BLESSING THE SEA – ISSUE 14, May 2022 “Strategic Passivity as a Spiritual Practice”

Kashintei Tea House, Portland Japanese Garden © Lane Igoudin, 2022

When my older child entered the teenage years, I had to radically change my parenting style. I was still very much hands-on: getting between them and their schoolwork, intervening in the fights between them and their friends. (I must confess, I am a bit of a Yiddishe mame, trapped in a male body.)

It wasn’t working. And it took me time to realize that I needed to step back. The Lord has set a certain path for that teen, and they have to learn to follow it. . .

This is an excerpt from my latest article for Applied Jewish Spirituality, which recounts an age-long tradition of practicing wise, strategic passivity, stretching from Lao Tzu to Leo Tolstoy to contemporary Mussar teachers.

This non-doing approach is so contrary to the way many of us live, myself included – engaged in a multitude of activities, while trying to give our best to each one, and feeling overextended and overwhelmed.

Yet it often opens a path to making better, wiser choices, appreciating your life, and re-affirming your holiness. [. . .]

Speaking of Tolstoy, few people in the West know that Russia’s greatest writer was a steadfast pacifist, a devout Christian (excommunicated by the church for criticizing it), and a student of Eastern philosophies, including Tao and Buddhism.

In his essay “Non-Activity” (1893), Tolstoy called for non-doing and resistance in a materialistic world, where “the greatest villains of mankind have always been particularly busy and preoccupied, not leaving a moment to stay with themselves without occupation or amusements.”

I wonder what he’d say today about the deplorable invasion of Ukraine.

The first thing to come out of the box was a pure white shirt. Marguerite planted the shirt nervously, but in accordance with the manual. And after that, she planted, carefully, one by one, each of the other items that came out of the box. . .

Aoka Matsuda’s “Planting” is a devastatingly simple, strange, and uplifting piece, much like “The Little Prince.” It first appeared in a volume benefitting the survivors of the Japanese tsunami of 2011, and resonates powerfully after other disasters that have befallen the humanity since.

In my personal news, in March, I moderated a panel on community college literary journals at a national writers’ conference in Philadelphia (AWP 2022) and participated in a literary reading hosted at the conference.

Meanwhile, my advice piece for fellow writers on how to search for literary agents appeared in the California Writers Club bulletin.

Taking learning to the next step – teaching, I’ve just completed training at The Mussar Institute (TMI) to be a community Mussar group facilitator. Prior to it, I’d taken 3 foundational TMI courses. Mussar is a self-improvement system, based on the teachings of the Torah and of many Jewish thinkers over the last two millennia, for living a spiritually meaningful and ethical life. It has influenced my thinking and writing a great deal, and with this certification, I am looking forward to teaching it in a Jewish or non-Jewish setting … one day.

Not everything I planted this spring came to blossom, but I did what I could, and I stepped back. I wish you the same. Spring is still here. Take time to enjoy its smells, sounds, and colors!


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