This is one in a series of adventures in which I undertake a new and exciting pilgrimage journey to a local religious, cultural, or historic landmark in my immediate area. The purpose of these mini-expeditions is to deepen my faith while broadening my horizons of what it means to live an embodied and committed spiritual life. Feel free to add to the discussion in the comments section below.
A Torah Trek
Founded in 1903, Temple B'nai Israel is the first permanent Jewish house of worship in Oklahoma. It's a vibrant center for Reform Judaism, is inclusive and diverse, and welcomes people from all backgrounds to worship, study, and participate in meaningful acts of service. With a strong focus on social justice and community engagement, I knew that Temple B'nai was a place I wanted to visit. I set out on my pilgrimage walk just before Thanksgiving Day in the fall of 2017. My intention was to stay open to new experiences and to practice gratitude on the way there and back.
A neighborhood gratitude tree, a busy Oklahoma freeway, a tree sparing sidewalk,
a local hospital complex, and the Torah
Along the Way
During my walk, I passed through quiet neighborhoods, across busy byways, alongside a street construction zone, and past businesses and convenience stores. There were very few fellow travelers out on foot because it was mid-morning, and cold. But the skies were blue, the sun was bright, and there were opportunities for gratitude all along the way.
In one of the neighborhoods, I noticed a tree that had sticky notes tacked to it, with extra pens and paper placed on the ground nearby. As I got closer, I read the notes which had been left by others. They said things like, "I'm thankful for my wonderful family," and "I'm grateful for my dog," and "I'm thankful for everything I have." It was a gratitude tree! I was surprised, because this was early into my trip and already gratitude was a part of the journey. The spirit of Thanksgiving was in the air. This small act of intentionality was a sign to me of the good things that surround us everyday, if we only take the time and energy to look for them.
Down the road, I also passed by a community sidewalk which was purposely constructed around an existing tree. A small detail, but one that could make a big impact. The tree is a live oak and its leaves stay green all year round. It provides shade to people waiting for the bus during the hot summer months, and it gives a burst of green during the fall and winter when other trees and plants have gone dormant. The tree could have easily been removed, but it wasn't, and as a result people will benefit from this small and generous act for years to come.
The large wooden doors leading into the main sanctuary
When I arrived at the temple, I was struck by the beauty of the woodwork throughout the facility. Large panels, sturdy doors, and entire walls lined with natural wood all made a strong and warm impression on me. In an age of manufactured products and disposable materials, it was refreshing to see a more timeless element prominently included.
The Holocaust remembrance room
One of the most moving experiences of my journey was being able to visit the Holocaust remembrance room inside the temple complex. An eternal fountain has water that flows across words of sorrow and hope and then out into the world underneath a glass wall. I spent time studying the faces of actual temple members and their families who lost their lives through the atrocities committed during World War II. The room is constructed to resemble a concentration camp bunkhouse, which adds a chilling and poignant effect. We all must remember the pain from the past, while carrying hope for the future.
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
- Elie Wiesel
The temple's historical marker from the State of Oklahoma
Talking the Walk
During my visit, I had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with Temple B'nai Rabbi Vered Harris. Listen to the inspiring and thought provoking conversation below, as Rabbi Harris and I discuss the following questions:
Me and Rabbi Vered Harris in front of her office library
"A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair."
- Abraham Joshua Heschel
What does it mean to you to live an embodied and committed spiritual life? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Charles Gosset is a Certified Professional Life and Leadership Coach (ACC, CPC) and founder of Full Integration Coaching, LLC. He helps big-hearted people with huge drive lead exceptional lives. You can find out more about him and the transformational services he offers by visiting: www.fullintegrationcoaching.com.
Image: Kevin & Amanda
Nothing can bring us together quite like the holidays. And nothing can tear us apart quite like them either. Seasons greetings can become glad it's only once a year in the twinkling of an eye. The family moments we hoped to cherish while sipping a hot cup of pumpkin spice latte can be replaced by binge watching Netflix alone while eating an entire pumpkin pie. Not what we had in mind. So, what happens to turn the holidays into stress-filled marathons of overdoing instead of opportunities for creating meaningful memories?
Too much of a good thing
I've identified what I believe to be the biggest reasons that stress dominates the holidays, and they all share one thing in common: too much of a good thing. Too much to do, too much to buy, too much to see, and too much to be. Taken in moderation, each of these factors has a lot to offer the Buddy the Elf inside all of us. But when we overdo, they turn on us and bring out our inner Scrooge.
1.) Too much to do. There's really no need to explain this one. We all have too much to do and not enough time to get it all done. If we don't learn to prioritize our time and energy, then we become victims of the demands that we place on ourselves and others. This leaves us feeling burned out, resentful, and disconnected from the spirit of the season.
2.) Too much to buy. The pressure we feel to buy the perfect gift for others can create an inner conflict that throws us into a state of anxiety and guilt. We look at the price tags and know we can't afford these things, but we buy them anyway. We can end up racking up debt that leaves us feeling financially overwhelmed and out of control.
3.) Too much to see. More people travel during the winter holidays than virtually any other time of year, with Thanksgiving being the busiest time of all. Fewer and fewer families live close to one another now, so spending time together means hitting the road or catching a flight. Adding to the stress of travel is the fact that many families plan activities as part of a larger holiday vacation, which can disrupt schedules, stretch the budget, and leaves less time for quality conversations.
4.) Too much to be. There are those of us who feel like we have to be everything to everyone during the holidays, and that can take a toll. The truth is that we can't possibly meet everyone else's needs or expectations of us, just like they can't meet all of ours. Plus, family dynamics from the ghost of Christmas past can force us into older versions of ourselves when parents, children, and friends aren't able to accept us for who we are today. This can make us want to head for the hills instead of the dinner table.
(To be fair, there are also other important factors that can cause holiday stress, such as painful losses, family dysfunction, and past trauma that are all heightened during the holiday season. Even so, understanding the four factors above can help us to reduce stress and experience a saner season.)
Taken in moderation, each of these things has a lot to offer the Buddy the Elf inside all of us. But when we overdo, they turn on us and bring out our inner Scrooge.
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