A tale is told of a well-known 17th-century Chasidic rabbi named Zusya, who, when he died, went to stand before the judgment seat of God. As he waited for God to appear, he grew nervous thinking about his life and how little he had done.
He began to imagine that God was going to ask him, "Why weren’t you more like Moses, a great leader?” Or, “Why were you not wiser, like King Solomon, or braver, like King David?” But when he faced the accounting before God of his life, God simply asked him, “Why were you not more like Zusya?”
Our challenge in life, our ultimate task in this world, is to be more like our true selves, our best selves, with our soul radiating through; the individuals that God has called us to be.
Part of enabling that shining existence to be visible and present in this world requires that we pay some attention to ourselves. The term “self-care” generally evokes an immediate image of “self-indulgence.” These two notions, however, should not be confused with one another. Self-care should be a highly valued thread in life’s tapestry for everyone in today’s fast-paced and chaotic world.
In their book The Spiritual Leader’s Guide to Self-Care, authors Rochelle Melander and Harold Eppley urge each of us to be “creating a vision for your life and then crafting a life that honors that vision. It includes caring for your body, mind and spirit, and the resources God has given to you.” I firmly believe that this applies to every individual.
You might think, “Oy, I can’t take on one more thing in my life. I just have too many things to do already!” I contend, though, that this is not about doing more, but about “being”differently.
Most of us are generally very good at doing – we have lists we can check off, and can see measurable accomplishments – while just “being” – being present and mindful, in the moment, in a text study, while listening to or making music, taking a quiet stroll outside to clear the mind – is admittedly much more challenging, and the results are far less measurable in concrete terms. Yet “being” can accomplish a great deal, giving us the tools, the temperament and the spiritual outlook needed to continue our doing. It is in the balance of these things that I believe we ultimately find the key to managing the demands placed on us in our lives. I share with you here are my own daily reminders for “being”:
- Take time for thinking; it is good even when it may not be productive. Take time for being; it is always productive, even when I cannot immediately see the results.
- Remember: Most of life exists in the gray, somewhere between black and white.
- I look for God within the music. God looks for me within the rests. Resting is not sleeping, but letting the mind and heart be clear.
- Nightly recap: Before I go to sleep at night, I look back and review the events of my day, trying to identify what I learned. Then I consider what I know might be coming and what I want to be coming in my life. Reflecting upon what I’ve done in the past and what I want to do in the future helps me not to just run through life. Otherwise, I will end up someplace – and I won't know how I got there
- Give it time. To get clarity, sometimes I have to walk away from a situation and come back to it later. If I feel myself coming up empty, I take a break for while and try to come back with new eyes. Solutions often arise the next time around. Answers are usually within me; sometimes they come from the advice of others, and sometimes they may arise in the least expected moment. With openness comes clarity.
- Gratitude is most important for me in being present. I try as often as I remember to honor and thank the Holy One of Blessing, the Giver of our gifts. Being grateful for blessings and gifts engenders a consciousness of being and well-being.
- With all of our planning and progress, the unexpected still occurs. As the Yiddish proverb teaches, “People plan, and God laughs.”
On airplanes, we are always instructed to put on our own oxygen mask before assisting others. For me, this is a daily reminder that Judaism teaches us to take care of ourselves in order that we can then always be in a place and state of mind to perform acts of G’milut Chasadim.
Cantor Susan Caro serves Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation in Reston, VA. She is the former president of the American Conference of Cantors and a hospice chaplain with Kaiser Permanente. Her experience spans work with youth and adults in a variety of teaching settings, choral opportunities, performances throughout the United States, and creative liturgical and spiritual work.