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Meaning Blog: Existential Lessons from the Hebrew Bible

I believe that this Parsha contains one of the earliest recorded existential conflicts. Here is the scene (Bereshit Chapter 25).
Esav, a young burly red-headed hunter returns from a strenuous hunt. He did not find any prey on this particular day and is feeling very hungry. He walks into his home and smells something delicious. An aromatic red lentil stew, his younger brother’s special recipe, is simmering on the fire. Esav wants some of that soup!

Esav: Pour into me some of the red-stuff for I am exhausted!

Yaacov: You want my soup? Trade me your status as the first-born!

Esav: Well, I am going to die anyway, so of what use to me is a birthright?

Esav swears his first-born birthright over to his little brother. (Yep they are twins, but Esav came out first. If you know twins, or are a twin, the fact that one came out first can be quite a big deal!) And the rest is history – the children of Yaacov and the children of Esav become eternal archetypal enemies.

Not so wonderful!

Growing up I always learned about Esav as the “evil twin.” He terrorized his brother and was stupid to sell his birthright – he got the “short end of the stick” that what was coming to him. This year, the response of Esav really jumped out at me in a way that I could very much relate.

“Well, I am going to die anyways, so of what use to me is a birthright?”

Personally, I ebb and flow in my ability to see the world as a meaningful place and thus my engagement in the world also can sometimes feel void of purpose. Experiencing life as meaningful takes practice and is not a simple given. The narrative of Yaacov and Esav seems to take place in their adolescence. Can we actually condemn a teenager for stating the obvious truth – Nothing lasts forever, so why should I strive for success? Think back to when you were a teen (or maybe just last Tuesday), it is quite natural to wrestle with this perspective.

So was Esav a boor or just someone who tended towards existential conflicts of meaning? Being a hunter, Esav knows that the world can seem quite random. On the hunt, you win some, you lose some. There is not an exact reason why a swooping bird catches this rodent and not the one next to it. Perhaps Esav, in that moment was taken by this fact – even with a God in the world, things seem to just happen.

Introducing the perspective of the existential into this portion we see a dichotomy between a “Yaacov way” of looking at the world and an “Esav way” of looking at the world. On the one hand the world is full of meaning that lasts beyond the life of one individual. The blessings from the past generations impact the present, and the actions of those in the present will shape the direction of the future. On the other hand, we are stuck in the finiteness of life. There is no continuity in the random unfolding of one generation to the next – Who will die, who will live? Who will be remembered? Who will be forgotten?

As you may know, I think about these topics a lot ( and here is my short answer to this complicated dilemma. Both perspectives are absolutely valid (and there are many positions in between!) We can become skillful in knowing when to embrace the meaningfulness of a moment versus when we might tone down our own self-importance. For example, when your commitment at work results in the decay of your social relationships – it is time to evaluate the real meaning of your work. On the contrary, if you are having trouble making a decision, you might tap into your passions and intentions and remember that to live fully is to make choices that appear meaningful in a particular moment.

This week, I feel bad for Esav. Not only does he struggle to see his life as meaningful, but his shallow self-esteem is affirmed by his parents choosing his younger brother over him. We see that this begins a chain reaction whereby he chooses a wife that will specifically antagonize his father (28:9). His father, Isaac, was once Esav’s biggest fan. I want to suggest that this Parsha teaches us an important lesson about how we can affirm or aggravate the sense of meaning of another person. As we see in the story of Esav, it can be the meaning of those closest to us that are impacted most deeply by our actions and attitudes towards them.

Meaning blog: Action in the Jewish Month of Elul

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On the evening of August 5th, we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Elul, the New Hebrew Month! In the previous month, AV, we strained to hear the call for righteousness amongst all the noise of suffering. According to a mystical take on our calendar (, with this new month, ELUL, we answer that call with action. It is time to get our hands dirty in the travails of society and make the world a better place. Poverty, homelessness, environmental carelessness, and wasteful energy practices are a short list of social problems that are in need of more than our attention – action is needed.

