How do you respond to chaos? Count your blessings
Social distance. Shelter in place. Stay home and save lives. Wear your mask. These constituted the communal response to the COVID crisis of contagion.
But how do we respond introspectively?
We don’t have to figure it out on our own. History provides a template – one as relevant today as it was at the dawn of civil society.
Nearly 3000 years ago, toward the end of King David’s reign over the kingdom Israel, a mysterious plague began striking down victims in vast numbers. The sages record that David responded by issuing a decree mandating that every person in the land recite 100 blessings a day. Miraculously, the plague came abruptly to an end.
WHAT IS A BLESSING?
The Hebrew word for blessing – bracha – is related to the word bereicha – which means a spring-fed pool. How are these words connected?
Consider how life-giving water surges into the world from unseen reservoirs and wellsprings. In the same way, both the material resources that sustain us and the innate abilities that enable us to live rich and rewarding lives flow into the world from a hidden psychological and metaphysical source. To pronounce a blessing is to acknowledge that we are the recipients of these gifts and to declare our intent to show appreciation by making the most of them.
In the days of King David, the people suffered from a corrosive sense of entitlement. They took for granted the opportunity they enjoyed for using material prosperity to promote spiritual growth. The plague that arose among them was a wake-up call, a reminder of how fortunate they truly were and of the responsibilities that come with freedom and success.
HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
Does this sound awfully familiar? Hasn’t our affluence made it easy for us to forget the universal values that guide a healthy society and sustain vibrant and prosperous communities? Isn’t the disruption to our comfortable lives a stinging admonition to remember and recount our blessings?
Some of the appropriate responses are obvious, others, less so. Here are a few suggestions:
Add depth to relationships.
Being forced apart, we realize that we need to work harder to stay connected. That was true even before the quarantine. Ironically, isolation has provided us the opportunity to seek deeper and more meaningful interactions.
Reach out to neglected friends and family.
Our accelerated pace of life has convinced us that we need to continuously seek out new connections, often at the expense of old ones. Suddenly, we feel compelled to reconnect. The challenge will be remembering to nurture those relationships most important to us once the crisis has passed.
Look for opportunities to do acts of random and calculated kindness.
Wash some dishes. Make the beds. Pick up a few toys. Do a load of laundry. Even when restrictions relax, don’t take home for granted. Look for opportunities to lighten someone else’s burden. Leave Post-It notes with upbeat messages stuck to the pantry door, the medicine cabinet, and the kitchen faucet for loved-ones to find. Send short emails to acquaintances to let them know you’re thinking about them. It takes little effort to brighten someone else’s day.
Look after your physical and spiritual health through exercise, meditation, and journaling.
More and more, science is revealing the practical benefit that physical activity and thoughtful reflection have on every aspect of our personal wellbeing. Our bodies and minds are gifts. Don’t they warrant our attention?
Seek to spread inspiration rather than stewing over our misfortune.
As a rule, we don’t complain because we’re unhappy; we’re unhappy because we complain. You don’t like listening to other people’s kvetch. How does it affect your frame of mind listening to yourself bemoan your fate from morning to night? Conversely, the Jewish sage Shammai famously taught, “Greet every person with a pleasant expression.” That includes that way you greet yourself in the mirror every morning.
But don’t stop there. When you smile at a stranger, the stranger smiles back. Instantaneously, your whole world gets brighter. Before you know it, you can’t keep count of the smiles and pleasant words that come back your way.
MINDSET IS EVERYTHING
Often, the difference between a blessing and curse depends not on what happens to us, but on the way we respond. It doesn’t take much to shift your perspective. And once you do, you can’t help but notice the sun shining through the clouds.
How do you shift perspective? Make a habit of asking yourself these questions every morning and every evening:
- What is one good thing that has happened to me in the last 24 hours?
- Who is one person in my life I’m grateful for?
- What is one way my life today is better than it used to be?
- How can I express appreciation to someone who deserves it?
- What small action can I take to spread light to another person, right now?
The Hebrew term for gratitude is hakores hatov – literally, recognizing the good. When you notice the good in your life, your natural reaction is gratitude. All you have to do is pay attention; before you know it, blessings will begin to fall from your lips all by themselves.
This essay is featured in the new anthology Bright Spots: Motivation and Inspiration to Light your Path to a Changing World, available in digital form now on Amazon.