Journey to the Self by Aviva Meshwork
Aviva Meshwork is an educator, writer, and Trip Director for the JWRP. Originally from Toronto, she now lives in Israel with her husband and 4 children.
A man found an eagle's egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them. All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.
Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat on his strong golden wings. The old eagle looked up in awe. "Who's that?" he asked. "That's the eagle, the king of the birds," said his neighbor. "He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth – we're chickens." So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that's what he thought he was. (By Anthony DeMello)
The first time I heard this story was when Trip Leader Nili Couzens told it on the last day of a JWRP trip to an inspired crowd of women. I was sitting at the back of the room and much to my surprise I felt so sorry for this poor eagle who thought he was a chicken! How could it be that the truth of this bird’s identity was completely unrevealed to him? Rather than soaring in the skies as he was meant to be doing, he was scratching the ground and clucking like a chicken. If only this eagle knew who he really was; his essence and potential. Not only would he have had a true understanding of himself, he would have been liberated to actually be who he was meant to be. Nili’s acumen and sense of timing was spot on. The roughly 200 women had just completed a trip that revealed the beauty and importance of being a Jewish woman. Essentially, they were beginning to connect to their identity in a very real way.
In Parsha (Torah portion) Lech Lecha G-d sends Abraham on a journey. He instructs our forefather in the following way: “Go to yourself, from your country, your birthplace and your father's home, to the land that I will show you." In this parsha we are shown the importance and given the recipe to connecting to the ‘self’.
The first part of this instruction is “Go to yourself”. This was one of Abraham’s missions and it is one of ours as well. To truly live your life you must be aware of who you are in a genuine sense. Abraham is being told to seek out his selfhood- to explore and uncover his inner essence. And how was he to do that? He first had to leave his country, his birthplace and his father’s home. The process was indeed given.
“ …from your country…” this is a very macro step that entails moving away from the culture and mentality that has shaped you. For those of us who want to take a journey towards the self but are not leaving our home country, we can begin by pitting our Jewish values against the ones dictated to us by society in general. Jewish morality and values are eternal whereas societal values change with the times. It is prudent to ask ourselves if we even know what our Jewish values and morals are to begin with, and then explore how our own values compare. Identifying as a Jew and connecting to our eternal values is an important first step towards the journey to the self.
“…your birthplace…”- This step is slightly more micro and more involved. To look at this deeply is to examine and to eventually make a mental shift away from the negative influences that have become familiar to us. Some of the ideals shared by those in our immediate environment may be counter productive to our personal growth and have many inconsistencies with our Jewish values. Upon introspection, we may realize that elements of our environment may prove mentally, spiritually and emotionally harmful to us. Years ago, I had to make a boundary with a friend with whom I would often speak simple meaningless gossip. When I came to have more of an understanding of the Jewish prohibition of lashon hara (evil speech), I found I no longer had much to discuss with her. It was a hard decision to make, but distancing myself from her was for my own good. Living in a more authentic way by not speaking even meaningless gossip meant that I was living a Jewish value and accepting more of what it meant to be me.
“…your father’s house…” The homes we grew up in were perhaps the most influential spaces where our characters were formed. The ethics and values that were imparted on us by those who raised us affect us the most deeply, for better or for worse. Caveat: This is certainly not a time to look at our parents and begin to criticize them for any of their perceived lacking. Rather, it is a Torah commandment (one of the Ten Commandments in fact) to honor our parents. We must be grateful for the fact that they gave us life to begin with and trust that everything is how it was meant to be. However, many of us were raised in homes where Jewish values were not predominant. We, the Jewish women and heads of our own households, are therefore in positions to influence real change and growth for the next generation of Jews! Yet before we can do that, we need to be in touch with our own selves first. To check in with how in tune we are with Jewish ideals. Taking a deep look at how our upbringings shaped our value system and our approach to life is a critical piece of this process. Only then can we work to further align to true Jewish values, thereby making a commitment to learn and to grow.
Anyone who has been on a JWRP trip knows that while the trip is a multitude of things to its participants, it is also a trip that invites you to take a look at yourSELF. It begs us to examine who we are as Jewish women who have inherited our heritage of Jewish values, whether we know what they are or not. The trip does involve you leaving your country, your birthplace and your home and asks you to seek out the real you. You – not divorced from the roles you may have, including wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, boss and/or employee, but rather the whole you. Many of our participants call it a life changing trip- because that is what it is! Many of them resembled the chicken in the story and had never been shown that they were indeed far more than what they ever thought they were.
Without the self, there is no way for you to be the real you. Can you exist without knowing yourself? Sure. But that is not thriving nor is it authentic. Surely it must be better to know your true self and to contribute to the world genuinely than to think of yourself as something other than what you really are, never realizing your real potential. This thought brings me back to the beginning of this piece, “so the eagle lived and died as a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.” Go out (of your current mentality) and find yourself!