Walking the Line: TorahCycle Mishpatim

MishpatimThere’s a paradigm  that’s got spontaneity on one end and discipline on the other. Sometimes I interpret this range as gratification and joy on the one hand, and rules and responsibilities on the other. Unfair, I know, and betrays a predilection towards self-indulgence that undervalues the benefits of regular habits and practices. Work in progress, this lifetime and others.

We’ve got a whole lot of Torah to trek through yet. Lots of times the mirror’s gonna get held up and we’ll get a chance to say, Eek, me !?! You want me to try harder? Do more? Be more obedient, disciplined, and consistent? I’ll get back to you on that. That’s how many folks respond when asked to do things they’re not ready to embrace, whether those’re spiritual practices or going to the gym.

Torah is full of instructions. They’re framed as everything from the Ten Commandments to directives about care of family, servants, clients, and neighbors to rules about food choice, preparation, and hand-washing and prayers before eating. So now’s a good time to look at your relationship to both self-determination and obedience. And to see how your point of view changes if the upcoming rules conflict with your values or regular practices.

It turns out practice isn’t nearly as easy or tidy as theory.

Because there’s times when submission to structure and form is one of the most important actions you can take. And others when the best thing you can do is dump all the rules and run as fast as you can towards adventure. The trick is knowing which to do when. And recognizing that each affords a different level of surrender that’ll help you grow.

The real question to ask: What’re your goals and what’s the right path for you to get to them? These can be spiritual, physical, or emotional. Healing your body, your heart, or your soul. Whatever’s on your plate.

Recently, a friend and I talked about awareness vs. action. She cited a Buddhist point-of-view: Self-awareness is the only requirement; all else follows naturally from that. I asked: Is noticing enough? Or do you also need to decide what you’re responsible for, like actively striving for change?

Exercise: Pose the question to yourself. Your answer implies the amount of discipline or spontaneity that’ll follow. Think about your habits. (I’ll focus on spirituality, but you can go through the same drill with food and exercise, entrepreneurial pursuits, even goals for pleasure.) Do you have a regular practice? Are you enthusiastic or reluctant? Do you think in daily, weekly, monthly, or annual frames? Are you internally motivated or influenced by social or familial reasons? Compared to other aspects of your life that require discipline (for example diet or exercise), how do your commitments to ritual, meditation, study, or prayer stack up? Do you want your self-awareness to guide you or do you believe in reinforcing insight with action? No right answers, but questions worth giving some attention.