Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Life Inventory...for 2010 and Beyond

A Life Inventory...for 2010 and Beyond

This week we will be barraged by "best of..", "worst of" 2009. Needless to say some of us will even make New Year's Resolutions such as exercise more, eat better, save money, etc. But will any of this introspection and goal setting make us happy? content? What are the things we do every day, every week, every month that give us happiness and contentment? Are we doing enough of that? Or are we caught up in just being a parent, a teacher, a doctor, a spouse to such a degree that we lose track of what gives us peace?

The following is a reprint of a great article by Joe Weston, a life coach who has great sense of self and the universe.
Have a peaceful week and a wonderful New Year!!
Nate Klarfeld

Many of us are caught up with the current economic struggles. Some of us have lost our jobs, some are worried about rising costs, while others are concerned about the future. We are all influenced in some way by our worries about money, our current status and our security.

I am asked often how to stay calm and centered at this time. I always recommend some good conscious breathing and a healthy dose of exercise and good diet as a way to alleviate the stress. Why does that work? Because the act of worrying takes energy. And when things in our lives get stressful, we generate a lot of energy to be able to overcome the problems. If we don’t take action, we find other ways to use that energy. Oftentimes, that means worry. But worrying is not overcoming problems. It’s just brooding and getting stuck in an anxious rut that causes more stress to the body.

So, the best solution is to use that energy for something more constructive. And if you don’t see any quick, creative solutions to the problems, then the best advice is to use that energy for something that brings benefit, like exercise, or maybe even a creative project, or volunteer work.

However, there is a more long-term approach to the worry and concerns about your current life situation. It’s called the practice of contentment.

What is Contentment?
Contentment is the state of being satisfied with what you have, with your status and current situation. It is not resignation, which is more about giving up, being a victim and feeling disempowered. Contentment is a very spiritual approach to life. In fact, most spiritual traditions would say that contentment is the first step to true happiness—even to enlightenment or heaven.

Being contented would mean that you are truly satisfied with your life as it is right now! Of course there is always room to grow and expand who we are and how we live our lives. But we can also be satisfied with how much we have and accept ourselves as we are. This is a powerful way to be in the world. This means that we are not victim to other’s opinions and we are not easily swayed from our viewpoints and beliefs. We actually live our lives in a more authentic way.

We live in a time that is set up to keep us from being content with ourselves and therefore we suffer from insecurity, lack of self-confidence and anxiety. Take a look at the media. The whole point of media and advertising is to convince you that you are not happy, that you don’t have enough, that you need more of what they are selling. When you buy their product, or when you have the lifestyle and body and looks of celebrities and models, then you will be happy.

The current economic system is set up to do the same thing. It is expected of you to try and earn as much money as you can. One house is not enough. Two cars are not enough. A six digit salary is not enough. There is always an anxious need to gain more, even if it means stepping on others to get there. Just take a look at what has caused our current economic crisis.

So, from the moment we are born we are brainwashed to believe that the only way to happiness is to earn as much money as possible, to have perfect abs, the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend, or the big house in the right neighborhood. If we don’t have these things, then we are not happy. Since most of us don’t have these things, we hold on to a neurotic need to be different than who we are and live life with much stress and anxiety as we helplessly look for the thing that will make us happy. And those of us who do have the money, the perfect abs and all the rest are just as unsettled, because they discover that the things they thought would make them happy really don’t. So they have to look even harder to find the illusive thing they are missing.

So, how do we overcome this deep-seated pattern within us? It takes nothing short of a revolution! I believe the most rebellious, subversive thing we can do at this moment is to consciously choose to be content! By doing so, we free ourselves from the pressures of the media and mainstream culture and we can live once again according to our own personal measure of what it means to be happy and to be a successful, empowered person.

So, how many of you will have the courage to say "I have enough! I am content with my life and who I am"? In the story of the Old Testament, after each day that God created something, he took a look at what he created and was able to say, “This is enough.” This allowed him to stop, be fully content with his achievements, not have anxiety, and take time to rest. What a good lesson for all of us!