This is the process of ELUL (אלול) – we take active steps to affirm and strengthen our personal and communal bonds. We can reaffirm our responsibility that comes with the gift of family and community. ELUL in Hebrew is an acronym for, “Ani L’dodi, V’dodi Li” – I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine. Perhaps the two lovers in this phrase are humanity (each one of us!) and the world (from the natural to the social).

In the month of ELUL the process of these lovers’ merging is called TESHUVAH (returning or repenting). We acknowledge the things that we have done that have distanced ourselves from each other, from the planet, and from God. We aim to act in a way that more authentically expresses the loving relationship that we seek.

We have about 30 days until Rosh Hashana (New Years!) to find as many opportunities as possible to express our potential for compassionate and healing action. These actions include taking care of our relationship with God and also with the world and people around us. Thus, there is no major holiday in ELUL – it is an entire period of transformation and yearning for closeness.

Meaning Blog: Standing Between Loss and Love

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There are periods of apathy and uncertainty that we all must live through. Quite fitting for the cycle of the Jewish calendar which just passed through its time of mourning – we stand on the cusp of change, heading towards love.

The story of mourning begins with the destruction of a temple (or 2 temples), in 70 C.E. The commemoration today though, in 2013, is not just about that physical loss. The temple represented a degree of certainty for the Jewish people – they knew what God wanted and how to relate to God. Or they believed that they did. This metaphor is universal – as the temple crumbled, so did certainty, and here we are generations later, many of us still shrugging our shoulders, wondering, “So what now? How do we connect and participate in this world?” Many of us live in a perpetual state of uncertainty, especially when it comes to our spiritual lives.

The next major day of the Jewish calendar, Tu B’Av, calls for an embracing of love and of reaching out to each other. Now that walls and structure have been erased, the wisdom of the Jewish calendar propels us into focusing on love. With the slate wiped clean (at times a very painful process), we can return to the basic question, “What is the point?” The answer is simple – to love. I do not mean Disney love, recklessly falling head-over-heels for Prince or Princess Charming like in any of the classic Nursery Songs from our childhood. As a spiritual quality, love means openness and a willingness to trust. Love is a process of learning to see suffering and to figure out what it means to use one’s own presence to respond.

This morning out on a jog, I passed a homeless person sleeping upright in a wheelchair. They tucked themselves away, almost hidden between two buildings, with a blanket over their head and torso. I first jogged past feeling sorry for this person, imaging a potentially disabled person living in this terrible situation. I thought maybe I should check on this person, see if they needed anything – like a warm drink, food, a home! Maybe I should call the police? I stopped jogging and turned back to where the person was probably asleep. I noticed doubt arise and fear. Doubt that I can actually help this person, and fear to wake up some stranger. So I continued on again, witnessing and as of yet, not really responding. This is a perfect example where I can learn how to love. Upon reflecting, I can call the local Homeless Outreach Team and let them know where this person was sleeping. Maybe they can keep an eye out for them tonight. Sharing this story is an act of responding too, as is praying for the wisdom that we in the U.S.A. can learn to share our resources better, so no one has to live on the street.

So here we are, standing between loss and love. Loss drives us towards love; love fuels the pain of loss. This sacred and profound cycle is a teacher that touches all of our lives. May we accept the challenge to learn how to love deeper and wider, so that our local and global communities reflect these ideals.

Please learn more about my licensed psychospiritual counseling practice. Now accepting new clients and referrals.
Please contact me to set up a free in-person consultation.


Meaning Blog: Juggling Scarves

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I thought that there was no way that I could learn how to juggle. The whole idea of throwing something up into the air and seamlessly catch it can be hard enough, but to do that with multiple objects at the same time! Sounds ridiculous! Well this is not a blog entry about how I learned how to juggle tennis balls or bean bags. That is still on my to-do list. What I have learned how to juggle though is scarves. Light, floaty, colorful, weightless scarves. They gracefully puff in the air like bursts of cloud and softly mellow their way down to the floor. I can even juggle 5 scarves at a time. FIVE!

