"Its a funny thing Markos, but people mostly have it backwards. They think they live by what they want. But really what guides them is what they are afraid of. What they don't want."
I read those lines recently in novel by Khalid Husseini entitled "And the Mountains Echoed". The insight is put out by an old woman reflecting on the lives she has known, both hers and others. It felt so powerfully true to me. Most of us live our lives motivated not by some inner sense of call. Rather we are motivated by a dread, the dread of something that we need to flee and at all costs.
The consequence of living a life based on avoidance and dread is that we never quite feel that our lives are our own. We live detached from what is our true yearning and call. We live in a kind of exile from ourselves. We are strangers in our own story, yet never quite knowing why.
We enter this Shabbat into a period on our national calender of comfort. For seven straight weeks the portion from the Prophets we
will read in the haftorah will speak a message of consolation. Each is from Yishayahu. We begin this week with a Shabbat with a special name, "Shabbat Nachamu" "The Sabbath of Comfort". The opening words of the haftorah are "Comfort ye, Comfort ye my People, so will say your G-d".
What is comfort? What does it look and feel like for us as persons and for all of us as a people. It seems clear to me that the essence of comfort is the sense of being at one with oneself, of being home. There is a clear corrolation between comfort and 'shalom' peace. Comfort is the experience of coming to peace, to wholeness and integration. It is when the inside of me and the outside of me are aligned, when I am no longer in exile from myself. Comfort is when I am at peace, no longer afraid, and my life is not motivated by runnning from but rather by moving towards.
You ask me what do I mean when I say that for so many of us our lives are driven from dread? Think about your core fear. Maybe its fear of being criticized, or fear of failure. Maybe you dread conflict or rejection. Maybe you fear being stuck and alone. Each of us would do well to know his/her core fear. Once we discern it I think on reflection we will discover how much of our lives seems a response to that fear. And indeed how different our lives might have looked if we were not afraid and could have chosen what really was meant for us.
I believe the core fear that motivates many many of us is the fear of facing ourselves and being found wanting.We propel ourselves to achieve, succeed, acquire, just so we can feel we are okay. We dread pausing even for a moment lest we have to face ourselves, and experience ourselves, not for what we do but for who we are. We are constantly in motion, rarely at rest. We can accomplish the most incredible feats. Yet we struggle to look at ourselves in the mirror. I mean really look. Our life is about running from ourselves.
We can say "I love you" to our children and spouses. maybe to friends and G-d.
Who can really look at his/her own reflection and say "I love you".
Self love is so difficult for us. Self loathing is more common. You would not think it by our pursuit of self gratification.
Yet the very pursuit is telling. If we are not pleasuring our selves, providing external stimulation, we are pained. No pleasure is pain.
The natural joy of being with ourselves is so rare to find. Indeed we flee from being alone with ourselves. For many its unbearable.
The fear of facing one's self in his/her nakedness also plays out in the story of our people. So much of the Jewish story is a story of self loathing. We are a people who struggle to embrace ourselves and love our diverse components. Our fear of our 'flaws', our Jewish brothers and sisters who we disagree with causes us to run from them to the extremes. We make every effort to cut them off so as not to have to see the face of our national self.
"Comfort ye, Comfort ye my people..." Many have asked why is the call to comfort repeated, why twice? May I suggest that the message we are being given here is that comfort will not come down as manna from heaven. Comfort is a human process, one rooted in self acceptance and self love. Through the words of the Prophet, Hashem is telling His people to extend comfort to each other, to embrace each other's story, angst and aspirations.Each member of the faith needs to say "Comfort ye" to his/her counterpart for comfort to be reaified. We need to lose the sense of shame, both shame of self and shame of others, so we can stop running and be who we are meant to be, as persons and people.
It's time. It's time we paused and got off the treadmill of life. It's time to let go of the fear. It's time to find a way to love ourselves, our personal self and our larger national self so we can finally be one within and without, so we can come home from the 'galut' the exile, and know the comfort and peace that awaits.