Be Aware of Every Moment
by Rabbi Noah Weinberg
Imagine you're stuck in traffic, and another driver is taking dollar bills and throwing them out the window. You can't believe it. The guy is whacko. Every five minutes, another dollar flies out the window!CONSTANT: at every moment
Pursuit of any meaningful goal must be constant, 24 hours a day. Don't divide between "striving" and "non-striving" periods of time.
Does this mean being an obsessive workaholic? Of course not -- you still need to sleep!
Let's understand. "Constant striving" means that when you sleep in order to be more productive, then the sleep becomes part of the work. It's the same with eating or exercise -- if done for the right purpose, it contributes to your overall growth and accomplishment.
So what about relaxing?
Of course it's okay to relax. But in Jewish terms, relaxing means "changing gears." It's not quitting. It's growth. Your relaxation should be purposeful and directed. But don't space out.
Sounds difficult? Remember the first time you tried to ride a bike, and thought you'd never get the hang of it? You said, "Hey, this is crazy -- how can you balance this thing and move forward on two skinny wheels?" You tried, fell off, and just about gave up ... until you saw the kid next door riding his bike with ease. So off you went to try again, and before you knew it, riding a bike had become second nature.
It's the same with "Constant Awareness" and any of the 48 Ways. It takes some time to master. But once you're on, you're on. And eventually, you even learn to ride without hands.
If you feel yourself reaching a limit and need a break, simply switch your field of concentration. Think of something else that's not as exerting, but is still meaningful. For example, shift your focus to nature, music or art. Sometimes, even a simple change of scenery, a cold drink, or a breathe of fresh air is enough to recharge your batteries.
Just don't let your mind shut down. Because the longer you turn off the motor, the harder it is to get the engines running again. And that means valuable moments of your life ... slipping by...
At one time or another, each of us has checked out of life. Not committing suicide, mind you, but quitting in a minor way. A "little suicide," as in: "Let's kill a few hours here," followed by some mindless activity that requires zero awareness. Just bzzzz...
We do this, because it is painful to be constantly aware, to be constantly "on."
To break through that pain, focus instead on the pay-off. When you are constantly aware, every experience becomes a lesson in life. For example, if you are in a dentist's office, you could use that time to reach any number of crucial insights:
"I'm lucky to have teeth. A toothless life would be much less pleasurable."
"If there is such a thing as dental hygiene, there must be a concept of spiritual hygiene, too. I wonder what it is."
"Without the pain of the drill, my teeth would fall out. Perhaps some other difficulties in life also help me accomplish good things."
"The human body is so intricate. The integration of teeth, gums, tongue and saliva is an incredible feat of anatomical and physiological design. How did it all come about?"
Whatever you are doing at any given moment -- watching the news, working on a business deal, talking to a friend, reading this article -- give it your full attention. Decide that you are willing to take the pain of thinking, of being aware, all day long.
Set aside a certain time when you block everything else out, where you will not budge from the activity you're focusing on. Don't sit down and then get up to open the window. Then get up to fetch a Coke. And get up again to close the window. And get up to turn on the radio.
Make up your mind: "I am going to do 'X' for one hour straight. No bouncing up and down!"
For an entire 15 minutes, don't stop. Not to change your seat, not to get a drink, not for anything that isn't life- threatening!
You can practice this while riding on the bus, or waiting at the dentist's office. Set yourself a goal of 15 minutes to focus exclusively on one subject. It may be a problem you're having at work, a personal goal, or an issue in a relationship. For example, you might say to yourself, "The next 15 minutes I am going to devote to thinking about my family, how I can help them, why I love them, my pleasure in them."
Or try devoting 15 minutes a day to be aware of every aspect of life around you -- from the blood coursing through your veins to keep every cell alive, to the ant crawling across the ground under your feet. For that 15 minutes, you are totally attuned to the miracle of being alive.
Then, at the end of these 15 minutes, appreciate how the time was well spent. Time that otherwise would have been wasted...
Little by little, increase your time. First 15 minutes, then 30 minutes, then one hour, then two hours. Once you hit four hours, you're sailing.
The Vilna Gaon, the great 18th century Jewish scholar, said that the first three hours and 59 minutes is stoking the furnace. By the fourth hour, the pot is boiling.
And don't stop. Because if you take the pot off the fire -- even for a few minutes -- you have to reboil it all over again.
The human body loves patterns. Even the most daunting tasks become fluid when set into a schedule. This means doing the activity in the same place, at the same time, and in the same way (as much as reasonably possible).
That's why Judaism has certain pre-set activities every day. When waking up, for example, we say: "Thank God I'm alive." It's a moment of conscious appreciation for getting another chance, another day. This awareness gets us up on the right side of the bed, starting our day on a high note.
When it comes to any goal, make a certain time of the day "holy." For however much or little time, make a commitment and be consistent every day. There is power in that commitment. You know you are going to change. Your life will be different.
