CRASH!! The small aircraft you were flying in has just crash-landed on the side of a mountain. You're alive and uninjured, but it's late afternoon on a chilly December day.
You won't waste time playing the "Blame Game," blaming the pilot, the company that rented you the airplane, or the government for its insufficient regulation of the aviation industry. You won't waste time playing the "If Only Game": "If only I had used a different company or taken the train..." It's getting darker and colder on the side of the mountain, and all you'll care about is how to survive.
The economy has crash-landed. Many of you have lost your jobs, your homes, or the value of your investment portfolios or pension plans. It's not worth playing the "Blame Game" or the "If Only Game." At this point, you have to focus your energy on how to survive.
I can't offer you financial survival tips, but if you're looking for spiritual survival strategies, here is my four-point plan. They spell the acronym R.E.A.L. because this plan is Reality Therapy.
REDEFINE YOUR IDEA OF SUCCESS
When I was a senior in high school, I was elected by my class "Most Likely to Succeed." The Yearbook photographer posed the picture by putting a pile of bills on the floor and having me sit down on the floor, reaching for the money. This was his idea of success.
Ironically, I have probably made less money in the 42 years since that picture was snapped than anyone else in my class. Yet I consider my life a success because my goal in life was never to make money.
Success is defined by your goal. So if your goal is professional accomplishment and you lose your job, you are likely to feel like a failure. If your goal is to become wealthy and you lose half the value of your portfolio, you are likely to feel like a failure.
No matter how the financial markets are faltering, you can still succeed if you your goals are spiritual.
No matter how the financial markets are faltering, however, you can still succeed if you redefine your goal. Spiritual Survival Strategy #1 entails defining a spiritual goal for your life.
Judaism's spiritual goal is to come closer to God by becoming more Godly. Closeness in the physical world is measured by distance; closeness in the spiritual world is measured by similarity. The way to become "close to God" is to become more similar to God. Therefore, the more merciful, kind, honest, and forgiving you become, the closer you come to God, and the more you achieve your spiritual goal. That's success.
Having a spiritual goal puts the power back into your hands. No one has the power to stop the economic tailspin—not the government, nor the banks, nor Wall St. But if your goal is to become kinder, and you devise for yourself a realistic program to advance in that trait for, by example, calling a lonely elderly relative twice a week, then your success is entirely in your own hands.
A spiritual goal should not be something to fall back on when all else fails. It's the smartest, most efficacious goal for a human being to have. If you direct your life's focus to external goals (wealth, power, pleasure, fame, beauty, comfort, etc.), you are investing in chandeliers on the Titanic. It's all going to come to an end.
You may say, "Okay, I know that life ends after 80 or 90 years, but I want to be comfortable and affluent while I'm here." A first class ticket on the Titanic cost $4,700 (equivalent to $50,000 in today's economy). Would any sensible person claim that a first-class ticket on the Titanic was a good investment, because the staterooms were so posh and the public areas were so magnificent and the food was so gourmet? The ship was afloat only 4 1/2 days!
Your time in this world compared to the lifespan of your immortal soul is a mere 4 1/2 days. Is it really worth investing in a first-class ticket for life in this world?
Your soul yearns for spiritual goals. Devoting your life to becoming kinder, more honest, and more patient is an investment that will last for an eternity.
ESTABLISH A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
The success of any relationship, whether it's with spouse, friends, or children, depends on communication. You establish a personal, intimate relationship with God by communicating with Him.
Talk to God out loud in your own language, from your heart, for five minutes every day.
In addition to prayer, the best way to deepen your personal relationship with God is to talk to God out loud in your own language, from your heart, for five minutes every day. This entails being alone, in your room or backyard or the park or your car. (Do not try this in public, even if you're wearing a Bluetooth in your ear!)
Tell God what's on your mind, what's worrying you about the future, what's bothering you about the past. But remember, God is much more than your psychotherapist. To your therapist, you would say: "I'm anxious that I could lose my job. My company has already laid off so many employees. I'm afraid I could be next. I can't sleep at night from worry." Your therapist will give you Prozac and send you home.
