It’s 2 am. I can’t sleep because of the pounding headache and congestion of a bad cold. I sit on the couch in the living room finishing a book instead of trying to sleep in bed. Between constantly sneezing, coughing, and blowing my nose, I’m not feeling at all up to going to work. I decide to call in sick (which I dislike greatly and have to be really sick to consider doing) and spend the day recuperating.
After I finish my book, my mind is restless. I still can’t get comfortable enough to sleep, although I’m certainly tired enough. My mind, for reasons unknown, settles on a well-known teaching attributed to Rabbi Simcha Bunem of Pershyscha: each person should carry with them two slips of paper in their pockets. In one pocket should be a slip that reads v’anochi afar v’efer– “I am but dust and ashes”. In the other should be a slip that reads bishvili nivrah ha’olam– “For my sake the world was created”. As I recline on the couch, physically depleted, I certainly feel like afar v’efer; light, inconsequential, seemingly nothing, lesser than other things. Yet, in the midst of this feeling of sickness, I remember that the day ahead, while a sick day, simultaneously offers opportunities for replenishment and nourishment, almost as if fate presented an opportunity to do the restorative work of healing. Bishvili nivrah ha’olam.
I’ve belatedly rediscovered the fact that the stress that life brings can be healthy if it’s channeled the right way. The last several months have been stressful ones, for a variety of reasons. I’ve finally regained the motivation and animus to manage it correctly, which has been a struggle at times. I’m running more, swimming more, painting more, reading more, practicing mindfulness more, and generally taking more time to myself at the appropriate moments. Five minutes of peace and quiet is sometimes in short supply, but I’ve learned when they come that they can be a productive five minutes, even if I do nothing more than simply be mindful and take stock mentally of where I am. In the Garden of Eden, G-d’s question to Adam is Ayeka? “Where are you?” It’s not simply a question of physical location, but of mental state. I can take five minutes and ask myself, where am I? How do I feel? Do I need to do anything to adjust right now? Can I do it intentionally? This question is one that I seek to answer more and more, because bishvili nivrah ha’olam.
Relatedly, another facet of my mindfulness practice and stress relief has been prayer. I’ve discovered, like so many others, that the daily t’fillot are calming, a moment of predictability and tranquility in the midst of an otherwise largely unpredictable day. It too is an exercise in mindfulness; reciting the words of the brachot that I know so well, while simultaneously trying not to make it a rote exercise, is restorative, replenishing and reaffirming. This, along with my daily Daf Shevui Talmud study, offer a respite from the day’s events. They are predictable, yet always unique. Routine, yet full of variety. There is always something new to consider in the midst of the familiar, something personal for each of us. Bishvili nivrah ha’olam.
Although as I write this I still feel like dust and ashes, I know that the feelings associated with it will pass. Today is a time to rest and heal, to read, to enjoy a cup of tea, to relax, to be thankful. Because for my sake the world was created.