In past weeks I’ve written about the importance of knowing our selves as well as the God – however we understand that – before Whom we stand; about freedom and authenticity coming through intentional choice; and creating a fertile environment in which an intentional life can be planted and flourish, one marked by an open mind and a supple heart as well as a willingness to identify areas of rote and stagnation in our lives, recurring personal weaknesses, actual problems we’ve caused and relationships in need of repair.
This week, I want to address two last “steps”: growing in knowledge, followed by the summoning of courage and the will to act towards change.
GROWING IN & THRU KNOWLEDGE
I continue to learn in part by preparing for my teaching and preaching. I read a lot and I try to read authors and topics with which I’m unfamiliar, along with the familiar. I push myself to read people whose point of view I assume will be different than mine. It turns out not always to be the case.
I gain perspective on my thoughts, my actions, my past, and my plans for the future largely via this route. But I also gain it by listening to Susan, to my sons, to those of you in B’Chavana and to my students and colleagues at the high school.
In order to change, it’s usually necessary to see things from another perspective or to be presented with a new idea. In other words, in order to grow through knowledge, we need to grow in knowledge.
Reading is only one avenue. As I mentioned, listening to the people closest to you is another rich source of knowledge about ourselves.
Likewise, I know that many of you participate in Mussar or chevruta groups where reading new ideas is coupled with learning from friends. What a wonderful combination!
If we never see ourselves differently from our long-held self-perceptions how could we possible change? Change to what? And if we never gain new knowledge, different from what we already know, how could we change? We’d have nothing to change towards.
The acquisition of knowledge is a crucial step in living life intentionally.
THE COURAGE & THE WILL TO ACT
Assuming that all of the previous steps have been taken – those itemized in my earlier posts and this latest one, what remains to live intentionally is summoning the courage to act towards change, and committing one’s will to the new course of action.
There are many things standing in the way. Habit might be chief among them. Ironically, the people who might benefit from your positive change – family, friends, work colleagues – might resist your effort to change; after all, even when things aren’t the way we want them the status quo is often preferable to the unknown.
So, you must make a solid commitment and be ready to persevere. There’s a good reason why “they” say change doesn’t come overnight.
And then act. Obviously, courage and commitment aren’t enough if you don’t actually make the change: treating other people with more respect, losing weight, stopping smoking, becoming more charitable.
“Habit” has a bad name in our culture, but good habits are essential to our change sticking. Find a way to routinize your change. “Every afternoon, at 3:00, I’ll . . .” Or create a ritual like my recent bedtime one of reviewing the events of the day. I do that so I don’t go to sleep feeling that I just went through the motions or really didn’t accomplish anything. I review the things I did in order to identify what went well and how I helped other people. If I did not set a time to do this each day I would quickly forget.
READY FOR YONTIFF?
Rosh Hashana is now just over a week away. It begins the season of introspection, itself the foundation of an intentional life.
And if you haven’t yet begun, it’s not too late.
I hope that the ideas that I’ve shared over the past few weeks have found resonance with you and, most important, that they will help you on your own, personal spiritual journey.