Sunday, April 5, 2009

Using Spiritual Adrenaline to prepare for Pesach

These last few days before Pesach can be very difficult. Life is stressful enough, but with the additional tasks and deadlines, we are truly in danger of adrenal burnout. How can we possibly hope to enter Pesach feeling like royalty, let alone free people?

Yet there is a way to re-program the ways we think and act, if we do step back and think differently, Pesach can indeed become Zman Cherusenu (The season of our freedom). First, let us consider how we have responded to technology: with all of our time-saving conveniences, instead of having more free time, we have taken upon ourselves to do even more! This faster and faster pace, never stopping to catch one's breath, sets one up for Yin and QI vacuity (burnout and exhaustion) and even possibly a nervous breakdown. Now even though, not everyone who burns the candle at both ends, does suffer a nervous breakdown, still, everyone does pays a price. It is extremely unhealthy to go beyond the point of exhaustion, and invariably, it takes much more to rebuild Yin (material, substance), than to prevent it from being squandered in the first place. Ha-Shem has given us a wonderful mechanism for dealing with stress and rebuilding after stress: our autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS consists of two branches, the sympathetic branch, also called the "fight-flight-or-freeze" (I add the term "freeze" to the usual "fight-or-flight" because this, too, can often be the response to sympathetic stress.) and the parasympathetic branch, the "rest-relax-and digest" control center. When we face an emergency, biochemically our sympathetic nervous system sets off a series of complicated biochemical reactions, that include the release of the stimulating catecholamines epinephrine and norepinephrine from the adrenal medulla, as well as inhibitory cortisol from the adrenal cortex, and fueling this sudden needed burst with glucose from stored glycogen in the liver. After the crisis is over, our parasympathetic branch kicks in, healing, replenishing, and rebuilding. But, alas, everything has a limit: the parasympathetic process of rebuilding is slow and gradual, and our bodies do not take kindly to being overdrawn. So unless we do recognize the need to balance our ANS, we set ourselves up for deterioration, premature aging and shortchanging ourselves on life.

But there's more to it than that: We Jews believe that we are much more than just a body with a biochemical factory keeping us running. The more we integrate Torah into our beings, the more we are potentially capable of accomplishing, certainly spiritually, but even PHYSICALLY! Our sages tell us that the neshama (soul) is called a vessel, but unlike a physical vessel that when full, can no longer hold any more, with the neshama, the bigger it gets, and the more it is able to hold. Those who have had the pleasure of being in the presence of tzaddikim (holy people, the completely righteous) notice, that they have an interminable amount of energy. They're always on. They're always happy and energetic. They get by on 3 or 4 hours sleep a night. They eat next to nothing except on Shabbos when they usually eat extra0rdinarily large amounts. They don't use chemical substances to enhance their functioning. So how do they do it? with "SPIRITUAL ADRENALINE".

At times, when one is tired, finding himself stuck, unable to concentrate, dragging his tail, feeling sorry for himself, day dreaming, and even depressed, and yet he needs to perform an important spiritual task, such as davening (prayer) or learning, what is he supposed to do? Physically, it is then that we need that extra sympathetic boost in order to function successfully. We have choices we can make. We know that we can get it from our internal catecholamines or from external stimulants such as caffeine. But we need to be accountable. The fact is that we will pay a price by taking that approach! A second approach is to look to the logic of Traditional Jewish Medicine and follow the second principle: "Sur Me'ra Va'Ase Tov:" Stop and rest, and THEN utilize building and tonifying herbs adjunct revitilizing therapies such as acupuncture, to put ourselves in balance, and restore what we have depleted.

Yet, there is one other way, and that is through the "Spiritual Adrenaline" that I mentioned above. My son pointed out to me once, that even if I am exhausted on Shabbos, if a guest shows up, I suddenly wake up, and am able to give over Torah. It would seem to me that Ha-Shem has placed within us, a special reserve system that we tap into to nourish our Neshamos at times of need, as well. But unlike our adrenals which connect to our liver, this "secretion" connects to the "En Sof", (Eternal One). I would contend that the name of this "hormone" is DEVEIKUS(literally adhesiveness or attachment), for when we attach our souls to the Almighty in our service of him, be it in davening, learning, or doing acts of kindness, WITH ENTHUSIASM AND LOVE, forgeting about ourselves, our bodies receive a spiritual charge of adrenaline which never burns out. As the verse tells us, "Va'atem had'veikim Ba-Shem El-okeichem chayim kulchem hayom" (And you who attach yourself to Ha-Shem your G-d, are all alive today).

Wishing you all a Kosher, Happy and Enthusiastic Pesach!

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