What Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski taught me about lobsters, among many other things
Rabbi Twerski passed away on January 31, 2021. It was a huge loss for the Jewish people and for the entire world. Rabbi Twerski was a giant of a man - a brilliant Torah scholar, author and psychiatrist. His work with addiction and substance abuse has helped countless people over the years.
In 2016, I wrote a blog post [on my blog platform “Community of Ones,” which I have since unpublished] inspired by a YouTube video where Rabbi Twerski discusses how we can learn to grow through stress and adversity from the lobster’s molting process. I’m republishing the text here in honor of Rabbi Twerski, of blessed memory.
Text of my 2016 post:
I'm vegetarian, so I don't eat lobster. Moreover, I keep kosher, so in any case, I don't eat lobster. So why am I talking about lobster? Because lobster is the perfect answer when the heat is on.
When we are under pressure, one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves is: "Given the situation as I understand it, how can I be true to myself and not cave in to pressure?" Often, the answer is clear. But sometimes, the only way forward is to shed superfluous parts of the very "self" we are so invested in, and to let other aspects of ourselves emerge to light. As usual, nature offers us a good example of how this happens: the lowly lobster.
I heard the analogy for the first time in Dr. Abraham Twerski's YouTube video addressing stress, where he discusses how lobsters grow given the fact that their shells do not. The process is called molting, and as Rabbi Twerski states, "The stimulus for the lobster to grow is that it feels uncomfortable." In other words, feeling uncomfortable is a positive thing, and "times of stress are also times that are signals for growth."
This is good – it reinforces the fact that the difficult situations we face offer some of the best opportunities for growth. But there was another aspect to the process of molting, which Rabbi Twerski mentions in passing, and which struck me as being as important as the actual process of growth and change: While growing a new shell, the lobsters hide under rocks or bury themselves under mud to keep safe from harm.
While the pressure of a problem should signal to us that growth and change are inevitable, so too should it signal to us that we must take extra care to protect ourselves during that time. It's time to ask ourselves – Who has my back? Who could help cheer me through this? Who and what should I avoid for now? Am I eating and exercising right? Am I sleeping and resting properly? Is my environment nurturing? Do I need to "bury myself in the mud" for a while to replenish my energy?
Wow! What else? I was intrigued enough by the subject to search online for the typical behavior of the ordinary lobster while growing its new shell. This is what I found on veganpeace.com
1. Before they shed the old shell, they form a thin one underneath.
2. They secrete enzymes that soften the shell.
3. They struggle out of their shell and absorb water to expand body size.
4. Each time they molt, they increase size by about 20%.
5. They often eat their old shell, which speeds up the hardening of the new shell.
Now, we humans may not be as instinctively smart as the average lobster, but we could try to imitate its behavior. We could:
1. Try out our new self in a safe, supportive setting.
2. Discard what needs to be discarded as gently as possible.
3. Realize that change is uncomfortable, maybe even painful, but we basically live in a friendly universe and are surrounded by the very stuff that will help us make it through.
4. Avoid extreme changes, and opt for steady, manageable change.
5. Use what we already possess to support the process of change.
If we haven't been handling pressure and adversity well, we have the option to lobster up and meet the challenge!
Link to Rabbi Twerski’s discussion on lobsters, stress and adversity:
Rabbi Twerski, thank you for being an outstanding example of how we should strive to live our lives. BDE