So what is the practice of contentment? It is a very practical, methodical approach that requires you really do it all and not just think about it. It requires cutting through the confusion and really seeing you and your life as they really are at this moment. Here we go…

Want vs. Need
The first step is to meditate and contemplate the differences between a want and a need. A want is usually based on fantasy. It’s usually something we don’t have and we think that when we get it, we will be happy. Wanting something usually leads to never feeling satisfied because the mind is a very creative thing, easily persuaded by the latest trends and always dreaming up more and more things to want. This means you rarely get the chance to fully enjoy what you already have.

A need on the other hand is more practical and has to do with the basics—either physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. You may want caviar every night, but all you may need is a can of tuna. You may want the “perfect boyfriend”, but what you may need is affection, support and fun. Which seem easier to attain? Don’t get me wrong—it’s okay to want something, to desire something. It’s great to have dreams, but dreams take time to attain, maybe a lifetime, while getting your needs met can happen quickly—if you can identify what they are and if you have the courage to ask!

Inventory Your Life
Take time to look at your finances/possessions.

1. How many assets do you have? How much stuff?

2. How much do you need per month? This includes your physical, emotional, social, work, intellectual and spiritual needs.

3. Once you establish what you need, meditate on it and notice how it would feel to have just enough. No more, no less.

4. Evaluate your current situation with what you need. Do you have enough? If the answer is yes, then meditate and feel that. If you have too much, is the clutter and excess causing you stress? Meditate and feel that. If you don’t have enough, how does that feel?

Take action. If you feel you have too much or not enough, what can you do to get to that place where you can say “I have enough- not too much, not too little.” What steps can you take to eliminate the clutter and stress, or what steps can you take to meet your basic needs?

Now do the same with other areas of your life: for instance relationships, work, partnership. Follow the same steps and check in to see if your needs are being met and how that makes you feel. The final question in all areas of your life is always: Do you have enough?? If the answer is yes, then you can celebrate fully what you have and who you are. This is not “settling for second best”. This is full acceptance of your achievements in life, of your creativity and talents and an awakening to the richness around you that life has to offer.

This practice may seem obvious, but it will only have a real impact if you actually do it, not just think about it. This is not an intellectual exercise. The power of the practice lies in the ability to feel deeply what your needs are and to know that you are getting your needs met! This leads to a deep sense of satisfaction, peace, and self-confidence, as well as having a deep impact on those around you. From a place of contentment, we feel a freedom to be more of who we truly are, not burdened by the pressures that society places on us and capable of taping into enormous amounts of power and energy. With this freedom we find that we have more time to devote to things that will bring us true happiness and the realization of our full potential. And this we will discuss in my next article….

About Joe Weston: Joe Weston is an international workshop facilitator and personal life coach. Born and educated in New York, Joe lived in Amsterdam for 17 years and now lives in California. He is committed to helping others embody spirituality and supports others on their journey towards personal fulfillment and empowerment. Joe brings a wealth of insight to his work based on many teachings, including Tai Chi Chuan and various spiritual traditions—plus his experience in theater and various organizational trainings. He also volunteers for the Liberation Prison Project, teaching Buddhism to inmates. To find out more about his workshops and his personal coaching, visit

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Good Jew? Bad Jew? or just Dumb One?

Good Jew? Bad Jew? Or Dumb one?

Nate Klarfeld

As a practicing Jew, I have been repulsed by the actions and speech of Sen. Joe Lieberman. Several months ago he was for an across the board buy-in of Medicare for all. He ran for the US Senate on a universal government health care program. Now he vows (in order to be relevant I suppose) to filibuster any government support health plan. Where is the man’s integrity? Either in his ego or in his pocketbook. Either or both are a shanda (shame). May I remind Sen. Lieberman and his sleazy wife Hadassah (who gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year working for a public relations firm representing health insurance companies that has just been caught…lying? …big surprise from the Liebermans), that the whole world is watching. Hopefully the vote this week will make them irrelevant forever.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my soul be acceptable to you, oh Lord”

All the walking to shul and abstaining from pork won’t clear the Lieberman’s in my book or many others.

I honestly feel he has no idea what he is talking about, just wants the power surge. Short d#ck syndrome I suppose.

