Busy Person’s Retreat Day 5: Are You Ready?

View an illustrated PDF version of this reflection here.

We have come to the end of our week…and to the end of our Busy Person’s Retreat.  Five days of thought and reflection on themes meant to help us find calm in the midst of storms and reassurance when uncertainty overtakes us.  On day one we began by recognizing how busy – or full – our lives are and how, even amidst the bounty of this fullness, we yearn for moments of stillness and pause.  Day two’s reflection reminded us that we thrive when there is a balance between action and inaction – or agitation and serenity – in the lives we lead.  Day three introduced us to multiple forms of meditation as a means of cultivating inner awareness, compassion and calm.  While on day four, we learned about the different types of rest that we need in order to maintain a sense of wellness.

What will we take with us from this week?  What new wisdom or action are we ready to invite into our lives?  Vincent de Paul often reminded his community members that they had to “learn how to free yoursel(ves) and be open to God’s will[1]” in order to live with meaning and purpose.  In other words, to learn how to detach from the distractions, fears, and disturbances that keep us from hearing and going to where we are being called.  Once we have freed ourselves all we need is a “ready heart.[2]”  With this in mind, ask yourself: am I ready?

Pause for Reflection and Action:

As you look back upon the Busy Person’s Retreat, were there moments that stand out for you?  Were there thoughts or images that especially resonated with you?  Pay attention to these moments and these thoughts.  Jot them down in order to remember.  They may help you discern how to introduce new peace and balance into your life.

Consider taking some time and building into your day some of the lessons you learned from this past week. Experiment with different forms of meditation.  Make a plan for how you will pursue multiple types of rest.  Or, simply take time to sit and breathe in quiet stillness.   Be attentive to these experiences and endeavor to continue them.

How does it feel to be part of a community at DePaul whose Vincentian heritage encourages you to grow by participating in things such as reflection, prayer, meditation, service and community?  Are you feeling called to deepen your engagement with our university’s Vincentian mission?

[1] Go, learn how to free yourself and to be open to God’s Will; let that be your lesson. (Volume: 12 | Page#: 197) Indifference, 15 May, 1659

[2] (Volume: 13a | Page#: 36) Sermon on Holy Communion

Busy Person’s Retreat Day 4: The 7 Types of Rest We All Need

View or download an illustrated PDF version of this article here

Rest is to work what harmony is to melody.  They complement each other and when the two come together, the results can be beautiful.  The human need to cease working and relax has been proclaimed by world religions, extolled by poets, and legislated by governing bodies.  Children have rest periods in school, highways have rest stops for travelers, and the faithful have eternal rest after lives well lived.  Rest has many well-documented health benefits [1] and, for the good of our minds, bodies and spirits, it is essential.

However, getting the rest we need is not always easy and is not as simple as just getting a good night’s sleep.  Recently, attention has been paid to something called the seven different types of rest.[2]  The idea being that we need multiple ways of taking a break from our daily labors and renewing our energy.  These seven different types of rest are probably not surprising to anyone and include the following dimensions: Physical, Mental, Emotional, Social, Sensory, Creative and Spiritual.   Being mindful of these different areas of our lives and the need that each has for the restorative effects of rest is a step towards health and wellness.

For physical rest, of course, getting good sleep is important.  So, too, is regular exercise.  But, also beneficial are simple things like stretching in our chairs and getting up from our desks to walk around for a few moments every half hour or so.  With mental rest, we can use a similar approach by taking long stretches of time away from work when possible as well as scheduling in short breaks during our workdays to do things like scroll through the news or entertain ourselves with a few quick Youtube videos.   Emotional rest can be challenging due to the self-awareness and vulnerability it demands.   However, when we are able to do things like minimize our negative self-talk or comparing ourselves to others, the emotional relief is real.  Social rest may involve intentionally being with people with whom we can be our total and authentic selves; where energy is actually gained when we are together.  Sensory rest may often go overlooked but involves being aware of what sensory input exhausts us and then mitigating it.  Limiting our screen time or turning down the noise that constantly distracts us are ways to gain sensory rest.  Creative rest engages our imagination and allows new thoughts a chance to breathe.  An art project or journaling time are simple examples.   Finally, spiritual rest involves connecting with something transcendent; something bigger than ourselves that helps to give us meaning.  Prayer, meditation and community service are some examples of this.

