Businesses do year-end audits to ascertain the level of success achieved that year. Managers may analyze such information on a weekly basis in order to maintain quality-control and to keep production costs down. Yet people are rarely so careful about how they spend their time and energy outside the office!
Individuals are often willing to admit mistakes in their financial management, and to work extra time to set things right; however, they resent criticism in areas of their personal life. With an attitude like that, is it any wonder that society produces so few 'excellent' people?
(It is amazing how many people have accepted mediocrity as an appropriate level of fulfillment. On the other hand, the same people idolize individuals who have grown 'larger than life' because they represent so much more than they imagine they themselves can ever achieve, but would love to.)
More important than financial success is one's success as a person. The latter requires an evaluation process called Cheshbon Hanefesh, or, an accounting of the soul (Much of the advice mentioned here is based on teachings of Rabbi Noach Weinberg, Dean of Yeshivat Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, and appears in his tape series, 'The 48 Ways to Wisdom'.) The following questions help a person to do such an accounting.
Question: What are you living for?
One way to answer this question is by phrasing it differently: what would you die for? If you don't know what you would die for then it is certainly difficult to know what you are living for. It doesn't mean that you have nothing to live for, it just means that you have yet to articulate your personal cause to yourself.
Moments of crisis often point these things out to people. Life or death decisions make a person evaluate what they hold most dear. However, such moments are often fleeting, and don't provide enough of an opportunity to work out issues one was supposed to have considered as a young adult. Instead, mistakes are continually made, and often tragedies occur as a result.
Such a fundamental question must have an answer. It is not good enough to assume you know what you are living for... lest you die for the wrong thing! The answer itself may go through a refinement process as you age, but with some form of answer you're at least headed in the right direction.
Question: What is the purpose of Life?
Life is our most valuable possession. Imagine walking into an employer's office and saying, "I need $50,000.00." The boss raises his eyebrows, astonished and curious about such a bold request. "What do you need the money for?" he asks politely. "Oh, I don't know. I was hoping that the purpose would become clear to me as I spend the money!" Does the employee get his money? Not a chance.
Or, imagine walking into a chemistry class, taking out a couple of test tubes and a few chemicals. Curiosity aroused, the professor asks, "And what do you intend to do with all that?" The answer? "When I find out, I'll let you know!" Does the student get the go-ahead for the experiment? Not in most classes.
Imagine one more scenario. A person says to God, "I want a life." God says to him, "And what do you plan to do with it?" The person confidently replies, "Does it make a difference? Well, anyhow, I figure that's a question better dealt with at a much later stage. Or, perhaps, never at all."
We won't spend fifty thousand dollars without being able to trace every last nickel to a personally meaningful cause. We won't use test tubes without first articulating the purpose and methodology of an experiment. Yet, we readily permit precious moments of life to slip by, without even asking a single question such as, "Is this a meaningful use of my time?" "There is no objective purpose for life..." is an answer one can only give after having checked out the validity of such a statement. To assume that Life has no purpose is to pick up a Seiko quartz watch in the desert and assume that it was randomly created by cross winds, without purpose and without design. Ludicrous? How much more is this so to assume that Life is random, without design, and without ultimate purpose. Check it out. (There are many books that deal with this topic in detail, such as, 'If You Were God', by Aryeh Kaplan, and "Permission to Believe", by Keleman.) You owe it to your self.
Question: How do you wish to be remembered after you die?
Dying is not an issue people wish to confront. It ranks up there with vulnerability, social responsibility, and similar-type issues. In truth, most of us tend to avoid the fact of death to such a great extent that we actually live our lives as if we believe that we won't ever die. If only people understood that confronting death is really confronting LIFE.
Life is very distracting. We get sidetracked by so many relevant and irrelevant issues that we lose the forest through the trees (if in fact we ever had a clear view of the forest in the first place!). Before you know it, peoples' whole concept of success can miss the mark in terms of their deeper philosophy of life.