The rest of this blog is a reprint from Politico this week. The words sing loudly.

Thank you.

Have a peaceful week.

Nate Klarfeld


Jewish organizations in the United States have been among the strongest supporters of health care reform of the kind that Lieberman's opposition may scuttle. They say that reflects the largely liberal and Democratic tendencies of their community, but also the longstanding tenets of Jewish tradition and teaching--as they see it.

"Senator Lieberman is looking at the same Jewish texts that we are, and reaching opposite conclusions," Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, told The Forward, a leading Jewish weekly. "I've spent a lot of time in talks with Senator Lieberman, and he is not an easy person to sway.
!Not that Jewish leaders and lobbies aren't trying. As we reported last month, several rabbis in Lieberman's home state -- some of whom had not spoken out before on political issues -- have been pressuring Lieberman with prayer vigils and public petitions.

"Because he invokes his Jewish identity and Jewish values so frequently, we, as a community, should speak to what he is saying," Rabbi Ron Fish from Congregation Beth El, a Conservative synagogue in Norwalk, said about his decision to pen an open letter to Lieberman calling him out on his opposition to the health care bills.

But The Forward reports that local rabbis are also using quiet diplomacy, trying to get 25 of the state's 50 pulpit rabbis to sign on to a private letter to Lieberman to convince him to change his stand. The more liberal rabbis--Lieberman himself is Orthodox--apparently prefer a more confrontational approach. "There is a good cop, bad cop routine," one of them told the paper. "On the one hand, there are demonstrations outside his home; on the other, there are people trying to reach out behind the scenes."

Just like his foes, Lieberman sees his opposition as grounded in Jewish ethics, arguing that the health care proposals on the table would hurt America and would not help those who need i t-- although, as The Washington Post reported, his varying explanations of his varying positions have left various observers scratching their heads over his real reasons.

Whatever the motives, Lieberman is so committed to his political views and his religious traditions that he walked more than four miles to Capitol Hill from his Georgetown synagogue on a recent frigid Saturday to take part in a rare weekend health care debate -- one of just two dozen or so times during his senate career that he has made that trek on the Sabbath, when strictly observant Jews do not drive. "I have a responsibility to my constituents, really to my conscience, to be here on something as important as healthcare reform," he told The Hill.

Such high-minded talk grates on many Jewish leaders, who see passing health care reform as integral to the Jewish principal of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, which undergirds much of Judaism's longstanding tradition of social and political activism, mainly of the liberal variety.

Other factors are at play as well: Jews are immigrants whose history of persecution and constant exile have made them especially sensitive to the plight of the marginalized, and as a minority they know that liberal social policies that protect the weak from the strong can help them, too; Jews also tend to be better educated and wealthier than most Americans, both markers of socially progressive views. (And something that makes the fierce band of neo-con Jews like Norman Podhoretz, author of the recent "Why Are Jews Liberal," even more furious than Lieberman's liberal critics.)

But Lieberman himself held up tikkun olam as the guiding principle for his political life, as he explained in his autobiography In Praise of Public Life:

"The summary of our aspirations was in the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam, which is translated 'to improve the world' or 'to complete God's Creation.' It presumes the inherent but unfulfilled goodness of people and requires action for the benefit of the community. These beliefs were a powerful force in my upbringing and seem even more profound and true to me today. The ideal of service [is] fundamental to my religious faith."

At his SpiritualPolitics blog, Trinity College's Mark Silk cites the excerpt above and then notes that in 2000 and as recently as three months ago Lieberman advocated letting those as young as 55 buy into Medicare as a way to fix the health care system. But now that such a proposal is part of the reform package Lieberman is invoking it as a reason he will filibuster the bill. "What's the opposite of tikkun olam, Joe?" Silk asks.

So what explains Lieberman's seemingly contrarian stance not only on politics--his constituents as well as his co-religionists strongly support health care reform with a public option--but also on Jewish teaching? Some cite Lieberman's connections to the insurance industry in Connecticut, others think it's about paybacks for the Democrats dissing him during his reelection bid.