I think Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac would have appreciated the wisdom behind these seven different kinds of rest.  They understood that repose and renewal of all types were essential for themselves and their communities.  Prayer and meditation were regular parts of their days and they both frequently urged their community members to take good care of themselves, work a little less and adopt healthy habits that leant themselves to balanced lifestyles[3].  Vincent insisted that his missionaries take the months of July, August and September off from heavy labor and travel in order to “catch our breath and recoup a little energy.”[4]  And, on a more personal level, Vincent is known to have taken Thursdays off from his heavy workload.  Moreover, Louise is known to have loved and appreciated art, perhaps for the restorative effects it had on her spiritual and creative energies.

Rest is indeed a valuable, normal part of our day-to-day human journey albeit something we may overlook at times.  Whether for its health and wellness benefits or because it is fundamental to our Vincentian identity, let us honor the role of rest and its restorative powers in our lives.

Pause for Reflection:

Briefly review the seven types of rest mentioned above.  Without putting too much time and effort in, which ones strike you as needing attention in your life?  After identifying these, is there something(s) you can do to give yourself a bit more rest in these areas?

If you wish to take more time exploring your rest-needs, feel free to take this free Rest Quiz:  https://www.restquiz.com/quiz/rest-quiz-test/#quiz

What are actions that make you feel rested, renewed or rejuvenated?  Can you make a plan to do a few of these in the near future?

Reflect back on the first 3 days of the Busy Person’s Retreat.  What wisdom or gift from them do you wish to take with you?

[1] https://integrisok.com/resources/on-your-health/2021/april/why-its-important-to-allow-yourself-to-rest

[2] Dalton-Smith, Saundra. Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity. Faith Words, 2019.

[3] Blessed be God that your health is better! Take care of yourself for the love of God and reflect that one way to do this is to remain cheerful by conforming yourself completely to the holy will of God and not worrying about anything. State your needs very simply and do not be upset that your illness makes you useless.  Louise de Marillac (Volume: | Page#: 56) added on 6/2/2012; I ask you once again to work a little less and take care of yourself. Vincent de Paul (Volume: 5 | Page#: 506) To Edme Jolly, 7 January, 1656 added on 6/28/201

[4] Now, you know that our missions come to a halt during these three months of July, August, and September, which we set aside to catch our breath and recoup a little energy. Vincent de Paul (Volume: 8 | Page#: 39) To Edme Jolly, 18 July, 1659 added on 6/28/2011

 

Busy Person’s Retreat Day 3: Meditation, with a Purpose

View an illustration PDF version of the reflection here.

What do you think of when you hear the word meditation? I’ll be the first to admit that my thoughts immediately picture a yogi, sitting cross-legged in lotus position, floating a few inches from the ground, blissfully empty of thought, their inner-eye open to the Universe.

Or, perhaps you think of the commercials for meditation apps, promising one minute of calm while a soothing image of a raindrop slowly trickles off a leaf, or a close-up of a parent as they close their eyes on the couch while a chaotic maelstrom of children, pillows, and food swirl around them, their mind the calm center of the storm.

Or, maybe you think of yourself, sitting or standing in prayer, either at home or in a church, mosque, or temple, emptying your buzzing thoughts and nagging worries and trying to offer them up to the Divine for help, relief, and community.

