Elul 4 – Choose
This year, I’m making choices. For years I’ve said, “I don’t have enough time for that” and “I don’t have enough time for this.” I read something this month however that said, “I don’t have enough time” is synonymous with “This is not a priority for me.” That is a very different way of looking at the universe.
“I don’t have enough time to contact my friends” sounds believable, and almost valid as an excuse. “These people are not a priority for me” – that’s different. “I don’t have enough time to go hiking or canoeing or camping or enjoy any physical activity at all” – that’s just a bit sad. Poor thing. She doesn’t have enough time. If only time had been nicer to her. “Hiking, canoeing and camping aren’t priorities for me” however, sounds horrifying. Of course they’re priorities! What? What kind of life am I building here?
Every day, I have the same 24 hours. What will I fill it with? How much time am I losing to activities I didn’t choose, activities I “fell into” because of lack of time? It’s a bit scary to think that every little thing I do – from taking a drink of water to typing this very line is a choice of how I spend my time – a choice of what my priority is. And Judaism tells me I should think hard and deliberately about that choice. Judaism is big on acting with intention. There’s a whole word Kavana for acting and praying and doing whatever you do with intention. We are supposed to put all of ourselves into what we do, not simply skim the surface.
Sometimes, I need a rest! A break! And here too I have choices. I can pick breaks that meet my priorities or breaks that don’t, that waste some of those 24 hours. It’s easy to go on default – heck, not going with the flow, not going on default – that takes brain power and focus. (For most of us, walking along to the musac in shopping malls is automatic, it’s breaking that pattern that’s the challenge – for me, well, let’s just say that thing doesn’t work for me when it comes to music. When it comes to activities, however…) I get tired of that too and so I fall into patterns in which I’m doing things that are easy rather than things that are important or fun.
So, this year, I want to push slowly but firmly to change those patterns. I want to create new patterns in which, when I look at what I’m doing at any given time, I can say “this is a priority; this is exactly how I want to be spending my time.” That way, when I say “I don’t have time for this” I’ll be able to add “because it’s not a priority” without flinching. That way, I know I’ve made the choice and not whatever random dude picked the musac playing at that shopping mall.
Elul 5 – Commit
I should be committed! For thinking I have enough time to get any of this done…which I don’t. We’re moving tomorrow. However, this is one thing I do. I do it every year. It has become a habit, now in its 6th year. I think it’s a good and necessary part of my life. So, I make time for it – not a lot of time (I’m 3 days behind) but some. I find really tiny slivers of time and write one more line – put in one more concept and ideology.
Otherwise it doesn’t happen. You let something important to you go once, twice and all of a sudden it’s no longer a habit and you’re saying, “I used to do that back when…” It’s hard to maintain good habits – even if they seem routine, it takes work. And to do it when all is chaotic and crazy – that’s more than just work, that’s commitment.
I’ve always been committed to other people. If someone asks me to do something, I try to do it. If we have a regularly planned activity or outing, I try to participate. Doing my part in the flow of everyday is an important part of who I am. It’s been harder to commit to God – keeping up with prayer, with religious observance, with seeing and treating everyone as a reflection of the Divine – and I’ve had more trouble prioritizing that. Hardest of all has been committing to myself.
If there’s one place I need to do serious tshuva for, it’s the way I’ve treated myself. Basically, I either saw my body as a useful tool that did what I wanted, or an annoying piece of malfunctioning equipment that didn’t. I would never treat another person that way! (I know people who do.) So, I must not treat myself that way. Because the consequences have been dreadful. One’s body does not like poor treatment. It gets weaker and less functional. The heavy breathing, the lack of nicely fitting clothes, the difficulty moving, the difficulty sleeping – these all point to a body that needs help.
They make it less likely that I can meet my commitments to God and to others also. I can’t do as much with others if I’m always tired or unable to keep up. I can’t think about God if I’m busy thinking of a comfort or indulgence that will satisfy an incidental craving. Even a tool, to be useful, needs to be maintained. And my body is more than just a random meat sack which I can treat any way I want. In many ways, it’s who I am, it’s where I live. To continue the theme of the month, it’s the temple that houses my soul.
Caring for the physical is a very Jewish character trait. Judaism is extremely physical (I found) as a faith, and the idea is very much to have the body be a holy temple. Eating, sleeping, dressing – everything is supposed to be a holy task. That’s why most of them have prayers for before and after. Now, it’s my turn to do that – not just through adding prayer, but through mindful care for my body.
So, it’s time to commit. To find the time, to make it a priority, to do it for the sake of myself, for the sake of God, for the sake of other people. I commit to eating healthily this year, to fun physical activities, to changing my sleep cycles, to helping my body look good, feel good, and be a holy temple for my soul.