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Be Happy, Now! October 4, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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“Be joyful at your festival – you and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow who live within your city.

For seven days you must celebrate the Festival to YHVH*, your God, in the place which YHVH* shall choose, because the Lord, your God, will bless you in all your produce, and in all the work of your hands, and you will only be happy.”

(*NOTE: YHVH is commonly translated as “the Lord” in English.)

– quoted from Devarim  – Deuteronomy (16:14 – 15)

In the Torah (and the Christian Old Testament), there are a list of commandments and, mixed into that list, are certain dates the faithful are commanded to observe. We think of them, in the modern context, as “holidays” and they are filled with ritual and tradition. Sometimes the mandate is general and left to interpretation (like when it says in Deuteronomy, “‘… and they shall not appear before the Lord empty: Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee.’” Other times, however, it is very specific about who, what, when, and even where. Sukkot, the “Festival (or Feast) of the Tabernacles (or Booths)” is one of the times where the details are specific – even when they appear vague.

For seven days, 8 in the diaspora, people within the Jewish community and people who observe the commanded holidays, eat, sleep, socialize, and sometimes work in a temporary shelter. The shelter, a sukkah, consists of three walls of any material and a roof made of natural fiber. (Natural being something grown from the earth.) In this year where the pandemic has created so many obstacles to the ways in which people typically observe and practice their faith here, finally, is a time when there is less challenge. Yes, true, it is still best for people to socially distance, wear masks, wash your hands, and avoid big gatherings – but, it is also best (when gathering) to be outdoors. It’s like Sukkot was tailor-made for this part of 2020.

“1. Give yourself permission to be human.

2. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning.”

– quoted from the Psychology 1504 (“Positive Psychology”) course by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar

One of the significant things about Sukkot is that it is a time for people to come together regardless of their circumstances, gender, religion, or political affiliation. It is a time for all to remember challenges of the past; while also celebrating better days ahead. Another especially noteworthy thing about Sukkot is the symbolism behind the rituals. For instance, one of the points of being outside in the most basic of shelters, exposed to the elements, is to remind people of the time when their ancestors were living in simple, temporary shelters when they were exiled in the desert for 40 years. It is also a good time to remember how much we have – as well as the fact that we could be happy with less. Sukkot is a reminder that life can be full, even when it is simple and bare-boned. It is a time of appreciation and it is also about accepting the present moment.

That last part – accepting the present moment – is easy to overlook. However, the commandment specifically states that the celebration occurs in a place chosen by God. In other words, we might not be where we want to be or where we thought we would be. (Hello, 2020!) This is something I point out every year, but it was especially pointed out to me in 2016, when the creamery, where I held my 2015 Sukkot retreat was no longer available… and again, in 2017, when it was no longer as easy to schedule time in the church where I held the second retreat… and again, in 2019, when the church camp I had planned to use experienced a fire and had to cancel the bulk of their season. And now, here it is 2020… once again, things are not as we planned – despite the fact that CP graciously offered to help me plan this year’s retreat. On the face, it might seem that we are “destined” not to observe this time – and yet, we do, every year… just not necessarily in the place that we thought.

“3. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account.

4. Simplify!”

– quoted from the Psychology 1504 (“Positive Psychology”) course by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar

Many people refer to Sukkot as the “Season of Happiness,” because they view the instructions in the Bible as a mandate to be happy. Since the instruction is to be joyful, or rejoice, about things that have yet to happen – blessings yet to come – one has to wonder: How can we be “independently happy” and celebrate something that hasn’t happened yet? It’s a good question. And, it turns out, there are some really good answers.

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, an expert in Positive Psychology and the author of Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment and A Clash of Values: The Struggle for Universal Freedom, use to teach a class at Harvard University called “Happiness 101.” In his class and through his research, he offered 6 very practical tips for cultivating happiness. Those tips are featured in the practice during Sukkot (and are highlighted throughout this blog post).

“5. Remember the mind-body connection.

– quoted from the Psychology 1504 (“Positive Psychology”) course by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, October 4th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Look for “Sukkot 2”)

“6. Express gratitude, whenever possible.”

– quoted from the Psychology 1504 (“Positive Psychology”) course by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar

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