Absolutely none of these are wrong. It seems as long as humans have lived in the world, we have needed a way to take our minds out of the world for reflection, even if for a moment. There is a human need to quiet the mind and not get swept up in life’s constant flow of sensations, thoughts, and noise. Meditation exists in a beautiful kaleidoscope of forms, each adapted to the needs of a particular culture. From Buddhism, Hinduism, and Daoism, to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, most spiritual traditions have a practice of intentional mindfulness, each with their own permutations, perspectives, and techniques. Even outside of religious practice, meditation has become increasingly popular commercially and in the medical community, as its benefits have been clinically proven time and again (from stress, pain, and anxiety reduction to boosted immunity, mental acuity, and psychological wellness).

While we get our English word meditation through the Latin meditari, meaning to think, ponder or contemplate, it’s also been used as a translation for similar practices in Hinduism and Buddhism (dhyai in Sanskrit, later adapted into a form of the Xiu Dao in Chinese Buddhism). So, what is meditation? Generally, meditation is the intentional, trained act of contemplation to cultivate greater awareness, empathy, calm, or compassion. The second part of this is key, especially from a Vincentian point of view. To Saint Vincent, one of the greatest values of meditation is in how it changes you, not just in understanding but also “affections,” making you more receptive to compassionate action.

Thus, the focus that comes during a meditative state is not the goal; instead, it is a calm, compassionate mindfulness that endures after meditation. As the Saint Vincent quote above notes, it is in “actions and behavior” that “show clearly how they have benefitted from it.” Meditation, seen this way, does not lead one away from the world, to live in seclusion on a mountain-top; instead it leads one back into the world, but with greater empathy and calm.

It’s not just sitting and breathing

There is a wide world of meditative options out there to try. A few broad categories are described below. Most of these practices incorporate awareness of breath in their technique, which is simply focusing on each breath that comes in and out. Close your eyes. Breathe in.. and out. Focusing on breathing helps clear the mental clutter.

MINDFULNESS MEDITATION

Adapted from the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness meditation is the practice of attempting to become a neutral observer of your own thoughts and feelings. After settling into your breathing, if a thought comes, let it visit like a guest, and then let it leave just as freely. The goal is to not become impatient or engaged in any one thought or feeling. Easy to say, hard to do. Mindfulness can often use breath awareness, a repetition of a mantra, or a physical focus like prayer beads or a rosary to help better focus the mind.

MOVEMENT MEDITATION

Rather than trying to sit still and be as unmoving as your thoughts, movement meditation leans into the fact that we are embodied creatures, and engages our physicality so that our minds can become free of noise. This includes yoga and tai chi, but also activities like walking and gardening. If you find the idea of sitting still excruciating, this might be the one for you. The next time you go for a walk or run (weather permitting) try focusing on your breath, and letting your mind empty. Walking through nature can be enormously helpful in attuning your mind not to the past or future, but to the present.

SPIRITUAL MEDITATION

Spiritual meditation really varies by religious tradition, but it can be best thought of generally as a kind of prayer. Spiritual meditation often incorporates the mantras, stories, and reflective practices of a religious tradition. For example, Ignatian meditation is a Christian practice that heavily uses imagination and visualization, rooted in Catholic cosmology, to guide and focus the mind. Alternately, Sufism, Jewish Kabbalah, and other traditions have rich practices that also incorporate movement and mindfulness in their contemplation of God.

PAUSE FOR REFLECTION

I hope that this brief tour through the world of meditation will encourage you to try it, if only for a week. See what happens! Pick a time every day to spend ten minutes in contemplation. Maybe try different forms of meditation to see what works, and what absolutely doesn’t.

Also remember that emptiness of mind is not the goal; it’s the compassionate clarity that follows that matters.

  • What form of meditation seems to come most naturally to you? What form doesn’t?
  • Is there a spiritual tradition that uses meditation that you’d like to learn more about?
  • How can you incorporate meditation into your daily life?

Busy Person’s Retreat Day 2: Balance and Inner Piece

View or download an illustrated PDF of the reflection here.

