Lately, I've been immersed in reading wisdom from Mussar* masters and what is common to their writings is the importance of keeping yourself aware of being in God's presence all the time. Whaaa??? How do I possibly begin to do that? And it's hard to come up with reasons for how, in our materialistically minded culture, we begin to think of living in the spiritual realm at the same time. Not to mention, the challenging notion of God being a presence in our lives in the first place.
So, how might we possibly begin to think about that...especially now, mere hours before Yom Kippur...the culmination of a month of introspection (Elul) plus these 10 days of returning to our most pure selves.
I want to share a concept I heard that helped me work this through, although not exactly with all the details I'll provide. [I believe in properly attributing content, but don't remember where I heard a slightly different version of this story, but if it sounds familiar and you know the source, please let me know].
Pretend that you've been interviewing for a new position at different firms, and are now awaiting an interview with a human resources professional representing a company that is at the very top of your list. The position you're interviewing for is Director of Investor Relations. Your interview is scheduled soon, and you are glad that you'll have these final minutes to prepare a bit more. Into the room saunters a disheveled person, with wrinkled clothing and unkempt hair, whom you clearly surmise couldn't possibly be there to interview for this job of Director. Their overall demeanor is haphazard and sloppy, and not only that....they proceed to ask you for information! "Why are you here? Where do you come from", "What job did you have before this?", and even asking what you ate for breakfast! Needless to say, you try at first to politely ignore them, and then you actively brush them off so you can finish rehearsing your responses to the most difficult questions. Your "subtle" hints don't work, and the person is beyond annoying, asking more questions. So you raise your ante, and act a bit more aggressively so you can get on with what you're there for.
Time moves slowly, but you're finally called in. Aha! Now you get the chance you were waiting for and prepped for, all these weeks. Now you can 'show your stuff'!
Okay, now that you've pictured all that (and have been honest with yourself about your own reactions) pretend for a minute this scenario.....
When you arrive, the interviewer tells you that the person in the waiting room was a 'plant'...placed there on purpose to see how you would handle a difficult relationship.
What's going through your mind now? What would you do differently? How much are you regretting your behavior of just a few minutes ago?
Got that? Okay, so here's another replay.
Pretend that everything about the first situation is the same. Exactly. The only difference is that now, prior to walking into the waiting room, the receptionist told you in advance that the firm has added a new component to the interview to judge prospective hires. Now, you will also be evaluated on how you handle a random individual who enters the waiting area and behaves in a challenging way.
So, what will change about your behavior? Think about this. Why will you naturally be more patient? Why will you be forgiving? Why will you work hard not to judge this person on their outer appearance?
If you're like most of us, you'll change because now, you realize that your interactions will be noticed. You are being judged. Your actions are no longer anonymous. What you do counts.
What if, instead of 'getting on with what you're here for' as I said above, the waiting area is part of what you're here for.
What if we conducted our lives that way? What if we behaved as if we are constantly being evaluated on our actions? Yes, that is just so intimidating....but I think it's what the Mussar masters were going for in recommending how exactly we begin to change our behavior.
We begin to think that we are not just in a waiting room. Our life encompasses all and God is the One with whom we will have an accounting. We are not anonymous. Our actions are being noted.
G'mar Hatimah Tovah. May you be sealed in the Book of Life.
*Mussar: (in brief) with ancient Jewish spiritual roots, it's the practice of step-by-step character development.