Writing in The New Republic, Jonathan Chait doesn't think it's all that complicated:

"I think one answer here is that Lieberman isn't actually all that smart. He speaks, and seems to think, exclusively in terms of generalities and broad statements of principle. But there's little evidence that he's a sharp or clear thinker, and certainly no evidence that he knows or cares about the details of health care reform."

Chait -- he's Jewish, too, so he can say this -- actually thinks Lieberman's upfront Jewishness has obscured the better question about his intellectual chops:

"I suspect that Lieberman is the beneficiary, or possibly the victim, of a cultural stereotype that Jews are smart and good with numbers. Trust me, it's not true. If Senator Smith from Idaho was angering Democrats by spewing uninformed platitudes, most liberals would deride him as an idiot. With Lieberman, we all suspect it's part of a plan. I think he just has no idea what he's talking about and doesn't care to learn."

In the end, it's unclear exactly what influence Lieberman's Judaism, or his fellow Jews, could have on his political decisions. These days, arguments over the good or bad faith in a pol's position are often associated with Roman Catholicism. But Judaism has no eucharist to withhold, no effective way to excommunicate an adherent, no real hierarchy to lay down the law -- and no widespread desire to implement any of those mechanisms. In fact, a hallmark of Judaism is disputation, so in a sense the arguments between Lieberman and his critics are only cementing their claims to being members of the tribe. Whether those debates seal the fate of health care reform will ultimately be decided on the floor of the Congress.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Our Stories vs. The Truth

Our Stories vs. The Truth

Nate Klarfeld

When something happens in our lives we explain it to ourselves and others through our own personal point of view. We filter many of the facts naturally to protect ourselves from ugly truths – or ignore obvious gaffs in judgment. We’ve all heard Dr. Phil say it many times, “WHAT WERE YOU THINKIN?”

There are facts and there are our stories. Facts are things everyone can agree on and verify with our senses. It’s cold, it’s January, it’s 3:00 PM. Stories are another matter. “I stayed in bed today because it was too cold to go to work, my boss got mad at me for no reason and I’ll probably lose my job.” It is obvious from the previous statement that 1) this person believes “the story” as truth. 2) The consequences of this truth cannot be “their fault” 3) If the story is accepted, then the thinking behind it is valid and can be repeated successfully.

Most of us are caught up in the stories we believe about ourselves, other people and our relationships. We have forgotten that theses stories ARE stories and that we made them up.

Some stories are helpful in putting things in different perspectives, or to show there can be underlying reasons for behavior or circumstances. But many times we become tightly bound to our stories, If the person who stayed in bed on a cold January morning really believes bosses get mad for no reason – they will have a more difficult time in employment situations and may be more resistant to change.

I believe that a therapist, life coach, or a listening outside party is a good way for us to see how we created and continue to create theses stories so that we can rewrite them. Some simple interrupting questions from an outsider such as; “Am I understanding you fully?” “Is there anything I’m missing?” “Are you sure that is all there is to it?”

In our popular culture we all become armchair Dr. Phils to the circus that unfolds before us daily in the media. Brittney Spears, Rev. Ted Haggard, Sen. Larry Craig, Sarah Palin, Tiger Woods, all have their own stories that support their behavior but seem almost a fantasy when the bright lights are turned on. What WERE they thinking? They were thinking but with their filters, walls, and preconceived judgments at such high alert that facts, reality, consequences of actions, all hide in the shadows.

In the end what we really want to answer is; “What makes your heart dance?” Work towards that life.

Have a peaceful week.

Nate Klarfeld

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why Rabbi Shmuley Won’t Invite me on the Bimah of the West Side Jewish Center

Nate Klarfeld

You have to have been living under a rock to not hear of the antics of octodad Jon Gosselin, his Jewish nanny, his soon to be ex wife Kate and the reality show “Jon and Kate Plus Eight.” You also were under the same rock if you haven’t heard of, been a part of discussion, or have an opinion on same sex marriage. What do the two have to do with one another? Enter “America’s Rabbi” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach; advisor to Michael Jackson, Oprah Winfrey and thousands of dedicated readers through his best seller “Kosher Sex.” And a few weeks ago Rabbi Boteach invited Jon Gosselin to the Bimah (altar) of the West Side Jewish Center in New York.