There are many different ways in which we may feel ourselves to be busy, or to feel overwhelmed.  We can feel overwhelmed by tasks that we are required or being asked to complete.  Sometimes, however, our minds feel busy whether we are engaging in actions or not.  This leaves us with a feeling that we have no peace in our hearts.

One way of looking at this is that we live in a time in which we are bombarded by information.  We receive news continuously and instantaneously from around the world.  Discussion and distraction of all types: political, entertainment, work related and of so many other types is literally always at our fingertips.

For some people prayer is a powerful way to bring increased serenity and inner peace.  For others, related processes of naming what is one’s mind and heart can have some of the same benefits.

Agitation of many types, whether among people or internally in one’s heart can be a blessing.  It can lead us to acknowledge a need for change, in unjust systems or in the brokenness of patterns and habits of our lives and relationships.  Our Vincentian patrons were no strangers to this wisdom.  Both Vincent and Louise experienced restlessness which called them to action and encouraged increased awareness in others believing it should lead to change.  Certainly the Vincentian question “What must be done?” can be described as an agitational one.[1]

If we sometimes need to be provoked into action we must also be able to find peace.  Finding peace can make us more effective in our work and make a source of calm and tranquility for those around us.  This is profoundly reflected in many of our spiritual traditions ranging from Prophet Muhammad on the hijrah journey fleeing prosecution in Mecca hiding in a cave stating to his terrified companion “Do not fear or be sad, God is with us”[2] to the gospel story of Jesus calm amidst the storm on the sea and addressing his disciples “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”[3]

Vincent and Louise also offer this advice strongly.  For them, this tranquility could best be found in realizing humbly one’s own limitations along with one’s responsibility.  We are responsible for our actions but we cannot feel responsible for what lies beyond our control or capacity.  Through a faithful trust in the divine or transcendent or through an acknowledgement of reality, we seek to move to this place of inner peace, even where we experience chaos and especially while we remain engaged in actions. In this life, we cannot expect to reach this once and forever, but it is a condition to which we hope to return over and over again, when it is perhaps inevitably disrupted.

Pause for Reflection:

What are some sources of stress for me at this moment?  What are the actions I can take to address these issues?  What are some things in which I can trust and find security even in the midst of uncertainty?

Most of us are probably familiar with Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer.[4]  This short prayer offers a powerful summary of some of the things we have mentioned in today’s reflection.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity

the things that cannot be changed,

Courage to change the things

which should be changed,

and the Wisdom to distinguish

the one from the other.


[1] Even more so when the question is understood in its fullness as necessarily containing the specific questions “What must I do? What must you do? What must we do?” See Udovic, Edward R. C.M., Ph.D. (2008) “”Our good will and honest efforts.” Vincentian Perspectives on Poverty Reduction Efforts,” Vincentian Heritage Journal: Vol. 28 : Iss. 2 , Article 5.

[2] Qur’an 9:40

[3]  Matthew 8:23–27, Mark 4:35–41, and Luke 8:22–25

[4] Niebuhr went through several different versions of the prayer over his life, and it has been adopted and repurposed with slight changes by many over time but the basic spirit of it seems to be shared by all.

Busy Person’s Retreat Day 1: Take Time and Make Space

To view or download a PDF copy, click here.

So, you signed up for a Busy Person’s Retreat this week. Something drew you to do so. What was it?

What did you assess was needed or desired in your life to sign up to receive these daily reflections for a week?

Congratulations on taking this step… whether toward self-care, toward reflection and mindfulness, toward deeper meaning and purpose, or toward whatever good and authentic yearning inspired you to do so.

As we begin this week of reflection, let me ask you one more question:  When you consider yourself a “busy person”…why is that so, and what does that describe or mean to you?

When I catch myself thinking or talking about how horribly busy I am, I find it helpful and informative to catch myself, to pause and to do a moment of self-assessment. Why am I feeling so busy? And, what does “busy” describe or mean to me in this moment? How much of this “busy-ness” is, at some level, by habit or choice and how much of it is necessity or imposed upon me?

