A few weeks back, I wrote about time, stressing that what was most important was the present, and that sometimes there is that temptation to get lost in the past or in preparations for the future. The present is the life we are leading, but of course the present is part of the weave of life that includes both the past and the future. But even when we are aware of that, we often find ourselves taking things for granted, or so obsessed by what we’re doing, that we don’t really appreciate the present. For those of us with a religious point of view, the awareness engendered by that framework can sometimes be of great help in living the present while being aware of all those things that usually intrude on our enjoyment of the passing day.
But religion itself, and many of the frameworks of religious teaching, are influenced to a great extent by both the teacher and the student. We liken the torah to water, and those who study it to vessels that hold that water. And as you know, sometimes a vessel lends its own taste to the liquid within, for good or bad… and he that drinks it, can taste the vessel too. In that connection, I am reminded of the wooden barrels in which fine whiskey is aged…
A person can hear the greatest wisdom, and misunderstand it because he is occupied with himself, and interprets whatever he hears as it might apply to him. I think that this problem has lead to a certain resentment towards religion in certain quarters, and sometimes even an antagonism to it, though none of us are doing religion a favor by accepting some of its wisdom, just as we wouldn’t be doing technology a favor by using the computer or the telephone. For instance, I remember walking by a charity box near one of my favorite markets in a nearby neighborhood, and I saw a big sign, saying, “charity will save one from death’. The message was so emphasized, that I wondered if those who had put up the sign had intended to confuse the giver. Charity can sometimes save a needy person from death… and sometimes too, not being able to find charity in one’s self, is a sort of death… but there is something cynical about such signs, and that sort of message can be very alienating.
When thinking about living in the present, it occurs to me, that one of the best tests of whether we are truly enjoying the present, is to think, if my end was approaching, would this be what I would be doing today. I have been in the situation, immediately after one of my heart attacks, when a kind doctor told me that if there were any arrangements I wanted to make before I died, this would be the right time. Of course, at the time, the only thing I wanted was to get out of the hospital as soon as possible. But as luck would have it, my situation was not quite as terrible as they feared, and I have continued to live for a number of years since that time. But if this was my last day, I wouldn’t mind writing in this blog… I wouldn’t mind going for a walk either… It might be even a greater pleasure. But it is just as good writing this post. Even if we are doing something that is not the greatest thrill we might imagine… if we’re putting our hearts in it, and thoroughly enjoying what we’re doing, then life is good.
That doesn’t mean that it is illegitimate to do back breaking work, or cry our eyes out at times. That too is an important part of life. What we have to do, though, is live the experience as well as we can, with perspective and proportion, while remaining who we are despite the intensity of the experience.