Overcoming Perfection

By Chavah Golden, Chicago, IL
Essays 2017

MyLife Essay Contest 2017

Standing in the park one day, looking up, I was wondering why a Frisbee looks larger, the closer it gets….then it hit me.

…Many classes later, I was wondering why I wasn’t perfect yet… then IT HIT ME! To be perfect and know everything is not the goal. Neither is fixing other people or complaining about how they act. Neither is teaching them how to be “better.” Not only will perfection never happen, the striving itself only piles heavy boulders of disappointment, impossible responsibility, and shame onto the shoulders. I get it. Now what?

Here begins the journey…

It had never occurred to me that I hadn’t really been learning. I thought I was learning everything, and with just the next lecture or book, I would finally be perfect. In fact, I was
already teaching other imperfect people the errors of their ways. When they complained about me, I felt they were both right and awful. In the end, though I wanted to continuously improve,
something about my means and motives were way off-kilter. But what?

I read, went to lectures and online… anything to “learn.” I was a seeker, but of what? Life was feeding my fears, defenses, and habits. Looking back, mine was a life of colliding vicious circles, empty words and platitudes, and lots of nonsense and lies. But you’d never know it. I looked like everyone else.

So, how does a person who doesn’t get it, transform from a “perfection” mindset – obsessed and relentless, into a thoughtful mindset that’s settled, sober, and mature?

It hit me in 2000. I couldn’t help but take a leap. Nothing horrible had happened, other than the regular severities. Just suddenly, enough was enough.

I began following new cues – I don’t know from where. All I knew was that my outlook was a poor fit, and it needed an overhaul. I was ready, and the teacher appeared.

I can say now, that transformation calls on a deep and persistent will to internalize truth. Truth is not easy to know. It needs to be carefully packaged, digestible, and spoon fed into the fabric of being, come pain or high loneliness. The right teacher knows how to do that. Lots of false truths tried me along the way, but one by one, with persistence and growing clarity, they fell off the radar — only to open my eyes to the next and bigger challenge, but with a greater and stronger foundation.

The first big clearing was a trip to Israel with my husband. I soaked up (real) learning day and night. No amount was enough. I didn’t know it then, but I was learning Chassidus. I did know that my tireless teachers had a conviction and integrity that I’d never seen before. They conveyed truth I had never heard.

Today it’s obvious, without a doubt, that it is Chassidus, which nourishes the essence of the neshama, brings health to the person, and purifies the atmosphere. Chassidus is infinitely more than that, but not less.

Now note, I didn’t start out Jewish. I became Jewish over a long and thorough process. I chose as my teacher, Rabbi Meir Chai Benhiyoun, Chicago, IL, a student and Shliach of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. We worked together for nearly three years to form a Jewish body that could support the foundation of Torah and mitzvos, and carry the feather light essence of Yiddishkite.

True change is not a wish. It is an absolute and complete commitment to do whatever it takes to uproot and replace an entire structure. It’s not a platitude to tape onto the mirror. It is an
unmistakable reality with no ifs, ands, or buts – NOT, “if this then I will…”, NOT, “I would do this but I can’t because…”, NOT, “I will do this and keep on doing….”

It’s not about me, like I thought it was. I can’t describe in words how huge and encompassing the “me” mindset is, and how difficult it is to overcome and extract at its root. Distancing from “me,” as I’ve experienced it, is a pleasurable, lifelong process.

I start my days upon waking, by washing my hands, saying mode ani, then davening, and more. Throughout, I meditate on

Hashem is One, and there is nothing besides Him, so nothing can possibly be bad, not even … (fill in the blank).

Then, since Hashem customizes our days with what we need to learn, my day is rarely what I could expect, so gam zu letova, “this too is for good” runs through my mind all day.

Let’s look at a typical day. Say all day, or so it seems, whatever I touch knocks something else over and spills its content, or things just drop onto the floor. I could understandably be annoyed
and allow it to derail my “good day.” (Sometimes it does, but who’s perfect?). Instead I practice calling out the most resonating Chassidic lesson. For example, when knocking down and dropping things, I would say inside,

some blessings are so good that they can only be expressed as seemingly bad. But these are
They are a source of treasures, if I would just stay down there long enough to pick them up.

So I look for treasures! I usually find some! Once I found something I had looked for, literally for years.

Now a friend says something that I can barely tolerate, and with an attitude that makes me want to run away. I feel my resentment rising inside, when I remember that

if I feel resentful or angry when I see a problem in a person, I have that problem.

