While in India in 1979, I visited Sarnath, the place where, according to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha attained enlightenment. At the center of the site is a Buddhist stupa -- a large, solid, domed structure. The proper protocol upon visiting a Buddhist stupa, I had been told, is to make circuits around it. I joined perhaps a half dozen pilgrims who were walking around and around the stupa.
At one point I noticed an old Buddhist monk in saffron robes walking slowly, ever so slowly, ahead of me. I quickly overtook him. One circuit later, I was again behind him and about to pass when I suddenly realized my own absurdity. I said to myself: "Why are you walking so fast? You have nowhere to go! You're walking in a circle! So why are you rushing?"
I immediately slowed down to the monk's pace. Then something amazing began to happen. My mind slowed down, my mood relaxed, and I entered a meditative state.
THE PAUSE THAT PENETRATES
Slowing down is probably the single most efficacious way to improve your life. It's good for your coronary health, your blood pressure, your marriage, your relationship with your children and friends, and your peace of mind.
It's also good for your Judaism. One of the biggest complaints Jews voice against their religious practice is that they pray, say blessings, or do mitzvot without "feeling anything." The culprit here is RUSHING. If you rush through your prayers or say a blessing before you eat as if the food will disappear in six nanoseconds if it doesn't reach your mouth, then little wonder you feel nothing.
That minute of inner preparedness can change the entire experience from rote to relationship.
Maimonides, in his code of Jewish law, writes that it is incumbent upon a Jew to pause before saying the central prayer, Shemona Esrai, in order to remember the greatness of the God one is about to address. That minute of inner preparedness can change the entire experience from rote to relationship.
This vital pause can also be employed before reciting blessings and doing mitzvot, in order to become conscious of what you are about to say or do. Consciousness requires taking the time to wake up from "autopilot" and start flying the plane.
The need to be fully present applies not only to our relationship with God, but also to our relationship with people. The commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" is fulfilled in three specific ways:
- To speak well of your neighbor
- To provide for your neighbor's physical needs
- To honor your neighbor
Exactly how do you go about "honoring" another person? Here's what "honoring" does not look like:
- Interrupting a conversation with a friend in order to answer your cell phone.
- Discussing something with your spouse while you make the grocery list or watch the Evening News.
- Talking to your mother on the phone while you surf the Net.
- Asking your child what his or her day was like, then not listening to the answer because you're involved in your paper work or madly scrambling to make dinner.
It's clear from the above examples that giving honor to people means giving them your time and full attention.
Imagine that you are granted a meeting in the Oval Office and your cell phone rings. Can you see yourself saying, "Excuse me, Mr. President, I just have to answer this call"? And if you would give your time and total attention to a flesh-and-blood personage, how much more should you give it to the Almighty when you address God in prayer? And if you would give your time and total attention to a distinguished political figure, how much more should you give it to your beloved spouse?
SHORT OF TIME
It's ironic that our age, so affluent in objects, is so impoverished in time. Hardly a single person has enough time. And the more labor-saving devices are developed, the less time we have!
Actually, I did know one person who always seemed to have plenty of time. Rebbetzin Chaya Sara Kramer, the subject of my book Holy Woman, didn't own a washing machine, a dryer, an oven, a dishwasher, or a car. She never had any household help nor help on her farm. But whenever anyone came to her home, she seemed to have all the time in the world for her visitor. She stopped whatever she was doing, sat down, and gave her total attention to her guest.
As one woman told me in an interview: "It was as if Rebbetzin Kramer had nothing to do in the world except listen to me."
Perhaps how much time we have is not a function of how big our "To Do" list is, but rather how big we are.