Our counting of the Omer this year will pick up on a theme we began to address in last year’s count. This year our intent is to develop the idea of the seven week count as a seven week step program for change. With the end in mind, the final week of the count, corresponding to the week of Malchut (manifestation) is realizing the change. Can you begin to change on the first day of the count? Absolutely. Or any time along the count. Yes. The method prescribed by the counting of seven weeks suggests that for change to be lasting it requires emotional preparation, thoughtful consideration and spiritual awareness.
Changing a behavior is often thought of as easier than changing a ‘character trait’. We learn in Kabbalah though, that behaviors always reflect an aspect of character and therefore we should never take lightly the challenge of changing what might seem to be an insignificant behavior. Changing even a ‘small’ behavior can have a deep impact on how we see ourselves. A small behavior change can influence a deep shift and we become a different person.
Each week of the count brings another lens through which to view our commitment to change. What can we choose to change? A small behavior, a lifelong pattern or an engrained way of being. I would suggest that you first look at something you have procrastinated over for a while. We taught this week (again) the teaching of how Chametz (leavened products) can be viewed as that (food, other stuff or emotions) which is allowed to “procrastinate”—keeping in mind that the only difference between Chametz and Matzoh is time. Matzoh on Passover reminds us to get moving (though it can have the opposite impact on our digestion)—to not delay, to not procrastinate.
Each of you who will be joining in the count can select a behavior, emotion or identity that you want to change. Each week’s intention (and each day of each week) helps us arrive at a change in the final week leading up to the holiday of Shavuot. The realization of the slave who is free (finally free) is both scary and exhilarating. So it will be for us—to free ourselves of whatever it is that confines us and to see that we can change.
We model the count of the Omer and the idea of change on the story of the exodus from Egypt and the change (transformation) that the Jews experienced moving from slaves to free people. What is it that you want to be experience a total freedom from? What do you labor under? What oppresses you? Please note that these questions are framed from the perspective of “you” and not, for instance, who oppresses you? In the end, we all have choices to make (and of course we are living our current choices) and we have the potential to free ourselves.You can journal about the change(s) you are intent on making, you can talk with others about it or spend time each day reflecting on the intention of the day as it relates to your changing.
I will share with you at the end of this blog changes I would like to see happen in my life. First, let’s look at the seven weeks as a general schema for change and then, as the first week is the week of Chesed, we will specifically look at the days of this first week.
Chesed: Love. One has to love in order to change.
Gevurah: Strength and focus. One has to be determined to change.
Tiferet: Balance and harmony. One has to have a plan to change.
Netzach: Victory and overcoming obstacles. One has to trust to change.
Hod: Acknowledgement and surrender. One has to be realistic to change.
Yesod: Truth and integrity. One has to be honest to change.
Malchut: Manifestation and expression. One has to act to change.
There are many theories about how and why people change and we are offering a Kabbalistic perspective on change. A current popular schema is the stages of change which include words such as pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. (see James Prochaska, Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward). Please note that this program for change does not include the word love as if love has got nothing to do with it. There are also those who would condemn the notion of loving yourself. They see love for self as egoistic, selfish. We are commending a different approach. Loving yourself is a prerequisite to reaching higher spiritual awareness—loving all (including yourself) .
The first week: Chesed: Love
Day 1: Chesed in Chesed—Changing is a gift you are giving to yourself (others may benefit as well but it is for you). Do you love yourself enough to give this gift to you? Ask: How will I feel if I change? Who will I be if I change? Is this change a loving act to myself?
Day 2 Gevurah in Chesed—Gevurah is about focus and determination and the challenge to that is what will others think, how will this affect others and will that cause me to lose or strengthen my determination to change? Every time we contemplate change there are both external and internal voices that are stirred up—listen for and to them and return to love—I will change because I love (myself and others).
Day 3: Tiferet in Chesed —Tiferet is a plan that takes into account the need for balance—both internally and with others. It is detrimental to overpromise. It can also be detrimental to compromise. Each of us has to determine the legitimacy of the voices we hear. Do I need to adjust my plan for change or is that another way to not truly love myself? Keep in mind that your plan is a promise to yourself that you will love yourself and make the change.
Day 4: Netzach in Chesed—Netzach is about trust in yourself that you can overcome any emotions that are stirred up by your plan to love yourself and change. Trust that the change is for the good, it is not selfish, it is not controlling. It is a holy endeavor. Trust that you can sustain the change, that it represents a love for yourself that will endure.
Day 5: Hod in Chesed—Hod is about acknowledging limitations. It is not easy to sustain love for oneself. You may falter. You may not love yourself enough and then the change may erode. Reflect on how you handle the actual or anticipated faltering, the regression, the lack of love for self as seen by not maintaining the change and needing to recommit to it.
Day 6: Yesod in Chesed—Yesod is the foundation on which love and change can be actualized because it is speaking your truth. Can you forgive yourself for not loving yourself properly? Can you forgive yourself and others for wanting and not receiving the love you wanted or being loved the way you wanted? You first have to admit the truth. Feel the disappointment, sadness or anger. You can come to live your own truth and love yourself if you do not deny those emotions and still love yourself.
Day 7: Malchut in Chesed—Feel fully that you deserve the gift of change, that it is an expression of love for yourself and think and say, “I love myself so I can’t contemplate not changing.”
I am sharing with you two changes I will be working on for the next seven weeks. I start by sharing with you what I am proposing to see happen at the end of the seven weeks:
- I will be exercising three times a week
- I will start the Kabbalah classes I teach on time
- There will be a photo in our home that has all the members of our family together
Are these simple behaviors that need to be changed? The first clue that they run deeper for me is that I have wanted to accomplish both of these for a long time. I have been procrastinating.
- I do not exercise at all. I was a basketball player, I was a marathon runner. But now I am a sedentary blog writer, a sedentary teacher, a sedentary therapist. In other words, I sit a lot. I have this image of myself (an identity) as an athlete. But that is an image that lives in the past. I want to exercise (I went for hip surgery to allow me to be more active again) and don’t make the time for it.
- I am too often a few minutes late in starting class. Sometimes this is due to arriving late for a first class or not ending a class on time and then starting the next class on time.
- The other change reflects our creating a new family together as represented by a photograph of my wife and I, my three children and our two children. I want to set a date for the photo(s) to be taken. We have chosen the photographer. Will it happen?
These are the three changes I will be working on through my count of the fifty days.