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  • Jenny Runkel

Bookshelf: Yearnings

Rabbi Irwin Kula's book Yearnings has been on our bookshelf for approximately forever. I TOTALLY judge a book by its cover and this one had me at hello.

I'm still not done with it, so this is a post "in progress", but it's blowing me away every time I pick it up. I'm unable to be monogamous while reading books. I used to fight it. I now embrace it. At any given moment, I'm reading 3-5 books, "randomly" selected from our shelves or suggested by people I admire.

I say "random" because I'm starting to think there's no such thing. More on this later.

This book grabbed me from the opening pages. I usually skip a preface. Too many cooks in the kitchen, as far as I'm concerned. I like to enter the text like a spelunker, finding my own cave of wonders, thank you very much. But this one beckoned to be read when I opened it to this passage.

It it, Kula states his intention to "explore methods of the sages, showing how we can use this wisdom to examine our own lives. These will not be lessons about overcoming all odds, obeying some external command, or finding some ultimate truth. Rather, they will be teachings that celebrate the inevitable messiness of life, of living with grace in uncertainty. Far from keeping us in line, this wisdom tries to push us off line. Crossing boundaries is the only way to grow....Jewish teachings invite us to dance with dualities and tensions: Life and Death; Hate and Love; Right and Wrong; Sorrow and Joy."

Yes please. Yes. Please.

Sometimes books are asking to be devoured. This one is asking to be savored. I'm only halfway through it and I already know that it is changing the best way possible.

No offense to the authors, who over the past decade, have made it their mission to help us "find happy." It's a valiant effort. But, I'm afraid, a misguided one. At least my journey to happy has been so. I always fell short and found the horizon to keep moving farther away.

In fact, it's the authors who call me back away from that pursuit who seem to be filling my soul with something more satisfying and less lonely. Authors like Mark Manson and Rabbi Kula who are letting us in on the real secret to life: striving for happiness is killing us.

I'll go as far to say this: the more we insulate ourselves from pain in the pursuit of happiness and try to make everything "just right", the more pain we bring upon ourselves. But this pain is even more insidious because it's masked as comfort. Comfortable homes, comfortable cars, comfortable gated communities, ask us to expend our precious lifeblood of energy into maintaining the status quo: keeping us comfortable. And we're deathly afraid of loosening up.

Instead, there is life in embracing the messy, looking at the real, and finding the tension residing in the paradoxes in and around us. Comfort isn't the same as peace. As joy. As growth. It's a shadowy substitute lying to us all.

Read more about Rabbi Irwin Kula

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