Have you ever just decided to change your attitude? To change your life perspective without a specific catalyst? When have you decided to allow light into your life?
Last year, I was prescribed bedrest for 40 days. As a result of a serious sports injury and subsequent surgery, my doctor told me to lie on my back with my left leg (the leg which had been operated upon) above my heart for 23 hours a day, for forty days. (You can hear me discuss my bed rest in my TedX Talk, How Nothing is What Matters the Most. (Andy – the link provided goes to your TedX video so I changed the language a bit here).
At the time of my surgery, I was also experiencing a state of profound personal and professional turmoil. I was in extreme pain — physically and emotionally. I was truly suffering. I was alone in my bedroom for forty days and forty nights. It was a transformational experience.
At the beginning, I was in intense physical pain from the surgery. Once the nerve block wore off, there was incredible pain. I knew I was not going to die — but I felt I was. I was also very sad about the upheaval in my personal and professional life.
A friend told me there is a blessing in every journey. I was determined to find it. I decided I would do no work. Given the pain medication, my judgment and concentration were certainly compromised — I simply could not function in a business context. I am grateful for such supportive colleagues during this time. Later, I realized I needed this time to reflect. I also decided not to watch any TV or movies. I simply read, wrote in my journal, and meditated. I also found myself staring at the walls for hours and hours each day.
I decided to read books about spiritual transformation (see my reading blog for a list of these books). I really wanted to go inside myself.
I kept the drapes and window shades in my bedroom fully drawn. I kept the room dark. I did not want any light coming in. I don’t know why I decided this. I think I was suffering so intensely that darkness seemed appropriate.
I really had no sense of time. I just laid on my back for 23 hours a day. Luckily my daughter visited me in the morning before school and at night after school. We had really meaningful conversations. I was otherwise alone except for some wonderful nurses who helped me with food, bathing, and medication.
It was dark. I was in intense physical and emotional pain. I was truly suffering.
I looked to the Torah for inspiration. I felt a shared connection with David when he entered the cave in verses (1 Samuel 24, 1-7, JPS). In the passages leading up to this verse, David was running for his life. King Saul assembled his men to find and kill David. Wrestling with his demonic thoughts and life-threatening circumstances, David entered the cave in verses (I Samuel 24, 4-5, JPS).
4 And he came to the sheepcotes by the way, where was a cave; and Saul went in to cover his feet. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. 5 And the men of David said unto him: ‘Behold the day in which the LORD hath said unto thee: Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thy hand, and thou shalt do to him as it shall seem good unto thee.’ Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe privily.
David was alone in the dark and heard “voices” of his “men”. This can be interpreted as his wrestling with his thoughts in the darkened corner of the cave.
Suddenly, in a moment, King Saul entered the very same cave where David was hiding. Instead of following the voices of his inner demons, David merely cut off a corner of King Saul’s robe. David did not kill King Saul despite his legitimate worries that King Saul was looking to kill him. When they both left the cave, King Saul was overcome with the genuine restraint that David exemplified in the dark corner of the cave with his inner voices. Upon exiting the darkness of the cave, King Saul saw the light shine on David’s righteousness. King Saul rewarded David accordingly.
One day. I decided it was time to open the shades and allow the light in. I don’t remember any particular catalyst. I just realized I needed to change my attitude. I was no longer going to suffer. I was no longer going to be in pain. It was time to fully embrace my compromised state as temporary not permanent. My bedroom was now full of light each day.
In addition to opening the shades, I had a chair brought in to allow visitors. I was so happy when my rabbi and a few other very close friends came to visit. I decided to embrace my circumstances. I enjoyed such meaningful one-on-one conversations. It was truly transformative.
I also thought about Exodus and the 8th Plague (Darkness) which afflicted Egypt.
Exodus 10:21-23, JPS
The Plague of Darkness
21 And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Stretch out thy hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.’ 2 2And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days; 23 they saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days; but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.
For background is it important to understand the meaning of three important words. “Mitzraim” is the Hebrew word for Egypt and literally means “narrow place”. This has both geographic and spiritual meaning. The geographic connotation is that the vast majority of the population of Egypt lived in close proximity to the Nile river. Thus, despite the vastness of the land of Egypt, the Egyptians were basically restricted to narrow strips of land on either side of the Nile. In addition, “narrow place” referred to a narrow mind. Those Hebrew slaves who remained in Egypt had narrow minds. It was the nature of being a slave. Mentally closed off from the blessings surrounding us. The journey of exodus celebrates our collective journey from slavery in mitzraim to wandering in the wilderness to finally achieving freedom in The Promised Land of Israel.
Hebrew means evrit in the Hebrew language meaning to cross over. The Hebrew is those who crossed over the Reed (Andy – Reed Sea correct?) sea to reach the wilderness. Israel is the name of Jacob and means he who wrestles with God and man and is able. There is an introspection and aspiration in the meaning of Israel. Thus, during the 9th plague, while those with narrow minds in the narrow place were afflicted with darkness. Those who struggled with introspection and aspiration to achieve the blessed promised land of Israel were always blessed with the light — true goodness. Israelites are always blessed with light.
During my initial days of bed rest, I wallowed in my pain and suffering. I had a very narrow perspective. I stayed in the darkness.
Then one day, I decided. I just did. It was time to open the shades. To allow light in. To allow light into my soul. My thoughts expanded. My anxiety diminished. While my physical circumstances, compromised as they were, remained the same, my mental outlook transformed completely.
When I think about the Bible allowing light in, I go back to Genesis 1. The light of Day 1 divided light from darkness. God proclaimed the light of Day 1 tov / good.
We really don’t need a source of light to allow for light. The light of Day 1 occurred before the sun, moon, and stars of Day 4. Darkness comes first. God showed us that you can divide light from the darkness. God did not take away the darkness.
I realize now that sometimes in dark circumstances, we just need to decide. We just need to decide that it is time to open the shades and allow light in. Into our rooms, our hearts, and our souls.
Genesis 1:1-5, JPS
1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. 3 And God said: ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.