One quick way to wake yourself up to where you are going with your life is to imagine being conscious at your own eulogy. What will people say about you? What do you want them to say about you? Now's the time to figure out what the answer to that question is, and the rest of your life is for making yourself into the kind of person they can talk about in that way.
Question: What impact do you wish your life to have?
In a world of billions of people it is hard to imagine that each and every one of us can make that big a difference. The Torah teaches us to believe that this is so, especially if we intend to realize our full potential. We can make a difference.
The above question helps people to focus on their talents and natural abilities, the 'tools' that are most readily available to them. Then the question becomes, "How can I use my God-given abilities to have a positive impact on society?" You'll find yourself dreaming of greatness, and reaching for levels of fulfillment you never knew were available to you.
Question: Imagine someone approached you for advice about making sure his life leads him to fulfillment. What would you advise him?
We have no qualms about telling others to extend time, effort, and money towards fulfillment. Yet, it is a luxury that we seldom afford ourselves, when it comes to focussing our own lives towards fulfillment. One way to confront the situation is to pretend that you are prescribing the 'cure' for someone else's life, and then apply that 'cure' to your own life.
Two. Knowledge Verification
Imagine being on a train that is headed towards a destination not yet known to you. You ask the porter if he is aware of the destination, and he answers no. Disturbed, you ask other passengers the same question, and to your utter astonishment, they are all equally confused about where they are heading!
"Unacceptable!" you think to yourself as you make your way from car to car in search of the conductor. "How can so many people be travelling for so long and not know where they are going?!" You calm yourself by adding, "Surely the conductor must know where he is leading this train!"
When you finally reach the front car you open the door and to your horror, there is no one leading the train! A nightmare! A runaway train steaming down a track, with no driver and no sense of direction! Panic sets in.
What should you do? Jump? The train is going too fast for that - you might kill yourself when you hit the ground. Stop the train? But how? You know nothing about trains! Besides, maybe the people on the train enjoy not knowing where they're going, so much so that they'll throw you off the train for even slowing it down! What then are the choices?
For many, the choice is simple: go back to your seat. Pretend nothing ever happened. Pretend you don't know that the train is without a conductor or direction. You can convince yourself that this is true and be blissfully content, if you choose to. What is your choice??
Individuals' lives, and whole societies, are often like trains without conductors, and everyone aboard the train knows not where it is heading. It travels with a hope and barely a prayer, steaming down tracks it did not lay. But what is an aware person supposed to do? Jump? Certainly stopping the train is out of the question. It's a difficult choice to make for those who care to confront it, and many just go right back to their seats and become one of the crowd again. What a way to go!
Question: What do I know about life?
What assumptions and rules govern your daily activities? List each of these in order of importance to you.
Question: Where did I get these premises from?
Investigate what you have been taught to believe. See if the source was legitimate, that is, if the idea was the result of wise forethought or unconscious social conditioning?
Question: Why have I accepted these premises as being true? What is the basis for the beliefs that govern my daily life?
There are two ways to approach life. You can treat life as significant and focussed as landing an airplane, or you can view it to be as simple as flying a plane on automatic pilot. The difference is obvious: the former requires the pilot's attention and involvement, the latter merely requires a flick of a switch.
Which way do you view the process called living? Are you on automatic pilot, simply cruising along avoiding any 'turbulence' that might be in your path? Or, are you actively involved in every decision you make, from brushing your teeth in the morning to what time you should go to sleep at night?
You have to know what you believe in, and why you believe in it. You can't take beliefs for granted. They are philosophies that must be worked out and understood, or else the experiment we call Life will yield false conclusions and valueless results.
The fact that billions of people get up and do the same thing every day without any forethought, does not provide sufficient reason for you to live like that. The fact that society upholds certain values as ideals does not mean they represent well thought-out and correct assumptions. You have to know what you know, know how you know it, and know why you know it.
