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What's In A Name: Naming Our Feelings and Parshat Bereishit


We all would like to have meaning in our lives and feel good about what we do, which doesn't mean that we should avoid being bored or doing mundane tasks.

Nietzsche, in fact, suggested that boredom has a positive side and can be an impetus to achievement, a catalyst for action. It can provide an opportunity for thought and reflection.

In this week’s Parshat, Bereishit, man discovers purpose and meaning:

“Now the Lord G‑d took the man, and He placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it.

The work referred to here isn’t only the physical labor of cultivating and caring for a field, for what labor was needed on land that produced its produce almost instantly? Rather, the sages explain that this refers to spiritual labor. Man’s purpose is to reveal godliness in this world, as well as to refine the world and elevate it to a higher spiritual level according to our sages.

In all of creation only man, Adam, has the power to connect the physical and mundane with its spiritual source. As the Midrash says, “Adam was created both from the upper realms and the lower realms.”

As the Lubavitcher Rebbe once said: After Adam's sin, our job is to reconnect the spiritual with the mundane and coarse world.

Life might not be consistently interesting, but it does need to feel meaningful or purposeful in some way in order to hold our attention.

Boredom -- because it gives us more time to reflect -- might be telling us something about what is important to us, as well as enabling us to consider what is missing and what our purpose should be. And being curious about boredom might not only alleviate some of its negative effects, but it can also refocus our attention to what life should really be about.

How can we make room or cultivate space to figure out what might give us meaning in our lives? It starts with taking the time to “sit with” whatever we are feeling or experiencing.

In mindfulness practice, we name what we are feeling.

In Bereishit, When G-d created man, He asked Adam what names to give the animals, and -- according to the Midrash Bereishit -- he said, “This should be called an ox; that, a lion; that, a horse; that, an ass; that, a camel; and that an eagle…”

Then G-d asked him, “What shall be your name?” He answered, “Adam.” and G-d asked why. Adam explained, “Because I have been created from the ground (Hebrew: אדמה adama].”

People like to name things to bring order to their world. We can bring some order to our uncertain world by naming-- naming what we are feeling, naming what we are experiencing, naming the sensations in our bodies.

A key aspect of mindfulness practice is noticing and observing without judgment what we are experiencing in the present moment or naming what we notice. This can put some distance between us and our thoughts and emotions. For example, naming emotions "fear" or "sadness" can allow us to acknowledge these feelings and perhaps lessen their impact. Allowing ourselves to acknowledge what we are feeling is important to our emotional well-being.

And, when we feel overwhelmed with emotions, simply naming what we’re feeling, can be incredibly helpful. Dr. Daniel Siegel recommends the exercise “name it to tame it” as a means to make sense of our feelings and find balance. The process is exactly what it sounds like: when emotions arise, we try to describe our internal state without having to rationalize whatever we’re feeling. This short practice can help us calm down and bounce back more quickly.

Even if we are not used to noticing and giving room to our sensations and feelings, now is a good time to try this practice. We have the ability not only to name our experiences but also to open ourselves up to new ones. However, we do not have to be locked into our perception of ourselves, or someone else's preconceived notions of who we are, which is connected to the name we are given. We are more than our given name.

Our sages teach us that through our own choices and actions, each of us can name and rename ourselves.


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