So many people are waiting for their lives to begin. They're waiting for that dream job, spouse, or baby. And until then, they're just stuck in a holding pattern.
But Rabbi Naomi Levy, who will speak in Chicago in April, advises people to find the blessings in their lives now. In her 2010 book, Hope Will Find You, Levy explores how to learn to embrace the present when you don't have everything you yearn for in life. Levy, who lives in Venice, Calif., advises people to find meaning in their lives, to live the best possible life now--even though it's an imperfect life.
She sees unmarried people, for instance, constantly waiting around for their future partners. "I've seen single people unwilling to even buy dishes, eating off paper plates," she said. "[They would say] 'I'll buy dishes when I get married and for now I can just slum it'…as opposed to saying, 'I'm here, I'm alive, and I deserve to eat off dishes. I deserve to live the most beautiful life possible and not put it off for some magical point in the future.'"
In April, Levy, the author of three books on Judaism and spirituality, will present two programs as part of the Lauri S. Bauer Foundation for Sudden Loss Conference on Help, Healing, and Hope After Loss. The conference is presented by the Bauer Foundation and the Jewish Healing Network, administered by Jewish Child and Family Services in collaboration with CJE SeniorLife, the Chicago Board of Rabbis, and the Jewish United Fund.
On Thursday, April 23, Levy will present a program to the Jewish community about starting over after a loss. Then, on Friday, April 24, she will speak to mental health professionals, hospice professionals, and clergy about helping others when they themselves are hurting.
Finally, on April 24-25, Levy will act as the Scholar-in-Residence at Beth Hillel Congregation Bnai Emunah in Wilmette on Shabbat.
Levy's journey to embrace the present started in the past-back in 2001. She was sitting down to Shabbat dinner with her husband and young son and daughter when the phone rang with a call that would forever change her life. It was a doctor at the other end informing Levy that her daughter, Noa, then 5, had a degenerative illness.
Upon hearing that diagnosis, Levy crumbled. Her world collapsed, she felt abandoned by God, and she grew consumed by her daughter's illness.
But somehow, over time, reflection, and through reading lessons of Jewish sages like Reb Nachman of Breslov, Levy managed to gain perspective. Even in possibly facing the worst thing a parent can experience, she began to recognize she still was surrounded by blessings in her life. "I started to see the openings, to see more of the light than the darkness," she said.
Levy even managed to seek out the beautiful parts that emerged from the ugliness--from her daughter's illness. For instance, she discovered beauty in, of all places, a doctor's waiting room. "I started to see that waiting rooms are sacred places where you can really gather strength from other people," she said. "What does it mean to see blessings in the place you don't want to be--in the imperfect life."
Mantra meditations have also helped the rabbi along the way--a tool she recommends to others. She advises to speak to oneself with loving, positive words as opposed to toxic ones. "Meditation [can be] a way to give the soul a bigger voice and to silent some of those negative voices that have a way of becoming our mantra…like 'I hate my life' or 'I'm a loser,'" she said. "They could be repeating a mantra that they don't realize is poisoning their soul. A simple thing, like learning a new language that could become a part of your inner monologue, can change your outer reality."
Today, Noa is doing well. She still faces health challenges, but her mother said she's thriving. A freshman in college, Noa plans to study Psychology and help children with disabilities.
Levy believes that no matter where we are in life, we can help hope find us. "When we stop pushing and pulling so much, hope will find us," she said, "and if we open up to it, we can receive the hope."
For more information on Rabbi Levy's Chicago-area speaking engagements in April, visit http://bit.ly/bauer_registration. For information on her scholar-in-residence Shabbat at Beth Hillel Congregation Bnai Emunah, call (847) 256-1213.