This is all coming up because of a lesson that I am working on and that I want to share with you. In life, we juggle many commitments – work (or for some of us multiple jobs), family, play, study, friends, movies, yoga, eating … The list can go on and on (and on and on!). At times, we feel overwhelmed with all of this juggling. We feel that we are hefting multiple bowling balls in the air and just barely keeping everything aloft. Some of us might learn how to juggle bowling balls and that can be a wonderful feat.   For the rest of us juggling bowling balls will only lead to burn-out, stress, and eventually failure. Because you can’t just do it all!

Here is the trick I am working on. I can switch my perspective from juggling bowling balls to juggling scarves. Life is about multiple moving parts and we cannot just simply put things down. When I enter into the metaphor of juggling scarves I have time to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of each task that I undertake. I can fully embody and embrace each role I am called to play. Instead of constantly worrying about the next thing coming, or falling, I am able to have a moment of presence amidst the ceaseless flow.

So I want to invite you to acquire a few very light and sheer scarves – 3 to 5, some simple tulle will do. Delight in your amazing ability to master the complex art of juggling and then invite the same sense of ease and flow into your life.

Meaning Blog: Tips to Funk With

It is so easy to stay in a funk. I wake up in a dark room and my mind has already been spinning for a while, thinking about what I have to do and how I do not really want to do. Getting out of bed just seems absurd, yet I can’t really relax and enjoy being under the covers. Every now and then, I can catch myself and recognize the opportunity that is present. I am awake! This moment can frame my whole day. How can I engage this day with a zest for life? With joy and excitement? With moment-by-moment awareness?

Other days I expend energy in resistance. I might get to work on time, interact peaceably with friends and co-workers, eat three meals, and yet carry around the weight of resistance all day long. It can be simply exhausting!

When I have days like this, I do a few things that can help to shift this heavy bearing feeling.

First thing is to STOP & SHIFT. I find time to stop going through the motions and do something that is unusual. For example, I might take a quick walk outside before I eat breakfast to simply pay attention to the natural beauty of the world around me. Maybe I will play a game to say “good afternoon” to strangers on the elevator ride up and down from lunch. Perhaps I will send a 3 word text to someone that I have not connected with in a while – “Thinking of you.” There are so many tiny ways to shift the gear from complacency to creativity. And I find that a small act can make a huge impact on my mood.

Second thing is to PRACTICE. I cannot expect everything to change eternally in one moment. So I try out a STOP & SHIFT technique and explore how that impacts the stories in my head (and/or the feelings in my heart). I might notice some positivity creeping in and then a return to heaviness. I then know that it is time to try something else. You might think of this as taking a daily vitamin regimen for your heart, mind, and spirit.

On last tip for today…FEEL & BREATHE! If I am having a particularly “hard” day, where I am overwhelmed by negative emotions and thoughts, I take time to feel the feelings as they occur in different parts of my body. For example, a tight throat or a queasy stomach. I just sit down, in any position I feel like (or stand up if I am waiting for the train), breathe until my stomach gently fills with air, and take note of what is happening inside. I imagine that each breath is like a gentle wave that is helping to move any stuck emotions or persistent thoughts through my mind/body system. I do this for as long as I have time to, or until I become distracted. Distraction is part of the letting go process. The best part about this method is that I can do this anywhere, it’s free, and it has been practiced in every culture, across the whole planet, from the beginning of human consciousness. That is time tested!

Have you tried these tips before? How have they worked for you? Anything else that you do to help ease you out of your funk? Comment below and let us know.

Professional Counseling for Depression and Life Transitions – Adults, Couples, and Teens

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged
to change ourselves.”

– Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

“If we want a different future, we cannot remain the same today.”
David Anderson Hooker, Restorative Justice Training

Please contact me to set up a free in-person consultation.

