Heart-Learnings from 2022

This is the first “annual review” I’m posting publicly. In the spirit of this blog, it’s mostly a note-to-self, but perchance you might find something useful to chew on here, too.

Why “heart-learnings”?

Intellectual learning is all fine and good, but easily slides off the duck’s back, the Teflon pan, or what have you. It takes feeling learnings in the heart for them to really take hold.

So, without further adieu, a few of my heart-learnings, from 2022:

It was meaningful to take little actions, to create small experiences, that made the world a bit better. I can’t “fix” anything: my family, the environment, geopolitics. All I can do is little actions that make things a little bit better. Cooking a meal for people. Exercising after work. Hanging a “You are enough” sign up in our neighborhood. Hosting a writing group every month. Organizing a trip with my grandma and family. Lighting the Shabbat candles, both in person and on zoom. Helping my patients. Giving kind words and physical gifts. Calling a friend going through a thing. Showing up, in little ways, for people.

“Finding my people” was deeply healing. During this year, I felt less alone, less like a freak, because I found my people, in these places:

  1. General neurology. I went to a session at a conference about “general neurology” and had an aha moment: I see myself as a general neurologist. I was brought up in residency thinking that the best way to go was to specialize, but I like all of neurology, and psychiatry too. It was nice to know that I’m not a freak. It was nice to hear people speak who also identify as general neurologists, and who are having meaningful careers.
  2. Dancing, and the embrace of my body. I’ve often thought I danced crazy: without rhythm or form. But this year, different people have complimented my dancing. “You dance from the heart…you bring people joy…thanks for bringing the energy on the dance floor…You’ve got it” were some of the things I heard. This acceptance made me feel more OK in my dancing and in my body.
  3. The immigrant experience. Growing up, I felt like a fish out of water in suburban Buffalo, NY, but didn’t really know why. After talking about the immigrant experience with friends who are also immigrants, and also watching / reading some good art on the matter (e.g. the movies Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, Turning Red, the play The Far Country and the book Call Me American) it makes a lot more sense to me why I felt “out of water.”
  4. Experimental Judaism. I got involved in Lab/Shul this year, and this has given me peace in my relationship with Judaism. Lab/Shul’s tagline is: God-optional, everybody-friendly, and artist-driven. These are values I totally vibe with, and have found missing in my experiences with Judaism previously. It feels awesome to jew in a more fluid, inclusive, and experimental way, and realize there are others who also see Judaism this way. Previously, I had thought of Judaism — the religion I was born into — as a thing to get “right.” Now I see Judaism as a vast well of practices that can be applied to enhance the beauty and meaning of my life. Culture should be in service of the human experience, not the other way around.

Life art was an empowering lens through which to see the world. I have been following the work of artist Jonathan Harris for a while, and this year, I listened to a talk he gave on life art. Culture is like a vast garage sale: there’s plenty of good stuff there, but also, lots of old junk. I don’t have to buy all the old hats at the garage sale — I can choose the hat or two which bring joy, take those home, and mix them into my own funky wardrobe. A life-art case study: on January 2nd of this new year, I did a ritual for myself. First, I did a fast. Towards the end of it, I felt like doing a tea ceremony, so I broke the fast early despite a part of me wanting to “do it right.” I then wrote down things that didn’t serve me on slips of paper, burned them and put the ashes in soil. I planted some seeds in this soil, with intentions for the new year. In this way, I combined a Jewish ritual (fasting on the 10th of Tevet / January 2nd) with a Chinese ritual (the tea ceremony) with a new-agey paganish ritual (burning what didn’t serve and planting seeds), creating my own new year ritual, my own little piece of life art. Other examples of life art this year were two solstice celebrations, a tea ceremony by a creek with my brother and Wonder Wander 2022.

Models — both real and in media — helped me see more possibility in life. Listening to podcasts, reading books, and ultimately meeting people who embody values I admire is a powerful way to change my life. Not the least of the influence of these models was getting a tattoo, something I never thought I’d do because of a Jewish taboo against the practice. In 2023, I’ll be doing a four month sabbatical (inspired by a podcast on sabbaticals). I’ll be going to live on an eco-village called Dancing Rabbit and do some clowning with Patch Adams (two ideas that came from books I read: The Unsettlers and Gesundheit). In 2022, I deepened my relationships with friends who serve as models for various things I want to embody: developing a stronger connection with what feels good, taking leaps of faith, play, awe in nature, and creativity.

I want to show up for people. A few weeks ago, I was having a really tough time and a friend came to my side and held my hand. This was true friendship. The thing I ultimately fear, underneath everything, is being alone. I think this is universal. “I am never alone and I reach out for support when I need it” is a great affirmation to say to myself. I want to return the gifts I’ve been given: I want to show up for others, as people have showed up for me.

Empathy is important to cultivate. I often get deep into my own world. It’s important, and not always natural or easy, to try to understand the experiences of others. This is something I want to cultivate.

Composting the old is something I started doing, and will be a life-long path. Any relationship, and life in general, is a dance that’s happening in the now. To keep dancing, it’s important not to get stuck in old steps. This year, I paid off a debt to consciously let go of negative feelings related to a scam, let go of an artifact from an old relationship, donated books and cleaned house. I want to live in the here and now, in the newness. This requires composting the old logs to create space on the forest floor for saplings to grow. Periodically, we need to call in the fungi and the fires. Learning to compost will be a life-long spiritual path for me.

A short note to my current self, from my future self at the end of 2023:

In 2023, I’ve felt my body, felt my heart. The specific experiences didn’t matter as much as my heart-connection. Because I’ve moved from the heart, the things I’ve done have felt right. I’ve waited, waited in the heart place, for the right next action to show itself. My practice has been emergent. I’ve asked myself: what is nourishing for my heart? What can I do? I’ve let go of rigid rules and embraced empathy, service, spontaneity, play, delight, fascination, beauty, inspiration. I’ve lived my life as a work of art, a blank canvas on which to paint. My practice has been different every day, and so, it has been alive. I’ve acted when the heart spoke, and not before.

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