To God you would say: "I'm anxious that I could lose my job. My company has already laid off so many employees. I'm afraid I could be next. But I know that You control the whole universe. I know that my job came from You, so please let me keep my job. But if You decide that I should lose my job, please find me a different job. Or perhaps You have other ideas about how I should spend my time at this point in my life. I know You're running the world, and wherever You put me is where I should be. Please give me the faith to remember that every day." No sleep lost. No Prozac.
No matter what you've lost in the meltdown, can you still breathe, walk, see, hear, think, and move your hands?
Effective communication stems from love. No matter what you've lost in the meltdown, can you still breathe, walk, see, hear, think, and move your hands? All these faculties are gifts from God, expressions of His love for you. Feel His palpable love for you, and tell Him how much you love Him, or want to love Him. With God, even wanting to want to love Him may be enough.
ADD TO YOUR LIST OF WHAT GIVES YOU PLEASURE
If you can no longer afford to vacation in five-star hotels or eat out frequently, don't resign yourself to a life devoid of pleasure. Judaism deems pleasure important. That's why Shabbat is a day not just of spiritual exaltation, but also physical pleasure. Instead of giving up on pleasure, add to your list of what gives you pleasure.
Try taking a long walk with your spouse or friend several times a week. My husband and I try to walk forty minutes four times a week. This practice has three benefits:
- It's good for your relationship. (Don't take your cell phones!)
- It's good exercise. (Without having to pay for the gym.)
- It's a chance to be out in nature.
Do good. One of the best feelings you can get is doing good for others. This means hands-on helping, not sitting at your computer signing on-line petitions. Here are some possibilities:
- Become a Big Brother or Big Sister
- Volunteer in a local hospital, soup kitchen, or nursing home.
- Clean up your neighborhood
- Tutor someone in English or Judaism
- Call a lonely person every day
- Go to a neighbor who is sick, after childbirth, or has recently lost a loved one, and offer to fold laundry or run an errand.
LONG FOR THE REDEMPTION
Judaism introduced to the world the concept of linear time. As Thomas Cahill points out in The Gifts of the Jews, before the Jews burst onto the scene, all ancient peoples conceived of time as circular. Circles go aimlessly around and around. The Jewish concept of linear time is imbued with direction and purpose. Just as an individual life moves toward a purpose or goal that makes all the vicissitudes of that life meaningful, so human history also has a goal.
The goal of history is the Redemption, otherwise known as the Messianic Era. As the Prophets so eloquently described it, the Messianic Age will be an era of universal God-consciousness and peace. "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks."
The present state of the world should compel us to yearn for the Redemption, and, most importantly, mobilize us to take action.
Such pronouncements are meant not merely to adorn walls at the United Nations. Belief in the Messianic Age as the goal of history is one of Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of the Faith. The Talmud tells us that one of the six questions each of us will be asked upon arriving in the Next World is: "Did you anticipate the Redemption?"
The present state of the world with the economic meltdown, Jihadist terrorism, the threat of nuclear war from Iran, and the moral meltdown that abounds in government corruption, multi-billion dollar scams, and sexual exploitation by younger and younger people could easily lead us to despair. Instead it should compel us to yearn for the Redemption, and, most importantly, mobilize us to take action.
What can you do to bring the Redemption? The destiny of the Jewish people is to be a "light unto the nations." Become a model of morality, especially in your business dealings. If one Jew such as Bernard Madoff can disgrace the Jewish people and push off the Redemption by his dishonesty, all it would take to hasten the Redemption is for one Jew such as you to act with scrupulous honesty and integrity.
THE CHANUKAH CHOICE
The victory of the Jews over the Greeks, which Chanukah commemorates, was much more than a military victory. It was the victory of Jewish spirituality over Greek materialism. The Jews championed a worldview characterized by spiritual goals, a relationship with God, altruism, and a transcendent purpose to both individual and world history. The Greeks championed a worldview extolling the physical world: art, science, sports, and philosophy.
Looking at the world today, it's clear we're still fighting the battle. It is up to every individual to decide which will prevail in his or her own life: a material orientation or a spiritual orientation? You can reenact the Chanukah victory in your own life.