By taking just a moment to pause and reflect in this way over the years, I have come to see that in our U.S. American culture at large, we tend to put a high value on being busy – or, at least, being seen as one who is busy. Being busy, or feeling rushed while moving from one thing to the next, or having so much to do that we can’t possibly slow down, are at times projected or proclaimed as evidence of our productivity in front of others, or as unspoken justifications of our own importance.

While this tendency certainly has been and remains part of my own erroneous way of thinking, a habit present to me from my early years, I can say fairly confidently that it is also clearly a tendency that we absorb from the broader cultural milieu in which we live. In other words, when I stop to pause and reflect for just a moment about why I am feeling so busy and what the word is describing or means to me in any given moment, I realize that I am at times simply wrapped up in a cultural norm that is assessing my worth in a way that is, quite frankly, just not healthy, meaningful, fair, nor accurate. Assessing our worth based on how busy we are is absurd – yet it is so commonplace.

In speaking of the Jewish/Christian practice of Sabbath as a day of rest each week, author Walter Brueggemann points out the way in which such rest can actually be seen and practiced as a fruitful form of resistance to the dominant culture: “Sabbath is a practical divestment so that neighborly engagement, rather than production and consumption, defines our lives.” [i](18)

At times, being or feeling busy may indeed allow us to see that we have put unrealistic expectations on ourselves, or that impossible expectations have indeed been put on us by others – whether in a job or in our home life – and we are  entangled in them. This insight has the potential to be liberating, if we are able to accept and name it for what it is, to ask for the help of others to alleviate some of the pressure, or to make other changes within our control to bring us back into a more healthy and realistic balance.

Very often, we may find that the fullness of our life and who we are may in fact be harmed or lessened to some degree by our being overly or constantly “busy.” Our “busy-ness” does not allow the time and space for new growth, for the flowering of seeds planted, for the fire within us to breath in the fresh air needed to fuel our authentic creativity and passion. It also doesn’t allow us room to reflect, an essential behavior or practice necessary to look objectively at our life experiences and to learn from them. Being overly busy doesn’t allow time and space for rest and relaxation, for friendships to be nurtured, or for us to be fully and truly present to the people in our lives and to the realities before us. When we are busy, we are rarely “mindful” and certainly not “soul-full.”

What is hurt by your taking a few minutes now and regularly in your life to pause, to breathe deeply, and to slow down just a bit? Answer:  Probably nothing and no one at all.

What is gained by doing so?  Answer:  The fullness of who you are. And, that is a very good thing for you, for others around you and for the world. Your wholeness is not only healthy for you, but is also a gift to others. Taking a few minutes each day – maybe several times a day – simply to pause, breathe and reflect will help you to be happier, more at peace, more creative and effective… and in the end, if you and others around you need to know… it will probably help you to be more productive as well!

One little life hack that I have found helpful is to catch myself when I use the word “busy” and – if it makes sense to do so – to describe my life situation instead as “full.” My life is very full has a different ring to it, a different meaning.  I like the idea of my cup overflowing with the life that I am receiving – not something I am doing or accomplishing, but something that I am choosing to fully embrace and engage in the best way I can.

May this week’s reflections allow you the space and nourishment you need to grow into a new and more fruitful fullness!

[i] Walter Brueggemann. Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now (2014). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. P. 18

Colombia…4 months later

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(by Justine Carlson)

Human dignity is not negotiable.

This was a nugget of wisdom that I learned back in December while I was in Bogota, Colombia. It speaks volumes as to how one would answer the Vincentian question; What must be done? There is more that needs to be done than I realized. I was catching up with an old friend the other day and he asked me about my trip to South America a couple months back. I was taken back to the place where forgiveness, human dignity, reconciliation, faith, education, and power were normalized and brought into a new light.

