Empty Your Pockets
Why the Jewish month of Kislev is the opportune time to lighten your load.
It took just one little red crayon in my son’s pocket to turn an entire load of otherwise clean laundry into a smeary, red mess. Now an overly vigilant pocket-checker, I smile as I disgorge the contents of my children’s pockets, surveying the variegated loot. And I grit my teeth too (So that’s what happened to an entire package of chewing gum!).
“What do you have in there—rocks?” I asked my son one day, watching him swagger around the room with fully loaded pockets on each hip. “Don’t they weigh you down?”
He laughed and shook his head, cavalier as usual. But my words echoed back to me.
Don’t they weigh you down?
There’s no question about it: our pockets, when overfull, weigh us down. And it’s not just our physical apron, shirt, or pants pockets. It’s those invisible, yet very present pockets we wear on the inside that, when heavy and cumbersome, truly weigh us down.
A friend is bitter over a resentment she has nursed all her life towards her mother.
I am consumed by jealousy every time that perfectly coiffed mother walks through the preschool halls as if she owns the place, flashing her gleaming smile and chunky diamonds.
The cashier seems to have a permanent case of anger, her mouth set in a pinched, flat line, refusing to smile.
When we’re harboring a heavy load in the pockets of our hearts, is it any wonder we feel life’s a burden, that we’re huffing and puffing instead of gliding through our days with lightness and ease?
Well now's the time to clean house. We've entered the Jewish month of Kislev, best known for the holiday of Chanukah and its accompanying smell of latkes and jelly donuts. Chanukah is the ultimate metaphor for the power of achieving “light” just by shedding pockets of darkness. The small Jewish legion took a step back to examine how Greek culture and ideology had penetrated their midst. Then they consciously purged themselves of this unwanted intrusion, which filled them with the positive energy and spirit that made their victory possible. While we generally consider the months of Elul and Tishrei, culminating in the High Holy Days, as months of introspection, Kislev is wonderfully ripe for growth and change.
In fact, if you take a closer look at the name of the month, you’ll find a fascinating message. “Kislev” can be seen as comprised of two Hebrew words, “Kis”, which means “pocket”, and “Lev”, “heart.” The inner message of Kislev is the opportunity to lighten our loads by giving up those things that hold us back. Do we really want to continue storing that resentment from yesterday, a month ago, or 20 years prior? Is it worth the weight? What about that anger, that shame, or that envy? Wouldn’t we do better by giving these up, by letting go?
A teacher once instructed her class to bring in a clear plastic bag and a sack of potatoes. They were told to allocate a potato for every person against whom they bore a grudge, writing the name of that resented person on the designated potato. They placed these “resentment spuds” in the plastic bags and were told to carry their bags with them for an entire week, never letting them out of their sight even while sleeping and eating. Some of those bags were very heavy and cumbersome, and as the week went on and the potatoes deteriorated into a slimy, smelly mess, the lesson intensified. The students got a vivid look at the answer to an important question: What do we gain by carrying around a ten-pound sack of negative emotions inside ourselves, each and every day?
Once we’ve identified our “pockets” of resistance, how do we clear them out? Here are some suggestions:
Pray It Away
This is a miraculous, albeit counterintuitive, solution that many—myself included!—have tried with astonishing results. Pray for the person you resent or envy, even if you don’t mean a single word. “God, grant that principal who made my life miserable for four years long life, good health, and nachas from her children!” “Bless that woman I’m insanely jealous of with even more money, nicer clothes, better hair, and a wonderful marriage!” Grit your teeth if you need to, but continue to pray. After two weeks, you will likely find that the lump in your heart has dissolved.
Put Down the Poison
Harboring bad feelings is like drinking poison; we only harm ourselves. Write out, in great detail, the events or people that cause you pain. Then read your entry over to a trusted person or spiritual advisor. This exercise can bring great healing. Or, if you prefer, burn the writing, for a concrete catharsis.
Take a few minutes to visualize yourself free of the things holding you back. How would you behave if you were free of that heavy shame, or regret? End the meditation by affirming your ability to give up the negative load, using whatever words you are comfortable with, such as, “I am free to let this go,” or “I can forgive myself for this mistake.”
Kislev, the month of light and joy, takes us out of the rut of trudging under the burden of unwanted and unnecessary baggage. It gives us the freedom to take stock of the inner crevices of our heart and ask ourselves what we truly want to hang onto and what we’d rather throw away. We’re never too old and it’s never too late to empty those bulging inner pockets. So toss some of those slimy potatoes out of your sack and go eat latkes instead!