Babi is getting on. She is, b"H, well into her 90s, and as time passes she grows more and more infirm. She relies on her aide to lift and drag her about the house. A wheelchair is parked in her living room, a walker stands sentry by the door, and steps . . . steps are over.
But in the deepest, darkest night, when she tosses and turns, reliving distant times and countries, she can fling back her covers, hop out of bed, and competently pace about the room, while her aide watches in jaw-dropped shock.
Our minds put limitations on our bodies. Even when I am bone-tired, or burning with fever, if something has to be done, then I manage to dredge up the strength to do it. Otherwise, I would claim that I can't. But I can.
Our minds put limitations even on our minds. How often do we think self-improvement is beyond us? That bending a bad quality to the force of our will is impossible?
In high school my davening was wonderful. As soon as I opened the siddur, my eyes gravitated to the words and I was able to recite them with all of my essence, passion, and concentration.
Then, when I hit 19, it became difficult. I lost the ability.
At first I tried "tricks"; reading the English translation, flicking my focus from one page to the next, making sure to enunciate the shva nuhs and shva nuchs . . . nothing gained traction.
Then I realized that my problem was that by using "shortcuts," I was providing my brain the excuses it needed. It's not my fault, it protested, it's the siddur's fault.
No. It was mine. I had fallen into the habit that once I open that siddur, my mind would automatically wander. I associate davening with day-dreaming.
There's no easy way to go about this, I epiphanied. I'm going to have to actually work at it.
Which meant that every time I opened the siddur, I can no longer mentally goof-off; I have to think of it as active service, as avodah. Beginning from "Mah Tovu," my brain is at work, focusing, inspiring, enunciating.
I believe that I am making some progress. It's not successful every time, but more than it used to be.
There are no shortcuts. There are only choices.