Periods of struggle and suffering in your life can provide you with important opportunities to cultivate inner-strength, fulfilling relationships, and lasting meaning. However, if these struggles become too big then this can damage your mental health and leave you with depression or anxiety. If this happens, it’s important to seek help from a professional. Of course, who you go to depends on the individual that is struggling. For example, Honey Lake Clinic is a great place for Christian teenagers to go and get treatment for their mental health issues while also practising their faith. However, everyone takes a different approach to treatment so this route might not be best for you. You may find you would prefer a more holistic treatment. If this is the case, I can help you develop a personal framework that will foster nourishing joy and holistic health. If you struggle with issues connected to fulfillment, life satisfaction, depression or difficulty during life transitions, you will find resonance with my approach. I work best with clients who seek to ease suffering and who aim for personal transformation.

I support individuals and couples who experience social marginalization due to race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation. I assess for historical harms and multigenerational trauma, and address the suffering caused by social oppression head on. Oppression is real and you do not have to remain silent.

Therapy with me is a collaborative process. I will assist you in gaining greater self-awareness and provide a safe space to explore your negative emotions and unhealthy patterns. In my practice I draw from mindfulness-based, transpersonal, existential, family systems and Gestalt therapies. Together, we will find solutions that create lasting change.

I work with older adolescents, emerging adults, adults, couples and families.

To schedule a free in-person consultation and for more information about my professional counseling services in the Bay Area, please email: OR call 24/7: 510-292-4002. (Note this voicemail line is for non-emergencies. In case of an emergency, please call 911.)

Office Location: My office is conveniently located 1/2 block north of Ashby BART, at the beautiful Anam Cara Therapy Center2915 Martin Luther King Jr Way in Berkeley, CA.

Payment and Insurance Information: I charge $100 per 50 min. session. I reserve a limited number of spots in my case load specifically for lower-income clients. Please contact me if you have any questions about my fees.

Currently, I accept Aetna insurance. If you have out-of-network benefits from a different insurance carrier, you may be reimbursed a certain percentage of the fee per session, depending on your coverage.

For more information about my scope of practice and your rights and responsibilities as a client, please feel free to review my Informed Consent Pamphlet.

I am a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor in California (LPCC). My license number is LPC 37 and can be verified online on the Board of Behavioral Science website.

USA National Suicide Hotlines
Toll-Free / 24 hours / 7 days a week
TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)

reSource Yom Kippur 5774 – 3 Day Retreat

reSource Yom Kippur 5774

@ Mt. Madonna Center in Watsonville, CA
with Rabbi Diane Elliot & Dr. Zvi Bellin
Friday-Sunday, September 13-15, 2013

reFresh your spirit ∞ reAwaken your purpose ∞ reNew your whole self

Reserve early! Space is limited. The first 10 retreatants paid in full will be entitled to a free introductory meditation session or spiritual guidance session with Diane or Zvi!

In the clear air high above Monterey Bay, we will gather for a multi-dimensional Yom Kippur – the day of at-one-ment. We will explore the ecstatic, the embodied, the silent, and the traditional approaches to prayer. In the intimacy and safety of a small community, we’ll support one another to traverse the Four Worlds of Becoming—doing, feeling, thinking, being—pushing our edges, expanding our sense of what’s possible in the new year. You’ll enjoy three delicious organic vegetarian pre-fast and break-fast meals (Friday pre-fast dinner, Saturday evening break-the-fast meal, Sunday brunch). We invite you to let go and return to your source.

To register: Send the full fee for the weekend accommodations of your choice (see below) payable to Wholly Present to R. Diane Elliot, 6108 Plymouth Ave., Richmond, CA 94805, or send a PayPal payment to Inquire about payment plans. Some scholarships may be available.

N’div Lev: The fee includes accommodations and administrative costs only. Your leaders will be compensated by your n’div lev (free will) offerings, made at the retreat.

Accommodation Early Bird Fee (before June 15) Regular Fee (after June 15)

$ 150

$ 175

Own Tent or Van



Triple (shared bath)



Double(shared bath)



Double w/ private bath



Single (shared bath)



Single w/ private bath



Cancellation policy: Please note that if you cancel your registration before July 13th you will receive a 50% refund. If you cancel before August 13th you will receive a $25 refund. Unfortunately, we will not be able to offer any refunds on registration after August 13.


