Torah Musings: The Other Side of the CakeBy
One afternoon I was making a bundt cake and, unfortunately, I botched it. Despite the fact that I used PAM for baking, it did not come out of the pan evenly. I was rather annoyed, but I resolved to figure out a way that it could be served regardless.
I examined the cake to see what I could do with it. Perhaps crumble it up and serve it in a martini glass with whipped cream and strawberries? Or, should I slice off the top layer and attempt to even out the top? Unhappy with either solution, I decided to flip the cake over to see what the other side looked like.
VIOLA! The other side was perfectly flat and aesthetically pleasing! (Though I did garnish it slightly by completely covering the top with a glaze and caramelized sliced apples.)
As I looked at my beautiful cake all ready to be served, it hit me that sometimes we have to “flip things over” in our minds in order to see another side to something. If we view a situation from a different perspective, we will experience it in a completely different way.
One powerful technique that can help turn something less than ideal into something we experience positively is “reframing.” While visiting my parents in Atlanta recently, I saw a beautiful piece of art hanging above the mantel. Although it was small, it looked like it had come from an expensive, chic gallery. I turned to my mother and asked, “Where did you get this beautiful piece from? It is an absolute masterpiece!” She laughed and said, “Oh that? I picked it up at a garage sale for five dollars! It had such an ugly frame so I just had it reframed. The frame cost a fortune, but the art cost practically nothing!”
We may view a painting as cheap or ugly. However, if we can take the time and energy to approach it differently, the image can be transformed into a beautiful work of art. The key is in the frame: by looking at what surrounds the piece – understanding its circumstances – we can see it in a fresh way. So too, with life experiences. If we look at the overall context of the experience and consider all aspects of it, we can perhaps change how we feel about it.
Think about the last time you were in line at the pharmacy waiting to pick up a prescription. You get in line behind ten people; you wait and wait. It turns out the man behind the counter is at his first day on the job. If you want your medicine, it’s going to take a while.
Situations like these can be incredibly frustrating. As the anger builds, the line that keeps repeating in your mind is, “I am wasting my time! I am wasting my time!” And as the minutes tick past, your anger level rises.
This situation could look extremely different when reframed. By practicing mindfulness – empathizing and saying to yourself that everyone deserves some slack on their first day – and working through the impatience, using it as an opportunity to focus on something else, you can emerge from the situation with the satisfaction that you did not waste your time and you made strides in self-improvement.
“I am wasting my time,” is the all too common refrain we think to ourselves sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic or waiting in line at the bank. But, what is our purpose in this world? We are here to become better people, to work on our faults, and to improve ourselves. So, if we get angry and tap our feet, and lose our cool and rudely ask for another clerk to open up another lane, then, yes, we are wasting our time. But if we reframe the situation and recognize it as an opportunity to work on our patience, then we did NOT waste our time.
Instead of thinking, “I am wasting my time,” rather think, “This is exactly why I am here.” Spiritual growth can be obtained in the most mundane of moments.
My dear friend Jen (name has been changed) tragically lost her mother at a very young age. She always kept a picture of her mother framed in her house. When her children would ask her, “Who is that lady, Mommy?” Jen would avoid answering, because she believed that her children were too young to understand such profound topics as death and loss. When her children grew up and were old enough to understand, Jen finally told them, “The woman in the photograph is my mommy.” One of her daughters responded, “But isn’t Susan (Jen’s stepmom) your mommy?” “Yes,” answered Jen. “Susan is also my mommy.” Her daughter pondered this deeply and replied, “But why did Hashem give you two mommies?”
This is a difficult question for a young child, and Jen struggled with this for years. She would constantly ask herself, “Why did G-d do this to me? Why?” Her response to herself had always been, “Because Hashem hates me.”
Yet in that moment, Jen turned to her daughter, and with newfound clarity said, “Because Hashem loves me. Yes, Hashem loves me so much that he didn’t just give me one mommy, one person to love me the most in this world. He gave me two people to love me more than anyone else in the world!” Jen was able to reframe her situation to see that she was blessed with more maternal love, not less.
In his book, The First Year of Marriage, Rabbi Abraham Twerski tells a story about the power of perspective. Two young boys walk into a stable. One boy immediately covers his nose, screeching, “EEEW! It stinks in here!” He looks at all the dirt and hay and complains, “Uch, it is so dirty. Get me out of here!” and runs out. Meanwhile, the second boy walks in, smells the same manure, sees the same dirt and hay, and excitedly exclaims, “Hooray! There must be a pony around here somewhere!”
Our thoughts, machshavot, have the power to create joy. If we want to be besimcha (with happiness) we need to use machshavot (thoughts). These two words in Hebrew share the same letters. Our thoughts – our perspective – are the gateway to joy.
In Parshas Bereishis, when Hashem created the world, it says, “He saw that it was good.” This phrase is repeated seven times. Why couldn’t the Torah just sum up the creation by saying it once at the end? It is human nature to have a tendency to see the negative. We look at something and automatically think: What’s wrong with this picture? Therefore, the Torah reassures us after each day of creation that each day and each thing created truly was good – no exceptions.
But there is a deeper explanation for the repetition of this phrase.
Reframing our mindset is something we have to work at continuously. Happiness is similar to working out. You cannot get onto a treadmill for a half hour and think, “Okay! I’m done forever! Now I’m healthy!” Rather, one must exercise routinely to stay healthy. Likewise, every time we approach a situation we have to figure out how to see its positive side.
I found myself using the “flip the cake” tactic when I was awoken at three a.m. to my toddler’s cry of, “Mommy!” As I rolled over, half asleep, and slowly crawled out of bed, I could not help but think, “Ughh…not again!” Yet, as I walked down the hall to her room, I stopped myself and thought, baruch Hashem I have a healthy child who needs my help.
I can not say I was happy about having my sleep disturbed, but it certainly made the diaper change more pleasant. These small “flip the cake” moments can be practiced at any time. The more we rethink and reframe things to see the the good – the opportunities therein, and the potential for introspection – the happier we’ll be.
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