 

One of the several greatest lessons I learned in Colombia was how education, religion, politics, and social justice can be intersectional. I am still trying to figure this out today as I witness several minority groups suffering and not provided with the same rights as the majority. As a Roman Catholic, my continuing question is how can I be an ally? How can I help? My time in Colombia has made me appreciate religious diversity, even more so than I did before. While most the country identifies as a Catholic/Christian country, how one lives out their faith there is different based on the individual through education, political participation, giving back to their local communities, and many other ways.

 

Another highlight that I took away from this experience was their approach to nonviolence. In Colombia during this time, part of the national peace agreement had passed, which grants equitable and equal human rights for all. This was a true historical moment for them. One last piece of wisdom that I’ll never forget is that faith is about uncertainty. Similarly, to the United States, many are uncertain of what their future will hold for them. It is not as easy as it sounds, but having a small bit of a hope and/or ounce of faith is how the people in Colombia that were experiencing trauma, homelessness, violence, whatever it may be, continue living the fullest life. Faith through resilience.

The Key to Happiness

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By: Samreen Ahmed

According to Eleanor Roosevelt, “Happiness is not a goal; it is a byproduct of a life well-lived.” So by this definition, it is something that is not a firm emotion but rather it is achieved through action. Now the question I would like to present is– what are you doing to contribute to your happiness?

Our society tells us that money and prestige are what we need to be happy. With our money we can buy whatever we want, thus fulfilling all of our needs. And with prestige, nobody will dare doubt our worth because they know that we are above them. But what happens when your money doesn’t satisfy you? And when the people don’t respect you? Surely happiness is the last emotion you will be feeling in those moments of despair. Money and prestige only bring you temporary happiness, but there is a void that is not filled within you if you are not conscious in handling the two. Money should be spent wisely, and given to charity when possible because no matter how much money we spend, we are never satisfied. We spend and spend to make ourselves “happy” on things that contribute to everything but benefiting our hearts. And as for prestige, people respect us and honor us, but oftentimes we do not respect ourselves. The people’s opinions of us serve as a placeholder for our lack of respecting ourselves.

I believe happiness is achieved through our tears, our struggles and how we are truly delivered from our despair. Happiness to me is my mother’s smile. Happiness to me is my best friend’s hug. Happiness to me is the homeless man’s blessings to the people who ignore him. It is that sense of independence and freedom from all things that deter us from love and compassion. It is being grateful to something or someone when times get rough. It is that conviction of faith through your toughest nights and that warm feeling of ecstasy during your good nights. Happiness is not a constant emotion but it is a process. And it truly is a by-product of a life well-lived.

Sinking in Struggles

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By: Olivia Hollman

One of the biggest lessons I’ve been learning this academic year is about struggles and how to deal with them. Between the combination of adding two jobs to the stress of school work, shifting relationships with friends, worry about the future financially, changing dynamics with family, and personal concerns, I’ve had a fair share of struggles this year. During those times, it feels as if I am in an ocean. I go from successfully treading water to starting to sink when the waves swell up, larger and more powerful than before. I try to stay afloat, but I can barely keep my head above the water. Right before I go under, I begin to cry for help and raise my arms in the air. Then I am saved.

In Matthew (Chapter 14), Jesus’ disciples are out in a boat when they see Jesus (they first think it is a ghost) walking on water. Peter gets out of the boat and begins walking towards Jesus, but becomes frightened of how strong the wind is and starts to sink. Peter cries out, ““Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”” (Mt 14:30-31) In my times of struggles, I get scared…I doubt… I lose faith…I start to sink; I forget that there is someone there to save me.

When I cry for help, Jesus pulls me out of the water and saves me. His help manifests itself to me through my community—my friends, coworkers, staff advisors, and family. When what I am going through seems too much for me to handle on my own, when I just don’t know what to do, when I just need someone to lean on, I am reminded that I am never alone in my struggles. The water can never completely pull me down, because I have the out-stretched hand of Jesus in the form of my community to catch me and embrace me.

 

Who Deserves to Live?

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Interfaith Scholar Melanie Kulatilake shares a Buddhists’ perspective on life and  the struggle our society faces,  on how to branch out of the common notion to find our own truth.