Rabbi Diane Elliot, spiritual leader, dancer, and somatic therapist, inspires her students to become clearer channels for Divine Light through awareness and movement practices, chant, and nuanced interpretations of Jewish sacred text. She is the director of the ALEPH Alliance for Jewish Renewal’s Embodying Spirit Jewish Leadership Training Program. To learn more about her work visit

Dr. Zvi Bellin, directs intimate retreats and workshops for the Jewish community that are both spiritually uplifting and intellectually stimulating. He is an international Jewish educator, a licensed professional counselor, and a teacher of Jewish mindfulness practice. Find out more at

For further information and to inquire about scholarships e-mail or
or call 510-778-9452 or 510-292-4002.


Meaning Blog: Corrections!

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The New York Times makes mistakes! I was reading a section of the Sunday paper and noticed a small Corrections blurb. It was so liberating to note that even the New York Times makes mistakes. I really hope that whoever (or however many people) typed Twin Rivers instead of Two Rivers was ultimately met with compassion as the editorial team concluded, “Don’t worry, we will print a correction.” Now let’s not let on that we know that Corrections actually is a way for the New York Times to say, “Oops! We messed up and we apologize for our carelessness.”

I know when I make a mistake it takes me a while to get to the place where I can first fully admit that I made a mistake. When I finally do, I tend to wallow in the guilt and shame of doing something wrong. Like the time I sent an introduction email about one course I was teaching to the wrong class roster.  It was my very first course that I was teaching in person, and I already felt like a total failure. And to twist the dagger a little deeper, it was a course about adolescent psychology, and misspelled the word adolescent! I was sure I was going to get an email the next day excusing me from my position. I feel some embarrassment to fess up to this folly even now, though I am sure something similar has happened to you.   After a mini freak out, I sent a carefully crafted correction to the wrong roster, and then sent my original email to the correct class with a correctly spelled subject headline.

Later that evening, I had a good cry/laugh with a good friend about my mistake as I realized that the world was not going to end. This seemed to be an important step. If I just kept the story to myself, I would be stuck with my own exaggerated terror filled episode. Life out loud is generally a lot less terrifying.

The next time you make a mistake, remind yourself that even the New York Times makes mistakes and for most mistakes, you too can probably offer a correction.

Meaning Blog: Acceptance – True of False?

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I wonder if the idea of acceptance has become another form of reality repression. Everyone is talking about accepting what life brings you. Accept your anger. Accept your grief and sadness. Accept your gifts too. I notice when I practice acceptance a few things might happen, but they seem to be summed up in two different modes. The first is acceptance as being with. This means that when I am angry about something, then I allow myself to be angry. And if I am angry at a certain person then I allow myself to express that anger to the best of my ability. I am also patient with myself, recognizing that it takes time for emotions to pass through the filter of my being. I activate my support network – talk to friends and loved ones. I might even rearrange my schedule so I can have some space to explore and recover. This kind of acceptance is like an embrace. It is active. When you hug someone that you fully accept, you wrap your arms around that person and let them know that they are wanted up close.

The other kind of acceptance that can happen is the head-in-the-sand acceptance. This is a near-enemy of true acceptance. I realize that something significant is happening that warrants attention and instead I just keep going on with life as usual. The mental process is a quick, “I am open to whatever is going on,” without taking time to fully explore what that is. An example is when I was in a teacher-student relationship with a manipulative Rabbi. I just accepted his unhealthy behaviors without much consideration and remained under his influence long after my gut was telling me to leave. I was convinced I was in a spiritual practice of acceptance, when really I was self-manipulating to remain in denial.

Acceptance does not mean suffering in silence. It does not mean turn the other cheek. Rather, acceptance is an ongoing and active practice of fully embracing how your internal and external worlds intertwine. Finally, acceptance is not always something to do alone. If you are having trouble accepting something, share it with someone you trust.

Meaning Article Featured on Tikkun Magazine

Please check out my featured article: Beyond Frankl: Towards a Meaningful Life . This is a more accessible summary of the findings from my dissertation study. Please leave comments and any question on the Tikkun blog. Thanks!