Of course I must remind my gentle readers that I myself am an out and proud Jewish gay man, happily partnered, with high self esteem for both myself and my community. I attend a gay shul, light Shabbat candles with my partner, and put on a Seder that would make both my Bubbe and event planners proud. I was raised as an orthodox Jew, complete with a Bar Mitzvah in a shul with a wall between the men and women, married a woman under a chuppah, and went to the mikveh before I wrote the last words of a Torah I helped dedicate to a synagogue in my father’s memory. My late father, Ely Klarfeld, owned a kosher butcher shop and catering company in St. Louis for 30 years. I have seen the joys and underbellies of Judaism and for these reasons I feel compelled to voice my rage over Rabbi Shmuley and Jon Gosselin.

Let me start with a quote from Rabbi Boteach on Jon Gosselin said from the Bimah (altar) at the West Side Jewish Center “In the case of John Gosselin my reading of him from many conversations with him and many counseling sessions is that he’s a man with a good heart who sincerely wants to correct many of the mistakes he’s made having gotten carried away with fame.

After this Gosselin told the audience of 50 guests and 75 reporters, "I am sorry for doing the things that I did." He spoke openly about his indiscretions since splitting with wife Kate, which include three reported flings, saying, "I want to apologize to Kate in private. I'll apologize to her for openly having relationships in the public eye.

The 32-year-old dad, who recently claimed he is "half-Korean and half-Jewish," went on to say that he was "troubled to learn that the media has accepted as true the scurrilous rumor that I would appear in a reality television program with Nadya Suleman."

For those of you with a moral compass who still have their lunch in their guts I want you to imagine if Jon Gosselin were gay. If it were a Jewish male nanny he was schtupping on the dining room table while the kids slept, would Rabbi Shmuley have reached out to this man with a good heart? Don’t bet on it. Rabbi Boteach has evaded the question of supporting same sex marriage, upholding orthodox law that treats it as an abomination. It is true that Rabbi Shmuley has said that the uproar about same sex marriage is a smokescreen for not facing the true problems of heterosexual marriage; he would uphold the ideal of fundamentalist Jewish law that would accept the gay man but ask him to be celibate. Hate the sin but love the sinner is abhorrent to me. I do not sin in loving my husband. Why aren’t the Hasidim (fundamentalist orthodox Jews) protesting outside Red Lobster? Shellfish, pork, marrying a non-virgin, allowing illegitimate children inside a church or temple, boys with undescended testicles are all abominations according to the Bible. (By the way, who checked the males’ testicles?) If the orthodox Jews can pick and choose, if the fundamentalists Christains can, why can’t I. According to my studies, the definition of marriage in the Bible is one man and as many women as he can afford including daughters. Pretty much of an “Ick Factor” to me. I choose the parts of the Torah that taught me to think, see both sides of issues, Tikun Olam (fix the world) and have compassion and not judge.

My partner and I are active in Gay and Lesbian community work here in Ft. Lauderdale. We have run support groups, taught safer sex education, HIV awareness, and counseled the youth groups at high schools and Jewish Day Schools. Our hearts go out to the young men and women who still live in fear of coming out. One third of all youth suicides have to do with conflicts of sexual identity. We have heard of orthodox Jewish families who after losing a son or daughter to gender identity suicide, refuse to name another child (traditional in Jewish families) after the gay one for fear or shame or both. We get anonymous emails from Yeshiva students wrestling with questions and conflict, as well as having symptoms of STD’s from furtive engagements.

All this leads me back to my original question. Would Rabbi Shmuley Boteach have put Jon Gosselin on the Bimah if he were gay? Would he still be a man with a good heart who sought redemption? No, I think not. Rabbi Shmuley put him up there because it’s good for business, whether it be getting the word out or getting his name out. My late father told me once that if Rabbis could get away with it, they’d make a pig kosher. From the picture above, it looks like Rabbi Boteach already has.

Have a peaceful week.

Nate Klarfeld

(Rabbi Boteach sells Bobbleheads of himself at $14.95 plus shipping and tax)