For the first time in quite some time, I didn’t post a blog here last week. And more notable, I didn’t offer a note of explanation. The truth at a high level: I was emotionally drained after a series of happenings in my life that, on their own, would not have incapacitated me, but together left me feeling lost. We have all been there, right? A routine examination that calls for a follow-up test… a child who is struggling with something that you can’t fix with all the love in the world… and a few other unanticipated potholes on life’s path that startle and shake you, leaving you wondering if what just happened caused irreparable damage or everything will be just fine. Now, one week later, I feel better. Not great. But better.
I feel better because some of the stresses of the last week have been resolved in positive way. My follow-up test – which had me writing my obituary instead of blog post - proved that I am quite healthy. For this, I am truly grateful. But a number of life challenges remain, and I know there are a few gauntlets in my immediate future. Not horrible journeys, mind you. I realize there are plenty of less fortunate people who would love to have my problems. Yet, these problems are real to me, and I have been struggling to chart a course to address them.
And then a little bit of serendipity struck.
Smack in the middle of my “more angst than usual” spell, my synagogue held our Scholar- in-Residence weekend featuring Dr. Alan Morinis who is a leading interpreter of Mussar, a 1000 year old Jewish spiritual discipline. In his series of discussions and lectures, he offered insights into the fact that my religion doesn’t spend much time on the individual’s inner journey. Most of Judaism and its practices are outwardly focused. We pray as a community, we support one another, we conform to the teachings. But we rarely talk about what happens on the inside of the person. What about our soul’s journey? Dr. Morinis promised that Mussar would help identify the guideposts we need to stay on the path to holiness, which is the ultimate goal of Judaism as well as (I imagine) most other religions.
So, wow, right?
The timing couldn’t have been better for me. I had spent the last few weeks with my moral compass in hand, trying to deal with my issues, but it proved to be of little help. I was wandering aimlessly and getting very tired. Mussar, on the other hand, was going to be my Spiritual GPS! No deep thinking involved. Just tell me where to turn. And yes – the shortest distance please. I could practically hear the words in my head: DESTINATION ON THE RIGHT. YOU HAVE ARRIVED. The checkered flag with all the answers to all my questions. Holiness, here I come!
Because sometimes, you just want someone or something to tell you EXACTLY what to do to get to where you need to be. When you are navigating life, having a general directional sense can sometimes get you there – but other times you follow your moral compass into completely unfamiliar territory. At some point, you get weary of flailing about and you ask for directions.
So, did I get them?
Not exactly. It turns out, per Dr. Morinis, that life is super complex, people are hard to deal with, and the only person who can chart my course is… uh… me. I received no map, no confident electronic voice, no gas station attendant telling me “Oh, lady you are WAY off course. Turn around and go about 30 miles….”
But what the weekend lacked in definitive personal direction, it over delivered in how to approach the journey. According to the Jewish faith, there are a set of values by which life should be lived. And by the way, the same can be said for Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Atheists. The path to holiness (or happiness) is strewn with potholes. But by exercising patience, love and trust in something bigger than ourselves, we can transcend much of what threatens to pull us off the road into a ditch. This broad generalization is not to imply that any of this is easy. Yet, it offered tremendous hope for me that we each have everything we need to get this whole “life thing” right — if we are willing to work on it. And I am.
So my dream of a Spiritual GPS remains elusive. Although I’m sure that some M.I.T. student is working on algorithms in his dorm room that will someday help produce a prototype for the next generation of soul searchers. Until then, I’ll go pick my moral compass out of the trash and invest in a pair of comfy shoes to wear. So that no matter how long it takes me to get where I’m going, at least I’ll feel good on my journey.