By Manya Ronay
Most health columns tell the reader what to do, what to eat, yada yada, yada. I’m not interested in that right now. YOU are the expert on yourself, and this column is all about affirming your autonomy. I will explore the vital importance of listening to your internal wisdom in health, Judaism and beyond.
I’m tired of telling people what to do.
Yes, you read that right.
As a health journalist getting my master’s in health education, I am sick and tired of telling people what to do. “Don’t eat processed food.” “Cut out sugar.” “Spend time in nature.” “Exercise.” “Sleep more.” “Connect with others.”
While this might be general good advice for a healthy life, it might not be what people need to hear.
We each are the expert on ourselves, containing a vast pool of wisdom, experiences and resources from our time on this planet. We know what we need, deep down, and we probably have a hunch about how to get there. At times, we might need a little guidance, but we don’t need someone waltzing in and telling us what to do.
Perhaps I think you need to change your diet, but what you really need is to work on your relationships. Perhaps I think you need to exercise, but what you really need is to change your diet. Everyone is different. Everyone has their own special story and knows what they need better than anyone else.
The same holds true for Judaism. We each have our own derech, our personal path to Hashem. Even if it takes some wandering, we will eventually discover the path that’s right for us. It might not be the path our parents chose—or our rabbis or our neighbors or our friends. It’s a path that’s perfectly our own.
We might need some guidance along the way, just like anyone on a long journey. But it’s a journey only we can make. No one should tell us which route to take or judge our choices along the way. We need to be respected and supported along our one-of-a-kind derech.
In UF graduate school, I recently had the opportunity to learn a client-centered counseling approach called Motivational Interviewing (MI).
In MI, the client and practitioner are equals. They enter a sacred partnership, in which the practitioner gently guides the client to explore their own needs, skills and motivations for change. The practitioner doesn’t offer advice or information unless asked.
They affirm the client’s autonomy and honor whatever decisions they make. It’s a partnership of mutual understanding and respect, in which they walk together down a path of the client’s choosing.
There is a beautiful poem that encapsulates the spirit of MI that I’d like to share with you here:
“Guide me to be a patient companion,
to listen with a heart as open as the sky.
Grant me vision to see through her eyes
and eager ears to hear her story.
Create a safe and open mesa on which we may walk together.
Make me a clear pool in which she may reflect.
Guide me to find in her Your beauty and wisdom,
knowing Your desire for her to be in harmony:
healthy, loving and strong.
Let me honor and respect her choosing of her own path,
and bless her to walk it freely.
May I know once again that although she and I are different,
yet there is a peaceful place where we are one.” (Miller & Rollnick, 2013)
There are so many elements of Judaism in this poem: the oneness, the G-dliness, the mutual respect and love. Yet I sometimes feel like we trade in these values for judgement of people who choose a different path than we do.
Perhaps they’re more religious or less religious than us; it doesn’t really matter. In either case, we forget that each person has their own personal derech and it probably looks different than ours.
I pray for a Jewish world that honor’s each person’s autonomy and embraces people for who they truly are. I pray for community members who don’t judge each other based on external appearances and personal beliefs. I pray for rabbis who bravely work to guide people down their own individualized paths.
We are all unique. We are all different. We all know what we need better than anyone else. Let us respect each person’s integrity and support them on their own beautiful journeys.
Personal Goal Exploration
This exercise, based on concepts from Motivational Interviewing, is meant to elicit your goals, motivations and inner resources for change. Fill it out, make a copy and start making positive changes in your life!
Choose one goal you’d like to work on. It can be related to health, Judaism, relationships or anything else.
Why do you want to achieve this goal?
What are some steps you can take to make this goal a reality?
What are some challenges or obstacles you might face along the way?
What are some things you could do to overcome these obstacles?
On a scale of 1-10, how important is it for you to achieve this goal? _____
Why did you choose your number instead of a lower number?
What are you going to do TODAY to move one step closer to achieving your goal?
Manya Ronay is a health writer and educator living in Jacksonville, FL. She graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in journalism in 2019 and is currently pursueing her MS in Health Education and Behavior at the University of Florida. Manya became fascinated with health after being diagnosed with POTS at 18 years old. Over the next five years she reclaimed her health through a comination of nutrition, acupuncture and neurorehabiliation. To learn more, visit www.meetmanya.com.