Part 1- Why I Shit with Purpose
I’m not religious, at least not anymore. I grew up in a Modern Orthodox Jewish home, learned in Jewish Day Schools, and spent summers and holidays in Israel. I did rebel against some of the rules, but my faith in God (the Holy One, blessed be He), was unshakable – until it wasn’t.
When I was younger, the world only made sense because it existed in His paradigm, and whatever didn’t make sense could be explained – either through tremendous feats of mental gymnastics or with the simple words, “We cannot know what God has in store for us”. Indeed.
I saw the majesty of God everywhere. And then, at the age of 33, I stopped believing.
That first day, I was numb. How would I live without this anchor of meaning and morality? By the end of the week, I was overcome with rage, furious at the lies I was fed for so many years. The anger subsided to contempt and disgust for anything or anyone connected to religion. It seemed so clear to me, a newly devout atheist, why were these people refusing to admit the truth? Why were they so adamantly invested in hoodwinking themselves to their own detriment?
Life, in all its vicissitudes, continued. No longer committed to prayer and religious study, I found new ways to occupy my time. Yet in my cynicism, something felt lacking. I was missing the magic. I was missing the connection.
I had two favorite prayers during my “Jewy” years. One comes at the end of Shemona Esrei, it is a request for God to remove evil thoughts, anger, and envy from one’s heart and protect him from the evil inclinations and envy of others. The second prayer is Asher Yatzar, which one says after using the bathroom. “Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe, who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollow spaces. It is obvious and known before Your Seat of Honor that if even one of them would be opened, or if even one of them would be sealed, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You even for one hour. Blessed are You, Adonai, who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.” The words made sense. It truly is a wondrous thing to be able to control one’s bowels. This prayer always forced me to recognize how vulnerable we are as creatures, and I made great efforts to say the words with particular intention of gratitude and thanks. I was reminded of this recently, while piecing together unrelated wisdoms, theories, and thoughts from a series of divergent sources.
It all started with my dad. He was sick with cancer, so I moved back to New York to help take care of him during his last months. He was an especially spiritual man, very connected to God and service to the community. I knew it would be meaningful to him if I were to say Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, once he passed, thus my brothers and I worked out a schedule to ensure that every day my father’s memory would be blessed.
I decided to take on a second commitment to honor my dad. Since his death, I have been reading one mishna a day. These wisdoms of our sages, collected in the works of Pirkei Avoth, are profound and prescient. The timeless lessons speak to a greater Truth. The short dictums teach about humility, personal responsibility, integrity, family and community – all the elements that make life meaningful. (When I see the word “God”, I merely replace it with the word “Truth”.) The teachings are invaluable.
Why does that matter? Because, in addition to the mishnayot, I have also been reading Graham Hancock’s book Magicians of the Gods. In a nutshell, it posits that there is a plausible possibility that advanced civilizations existed well before our currently accepted timeline, but due to a cataclysmic disaster, they were erased. According to Hancock, various cultures have preserved the foretelling of this destruction, attributing climate changing comets and catastrophic floods to the human disavowal of the gods (and everything that entails regarding the natural order of things pertaining to maintaining a society).
Whether referring to Ancient Native American narratives, the Biblical tale of Noah, or stories from Sumer, all blame seems to source from man displeasing the gods. Most moving to me is the Ojibwa account, “…The comet burnt everything to the ground. There wasn’t a thing left. Indian people were here before that happened, living on the earth. But things were wrong; a lot of people had abandoned the spiritual path. The holy spirit warned them a long time before the comet came. Medicine men told everyone to prepare. Things were wrong with nature on the earth…” (Hancock 47). Like in the story of Noah, there is a warning. Time to prepare. Few heed; they are not connected to the Divine. Their demise is imminent.
The idea is eerily similar to the prophetic wisdom in the Jewish ethics, one of which teaching that “when a general disaster occurs, we must look within ourselves and examine our own behavior to find the cause and try to correct it…[for]…human greed causes an imbalance in society. The wealthy people abuse their privileges, and manipulate the economy in order to amass even greater wealth for themselves, and the poor begin to suffer immediately, even in the midst of abundance. As the evil spreads and the level of morality slackens further, the fabric of society disintegrates, businesses and commerce are corrupted, social upheaval is rampant and the entire populace suffers…society becomes sick and the entire community will literally be destroyed” (Lehmann-Prins 394). Both traditions, rooted in preserving human connection, call for recognition of powers beyond those of the egoic self, require acknowledgement of Truth – a force greater than the human “I”.
