Rabbi Rami: How Do I Keep My New Year’s Resolutions?
Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler
I break every New Year’s resolution I make. What can I do about this?
Rabbi Rami: Add this resolution to your list: I resolve to break all of my New Year’s resolutions. This way, if you break all the others, you will have kept this one. And if you break this one you will have kept the rest. You can’t lose.
For three nights running I have had the same dream telling me I am going to die. Should I worry about this?
Worry? No. Pay attention? Yes. Dreaming of death is dreaming about transition and transformation. If this were my dream, I would understand it to be telling me to make some hard changes this year. The question I would ask is: What about me has to die that a better me might be born? This is a difficult question to answer, and you might benefit from talking this through with a trusted friend, therapist, or spiritual director. Please don’t ignore your dreams; just don’t take them literally.
I’ve been in therapy for months and I’m still the same person I was when I started. Do you think people can change?
Can you change? Absolutely. In fact, you are constantly changing. Your thoughts and feelings aren’t static, and every seven years almost every cell in your body has been replaced. The only thing that remains the same is the story you tell yourself about yourself, and about being unable to change. The “self” is a by–product of your story. Change your story and change your self. Stop paying a therapist to listen to your story, and start paying one to help you rewrite it.
During my meditations I experience a deep sense of love accompanied by visions of Jesus. Does this mean I should become a Christian?
While I don’t doubt your visions or your feelings, I would suggest that neither corroborates the teachings of Christianity. If you are considering becoming a Christian, be clear about what you are expected to believe, and how you are expected to behave. If you actually believe these things, and want to live this way, then convert. If you don’t, don’t convert.
A Muslim coworker says that Islamic extremists aren’t really Muslim, but I think they prove that Islam is a false religion. Which one of us is right?
Neither. Every religion has its extremists, and while we might not agree with or like what they say and do in the name of our faith, it would be disingenuous to say they are not part of that faith. As for extremism determining the falsehood of a religion, by this criterion every religion is false since each has its violent extremists. If nonviolence is your criteria for deciding which religion is true, Jainism is probably your best bet.
Spirituality, which I associate with love, is superior to religion, which I associate with fear, and yet religion persists. Why don’t we outgrow religion altogether?
People are hardwired for fear. Our fundamental fear is the fear of death, and religions allay this fear by promising us a glorious afterlife or a better next life. As long as we fear death, we will create and join religions. We are also hardwired for love. Love undermines fear; that’s why religions are obsessed with controlling whom we can love. While we will never be free from fear, we can cultivate love through spiritual practice, and in this way free ourselves from those religions that use fear to manipulate us into committing acts of cruelty and hate.
I’m considering converting to the Baha’i faith because it honors women, but I’m afraid to leave Christianity because I might be damned to Hell for all eternity. What should I do?
I, too, am impressed by the Baha’i faith, but Baha’i also has its limits: its Supreme Counsel is restricted to men, and it is hardly liberal when it comes to the LGBTQ community. I also sympathize with your fear of damnation, but every religion claims to be true, so it is impossible to know which, if any, is actually true. My suggestion is to join a religion that supports your values, and if it turns out that your values send you to Hell, at least you’ll be in the company of like-minded people.
My mother, a very devout Roman Catholic, insists that I go to Mass and take communion daily. I’m a nonbeliever and refuse to attend. She is now threatening to stop going herself unless and until I start going to Mass. She believes this will condemn her to Hell. She is threatening me with her eternal damnation. I don’t believe any of this. What should I do?
You have three options: take Communion, don’t take Communion, or lie to your mother about taking Communion. I’m not in favor of lying to Mom, so let’s look at the other two options. If you take Communion you are doing a disservice to yourself, and chances are your feelings toward your mother and the Church will worsen over time. If you don’t take Communion your mother will put her salvation at risk, but that is her problem, not yours. I’d stick with my own beliefs, and let my mom do what she wants. On the off chance she’s right, however, and you both end up in Hell, prepare yourself for an eternity of “I told you so.” Now that is Hell indeed!
A friend gave me a statue of the Hindu goddess Kali wearing a necklace of skulls. Is it normal to be scared of Kali?
She should scare you! Those skulls represent the illusions from which the Goddess seeks to free you. Living without illusion is very scary. But it is worth the risk. Embrace Mother Kali and see what it is to be free.
Author and teacher Rabbi Rami Shapiro has been called “one of the best bridges of Eastern and Western wisdom.” His newest book is Embracing the Divine Feminine.