Question: On which level do you relate to your most important premises - dayah, binah, or haskel (wisdom, insight, or discernment).
Consistency is the name of the game. It is not enough to be aware of noble ideas and preach about them - you must live by them as well. There is an excuse for knowing a good idea and not yet living by it... if you are in the process of coming to terms with it. But there is no excuse for simply ignoring an idea if you know it has true value.
For the sake of simplicity, the above mentioned terms will be referred to as, knowledge, understanding, and integration, respectively. The following provides an example of how to evaluate your relationship to an idea:
LEVEL ONE (Knowledge): It is good to be charitable.And the more reasons you list, the further the idea makes its way into your daily consciousness.
LEVEL TWO (Understanding): It is good to be charitable because it helps people.
LEVEL THREE (Integration): It is good to be charitable, because it helps people, which accomplishes many important things. First of all, you do a worthy act, which increases your own sense of self. By extending yourself to the aid of others makes you grow as an individual. Secondly, the people you help become more independent, which benefits society as a whole. Your giving today makes possible their giving tomorrow, perhaps even to you when you are in need. Perhaps most importantly, you imitate God by exhibiting concern for others, which also develops you into a far more refined individual and makes you more spiritually sensitive and closer to becoming an Elokim. There are many other good reasons to be kind and charitable to others...
Three. Relationship to Money
What is your relationship to money. Based on what has been said previously, how you relate to money will determine your state of happiness. At any given moment in time, you have what you need to be happy. What gets in your way of perceiving this is not how much you do or don't have, but how you relate to what you do or don't have. Some questions to ask yourself:
Question: What does money mean to me?
The fact that you may chase money the way you do may not be because money is important to you. Rather, it may be because of social conditioning, which means that you may be pursuing something others want you to have, but that you yourself could do without. It's important to sort this issue out.
Question: From where did I get my notion of money's importance?
In the process of going through these questions, try to determine where you developed your notion about money. In-so-doing, you will improve your better understanding of whether you more closely relate more to Ya'akov's point of view, or Eisav's.
Question: Am I happy with my portion?
This, perhaps, is one of the most difficult questions to ask oneself. Perhaps you'll feel compelled to answer "No!" which means having to go out and work even harder, and to fret even more over what you don't have. But asking the question and giving an honest answer is the first step in learning how to be happy with what you have.
Remember, in the 'end of days' everybody ends up in the same place. It's just a question of whether you go there happy and fulfilled, or not.
Question: What do I feel I lack?
If you do feel a lacking, it is important to identify what you feel you need. Sometimes just articulating your needs puts them into perspective. You either come to realize that these 'needs' are superfluous and not worth the worrying, or, you begin to see a way to fulfill them.
Next, prioritize the list of remaining needs that you deem worth pursuing. Then set target dates by which you plan to have satisfied them. The result will be that you will either look back from the target date and wonder why those needs seemed so important to you at the time, or, you'll be energized to meet your goals.
Question: What do I have?
It is amazing how much we take for granted. As the expression goes, "you don't know what you have 'till it's gone." It is tragic when we become aware of the value of something we owned only after we lose it. Obviously great effort must be made to continually appreciate what you have while you have it.
It is equally amazing how just listing everything you have at your disposal, from eyes and ears to cars, can make a person feel exceedingly happy. This is because the nature of man is to become desensitized to the good that he has, to see it as 'old hat'. By reminding yourself of what you already have, you can feel the joy of possessing such gifts.
Question: How much do I want because I need it, and how much do I want because I want it?
Needs and wants are quite different. To need something is to require something that you know is indispensable for achieving fulfillment as a spiritually developed individual. Of course, as you redefine fulfillment, your needs will likewise require adjustment.
Wants, on the other hand, are not for fulfillment. They may add a little spice to your life, but you don't need them. In fact, if you were to stop and analyze why they're so important to you, you'd probably stop wanting them. It is the nature of the yetzer hara to make us want things that we don't really need.
Question: What are my needs?