When I remember that, I can’t ignore it. I’m obligated to look carefully to find the problem within me. Surprisingly, I find it. More surprisingly, I calm down and objectively address the
problem. Suddenly everything looks different than when I was feeling resentful. On the other hand,

if I see a problem in a person, and I want to help them, I don’t have the problem,

and I can offer assistance in a balanced way.

I spent several days on the annoyance exercise. Each day, I wrote down annoyances that could hold me hostage. Just doing the exercise heightened my awareness.

Here’s another one. I am involved with a mind-bending project. I am at the point between creativity and overwhelm, on the verge of discovery. I am engrossed, plugging, digging deeper. Someone I care about (say, my husband) needs something. Can I let go and help him? I fear that I’ll have to start over and go through overwhelm again. But can I say no to my husband? Hardly. I practice broadening my mind so I can handle more than one emotion at a time. Chassidus says that regarding broad thinking –

Emotions that are not influenced by the mind, are rigid. They are not agile and broad. Emotions that are influenced by wisdom are objective.
They can understand both sides of an argument, whether the argument is internal or external. It is easy for mature emotions to navigate between two opposites.

Courage kicks in. I handle both and do even better.

Oh, and the technology conundrums. I despise technology problems!! They hold me captive, with no end in sight. And it’s Erev Shabbos. I can’t imagine going into Shabbos with an unresolved tech problem, so I sit and tinker, thinking time is not passing at all. Then help arrives:

Who is wise? The person who sees the future consequences.

I lift my head above the fray (I don’t wait ‘til I’m ready). I review what I have finished so far, and picture what’s left to do. I take an accounting of the time it will take to finish preparing for Shabbos. The tech problem fades into the background as if it was nothing (it was).

Shabbos comes in, our home is beautiful, challah and food smells delicious, and we are happy. When Shabbos is over, the problem is nothing! I fix it and it’s done.

Sometimes I have so many projects going at once, it’s confusing to keep everything straight. Then add that Pesach is coming closer. I become starkly aware of what is ahead. I also keep in mind that I have a job and many projects that are still in the air… must I say more? The Rebbe tells us that

“When something is overwhelming, do it little by little and eventually it will be done.”

It works every time. I admit though, that I think every time, “Sure it’s always worked, but probably not this time.” (It always does).

Two things came up this week that I dreaded saying. One was that I had chosen one company over another. The one I was not choosing had helped me a lot. We had connected and were going forward, until another company gave me an un-refusable offer. The second incident was, I discovered that a lovely company whose food goods I’d signed up to receive, had an unreliable Israeli hechsher. I had grown to care about the owner, and was going to drive other business her way. Her company tries hard, makes an exceptional product, and offers wonderful ideas for its use. I had to tell her I was going to opt out of her product because a trusted Israeli Rabbi said her hechsher was not reliable. I remembered…

when addressing a sensitive issue with another person, rather than directly confronting the
clarify the subject. As a result, you remove the discomfort.

I applied this in both cases. Everyone felt valued and respected.

Finally, I “needed” to find something I had created to help me publicize my services. I looked and looked, with no success. No key words, not in any folders, files, or collections. I won’t say
how long I looked before I remembered,

the world says that if you can’t crawl under an obstacle, try to climb over it.
I say, leap over it in the first place! Act energetically.
Don’t be deterred by obstacles. Act as the situation needs you to act.
When you are committed to accomplishing what needs to be done, you will be helped.

I recreated what I could remember, and I was satisfied. I realized that it hadn’t even been a problem in the first place. Next time, sooner!

We’ll stop here. You can apply the Chassidus I’ve shared, to your challenges, on this simple level. You’ll see, it will probably be more effective than what you do now. Try what I did. List the major annoyances you experience in a day. Be as general as you can, so each one can describe several specific issues. Apply the Chassidus Circle-Tool where it’s fitting. But don’t stop there. Go learn more and learn deep. The treasures will become part of your fabric, ready and available for you to easily call upon any time.

All in all, from everything I’ve learned, I see us as if each we are each on our own ferris wheel. Sometimes we’re up, sometimes we’re down.

On our Private Ferris Wheels…

You know the old Chassidic saying, “What goes up, must come down.” So don’t get so excited about being on top, because a wheel keeps going around. Therefore, on another day, you may be at the bottom and someone else is on the top (if you are, remember to pick up the treasures!).

Always realize that when you are on the top, and you are with a person who is on the bottom, you aren’t “higher” than the person. You are just up for now. S/he is down just for now. So rather than feeling “higher” and luckier, it’s best to see yourself as lower at all times and to treat everyone with respect (even when you don’t think they deserve it).

As we all learn, “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.” Love your fellow, and you will always have your dignity.

And what is the reward of truth? The reward is truth itself.