It seems as though we are precariously and perpetually fighting off this impending doom. There is no shortage of crises to potentially destroy us (rising coastal waters, economic upheaval, nuclear war). My proposal is for us all to shit with a purpose. With intent. Before sitting on your porcelain throne, pay homage to the great forces that allow your body to release the waste products that would otherwise poison you. Rather than scroll through your Twitter/IG/Facebook feed, dive into the Divine. Attune to the miracle that is happening behind you. Your body is releasing what is toxic, which means it was able to extract nourishment first. Rejoice. The power of life has granted you this gift, this grace. Be grateful, and pray that it is never taken away, for what are we, but dust created from dust.
Part 2 – Benefits of the Purposeful Shit
When I was 15, I bought my friend a card for her birthday. On the cover was an elderly woman sharing her wisdom. “As you get older, you realize what matters in life is not the flowers, fancy cars, or expensive jewels.” The inside read, “It’s taking a good shit in the morning!” Hallmark got that one right in the tuchus.
Have you ever gotten up from a shit and thought, “That was amazing!”? There’s a reason for that feeling, actually several.
Physiologically, your body is releasing toxins. If you’re doing it right, a good, solid shit is completely cleansing. This infographic from Precision Nutrition is one of the best I’ve seen regarding Poo-Primers, and I highly recommend their courses and content. (No, they don’t pay me to say that.)
Psychologically, consider the innate joy in the deed. You release what is literally weighing you down and ready yourself to embrace challenges of a new day (at least theoretically). Shitting with a purpose, gives you a purpose by setting the stage for all sorts of achievements. No lollygagging for you!
On an emotional level, sitting there, in this completely compromised position makes us vulnerable. To do your duty (doody, lol), you need to be in a parasympathetic state, the one of calm and relaxation, the one that helps you digest and rest, the opposite of fight – flight (so put your phone down). You should not be struggling through this process. If you are, take a look at your habits (ie. seriously, put your phone down). Instead of letting your nerves get the best of you as you navigate infuriating emails and news feeds from your commode, unclench and heed nature’s call.
Another upside is frequently overlooked. It’s the mental side of things. Our brains need “downtime” to work. It’s called Diffuse Thinking. Generally, we are taught that increased focus is what helps people learn. It does, to some extent. But the real magic happens during unstructured, free time. Why? Because it allows your brain to take all that information you learned to make novel connections and deepen your understanding. Ever wonder why you are always in the shower (or playing tennis, or peeling carrots) when suddenly you remember the name/date/thing that was evading you? Your best inspiration comes when you are relaxed, reflective, and refreshed. Thanks, Diffuse Thinking.
Part 3 – Shitting and Living with Intent
With all the known benefits, what’s stopping you from dropping a purposeful deuce?
Enter Joe Dispenza. In his most recent book, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, Dispenza underscores how a lack of alignment can inhibit our ability to actualize change. If we want to create a new reality, but “remain plugged into [our previous lives] by following a highly routine, unconscious set of automatic behaviors” then we will not succeed in manifesting limitless potential (Dispenza 131). We need to rewire by creating new habits and new thought patterns.
Easier said than done, I know. But start small. Start with shit.
If you are stuck in the habit of postponing your bathroom visits for the sake of sending one more email, reading one more Tweet, answering one more call…stop. You are reliving the same dysfunctional habits that got you to this point.
Imagine the alternative.
You feel The Call. You conjure an air of gratitude; your body is about to release everything holding you down for the day. Leaving your phone on the table, you walk to the Seat of Glory and immerse yourself in the experience of letting go. So smooth. So natural. You feel proud of yourself and of your body for its optimal function. As you wash up, you’re hit with a sparkling idea. You step out of the bathroom, unlock your phone, and send an email to your supervisor because you just figured out how to troubleshoot the problem that’s been plaguing the team for the past two days.
Congratulations! You have just visualized a new reality. One where you are aligned with and supported by nature. It’s only one tiny step, but it can lead to greatness. If we care to learn anything from the ancient wisdom, let it be this: Be present to the Truth (God) and accept Nature’s (God’s) gifts. You are part of a larger whole. If something is amiss, reflect on your own contribution and act from an empowered place of intent, for everything you do matters.
Dispenza, Joe. Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How To Lose Your Mind and Create a New One. Hay House, 2012. (ebook)
Hancock, Graham. Magicians of the Gods. Coronet, 2016.
Lehmann, Marcus, and Liepman Philip Prins. The Lehmann-Prins Pirkei Avoth. Feldheim, 1992.
Schraefel, MC, and Scott-Dixon, Krista. Precision Nutrition. 6 reasons to care about poop health. [Infographic] What your poo says about your wellbeing (and how to improve it). Precision Nutrition. https://www.precisionnutrition.com/poop-health-infographic