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Understanding of the Heart

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Women's problems aren't new; the angst is. Here's the first step toward sanity

Booklist for today's woman:

Every Mother is a Daughter: The Neverending Quest for Success, Inner Peace, and a Really Clean Kitchen.

This is How We Do It: the Working Mothers' Manifesto.

The Imperfect Mom: Candid Confessions of Mothers Living in the Real World.

To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife.

Women seem to be in constant agony these days. Some are writing books extolling the virtues of the stay-at-home mother; others are writing about their perfectly balanced career and parenting choices. And still others are discussing how they've made a mess of both.

The common denominators seem to be guilt, stress and an overwhelming need to publicly justify and acclaim one's personal position.

We live in a very confused world. One of the tools we need for acquiring wisdom for living, as advised in Ethics of Our Fathers, is something called binat halev, understanding of the heart. This must be translated carefully. It is not "an understanding heart" (another potentially useful tool), which is an outward-focused quality. It is "understanding of the heart" -- an inward-focused recognition.

In order to acquire this wisdom, we need to know who we are. What do I want? How do I want to live my life? What will provide meaning and fulfillment to my daily existence? (Tip: It's usually not leaving your husband and kids and running a horse ranch!)

If we don't take the time to thoughtfully and methodically answer these questions, we wind up confused and unstable.

If our opinion of ourselves and our choices changes with every new magazine cover, then we haven't really discovered our core being. We are a product of the media. And since values and mores are in constant flux, this is a recipe for continued dissatisfaction.

We need to spend some private, quiet time getting to know ourselves.

There have always been women who worked outside the home. Women have always had to balance their family's emotional and physical needs with their personal needs and with communal needs. The problems aren't new; the angst is.

We've been bombarded with so many conflicting messages we don't know who we are or who we want to be (when we grow up) any more. We're not even sure that we want to grow up.

The first place to tackle this sense of malaise is not a therapist's office. We need to spend some private, quiet time getting to know ourselves. We'll probably find that all the giving, all the family pulls and tugs that add such turmoil to our lives are also our biggest source of pleasure; we just never stopped to notice.
Hopefully, we'll find ourselves fascinating. As one of the characters suggests in
The Importance of Being Ernest, "I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train."

And we need to make our choices based on this new understanding -- not on our parent's career aspirations, not on our friend's values, not on some talk show host's political opinions. Based on my potential, what I want, who I could be. With the understanding of one's heart.

It may decrease the copy for women's' magazines. But hey, there's always Oprah.


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