 

Surrounding me is darkness with the shallow lights of the stars and my front porch lamp to guide me into the night. I walk down the steps and toward where my father is standing, looking out into the night sky with his long, cylindrical instrument. Beside my father is my older sister Nadeera. We both wait patiently for him to place the telescope just in the right spot for us to be able to gaze at the moon.

He finally placed the device in the right location so I could observe the moon up close. On my quest to view this magnificent site I was rudely interrupted by a little green creature. I screamed in fear from the unflattering tickle on my leg. My father shushed me and asked “What’s the matter?”

I replied in a whisper “A slimy bug jumped on me! Kill it.” My father looked at me with aggravation. “Stop over reacting! You got this stupid fear of bugs from your mom. They’re a hundred times smaller than you and in this area very unlikely to be dangerous.”

I huffed in frustration. How could my father say I was over reacting when a big green monster attacked me? What made me more infuriated was the fact that he hadn’t squashed this beast yet. “He’s gross and I want him dead!” I whined.

It was obvious he was upset with my tone. “Stop acting so childish! And if you want to kill him that’s your choice. You’ll have to do it yourself.”

That just flabbergasted me. How dare he not kill that bug for me; he was supposed to be my father, the one who protects me from danger. So that left me killing the bug myself. I lifted up my foot and slammed it down as fast as I could with not a hint of regret.

I left not even caring about taking one more peek at the moon. I just couldn’t believe how un-fatherly and stubborn my dad was being. And as I crawled in my bed all I could worry about was more bugs that could crawl on me and terrorize my beauty sleep.

That fear of insects and willingness to kill any of them within hindsight lasted until one day in my Buddhist class. I was sitting in class in my usual spot by my cousin Marlin and Nadeera. I was in the older class that consisted of high school and middle school students even though I was only in second grade at that time. Due to the fact that I was younger it was difficult for me to comprehend what the monk was teaching. The only reason I actually was in this class and not the class with kids my own age was because my favorite monk was teaching this class.

In my view, he is one of the nicest men who ever lived on this planet. He was always willing to answer my questions or listen to my stories. If he disagreed with one of my ideas he would always say it in a respectful matter, leaving me with not even an ounce of anger towards him. He was always considerate to the fact that I was younger than the rest of the students and would therefore speak simply for me.

So when this discussion of bugs was awakened I was very intrigued. He declared that “every living thing deserves to live including creatures that are very small.” I was even more shocked when he started to discuss how even mosquitoes (the most annoying bugs on this planet) deserved to live. He stretched out his arm as if a mosquito landed on him and said “next time a mosquito comes to try to suck your blood, let him. He’s a living thing just like you, trying to survive life’s hardships.”

Although my father told me several times to not squish insects, I never really cared to listen. Of course I loved my father and respected his insight, his words just didn’t mean as much in comparison to my monk (who I idolized for his kindness and patience). So when he spoke of his view on life, I actually considered it be valuable. I couldn’t believe that I never thought of bugs in this perspective before. I always thought of them as disgusting creatures that are not worth living. I never thought they were like cats, dogs, or even humans. The difference to me was that cats were cute and bugs were not. That’s what gave me the reason to believe that bugs deserve to die in comparison to all other living creatures. So does that mean an ugly human beings deserves to die because they’re not pleasant to look at? I am confident that most of society would disagree. So do bugs deserve die?

Relatively speaking, most westerners think differently than my dad or anyone else who was taught in this type of upbringing. The influence of my environment is another important factor for my fear of bugs. In the U.S. it is mostly taught that bugs are gross pests. Yet, in other countries they can be known as just another living creature like us or even food. It takes a brave person to ignore societies influence to decide on their own what they consider as right and wrong.

