day.

The selection process was most interesting. As I established the categories, the choices were fairly obvious. I have my favorites.

I will use a beautiful handmade set of ceramic dishes with a set of Dansk silverware for all of my meals. I bought special Green and Black Chocolate Bars and Probars for snack choices that are housed in my original snack-holding glass canisters.

On my memorabilia shelf, I selected two quilts, my hand embroideries of family, some jewelry and some photos.

From her experience, my container project partner, Jude, told me that the key to successfully living out of The Container is the selection of the uniform, the clothing I will wear everyday for this next month. I selected three pair of Capri pants and five knit tops for everyday wear, two complete exercise tops and bottoms, underwear and pjs.

Let the experiment begin.

The Essentials-Part I

There are really only two steps to simplifying:
Identify what’s most important to you.
Eliminate everything else.

Leo Babauta

The Container is beckoning to me to begin. What will I select to fill it? How will I decide what I need and want? Will I feel deprived once I actually start living out of it?

This week I assigned general categories to each of its eight shelves. The top two will be important artifacts and memorabilia. The second shelf is for food and dishes on the left and books on the right. The third shelf will have my computer on the left and my needlework on the right. The bottom shelve is for my clothing.

If the books are any indication, I have a lot to learn from my selection process. I have a beautiful floor to ceiling library that I was easily able to condense into this. Half of the books in the container will be from the library and rotate in and out as they are read. The others are my Kabbalah texts that I reference often. Every other piece of written information will come from my computer.

Item No. 1 For My Container

This week I selected the first item for my Container. I wanted to work on one special piece of needlework during The Container Project. I will produce an embroidery of my granddaughter, Hailey, fashioned after the embroidery shown above that I did of my granddaughter, Maya, in 2007.

I love embroidery, in particular French knots. Arthur Jaffe of the FAU Artist Book Collection said, “Louise Silk’s skill with Hand Embroidered French Knots is legendary.”

Here is my process to prepare the piece. I select and enlarge the photo. I find the frame for it to determine the finished size. I make a paper tracing and then copy that with lead pencil onto muslin. Then I select the color palate from my thread stash. The selected palate goes into a cigar box. The larger wooden Chinese box will also go into The Container in case I need to make any color changes during The Container Project. The thread drawer goes back into my thread chest.

This week I read Dave Bruno’s book The 100 Thing Challenge where he chronicles his experience weaning down and living for one year with 100 personal possessions. The book was a huge disappointment and won’t be included in my book collection for my Container. While he had the noble idea to control his consumerism and change is mindset about always wanting more things, the construct came off as contrived and artificial. Maybe it was because he and I share no mutual interests or maybe it was because I enter my project for a larger reason but I wanted way more from him than he offered.

How To Begin?

I totally believe that living without an abundance of personal possessions for an extended period of time is the first step we ought to take in order to realize that we don’t need ever-more stuff.

If you do this — if you will give up your stuff for a while — I am sure you’ll never go back. You’ll spend the rest of your life creating a more valuable life, instead of wasting your money and time on stuff. You will be glad. And best of all, the people around you will be blessed by your efforts to prioritize more meaningful pursuits.

Dave Bruno

In the fall of 2010 I entered into a discussion with friend and poet, Jude Vollmer, to find a project for collaboration. Through monthly meetings we came to the idea to take a container and live from it for one month. Initially, we were going to do it simultaneously but Jude began using her container on May 11, 2011, before I was ready to start. She is so pleased with the experience that she continues to use her container.

As in most of my projects, this is totally self-imposed. I make all of the rules, plan and carry out all the actions and push myself to completion for no obvious good reason other than having made the commitment. I am writing about this process to be more aware of my motives, clearer about my actions and expose my method for others to ponder.

Today, I am ready to embark on the project. How will I begin? I need a deadline for filling the container, a way to decide what I want, and a ritual for the beginning and ending.

My container is a large Walnut Armoire. I bought it at an antique store on Perry Highway for $350.00 in 1978. It is held together with 6 screws. For its life with me it first housed records, tapes and listening devices and then was transformed to host an ever-changing parade of quilts.

Here is the empty container that I will fill with my most meaningful possessions.

