There is no getting away from it. Numbers in all sorts of configurations accompany us from the moment we are born to the moment we have to say goodbye. The earlier in our lives that we accept this reality and learn how to manage the accounting process of how to manage our time, energy and resources – and what to give and what to take that will serve us, and what investment to make in ourselves and others, and how much time and how much effort to give to each investment, and other such investments of time and energy that will be to our advantage and benefit – the more effective we will be, and the better life will be for us and for those in our midst.
It’s a funny thing when we are in the middle years – around the half way mark (hopefully) – all we want to do is slow down the merry-go-round of time just for a little while. Perhaps we seek to look back in time to fix things because we want to move forward in a different way at a different pace or we want to stand still because it feels safer than being pulled along too fast.
Mindful living permits this luxury to savor real time, in a quest to redirect our use of time or to slow it all down to relish each moment in a new way. Either way, to feel time, to truly appreciate and value time and to understand intimately the everyday beat of our lives, one moment at a time is something truly magnificent if one has never had this opportunity or made this way of being a priority. It is a privilege to breathe and to be given the gift of life; if you have never felt this, perhaps it is time.
When we count our breath and inhale and exhale mindfully, we bring our existence into the here and now which is such a precious commodity. This space in time is the balm that our soul needs and our heart cherishes and from which our mind and body benefits immeasurably. In this place of mindful counting, we become more alert. We tune into our intuition and instinct. In this space in time, we can see things clearly and we are in a better position to consider our authentic needs and to consider truthful options so we can make new conscious decisions.
Life feels more meaningful when we can see the finer details and we feel more conscious of our lives and we are more aware of the people in our lives; their needs, their desires, their contribution. Conscious living is a beautiful place to live. It is the only place to truly know oneself and to truly find a way to connect with G-d, if that is something that is important to you.
A week in our lives becomes seven unique days of opportunity, 168 individual hours in which to live and create and flourish in new ways. A year becomes 365-days of millions of moments of marvelous potential.
Mindful living allows a person to awaken finally to this wonderful thing called life which was granted to us as a gift without us asking for it.
Hopefully, after the rush of enthusiasm that usually races youth ahead too fast, a person will come to a place in time when he will see life as meaningful rather than a quest only for ambition and more. All of us at some point, whether elective or through unexpected circumstances invariably come to an impasse or perhaps a crossroads and decide to seek something a little more special from time, from each day, each moment, from life. This awareness, this realization usually demands new work – and often demanding hard work in the form of an intimate personal accounting – on our part to turn the ordinary into an extraordinary life; daily work for some, annual work for others. Some will not go to sleep at night without reviewing their day to ensure tomorrow feels better or that much more special.
On the night of 20 September, 2017 Jewish people welcome in the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah. These days leading up to the close of one year, and please G-d the beginning of a new one, prompts a person to do an accounting. Could I have done more; could I have given more; could I have become more?
Looking back a moment one may ask, where did I waste time, waste opportunities, wander off the path that was intended for me by G-d?
Looking to the future one might ask themselves, how can I give more to others, how can I become a better person, what can I do to live a more purposeful and meaningful life?
An accounting is essential to know from where we have come, where we are, and where we need to go.
When Alice arrived at the crossroads in Lewis Carroll’s fantasy adventure Alice in Wonderland, she met for the first time the Cheshire Cat.
‘I don’t know which road to take,’ Alice said to the Cheshire Cat.
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ replied the Cheshire Cat.
‘I don’t care much where – ‘ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter where you go,’ said the Cheshire Cat.
‘ – so long as I get somewhere,’ added Alice as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cheshire Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’
The dialogue between Alice and the Cheshire Cat (published for the first time in 1865 and which has taken on differing forms since) is often called upon today by motivational speakers, coaches or by anyone seeking to use the words to deliver some sort of profound message. One can glean either a positive interpretation or a message of caution from the exchange.
Two extreme versions could range from: stay where you are because there is no point going somewhere you don’t want to be, or go anyway and enjoy the adventure for you can’t explore life staying in one place or doubting your every move, take courage and take the path less traveled.
The American essayist, lecturer, and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) might have advised Alice differently. This, one of my favorite assertions from Emerson, resonates with me:
‘Do not follow where the path may lead
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail’
Some might say, one cannot go somewhere if one does not know who one is and where one wants to be.
Others will say a trailblazer or an innovator is born when someone takes courage and takes the road less traveled or never traveled and they forge their own way forward for others to follow. Leaders are created this way. Leaders inspire followers.
