by Carrie Bornstein, Executive Director
“Just raise your hand if you need an extra blanket,” my restorative yoga teacher said slowly, “or another block, or maybe some hands-on support. I’m here to spoil you rotten tonight, if there’s anything at all that you need.”
“What would you like to order? Let’s start here: What do you feel like eating for dinner tonight? Even if it’s not on the menu… what do you want? It’s my job to say ‘yes’ and to make sure you’re happy. Try me. What would you like to have?” My family went away this past weekend to celebrate my mother’s upcoming 70th birthday, and this was one of the waitress’s first questions to us.
Ever since I went to that first yoga class a few months ago, I’d been struck by hearing my teacher looking out for reasons to spoil us. When I heard the same concept again this weekend, I paid attention even more.
And, of course, this is our mindset here at Mayyim Hayyim. From our creation story to our volunteer Mikveh Guides, to our staff, interns, and board members, we constantly ask the question, “What is it that you need, before you even have to ask for it? How do we make sure you walk away happy? In what ways can we prove to you that you matter?”
In 1943, Abraham Maslow outlined his “Hierarchy of Needs,” providing a framework for understanding how basic needs like shelter, food, and safety need to be in place first in order for humans to access more advanced levels of need like self-actualization, and the highest level, self-transcendence.
Focusing on the quality of another person’s experience, whether in yoga, at a restaurant, at the mikveh, in any Jewish organization or beyond, falls into Maslow’s fourth category of needs, esteem. This is the category that, once other more basic needs are met, allows us to feel respected and valued by others, to have positive self-esteem, and to respect ourselves.
It occurs to me that this focus on others is the highest level of need that we can help provide for someone else, where our actions make a difference for another person’s experience. It is the best thing we can do in order to help facilitate self-actualization and self-transcendence for another person, which, by definition, needs to come from within.
This is an area where we all have needs, even though our society doesn’t often think about how we can provide them to others. Too often (myself included!) we live in survival mode, thinking about how we can just get through the day as unscathed as possible, busy running to work, picking up the kids, getting dinner on the table, fitting in doctor’s appointments, and maybe even a trip to the gym.
Explicitly focusing on others, however, has the dual benefit of helping another person fulfill their own needs while also having a positive effect on ourselves. My yoga teacher, that waitress, our volunteer Mikveh Guides… they’re all genuinely happy to focus on someone else’s happiness. I am reminded of one of my favorite realizations from one of our most experienced Mikveh Guides, Gail Elson, who said, “Being a Mikveh Guide elicits the best in me. In this role, I am my most patient, nurturing, helpful, instructive self.”
Try it sometime today. Find an opportunity to figure out how you can explicitly help another person with whatever it is that they need. I have a feeling you’ll be glad you did.
Carrie Bornstein is the Executive Director of Mayyim Hayyim.