This question is more complicated than it seems. To know your needs is to know your self, your potential, and your goals in life. What in society and our upbringing promotes such self-discovery? Why must it only be after problems develop that we go in search of our true selves? The search must happen, and it is best if it begins early, lest one spends much of his life fulfilling needs he doesn't have!
Question: As a minimum, what do I need to .'make it?' Do I already have that now?
Imagine yourself on a deserted island with the basic necessities of life and nothing more. Could you make it? Would you have a choice?
There are many stories, some true, about people who found themselves marooned on an island, forced to start life over again from the bottom up. Upon being discovered, they regretted having to leave their new-found paradise to return to 'civilization', where they knew life to be needlessly more complicated.
The trick is to create your little oasis in the midst of society. You do this by sorting out your most important necessities, and focussing your energies on fulfilling only those necessities. The balance of your time should be spent becoming more knowledgeable, more spiritually aware, so that you can enhance your self, and become more fulfilled.
Four. Thought Management
It is amazing how much we let issues control our mind and lead us to worry. Concerns can consume us and then interfere with the task at hand. A little voice says, "But I just have to think about it now... How else will I resolve the issue before it ruins my life?!"
The net result: no resolution, and the worthy event we were involved in passes us by, since we were too busy to notice it. This is why a person requires a system of 'thought management' to make sure concerns don't get more 'air time' than they deserve. A relaxed mind is an able mind... And a clear mind is the only environment in which ideas take root and grow into solutions.
Few issues consume more of people's waking hours than money. Firstly, money is the 'currency of survival'. Secondly, money tends to define success, which many take to mean fulfillment. (Obviously, belief in God and His wisdom to know what you need when you need it, reduces the need to think about earning a living more frequently than is reasonable. Furthermore, trust in His desire to help you out makes it even easier to turn your thoughts to more pressing matters.) Clarity on what constitutes true fulfillment, combined with thought-management should help a person to avoid allowing financial concerns to overwhelm them.
Question: What concerns me on a daily basis?
List all of the concerns that confront you on a daily basis, and categorize them in the following way:
If it's a concern that, as a responsible person you have to confront, then it's a 'real' concern. However, if you are overly concerned about it, then you are being 'unreasonable'. Perhaps it's something that you don't have to deal with, but for some reason you can't get it out of your mind and it plays on your 'imagination'. For example:
I need to...
|1. Feed my family||RL/RE|
|2. Pay the Rent||RL/RE|
|3. Make a million dollars||IM/UR|
|4. Travel the World||IM/UR|
And so on... Having done this, it should be much easier to prioritize your concerns.
Question: How much time per day does each concern warrant?
The next step is to consciously determine how much time is reasonable to spend thinking about each issue, if spending time on the issue is reasonable at all. This device helps you to put that 'little voice' back in its place. You can simply tell it, "This is not the time to be thinking about that!"
Another step is to map out parts of your day that are most suited for thinking about a particular concern. For example, it is easy to drift off while riding on a subway to work, whereas it is difficult to take out a pen and paper to make calculations. Use that time to think of ideas that do not require making notes.
Likewise, there are parts of your day when you tire and find it difficult to concentrate. Use those moments to get involved with concerns you want to think about, but which aren't appropriate to dwell on during your most productive hours.
Knowing you have allotted times for various different concerns makes it easier to achieve quality control over your thinking patterns.
These are but a few of the ideas and techniques one can use to strengthen their base of knowledge, and take control of the development of their self. They are simple ideas, and most will have been mentioned somewhere else before. Yet for all the reiteration, they often get overlooked even though they can be so helpful. Their simplicity belies their wisdom and importance.
Ultimately, the extent to which one is prepared to integrate the ideas previously stated is a matter of how 'wealthy' one wants to be. But, as the wise King Solomon understood, only...
"If you desire it like money, and you seek it like buried treasures, then you will understand the fear of God, and the knowledge of God you will find."