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Cultivating Joy in Adar: Exploring Mindfulness as a Path to Happiness

Updated: Mar 15


In the month of Adar and there is the expression:  
 When we enter the month of Adar, we increase joy:
  מי שנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה
How do we enter into joy and cultivate happiness? 
Research on the brain tells us that our brains are wired to notice and remember negative or unpleasant events more than positive ones. It's called a negativity bias.  
We remember traumatic experiences better than positive ones, we recall insults more than praise (such as cognitive distortions), and we react more strongly to negative stimuli. It can protect us from danger like in the olden days. when we had to worry about being chased and eaten by a wild animal. These days the negativity bias doesn’t necessarily protect us.
What can we do?
In mindfulness practice, we train ourselves to observe our feelings and thoughts more objectively which can impact how and what we remember, and see our experiences as they really are.
The act of remembering recurs throughout the Jewish calendar--we are told to remember both from our past and the present: remember the Shabbat, remember the orphan, widow and stranger, remember the Exodus from Egypt, Shabbat Zachor which is coming up, and more.
Remember (זכור ) is mentioned at least 200 times in the Torah and it is central to the survival of the Jewish people. 

One of the things that challenges us to remember are distractions and multitasking. So when we intentionally remember, we can improve our focus and memory.
Pausing during the day can help us focus and remember. 
There is a clear link between meditation practice and enhanced memory. Mindfulness meditation, even when practiced a few minutes each day, changes brain structure and enhances memory, according to Dr. John Teasdale, one of the pioneers of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy,
When we take a moment or a few moments to take a breath and notice our body sensations and feelings, it can help us to bring awareness to all our experiences, both positive and negative. This can have a calming effect.
And that is one way to allow us to enter into happiness in the month of Adar and Purim.
There is a connection in Megillat Esther.
The book of Esther captures this mindful lesson:

כימים אשר־נחו בהם היהודים מאויביהם והחודש אשר נהפך להם מיגון לשמחה ומאבל ליום טוב”
“[The Jews should celebrate] as on days on which the Jews rested from their enemies and the same month which had been transformed for them from sorrow to joy and from mourning to festivity."  - Esther 9:22

Like the Jews in the megillah, in our practice, we are also seeking a certain type of rest from our enemies, not external enemies in this case, but internal ones– our deeply ingrained habits can cause us difficulties and pain. 
If we can continue to bring our attention to the present, we find that it can free us from our habits, from our natural tendencies of how we interpret our reality.  
Each of us, no matter what our story is, we have our natural tendencies.
The problem is not that we have our habits and natural tendencies, but that we lose ourselves within them, and we mistake our habituated responses and thought for the truth.

When we lose ourselves in our habits, in the ways that we see the world, we end up acting in unhealthy ways towards ourselves and others.  We might misinterpret what someone says or does and get hurt or  triggered and say something to hurt someone else. The purpose of our practice is to free us from those unhealthy habits; it comes to help us to transform נהפוך our habits.
Then, like the verse, our sorrow can be transformed into joy.
אשר נהפך להם מיגון לשמחה ומאבל ליום טוב
This could be the meaning of na'afochu, (turning around) that we celebrate on Purim. It is to reverse our habitual response. 

This is the reversal that we are practicing to do. 
When I encounter something challenging or difficult, what is my natural response? To avoid it! This makes sense, because who wants to struggle and hurt? 
Rather than running away, when we meet pain or the goal is to say to it “Hello experience!" (both the negative and the positive) Or as Rumi says in his poem
The Guest House:
Welcome  them in even if they're a crowd of sorrows, They may be clearing you out for some new delight.
Just how do we do that? Stopping, even for a minute to take a breath and notice our body sensations and feelings, can help us to bring awareness to all experiences, both positive and negative and take us off auto pilot and our automatic behavior. It can also help us to be more present in what we’re doing as we’re doing it. 
Let’s try this STOP practice together: 

STOP practice explanation

S = Stop
Stop or take a break from what you’re doing; and pause for a moment.

T = Take
Take a few deep breaths. If you’d like to extend this, you can take a minute to breathe normally and naturally and follow your breath coming in and out of your nose.The breath is an anchor to the present moment. Breathing mindfully is a good way to center yourself in the present moment. Let’s take a few breaths

O = Observe
Observe your experience just as it is—including thoughts, feelings, and emotions. 
So you can reflect and notice that thoughts are not facts and not permanent—they come and go. Notice any emotions present (such as worry, boredom, anger or contentment) and how they’re being expressed or showing up in the body. Sometimes just naming your emotions can have a calming effect. Then notice your body’s physical sensations such as tension, discomfort, or body temperature)? Check in with yourself and ask “ How am I doing right now?” Take a moment to do this

P = Proceed
Proceed and continue to go about your day. Let your attention move around you, sensing how things are right now. Rather than react habitually, can you be curious and open?
Ask yourself what you need at this moment.

You can use STOP regularly to help you ground yourself throughout the day.
                                                                               
What would it be like in the days, weeks, and months ahead if you started stopping more often?

Our habits have a big influence on us, but when we  practice mindfulness, they can have less control over us and we create the space to have more control over how we react throughout our day.
 
For example, you might note how your impatience makes it impossible for you to effectively solve problems. So you do a STOP as you feel yourself getting impatient before you act or respond. 
And also very important is to practice being understanding and patient with yourself. How we talk to ourselves? Can we soften a harsh or critical voice?
Through mindfulness practice, we can lay our inner enemies to rest. 
We can turn our suffering into joy, our mourning into an opportunity for rejoicing. 

It is hard work, trying to transform our natural responses. But it is possible.
Just as the promise of liberation that Purim holds out to us, take this time as an opportunity to connect to your true self, and see if you can transform your habitual patterns so that your suffering can be transformed into joy.

Purim Sameach.

To listen to this on Insight Timer:





*The next mindfulness based stress reduction course starts on 26/3/24 in Jerusalem.

For more information: 






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