So today an ant crawled on my leg and instead of screaming and trying to kill him, I let him be. I imagined he whispered a “thank you” and went on with his life. I could have pulled the plug and ended his precious life but, now it just seemed monstrous. This brought me back to the day that my father said “if you want to kill him that’s your choice, you’ll have to kill him yourself.”  I finally understood what my father was saying: “If you think bugs aren’t living creatures, then so be it. But don’t ask me to act upon your beliefs when they differ from mine.” He always tried to convince me what was right and wrong from a different perspective than the community that surrounded us. But, he never pushed me instead, he let me choose myself. It took me a while but I finally came to terms with his outlook on life and found myself believing the same as him. We are all living creatures, big or small, and we all deserve a chance at life.

A Jew on Two Wheels

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Interfaith Scholar Joel Gitskin shares how he connects to his faith through being a bike messenger 

The bike messenger community is an interesting one. In the last year and a half of my life, while I’ve been making money by carrying a bunch of stuff from one place to another on two wheels, I’ve met a strange and beautiful crowd of people. From young parents trying to provide for their children, to high school kids with a taste for adventure, artists working so they can do what they love, men in their forties who have been doing this job since I was in diapers, extremely well-read ex-train hoppers, suburban transplants trying to find their place in the world (like myself), young adults paying their way through college or graduate school (also like myself), and anybody in between. I can honestly say that this job has made me a better person, a better future educator, and a better Jew. I would be a vastly different person that I am now had I never wandered into Raptor Delivery on a lazy Friday afternoon my second year at DePaul and asked “are you looking for riders?”

One of the most important things for me that this “career path” brought about was in my Judaism. My job at Raptor Delivery was the first job I had where I told my boss that I wouldn’t work on Shabbat, and I said the same thing when I moved to Snap Courier, where I currently work. Though the initial reasoning was a bit more practical, I knew that if I didn’t force a day off upon myself that I’d run myself into the ground, there was definitely a spiritual undertone in the decision, even if it was subconscious. Keeping Friday night and Saturday separate has been really beneficial in my spiritual development and my overall mental health.

Being a messenger (or Shliach, if you will) has been a benefit to those I’ve met as well as myself. At Snap, I’ve become, in a way, “The Jewish Guy,” and sometimes, more broadly “the religious guy.” The one who sometimes has a yarmulke under his cycling cap, and had tzitzis strings hanging out from under my t-shirt. Being religious, and even more, being up-front about it and proud of it, is not a very common thing these days, especially in the young urban community that comprises most of the messengers I work with. I’ve been the butt of some good-hearted jokes, and the creator of some myself, pertaining to my faith. I once had a colleague say to me “You know, this might sound weird, or even a little mean, but you’re like the coolest religious person I’ve met. I never saw religious guys as people I’d like to be around.” It was a strange compliment to receive, but one I’ve really taken to heart. People tend far too often to keep to people who are like themselves. Jews stick with Jews, Muslims stick with Muslims, and so on. Nonbelievers are no different. This leads inevitably to preconceived notions about “the others” and leads to the shrinking of our personal worlds. When I, as a messenger, maintain my Judaism, I create a bridge for the people I meet in either world, and show them that really, we aren’t all that different. Sure, our Friday nights look different on the surface, but my reasons for going to Shabbat: family, friends, belonging, food (mostly food), aren’t too different from the reasons my messenger friends all hang out on the weekends and in their time off.

I’m thankful to G-d every day that I found my love for cycling, and that I found a way to profit from it without having to race in the Tour de France. But even more, I’m glad that I can be the “token Jew” to people who’ve never really talked to one before. I’ve found that many of my coworkers had questions about it that I was able to answer for them, or misconceptions that I was able to clear up. I like to think I affected their lives for the better, I know they did me. I believe, and my faith teaches, that we’re put in this world to leave it, and the people populating it, in a better state than when we arrived. This could mean keeping Shabbat, for me, or putting on Tefillin, doing any Mitzvah. But I think it also means that I should share myself and my faith with those I’m brought into contact with, so that I can leave them a little happier, a little more understanding, a little better off, than when I met them.