While life continues to present its challenges, I have found considerable solace in seeking out wisdom from various spiritual traditions, including Judaism. Jewish wisdom, or chochmah in Hebrew, is best learned through experience. While texts such as the Hewbrew books Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes can help elucidate the teachings, one must live the teachings if they are to lead to an awakening of ultimate truth. What is it that we are to learn if we dedicate our lives to the teachings?
Many of us adhere to the idea that if we work hard and do good, life will bring us good. It’s a nice idea, but the teachings make clear that life is not fair, everyone suffers, grows old and dies. For the past few years we have rearranged most aspects of our lives so our son could have a solid education. Yet despite our best efforts to make this happen, we have failed to provide him an experience worthy of our labors. We feel defeated, angry and alone. Rabbi Rami Shapiro says,
There is no escaping the absurdity of life. So don’t try. Don’t expect things to work out the way you wish.
Yet within the pain and suffering of our unmet expectations is the opportunity to go deeper, to stop fighting, and to awaken to the most important message of our existence: all life is an expression of the singular reality of God (Rabbi Rami Shapiro).
We are interdependent, yet living the illusion that we are separate from God, each other, and all things. While educating our son may seem like an independent challenge in our present lives, that too is an illusion! All of life is education, and in that sense, we are all in the same boat together. How can we fail at something that is at the very heart of our earthly existence?
Awakening to our true nature is the work of life. While pain and suffering are the primary teachers, Judaism provides plenty of guidance for how best to navigate the rough and ever-changing waters of our lives.
We commit to a contemplative life, balancing time alone, meditating, walking in nature, pondering life’s big questions, with time dedicated to our chaotic human experience. We also embrace the wisdom found in the book of Ecclesiastes, which boils down to four simple things:
- Eating Mindfully
- Drinking Moderately
- Engaging in Meaningful Work
- Bonding with Two or Three Good Friends
When put in those terms, most of our present challenges seem quite insignificant!