Tag Archives: action

On Not Trying

‎   ב”ה     الحمد لله

Today I watched Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday and was introduced to Father Richard Rohr (http://www.oprah.com/own-super-soul-sunday/Full-Episode-Oprah-and-Author-Richard-Rohr-Video).  It’s the first time I can remember where I’ve said, “I want to be like that guy!”  Quite inspiring.

My biggest takeaway, however, was a sense that I might be able to get comfortable with not trying.  I might be able to finally let go of my sense of trying to accomplish something important in this life.

As far back as I can remember, I have felt a burden (or a sense of destiny) that I was to do something significant in the world, to make the world a better place.  Not just by living a moral life, but by participating in the larger public life in some important way.  For the better part of my younger years, I attributed this to compensatory grandiosity — children who are neglected or emotionally abused receive the message that they’re not important, and they often feel driven to accomplish something big when they grow up.

In more recent years I have felt like perhaps I actually have a calling, that my desire to have an impact might be part of a larger plan.  But lately I’ve come to the conclusion that regardless of the origin of the feeling, and independent of whether in fact I am called to something, I need to let go of this notion of “having to accomplish something important”.  It gets in the way of living in the moment, and it undermines whatever chance I have at a modicum of humility.

So I’ve understood that I need to stop trying so hard to create an “important” life.  But I haven’t known how to do that letting go.

And today I got some inkling of how it might look to just be comfortable doing whatever the current situation calls for.  Not looking for how it might lead to something else, not trying to figure out God’s Plan.  Just rising to the very small occasion of the present moment and taking the best action I can.  Making the phone call, writing the email, doing the errand, washing the dishes.

And resting comfortably in the knowledge that if The Master of the Universe wants me to do something that I might call “bigger”, then, at some point in time, the arising situation will call for action of a kind that will accomplish His Purpose.

Just being is enough.  Just being here, now, and embracing my life as it unfolds in the space right around me.  That’s enough.

Easy to understand, perhaps, but I think that’s been the hardest thing for me to feel in my gut.  And somehow today, it’s gotten easier after seeing Father Rohr, a man of God who embodied that kind of trust.  So thank you Oprah Winfrey, and thank you Father Rohr, and, mostly, thank you, God, for sending this show my way.

So what does it look like?  From the outside, probably not much different.  I continue to work on clearing the old childhood experiences.  I continue to deepen my relationship with my bride and her son.  I continue to rest into California, my new job, my new and old relationships with people nearby.  (And I hope soon to include some volunteer work in the mix.)

But today I am newly inspired to be content with that, to simply do that to the best of my ability.  Not to try and make my life “important”.

It’s already as important as it’s going to get.  Because The Master has decided I should be here.

And, gentle Reader, the same is true of you.

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Walking the Walk

ב”ה     الحمد لله

As I posted previously, I’ve been living here in Oakland and wondering what to do to connect with the larger community here, especially in light of the latest police-related deaths.  And then, in what felt like a gracious gift from On High, I got an email from my stepson’s school, which listed a protest march scheduled for Saturday.  The exquisite way this event fit into my life and schedule is hard to describe, but I’ll try.

  • I don’t always immediately read through the school emails, but this one I did
  • The event was billed as a peaceful demonstration, appropriate for family and kids
  • The organizers were calling for specific action, rather than just expressing anger/outrage
  • The timing was the afternoon on the Sabbath, comfortably after morning services and the kiddush lunch that follows, a time when I’m always free
  • The location was a half hour walk from the synagogue.

This last point was crucial, since on the Sabbath my only mode of transportation is my feet!

And boy did I use them yesterday.  Approximately nine miles, all told.  But it was great to see all walks of life walking together, a spectrum of ages, a range of colors, all united in purpose.

I felt connected, purposeful, and part of something larger than myself.

So it was a nice first step, if you will.

And today, the ache in my legs feels like a well-earned reminder of precious time on this earth well spent.

Now That’s More Like It

الحمد لله‎   ב”ה

So I’m living here in Oakland now.

I’ve been feeling the need to connect and/or be responsive to the people around me.  I see a fair amount of suffering and poverty, as well as the slightly hardened way many people walk when they are surrounded by folks in need.  And I need to do something different.

I have been doing my usual thing: I smile to people as I walk, and I give to folks who are in need, but I feel like I’ve been blessed with a lot and I should share more of it.  Share more of my money, my time, my self.

There have been protests here lately as well, and I haven’t taken the time to find out where and when they are, and if there is some agenda there that I can support.  I was actually traveling on a road trip through Saint Louis back in August when Michael Brown was shot.  I was 25 miles away when it happened.  Feels odd to be so disconnected from the aftermath.

