by Sam Glaser
When my first child was two years old I cut off our TV. He was more interested in Pokemon than playing with me. The decision was rash and spontaneous but I’m confident it was the right move. We never turned it back on although we do have a nice projector system for the occasional family movie night. Whenever I mention this to anyone they often say, “Wow…I wish we could do that!” And I respond, “Well, you can. You just have to stop paying your cable bill.” They usually respond with resignation, “Boy, I wish we could do that.”
My song Hineni (Here I am) was my first hit in the Jewish world. I deeply resonate with the idea that just like our biblical heroes we are waiting to be called upon to make a difference, either by God, a community leader or a friend in need. I believe that we are hard wired to say, “YES! I’m ready and willing to do something meaningful, something great.” Rashi, the master commentator states that Hineni implies z’rizut, or intense readiness to perform the commandments. Hineni is our code word to get off the couch, to maximize our limited time on this planet.
Nike nailed this concept with their Just Do It campaign. There’s no such thing as “maybe next week” when it comes time for your workout. You can’t delegate going to a yoga or kickboxing class. We either carve out time in our busy schedule to make it to the gym or it’s never going to happen. We may intuit this truth in terms of our physical fitness but fall short in our spiritual fitness. The problem is that we don’t keep our life goals in our day-to-day consciousness. As Stephen Covey reminds, we have to spend time in the important/not urgent quadrant. In other words, if we are always running short on time, living in a state of panic, we never do get to those crucial items on our Bucket List.
I feel blessed that I had the opportunity to work for my father in the garment business for five years. We had factories in over a dozen countries making merchandise for chain stores and department stores across the US; that meant managing hundreds of purchase orders at any given time. We all had computers on our desks to oversee the flow of production…all of us except my dad who had everything in his head! Our company was compelled to branch out into overseas manufacturing when imports started flowing into the US during the Reagan years. That was also the time when the business started to unravel. There were too many details to manage, too many poor quality and late delivery emergencies and our traditional business model for over thirty years turned into “management by crisis.” The problem with this situation is that one loses the ability to execute plans for the future when mired in present chaos.
I think I understood the importance of crisis avoidance as a freshman at the University of Colorado. I figured out that I could schedule my classes only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was a double major in business and music so that meant two very intense days each week given my load of over twenty units each semester. But this binge allowed me to have 4-day weekends over the next three years of my college career, essential to maximizing my ski/wilderness time. My secret was getting ahead and staying ahead. I would study in my special spot in the Norlin Library periodicals room where no one could find me. Anywhere else inevitably resulted in social hour. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I was the most boring, focused overachiever you would ever meet. At the end of my Thursday night study session, all hell broke loose.
I still apply this method to my life. My wife still questions why I must work such crazy hours on my CDs, at the peril of my sleep requirements and overall health. But I set goals with deadlines that are very real for me, even though to an outsider they seem imaginary. If I get to Shabbat without reaching my self-imposed quota, I feel a bit unfulfilled whereas those weeks when I nail the workload I feel like a rock star. I try to jump into the hardest recording or bookkeeping work before the fun stuff like checking social emails or Facebook. I make the scariest phone calls first, those where in all likelihood I’ll get NO as the answer. I have a theory in life that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. This can be as simple as asking someone, when the lighting is just right, if they mind if you take their picture. Or as challenging as calling that benefactor for a grant for a new music project. I’m sure I’m not the only one who perceives that the web can be our greatest ally or waste hours of our precious time. I guess the key is retaining surfing, both virtual and oceanic, as the reward to a good session of focused achievement.
Another obstacle to the Just Do It theory of fulfillment is “waiting for that big break.” Fill in the blanks: I’ll feel good about myself when _________, or I’ll take that great vacation when _________, or I’m saving this outfit for ____________. I’m writing this essay in the High Sierras, in Mammoth Lakes, CA, one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. Outside my window I see snow capped peaks, horses grazing on an endless meadow, the deepest blue skies punctuated by dirigible-shaped lenticular clouds on the horizon. The only reason I’m here is because I know that I need these regular wilderness moments in my life to survive and I therefore schedule them like I would anything in my calendar. I don’t have “time” to do this, but I feel so clearly that THIS is why God gave me the gift of “time” in the first place. Also, we had an epic winter that is still actively pressing into June. The third biggest annual snowfall of all-time and counting! But the skiing won’t last forever. One great way to prioritize is to make an accounting of which of your needs is the most perishable. Can’t afford a vacation? Don’t postpone…go camping! Have a favorite suit or dress that you are saving? An expensive bottle of wine? Uncork it tonight, put on that outfit, crank up the stereo and DANCE around the house!
Our sages give us a simple list of those spiritual goals that are ignored at our peril. According to the prophet Micha, “What does God demand from you? Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.” I elaborated on acts of loving kindness and ego nullification in my Where is God essay, but suffice it to say that time must taken in our daily rat race to do for someone other than yourself or your own family, which is really just an extension of yourself. As I write this I realize that I am so guilty of this MY-opia. Another essential spiritual pleasure is learning Torah everyday. We float in a transcendent conversation with the Almighty by speaking our innermost thoughts in our prayers. But we hear God respond to us in our learning. We are reminded in the siddur that the study of Torah is equal to the performance of ALL the other 612 commandments. Just opening a Chumash and keeping up with the portion of the week is step one. Attending a weekly class is step two. Having a learning partner who forces you to show up and struggle with text is next. Bottom line is that none of the above will happen without conscious programming into a busy week.
We don’t own our time. We are all here on loan from the Creator of the Universe. I know it’s tacky but “The present is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” Obsessed with your past? Get over it! What do you need to do in this life? Just imagine you are leaving this world tomorrow…what are the immediate regrets in your heart? Another method is to write your own obituary. Do you focus on the great restaurants you’ve visited or the people whose lives you’ve enhanced? God keeps us guessing regarding our lifespan. Our sages admonish us to make sure we repent (better translated as “to come close to God”) one day before we die. Since we don’t know when that will be, make this the day to thank God, love God, talk to God. God created the universe for our pleasure. What is your pleasure? Yes, a good movie, New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream and surfing the web are all pleasurable. But deep pleasure, true “nachas” is what we’re after. Make that list, prioritize and Just Do It!