One of the most incredible gifts RRC offers its students is “Spiritual Direction.” It’s a little difficult to describe. It’s therapy-like, in the sense that you meet one-on-one with a “spiritual director” (someone, often a rabbi, who went through a specific training program to be certified as a director), and the conversation is focused around your needs and experiences. The sessions can be more emotion-based or more steeped in Jewish text and practice. They can focus on pieces of religious and spiritual life (“I want to deepen my prayer practice”) or on non-explicitly religious and spiritual elements of life meeting spiritual existence (“I’m so busy with school/work/family that it’s hard for me to feel centered in anything God-like”). Some students choose to switch directors during their time in school, and others continue with the same person throughout their time at RRC (and sometimes even arrange to continue privately once they graduate). RRC covers 10 sessions a year for each student. I gobble them up.
I got really lucky my first year, in that the director I tried out ended up being a great fit for me. It’s amazing to have worked with someone for going on five years now. She met me when I was barely a month into rabbinical school and has been accompanying my journey ever since, including during my time here in Israel. During my phone session with her today, our long history made itself known.
I had a sort of plan for our session. We were going to continue a conversation around a particular issue that impacts my religious and spiritual life a lot. But I barely got into our call before my director figured out that something was up. I ended up telling her what was going on. And so, instead of talking about what I thought we were going to talk about, we talked about anxiety and uncertainty.
Spiritual Direction can be a little like yoga, in that sometimes learning and growth set in immediately, and other times the poses have to percolate a little before you know what to do with them. Today, maybe because I followed up my session with yoga, things set pretty quickly.
All this to say, I think that my emotions are really basically a cat.
Everyone, meet Pico. Pico is my cat. He’s living in Philly this year with a lovely classmate while I do this Israel thing. I miss him something fierce.
So here’s the thing about Pico: he’s kinda, well, wacky.
I love the little guy so much. I love watching him chase toys all over, bound down the stairs like a dog to greet me at the door, and hide out in Trader Joe’s bags.
I love watching him sleep.
And sleep (he is a cat, after all).
I love carrying him around and dressing him up.
I love it when he makes me laugh.
And I love it when he wants to hide out in bed as much as I do.
But here’s the thing about Pico: Sometimes, he can get really annoying. Those are the things I don’t have many adorable pictures of. I don’t have pictures of him tracking litter out of his box or spilling his food because he never learned to be particularly dainty. I don’t have pictures of him nipping at my roommates’ feet and ankles because she was wearing brightly colored socks. I don’t have pictures of him scratching and biting my arms, or my friends’ arms. I don’t have pictures of him standing in front of any door he wants to enter or leave meowing and scratching pitifully for what feels like hours on end. I certainly don’t have a picture of the time when I was doing yoga and he (accidentally– he really was trying to play) cut my eyelid badly enough that I had to go to urgent care and almost needed stitches.
Pico is a cat. He’s a great cat. Sometimes, he and my life don’t mesh perfectly and he’s more annoying than lovable. I don’t have to love every impact Pico has on my existence to love him. I just have to know that they’re all a part of the package. Usually, he’s welcome. Now, when I do yoga, I have to close the door and keep him out to keep myself safe, even if he scratches and meows pitifully.
Emotions are tough. They contain the best and worst of human experiences. They are this totally chill and wonderful cat:
And this slightly perturbed cat:
And this “nothing is safe so long as I can get it between my teeth” cat.
That cat is the closest to what my emotional state has been for the last few days. It’s been chaotic. It’s been meowing outside my door and messing with my concentration on everything else I’m working on. I’ve felt compelled to open the door and let it take over my space.
But here’s the thing: I shut the cat out while I do yoga for a reason. I know it’s safer for me to limit his access when his style of play makes it impossible for me to hang out in pyramid or cobra. It’s not that I’m never willing to play with him, or even that I’m not willing to get a little scratched up from time to time. But having him with me when he could really hurt me isn’t good for either of us.
So it is with my fear. It’s not that there’s no reason for fear. It’s a piece of the emotional bundle just as much as Pico’s occasionally overzealous play is a part of his personality. I love my emotions. I love my cat. They both add value to my life. Sometimes I even cuddle them. And sometimes, my cat and my fear have to go hang out by themselves so I can live normally. My work is to get better at acknowledging the meows without always opening the door.