These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Family and Destiny

Posted on December 31, 2010 by Michael

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My parents and brother are here now in Israel. It is awesome to be here together with them for the first time. We’ve had the opportunity to travel around Israel, especially to the south, enjoying beautiful hikes and the sunny Eilat beach. Next time you come to Israel, I definitely recommend that you hike some of the trails in the Ein Gedi area. There is so much to see beyond the famous oasis; really stunning areas on these trails.

Being with my family has given me some needed time to step back and reflect on my growth this year. It has been five months since I’ve seen them, and I get a good feeling that we are only getting closer as a family. It is so enjoyable–and essential–to have those certain people in your life that you can always count on to listen to you and have love for you. It is so important especially in this world where things seem to be speeding up towards crisis situations; in fact I would argue that these crises at their root are very much a crisis of family values. We are affected so powerfully by our parents and our family environment. Our education and our worldview shapes our growth and informs just about every decision that we make on conscious and subconscious levels. I think that this is one of the main messages of the Torah, and this explains why Torah takes such a strong stance against all forms of idolatry. When the child grows up with no intellectual or emotional connection to his soul-root, to his people, to history, to the truth of the spirituality of the world; then that child grows up walking in darkness, and his society crumbles around him.

Being with my parents has turned my focus back on my career decisions in a real way. I see that they really want to see me excel, to do something great in this world. I am searching to find the mode of my contribution, and the way that they expressed their desire for me to reach high has had a big effect on me this past week. I care a lot about social justice and education, and I am not sure how to bridge these passions of mine. Ever since sophomore year of college it has dawned on me that we cannot solve all of these ecological, social, and economic crises around us until we can change our habits of thought. When we see and know that we are dependent on healthy ecological systems, when we see and know that every person is a descendant of Adam and a holy member of the human family, when we see and know that true wealth resides in the spirit and the awakening of Self in all beings; when we see and know the truth, then perhaps we can use our new worldview to put a hault on this insane project of extracting utility and pleasure from the world and from other humans to an infinite and devastating degree.

I had a very important conversation with a very good friend about a week ago. I think that we found a way to approach a solution to the mystery of fate and destiny. I will lay it out in a classical argument.

I: There are major factors that shape our lives, outside of our control (Theosophy states that this is the effect of karma from past lives and this life). These factors are our global, societal, familial, and personal dispositions. These determine to a large extent that path that stretches out before each one of us.

II: Despite the fact that so much is determined for us, we absolutely do have a choice of whether or not to listen to the voice of our personal disposition, which is ultimately the strongest voice and the greatest contributing factor to our destiny. We are all swimming through a sea of voices and differing opinions, and these arise from our families to some extent, but mostly from society and the globe (thanks to the internet). Listening to this inner voice of the will is challenging and takes practice, but it is the way to fulfill our highest potential. It is also crucial because it is the sole guide that will light the way towards the straight path that we all must take, lest we undergo reincarnation until we reach our own unique goal.

III: But how does this work? I make millions of decisions every day, and I have no idea what my inner voice is telling me to do, and does the inner Self even care about the little decisions that I make? And isn’t it the big decisions like what school to attend or who to marry that really only make the difference anyway? The answer is yes and yes. The inner Self does care about the little decisions, and paradoxically at the same time, it really is those big tests that ultimately make the difference.

My friend and I solved the paradox this way.

IV: Yes it’s true that the big decisions are the deal breakers. But the little decisions matter. Why? Because the little decisions prepare us for the big decisions. If we have been working to act with intention, mindfulness, compassion, and prudence along every step that we take; then we will be prepared to choose the right path when the great moments arrive. It is like a sport; most of life is practice, working out in the gym. It’s the games that count, but buddy you had better be practicing before game day.

V: Here’s the good news. The most important factor in making the proper little decisions, I think, is to always be in open and compassionate dialogue with yourself and with others. Dialogue is what makes us human. It is our deepest life-blood; without it we are nothing in this current world. If you cut yourself off to dialogue with the spirit and with the spirit of those around you–either because of pride, anger, fear, or prejudice–then you cut yourself off from the simple conversations and deep epiphanies that can change your life drastically and steer you on course. So my advice would be to never never cut ties with anyone for any reason; always have an open compassionate heart for others and for yourself, so that you can hear the important messages that you need to hear in order to make the right moves. This is deep listening, and it is a method of deconstructing your own limited prejudice in a situation in order to hear the truth speaking through the myriad voices around you, and the one voice of Truth within you.