Try it. Commit yourself 365 days a year, for the rest of your life: When you wake up in the morning, appreciate being alive.
Study the same subject for a long period of time. Don't bounce around superficially from one topic to the next. Choose a topic you love and become an expert in at least one aspect of life. Become engrossed.
Whatever subject you choose, there is always more to learn. Even as you move to other areas of knowledge, be alert to pick up information pertinent to previous topics. This allows for cross-referencing, and ultimately, a deeper understanding.
Whatever you learn, make sure you don't forget. How many times has an insight struck you with astonishing clarity -- and then slipped out of your mind the next day? The insight is fleeting if you don't capture it in some way. It has to sink into your bones and permeate your mind.
This means constant review of one's learning in some form or another.
Verbal repetition is powerful. It clarifies an idea and brings it into reality. That's why we repeat the Shema twice a day, and why we review the Torah year after year. The Sages of the Talmud would repeat any new insight 40 times -- and repeat an especially vital idea 101 times.
It's kind of like "Remember the Alamo!" Of course, you may forget the Alamo, but you can remember this article in a catch-phrase like "Make Every Second Count" or "Live to the Max." Whatever moves you and gets you energized, repeat it again, again and again. Make it your refrain, your background music. When you wear out one phrase, get yourself another. Whatever works has power.
Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!
Suppose you see someone going to sleep, and you say to him, "What do you do?"
He says, "I'm a sleeper."
"You're a sleeper? How do you make a living doing that? Who pays you to sleep?!"
That's my point exactly. When you add up the hours over a lifetime, you spend more time sleeping than being a lawyer.
The essential you is not the lawyer. It is the thinker, the seeker, the living, breathing human being who loves, who is continually growing, who desires greatness, who hungers to know more. Identify with this. It is who you really are.
Ask a woman with four children: "Who are you?" She answers: "A mother." But that's only one aspect of who she is (albeit an important one). She's also a friend, a community volunteer, an educator, a chef, a nurse, a child psychologist, a thinker, an information gatherer, a pursuer of truth, and more.
Unfortunately, we develop this identity problem early in life. Every child is asked: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" This question has subtle implications that can damage a developing personality. The child is thinking: "What's wrong with being 'me?' Is 'me' so terrible that I have to 'become' something different when I grow up?"
The Sages say: "Make the study of life your main occupation, and your profession secondary." The question is not "what are you doing for a living," but rather "what do you do for life?" If you see yourself as a "thinker," then thinking becomes a priority. So update your self-definition. Learn your whole reason for living and live it fully.
This comes down to a more basic question: Does life have purpose? If it doesn't, then there's no reason not to waste time, because nothing really matters anyway. But if you believe there is a purpose to life, why would you want to waste any bit of it? You'll want to understand every aspect of life, to do the most with the limited time you have.
Jewish consciousness says that the worst crime is murder.
-- The worst murder is premeditated.
-- The worst premeditated is of family.
-- Even worse is murder of self -- i.e.
-- Spiritual suicide is worse than physical suicide.
-- Killing time is spiritual suicide.
Human beings were created for pleasure. Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden. In Hebrew, Eden means "pleasure."
When you commit yourself to what a human being was destined for -- a life of pleasure -- you will go out searching for the highest pleasures. Along the way, you'll make distinctions between pleasure and comfort, between necessary pain and needless suffering. And through the process, you'll discover the true meaning of life.
The Torah says: "Abraham was old and he came with his days." Many people can become old without their days, because they may only experience growth over a year. But Abraham and Sarah had daily growth spurts. They got as much out of living as possible.
Make the commitment to discover life's deeper pleasures. It could be the difference between a useful life and a wasted one.
Plan in the evening how you'll get up in the morning. Don't let the snooze button control your life.
To start off on the right foot, get up 10 minutes early and say the Shema.
Review your day. See what the obstacles were. Strategize how to avoid them in the future. Review what you learned in the past 24 hours.
Become a student of life. Study wherever you are. Have books, thoughts, etc. ready to keep your mind growing. (No staring out the window like a zombie.)
Memorize pieces of wisdom. It will give you something to learn as you walk down the street or wait in line at the supermarket.
Pick appealing catch-phrases, to inspire yourself on the spot, and to wake yourself up when you feel like drifting off.
Frequently ponder the question: What is the purpose of life? What am I doing on this planet?
Plan ahead now. What do you want to study? What do you need to realize your ambitions? How do you want to grow?
Rabbi Noah Weinberg
Dean and founder of Aish HaTorah International. Over the last 40 years, his visionary educational programs have brought hundreds of thousands of Jews closer to their heritage.
Aish HaTorah/Jewish Spirituality
From Rabbi Weinberg and many other teachers associated with his College of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.
Back to Apprentice Weavers