The Jewish Love-In

There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippor, for on those days, daughters of Yerushalayim would go out dressed in borrowed white clothing so as not to embarrass those who didn’t have and dance in the vineyards located on the outskirts of the city. And everyone who didn’t have a wife would go there.

Mishnah, Taanit 4:8

Mishnah, Taanit 4:8

With Tisha B’Av behind us, it’s time to put a little joy in life. That’s probably why the rabbis of the second temple period before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. created Tu B’Av the 15th Day of Av. In that day the festival was the formal occasion for young unmarried women and men to met, mingle and marry.

Tu B’Av, like Passover, Sukkot, and Tu Bishvat begins on the night between the 14th and 15th day of the Hebrew month. Being a full moon on the lunar calendar makes it the perfect environment for romance and love.

Tu B’Av has been pretty much unnoticed in the Jewish calendar for many centuries. In my earlier feminist days, we tried to bring it back in a woman’s liberation context but it didn’t work much like putting a round peg in a square hole.

In its modern incarnation Tu B’Av has been rejuvenated in Israel as Two B’av Festival of Love. At this very moment in Jerusalem, there is a great happening with speed dating, dancing, sing-a-longs and university talks about the nature of love.

Good for us. More love. More Power.

Of Blessed Memory

My Dearest Daddy,

Each year at the full moon of August, I light your yahrzeit candle and remember the moon as I saw it leaving the hospital the night of your death. It was thirteen years ago on the 14th of Av. Why does it seem like only yesterday?

There are so many changes everywhere. Would you have agreed to carry a cell phone or read from a kindle? I know you would have been furious that they closed downtown streets this week for the filming of Batman. “What about the businesses”, you would have complained.

People here remember you. They ask, “Which one was your father?” At which point I see you happily sharing one desk in your office at NRM with your brothers Sam and Jason. I answer, “Howard.” They nod, “What a good man.” I get a little choked up and nod in return.

There is a thing on the computer called facebook. It’s a way to connect with people all over the world. There is a group on it called “friends of NRM” and it has over 300 members!

You would kvell at how your family has grown. Bob has enough grandchildren to make up not one but two baseball teams! Even his youngest daughter, little Racheli, has two children of her own. Believe it or not, I am a Bubbe. Eli is married and has two little girls that call me Bubbe. I write a Bubbe Blog talking all about it and other things.

I try with all of my heart and soul to live in the shadow of your selfless generosity, your flawless reputation and your commitment to Zionism. I’m sad that Steve and his family never got to know you and I often quote your wisdom to give they a minute sense of your spirit.

I am eternally grateful that I come from the lineage that includes you as my Dad. I love you more than anything.

Until the coming of the Messiah,


Addiction? Who ME?

I worry often that I might have an addictive personality and have developed some grave addictions. I can never have too much coffee. I am unable to leave an open box of chocolates untouched and I am always making another quilt. In most situations, I over compensate because I fear there will not be enough, I constantly battle with myself to be in control and I’m undeniably compulsive.

An addiction is a physical or psychological dependence on a substance or behavior. It is the inability to stop an activity that is threatening your health, lifestyle, livelihood, or relationships.

Addictive personality traits include: compulsive behavior, lack of self-control, refusal to accept responsibility, tendency toward multiple vices, and a family history of addiction, unhappiness and insecurity.

Alan R. Lang, a psychology professor at Florida State University found several significant personality factors that can contribute to addiction:

  1. Impulsive behavior, difficulty in delaying gratification, an antisocial personality and a disposition toward sensation seeking.
  2. A high value on nonconformity combined with a weak commitment to the goals for achievement valued by the society.
  3. A sense of social alienation and a general tolerance for deviance.
  4. A sense of heightened stress.

The steps to overcome an addictive personality are to admit to the addiction, become informed about it, stage an intervention, find the underlying cause that drives the addiction, completely stop the behavior and seek professional help and/or join a support group.

Knowledge is power. Without understanding the reasons and finding a healthy way to manage them, addicts often kick a habit only to replace it with another one.

I filled out this questionnaire and watched these videos from an HBO special and I discovered that my personality is 43% addictive which means even if I feel like I have an addictive personality, I actually have my addictions mostly under check. Now that I am aware of my addictive tendencies, I can make changes that will help me be in control of my actions, make some healthier choices, and enjoy picking out the fabrics for my next quilt.