Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Finding Shalom Bayit - right where you left it, I'll bet.

If you recall in the most recent chapter of Decline of the West, the discussion turned to architecture. It was suggested that what we are passing off as synagogues today, completely lacking in physical beauty and a sense of invite, have that lack due to a poverty that is far more spiritual than monetary - it's a product of our declining Culture. Even a humble shack that once held a great tzadik simply oozes a beautiful spirit - the calm and peacefulness is palpable. Today's shuls, however, made out of people's garages or of tacky vinyl sided buildings or what used to e somebody's house (or worse, still is somebody's house), often with no windows and no internal or external beauty, are cold and uninviting and do not reflect Hashem at all - not a shred of His beautiful spirit to be felt.

So, with those thoughts in my head to start the process, I have been reading this week "The Essential Seyyed Hossein Nasr" and there's a lot in his Sufi philosophical writings that would look familiar to someone learned in Hebrew Mysticism (real Kabbalah, not the cheap-Madonna-knockoff version). One thing that struck me was a statement in one of the essays to the effect of "The Home is the Reflection of the Master," and along that same line he made some statements that reminded me of something a Rabbi told me once: often, symptoms in our body are of our spiritual illness, not a physical one.

There are two levels to this statement:

1. Our home (both our body and the building where we reside) should reflect, in every way, good stewardship, resulting in a feeling that shows the world our faith in Hashem and His Spirit.

2. Though it should reflect Hashem, maybe it does or does not - or maybe it doesn't consistently. But what it most absolutely does reflect is us.

A home is the reflection of its master.

What does this mean for us personally?

It means if our place of residence is a place of chaos and disorder, is unkempt and disorganized, is filled with dirt and dust and neglect, then it's not reflecting Hashem.

Ditto for our physical bodies - ignoring health and nutrition and exercise does not indicate good stewardship on our parts. And, Hashem forbid, if one is engaging in things UOJ would not approve of, that shows that a person is most certainly spiritually sick. What we do with our bodies reflects our spirit, so if we neglect or abuse our body in any way, well, we probably have a spiritual ailment.

That is absolutely not to say that we are the cause of all our own illnesses, but we do have to admit that we are often major contributors. Our genes may betray us eventually, but often our own actions give them an open window to sneak in.

Also, if our home is a place filled with stress and anger and frustration and our spouse avoids it like the plague, then it's not reflecting Hashem. Or, if it is a place filled with stress and anger and frustration, a place the kids try and get away from instead of look forward to coming back to, then it's not reflecting Hashem.

Our home is an extension of our body, too. If we are mistreating our bodies through bad diet or lack of exercise, that same carelessness and unconcern for things that can't be immediately seen will show up in the more subtle neglects of our home environment. As above, so below - our spiritual condition shows not only in our body but also in our home.

Our spirits need shalom bayit, too - which means we cannot function in a place that is chaotic and causes us stress. We have to have shalom bayit or we do not have a calm and beautiful spirit with which to connect with Hashem in prayer and meditation.

Often we feel that we must pray harder or meditate harder and that will solve the problem - but just maybe we've got it a bit backwards.

What's nice is that the reciprocal functions of body and spirit can be utilized to bring some peace to ourselves - and we can do that during this season of repentance by trying an unusual experiement, that is, improving our spiritual relationship with Hashem by improving our physical environment and our mental environment at home.

To that end, I have decided during this 40 days of repentance to give my very best effort to finishing up the odds and ends projects that I got started and never quite finished, and to tackle some of the growing "to-do" issues that I have ignored for a while (The mending, for example. The basket runneth over.).

I've also decided this might be a good time to try to work in some exercise and watch my diet more closely - and to pay a bit more attention to my appearance in general, something I admit to having let slide a bit over the last several years. I don't polish my nails anymore, for example, and I rarely wear makeup (now, granted, I have yet to find a brand of makeup that doesn't leave me broken out in blemishes, but I used to at least wear it for the Erev Shabbat meal - now I don't do that anymore. I have not tried to find products that I'm not allergic to in quite a while - and now might be a good time to try some of the newer options. I've never tried organic, for example. Maybe that won't break me out.)

Like most (cough-cough) year olds, I admit I have put on a little bit of weight here and there - not anything that would get me on "Biggest Loser," but enough that I have some nice clothes in my closet that I would like to be able to wear again.

Do these things have anything to do with my spirituality? My parenting? My marriage? My prayers? I think they do. If my "house" is run down, then I'm run down a bit, too. And if I'm run down, then I can't give any of those things my best effort, now can I?

So I'm going to work on my houses - both of them - and see if I feel any different 40 days from now, see if my prayers seem more uplifting, see if I notice a better spirit of shalom bayit.

You try it too, just for fun. See what happens. Worse case scenario, a few things get done, you get organized a bit, and maybe you lose a couple of pounds. Not bad. Best case scenario, you emerge nearly 40 days from now with a new, improved spirit of shalom bayit. Not bad either. It's a win-win.

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