Choosing Life: TorahCycles Nitazvim/Vayelech

Mattot 2014Unless you’re in the mood for an earworm, don’t itune the Rent song that so lyrically wraps its arms around what we do with our time in this incarnation. It asks how you measure a life, and answers: In minutes, in daylights, in sunsets, In midnights, in cups of coffee, In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. It encourages us to measure in Seasons of Love, In truths that she learned or In times that he cried, In bridges he burned or the way that she died, and invites us to remember the love.

This week’s reading says, Choose life. There’s simply no better way to spend your time here.

Your choice might be trekking in Nepal and mine watching hummingbirds from my chaise. Others might wish for potable water or a safe place to sleep.

Choosing life comes down to resonating with what your inner voice, your soul, is pointing to and encouraging you see/hear/feel. It’s why some people are good gardeners, and why others sail or put out to sea. Why we write or make art, parent or make love.

We’re each such a strange, wonderful, and mysterious constellation of resources and desires. Life comes down to how we share them.

Several friends have had parents die in the last while, and others are pending same. The ones on the before side are tenser. Each time the phone rings, it’s a potential crises. The caretaker, doctor’s office, or other bad news. The ones who talk about their recently deceased seem to glow a little. They’re free from the worry, and can relax into memories of the gentler times.

Judaism buries folks within a day, and then asks friends to sit with the kin for the first week of evenings. To say prayers and speak of the departed love one. To hear about a mother who loved to docent at the art museum, and learned to tango at 80. The dad who taught his kids to play tennis and chess. These people come alive again in the telling.

Why? Because they lived doing what was most precious to them. And shared their pleasure and joy in doing so.

 

It’s hard to get really angry when you’re happy. Harder to exploit others or start wars. Though it’s pretty easy to feel dissatisfied if you’re having trouble simply staying alive, or feeding and educating your kids.

If we want to keep choosing the life we want, we’ll need to work a little harder making sure everybody else gets the same choices.

There’s always gonna be some evildoers. But if most of us are trying to make a good life for us all, ya gotta think there’ll be less kindling for the flames the malcontents try to light.

If you do nothing else this week, take some moments here and there to be very conscious of what you’re doing right then. To think how you have chosen it, to really feel it, and then choose it again. Or not to, and decide instead to choose something else, a different way of living.

If you really listen, you’ll choose the life you want.

 

 

 

What Comes Next: TorahCycle V’etchanan

Vetchanan 2014Do you ever look to the end of a book or sneak a peek to the bottom of the page because the suspense is killing you? Most of us think we want to know what happens next, but sometimes our interest, or at least our belief, wanes quickly when we learn. Like any experienced prognosticator will tell you, people prefer good news.

Prophets generally foretell gloom and doom, unless of course folks commit to changing their evil ways. They’re likely to get ignored or run out of town bedecked with tar and feather.

This week, Moses (who’s not going into the promised land) reminds everyone about the 10 Commandments and unambiguously informs the crowd: You’re gonna screw up. No matter how clear these rules are, you will disobey, and as a consequence you’ll get thrown out and scattered for a long bad time until you get to come back. [On the question of biblical mandates, click This Land Is Mine cartoon for some timely brilliance.]

What about your life?. Could you have predicted what’s actually happened? If you’d been told ahead of time what to do or don’t, would you have obeyed? Most of us not only wouldn’t have, but even if we’d tried we’d likely have gotten distracted by life’s daily blessings and mishaps. By bad drivers, falling in love, cranky bosses, newborn babies, fabulous sales, broken appliances, and meeting new friends. For good or ill, it’s all in the mix. While we’re busy with daily life, lots of twists on our path no matter how well we planned for the journey.

Having a road map is no guarantee you’re going to follow it.

Truth is, you can think you’re making a right decision that turns out very wrong. You get married and are visualizing decades of harmony and grandkids, not a freak car accident or undiagnosed aneurysm that could take your beloved in an instant. We truly have no idea what life holds even if for brief moment we think we’re in charge. Or we make a decision for one reason that helps in an unforeseen way. Example: I didn’t die in a fire because I’d installed an alarm system after a scary neighbor moved in. I’d have never thought to thank him then, but we’re all part of more complex plots we can’t always see the breadth of.

Even forewarned we mostly learn our lessons the hard way. We fall in love with the wrong person and get our heart broken. Rinse and repeat. Ditto for choices with money, health, career, addiction, etc. But your life can also change in a heartbeat. There are good stretches and bad ones. If you’re committed to your journey you will keep searching for a way to your promised land no matter how often they do.

A friend gave me a great scene from a Russian novel. A philosopher takes a child to the zoo: Life is like the zebra, my child. The black times are followed by white ones, but the black times come again. When you are in the black ones, you must run very fast, and in the white ones you must cherish every moment. Yeah, what he said.

Choose Life: TorahCycle Nitzavim-Vayelach

NitzavimThis week’s reading is chock full of prophecy. Also familiar threats, instructions, and foreboding about future trials and tribulations. But the key to it all, perhaps the key to everything the whole process of searching and self-betterment is about, is the declaration that you have a choice between life/goodness and death/evil. You might quibble with those pairings, but would you do so with the command that you are to choose life?

So much to unpack. And life offers so many chances to use your free will to do exactly the opposite. To run for the door and say, Thanks, I’m outta here. Done.

Terrifying challenges in individual lives and in history. Choosing death to escape the horrors of Auschwitz, or of systematic abuse. To end a terminal illness before the pain is too great. To assist a loved one who chooses that. Or simply to say, I’ve done what I wanted to do this time around. Next….

That’s literal death. There’s also metaphoric, emotional, and spiritual killings: the more subtle ways that we shut down, live safely, forget to stay open to the new and the now, avoid embracing whatever might threaten our tidy realities.

Sometimes we do set the bar higher, like when we make changes in partners, jobs, locations, even belief systems or daily practices. But often those choices simply reinforce what we’ve decided we want our lives to be like in context and form. So many assumptions made over time, or encouraged by family and institutions, about whom we’ll become, how we’ll live.

So much time devoted to manifesting personal goals, that we sometimes forget we’re also part of an ethos, a zeitgeist.

Often we identify as part of groups based on our age, region, religion, or sports team. We may live like that’s who we are. But it’s important to remember that this life we’ve been given, this gift, is about very much more than our affiliations, or comfort, or who dies with the most toys. It’s about making some difference while you’re here, to your own soul and the lives of those around you.

Choose life is literally that: Don’t kill yourself. It also means, don’t forsake your responsibility for being part of both your chosen tribes and also our collective humanity.

Live as both witness and actor. Don’t shut your eyes to difficult things in the world because they’re painful, or might inconvenience you. Engage with the world, taking responsibility for what you see. Make choices that’ll help clean up this planet, your neighborhood, and your soul. That can mean recycling, volunteering, or planting a garden. Teaching reading or donating money. Even prayer.

Choosing life means an active awareness of your free will in each moment. It means choosing kindness and compassion instead of pique or anger. Choosing generosity instead of self-interest. Choosing love, social justice, environmental responsibility, and love. It means choosing goodness: seeing, creating, and affirming your highest values in as many times and places as you can.

You get to choose. Each time you choose life, we all win.

Exercise: Answer this one question: What does “Choose life!” mean I should do differently?