There has, of course, been a lot of emotional response to the event.  So many of us think we know what happened, even though we weren’t there, even though the eyewitness testimony is so all over the map.  Because we tend to see events like this through a pre-determined lens of however we already understand the world to be.

But what I see is that even though I have little idea exactly what happened in Ferguson, I do see communities that are so angry and resentful over years of exclusion and mistreatment that a single incident of this kind can induce riots.  What kind of a country are we living in when a large segment of the population is that bitter?

And there of course the over-reactions to those reactions, and so on.  A lack of any kind of reasonable public discourse, it has seemed to me.

So I was pleasantly surprised to read Chris Martin’s http://chrismartinwrites.com/2014/11/26/open-letter-to-the-parents-of-michael-brown/.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do.  But I do appreciate the thoughtful and feeling response to tragedy.  Nicely done.

What are you thinking?

ב”ה

light_bulb

So I’m driving along on a California freeway, six lanes in each direction.  Six lanes.  The traffic is relatively light, so we can all choose whatever lane we want.  But I notice no one drives in the rightmost “slow” lane; my fellow drivers are spread out across the remaining five lanes.  Is there a stigma to that “slow” lane?  Indeed, the driver in the left-most “fast” lane is going the slowest of all.

I realize I’d like to pass, which I would have to do on the right, but I can’t because the driver in that lane is also going relatively slowly.  And I find myself growing annoyed at this situation.  “What are these drivers thinking?” I ask myself.  If they want to drive slowly — fine!  Pick a slow lane.  Why dawdle in a fast lane?  If we all chose our lanes thoughtfully and cooperatively, everyone could go just the speed they want.  No problem.

And it’s not just these two drivers, either.  All five left lanes have relatively slow cars in them.  Cars approaching from the rear that want to speed along have to weave in and around many of these sluggish cars.  In fact, the irony is that the fastest drivers end up using the slowest lane a lot, because it’s usually empty, creating the dangerous situation where the fastest vehicles and the slowest merging on-ramp traffic vie for the same space.  Crazy.

“Why, why, why?” I self-righteously ask as I shake my head and condemn my fellow travelers’ lack of safe and considerate driving choices.  And, just moving here from the Midwest, I leap to the stereotypical explanation that Californians in general are so caught up in their own experience that they are oblivious to the needs of the other drivers around them.  Unfair, I grant you, but that’s where my mind goes.

So I pause.  I take a breath and remind myself that G-d has created this moment for me for a reason. What might He want me to learn from it?

The thought blossoms in my mind: is this how we look from On High?  We’re all going about our daily individual lives, caught up in our own experiences, our own families, our own Facebook pages, and all the while–  people relatively nearby don’t have enough food to eat, families lack shelter, children face terrible schools, whole communities are losing hope.  There’s a crisis demanding our attention, and yet we go trudging along, day by day, seemingly oblivious to the fact that our inaction keeps such a system in place.

What are we thinking?

G-d seems to have infinite patience with us, but I have to say, “Why, why, why?”  Why are we, one of the richest nations on earth, failing to provide for our fellows in such obvious ways?  Do we really think it’s fair and good the way things are for the least well off?  That their suffering is somehow their own fault?  Even the kids growing up in some of these neighborhoods and schools?

I had a conversation recently with my soon-to-be brother-in-law.  When we look back at the 50s, we wonder how people could tolerate such a blatantly racist system of separate public bathrooms and schools, sitting in the back of the bus, and so forth.  Surely we would never have been so complacent, right?  But what will generations hence say about our tolerating the huge inequity in school systems between rich and poor communities?  The glaring and increasing gap between the rich and poor overall?

Lovely questions to ask, I say to myself.  Ultimately, I’m asking these questions of myself, Gentle Reader.  And I’m not at all sure what I’m going to do about this.  When I was younger I did social work for a time, helping families in difficult situations.  We didn’t solve all their problems, but I know I did feel, at the end of the day, that I’d made some kind of positive difference in their lives.

But I feel we need some kind of systemic change here; a more widespread change of awareness, a change of heart.  We need to find ways of working cooperatively, not just on the highway, but in communities as well.

I feel this acutely myself right now.  Moving to Oakland, where plenty of folks are suffering, I find it difficult to contemplate taking a six-figure computer job and just ignoring their plight only a stone’s throw from my house.

Part of the difficulty, I think we all readily admit, is that these problems seem so large and intractable that we don’t know where to start.  So we don’t start, and we end up doing nothing at all.  Which is clearly unsatisfying.  Even volunteering one weekend a month would be better than nothing.  But somehow that feels inadequate as well.

And this is something I need to figure out.  It’s bothering me.  I can’t just poke along behind the slow moving driver in front of me, thinking self-righteous thoughts.  I need to act.

Gentle Reader, what do you suggest I do?