Sunday, August 19, 2012

#BlogElul 1: Navigating the landscapes of life

'He took a turn for the worse'
'She turned her life around'
'They turned our lives upside down'
'I needed some quiet time to turn inward' ...

There are many ways that we use the language of turning, of changing direction, to refer to what is happening in our lives.  The language implies that there is a path on which we are headed, or a direction in which we are pointing.

Sometimes events happen that cause us to be rerouted in an unplanned for, unexpected direction.  We have to take stock of our new surroundings and figure out how we will live in the new reality.

Sometimes we've made choices that impact our lives and the lives of others, taking us on paths that do not serve us well, or are likely to lead us to ever-darker destinations if we do not take action and intentionally change course.

What does it mean, then, to speak of 'turning' or 'returning' as we enter the month of Elul, the four weeks leading to Rosh Hashanah? A kind of conscious upgrade of the maps in our internal GPS (God Positioning System), we are invited to find time and pause long enough in the midst of our hectic lives to look around and take stock of our current landscape; to pinpoint where we are and on what road we appear to be heading.

While self-awareness, mindful practice, and ethical decision-making are a part of each and every day, its hard in the midst of that everyday to see the big picture and make an honest assessment of the choices we are making that, together, point to the direction we are headed.  And so, once a year, we unfold the large-scale map and, in this larger context, can start to look at where we really are.

To turn might be to realize that we left the highway to explore an intriguing side-road, but now we realize that its just a dead end.

To turn might be to notice that we've only ever stayed on the main highways our entire life, and now its time to explore some of the back roads so that we can truly come to know ourselves.

To turn might be to look back at some previous destination, when we were at our happiest and our lives  seemed most in balance; our relationships were at their best.  We realize that we want to make a U-turn and try to return to that place.

To turn might be to simply choose a different point of perspective from which to examine our current landscape.  Perhaps we didn't choose to be here, and we've been struggling with our new location.  Perhaps we've only looked at it from the depth of the valley.  If we can begin to accept that we've been left stranded here without a vehicle for a while, we might realize that if we could walk our way up to the top of the hill, we'll get a different view, and our ability to live in our new surroundings may improve.

Now is the time for turning.  Take a look.  What do you see?  Where are you? Where are you heading? Now is the time for choosing.  Choose your path.  Be conscious of your direction.  Choose your perspective.  And return to the best life that you can be living today.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

1 comment:

  1. I found this an valuable start to the month of reflection and two memories occurred to me. The first is the quotation to the effect that if you are not going anywhere specific then any direction will do. This is a truism but I do not regard it as automatically indicative of a flaw or shortcoming.

    Selecting a direction, making a positive choice, is not easy for everyone. It may be that a period of indifference is all that is available and that can then be a positive choice even if, at the time, it is not perceived as such. So a clear direction, in the usual sense, although desirable, is neither easy nor compulsory.

    The second thought is a personal and embarrassing memory that has proven to be a powerful lesson for me. As a final year physics student I had to complete at least 15 laboratory experiments as well as pass end-of-year exams. As is the case with so many targets today, this led to goal displacement; I focussed on reaching the target rather than learning from experimentation.

    So I set up the equipment as per the instructions, set about taking measurements as quickly as possible and only later, when I had to write it up, did I bother to read up on the underlying science.

    One day one of the lecturers asked me what I was doing. Irritated at being interrupted, I read out the name of the experiment on the instruction card. "yes", he said, "but what does that mean? What is the effect you are trying to achieve?"

    Well, of course, I had no idea (which remains the case to this day) and he was not well pleased. What I learned - but only some years later - was that it is possible for a person to be busy and carrying out quite clear and specific activities that appear to have outcomes yet not really understand what they are doing i.e. not knowing what they are trying to achieve.

    And that makes it difficult to improve performance or alter practice as the real goal and related criteria are not identified.

    PS I have never practised as a physicist.