A book that has accompanied my days since 2009 is The Palm Tree of Devorah (Tomer Devorah) by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero. After I say my morning prayers, I read it every morning for about ten or fifteen minutes. On this cyclical route over the last eight years, I read over and over again about the thirteen attributes of G-d.
‘To be privileged to channel G-d’s blessing and benefit into the world, man must emulate his Creator. It is insufficient that man is created in the Divine likeness – he must constantly, consciously, and willingly cleave to G-d by emulating Him every day. This emulation is the subject of Tomer Devorah.’
Every time I read this book I feel like I am learning it for the first time. The material is aspirational and practical. Cordovero explains the thirteen qualities of G-d and how a human being can integrate those qualities into his daily life. I consider this book which is deep in its commentary and explicit in what is expected, a good investment of time, a wise investment in my life.
It may take me a lifetime to come to an authentic application of the attributes or even one attribute, for the teachings humble me and I see there is so much for me to improve upon each day; the work sometimes feels relentless. But, the book is a welcome helpmate and I value it. The teachings prompt me each day to work a little harder to make progress. The teachings of Cordovero bring man into a deeper relationship with one’s self and G-d and then, in turn, those who come into our lives and those we touch with our efforts.
How does the work of a personal accounting of our time and efforts manifest itself? One definitive way is by means of the measure of a maturity of mindful thoughts, speech, and action. Our countenance, the window to our soul is the one immediate place our efforts shine forth to inspire others and to draw others close.
Coco Chanel (1883-1971), the French couturier said: ‘Nature gives you the face you have at twenty, it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.’
I have had a photograph of Coco Chanel with this quote inscribed in my possession since 1996; I bought it when I was in my early thirties. On and off, I have read this quote for the last twenty-one years. For the last six years, it has been within view near my writer’s desk in London.
When I was in my early thirties, before I became a mother for the first time, I thought Chanel was talking about the condition of a person’s complexion; the health that radiated from a person’s face. I have always taken great care of my complexion. Since that time in 1996, I attribute the extra care and attention to Chanel’s advice.
Lately, I read her words differently. The words ‘merit the face you have’ prompts me to speculate perhaps there is a double or a deeper meaning to glean. Perhaps Chanel was not talking just about the external appearance of the face, she was talking about one’s inherent qualities of mind and character; what emanates from the personality of a person and the soul of a person. That you are also or only what radiates from within; from the heart of you. Not only from what you think and what you feel but what you are intrinsically and have always been since the beginning of time. That you are not merely a reflection of all around you but that you are primarily a being radiating what is contained within you, the revealed parts you have discovered as well as those parts of you yet to be mined and shared from that golden treasure chest of beauty and goodness that is your pure soul.
I have come to see that a face of empathy, compassion, grace, or kindness is more favorable than a face that is shadowed or marked by, for example, judgment, disappointment or even regret. No sunshine radiates from such a face.
To walk in the ways of G-d is to embrace attributes that draw a person close to another in kindness and faith and trust. Sometimes we have to form a closer relationship with G-d before we can develop better relationships with others. All the work we do in life will help us but sometimes not in ways we can always fathom. Hidden blessings are sometimes the most beneficial. Miracles are taking place in our midst night and day, as the book of Psalms tells us: ‘G-d neither slumbers nor sleeps’ (121:4).
When we are born we are new to the world, like a blank piece of paper that is yet to absorb or to display the story of our lives in our nature, our character traits, our voice, our body, our face, our conduct. G-d bestows on us purity and innocence and playfulness and simplicity and instinct and impulse. As we move through each moment and each day and each year from birth to adulthood the world around us and the world inside of us changes us; forms us and transforms us.
At a middle age and beyond, to merit the face of our innate nature, the face of sunshine, of pure goodness, of grace and of simplicity perhaps we can claim or reclaim this merit, through the work we are prepared to do. Surely, it is within our power through discipline and application to merit such a face through good thoughts, good feelings, good speech and good action all of which translates and transmits to others through our countenance and our ways.
To align ourselves or redesign ourselves, at any moment surely we can stop in time and change direction, review our pathway or approach. Surely, at any time in our lives, we can stop and make new wiser better choices.
There seems no time like the present to do such work.
Here’s to celebrating time, and life with more mindfulness.
Here’s to approaching, and living life, in a new way, to transforming each new accounting that we make into a positive result that will lead to enhanced health and happiness for us and those in our lives who we touch in a positive way.
Here’s to your life flourishing in a new way with wonderful new blessings.
We do not need to wait for the sunshine, we can become the sunshine; it is within our power to become a happier, more optimistic and more productive person with the time G-d graces us with every moment.
Photograph credit: Crossroads by Oloferla, with appreciation and thank you.