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Stress-Free Living

By Roiza D. Weinreich

Do you constantly aim for everything around you to be perfect? Do you wonder why things never measure up to your expectations? Do you stay up at night systematically contriving strategies to overcome your obstacles? Are you sure that if you make the right decision you can and will fix everything? Are your efforts causing emotional and physical strain?

A characteristic American approach to life is the native Yankee belief that anything that isn't working right -- including kids -- can be fixed if you have the right tools. Mothers can and are responsible to "fix" everything wrong and overcome every hindrance.

Mothers tend to take on more projects, more responsibilities, and more burdens than anyone else. It might be helpful to ask yourself before you start a new project, "Do I really want to do this, or am I doing it because I feel I should?"

Although there is a lot we can accomplish, there are also times when our efforts and intentions just don't work, no matter what. We are limited. We might wake up early to have a calm breakfast, but the toast burns. We decide to finally settle with the I.R.S. and after an hour and a half on hold the operator cuts us off. We leave early for work and the train we are on has engine failure.

How do we feel at those times? Do these setbacks take us past the boundary of inner calm? Panic can be dangerous. On a rainy day I made a dangerous mistake while driving. I saw a red light and pressed down hard on the brake. My car skidded to the next lane. I was lucky that the street was empty.

When we panic because something doesn't progress in our lives, or turn out the way we expect, we exert a lot of inner force. That force can cause a skid. If we can just calm down inside and accept the present actuality, life will be easier and smoother. Is it possible to absorb day-to-day shocks with patience? One way is to realize that although we can't see a solution at the moment, God might be planning one for us.

Many times the things we worry about turn out better than we imagined they would. However, when we are in the middle of the crisis, we panic and feel that we are without options. Remember, though, that just around the bend a change for the better can be waiting for us.

We an learn this from an incident in the Torah, where the Jews complained to Moshe when they encamped in Marah, a place that had only bitter water. The Ibn Ezra teaches us that the Jews stayed in Marah only one day and immediately afterward they went to Eilim -- an oasis with 12 wells and 70 date palms...

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin points out that when you worry you suffer in the present, even if life turns out perfectly in the future. He advises a practical way to teach yourself to be patient instead of worrying: For one month, make a list each week of five things you worried about in the past that turned out better than you expected. You can learn from your past experience that 80 percent of the things you are worrying about now will be all right in the end.

It's important to focus on the difference between the peripheral and the essential. If something will adjust with time perhaps we can handle the temporary inconvenience at present. I wrote the following essay about moving into my bungalow this pass summer to help me see things from a healthier perspective.

Where Did the Years Go?

We sat in long rows in our eighth-grade classroom, a sea of navy blue jumpers. Every Monday morning our teacher wrote a saying on the blackboard and we memorized it during the week. This week it was a long saying and it took her a few minutes to write it all down. She turned and said, "This saying is very meaningful to me. It is to your benefit to try to comprehend its meaning before it is too late."

    Man worries about losing his money.
    Man doesn't worry about losing his days.
    His days do not return,
    His money does not help.

We took out our notebooks and wrote down the saying, and we couldn't understand why our teacher thought this saying was so vital. When you are 13, you feel that you and everyone you know will live forever. The years passed and I remembered this saying. I hate to count all the years that I remembered this saying. Ironically it has given me a sense of purpose and comfort. In wise perspective there is comfort.

Everyone has problems. Everyone has losses, great and small. Our dreams and plans can shatter. An object can break. At those times a healthy perspective helps and I remember this saying. We worry about losing money and because of that our days are wasted. In the end, even if we have the money our days will never return. So, let go of the loss and enjoy the day.

There are people we all know who never took the time to enjoy life. They didn't play with a child. They didn't take a walk in the sunshine or go to a park. They rarely sat and listened to someone they loved. There was always more and more work to be done. There were a few more dollars to be earned. Then they grow old and they have the money but the days are lost. Theirs was a life full of tension, stress and hurt feelings. One can try to buy back lost time with money but it never works. The money never compensates. The money cannot fill the hole in the soul.

Ultimately our time is our most precious resource. Today is yours. Whatever you hope to do, try to do it today. Decide to do everything with happiness and determination. Decide to improve your world today. You may not be 13, but it isn't too late.

[Consider the following first-person story:]

My kids got into the flour at my mother-in-law's house. They looked like angels -- very white and pure. The smile on their faces seemed to say, "This is fun. This is so soft." I got a camera and I still have the picture.

The phone rang on Thursday morning. It was Ellen. "Rosie, I just have to tell you what happened an hour ago. Remember the story Rebecca told yesterday about how her kids got into the flour and she laughed and took a picture? This morning I was not careful to fold all my kitchen chairs. I always do that before I step out of the kitchen even for a minute or my 13-month-old son, Zev, will climb on the counter and get into anything he finds in the cabinets.

I came out of the bedroom five minutes later and he had climbed onto the kitchen table. We always have five cereal boxes out because Isaac my 3-year-old can never decide which cereal to eat in the morning without tasting them all. When I came back into the kitchen, Zev was on the table sticking his hands in all five boxes and sprinkling cereal on every surface. My first impulse was to scream, but then I remembered the flour story and I began to laugh instead.

My husband came in just then. He asked, "What are you laughing about?" I told him the flour story and I said, "I can't believe that less than 24 hours later our custom-made 'flour' picture opportunity has arrived." He said with a smile, "Well, I hope you remember the flour story for the rest of your life."



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