railroad yard

Growing Up Playing on the Railroad Tracks

I realized that it’s been nearly two weeks since I’ve written anything on this blog. There are a few reasons for this. The first, as I chronicled here, is that for the past week, I’ve been sick as a dog. Actually, the whole family has, thanks to some nasty bug my poor granddaughter (who now is thankfully on the mend) picked up at the Germ Factory Day Care Center.

Oh, it’s not like I haven’t been blogging at all. In addition to the aforementioned Old Man’s Gym blog post, I’ve been attempting to generate some traction on my newest blogspot, Powered by Robots, including a discussion on how I’m developing my forthcoming science fiction novel, promoting my latest textbook (yes, I write those, too), and reviewing a scifi short story available for Kindle.

But that’s not the whole reason I haven’t been writing here.

aloneI haven’t been writing “Morning Meditations” because I haven’t been inspired to do so. I suppose that should be disturbing since, given my life situation, this is pretty much the only spiritual outlet (or intake) I’ve got.

I’ve seen a meme on Facebook that says something like, “If you’ve given up on God because your church has failed you, then it wasn’t God you had faith in.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that meme lately.

It seems kind of trite and not exactly true, though. When I walked out of my little church the better part of two years ago, a lot of people tried to find me an alternative. They seemed to think without belonging to a community, that my faith would wane, and that I would eventually stop having faith at all.

It hasn’t been easy.

But it does go to show that when you have problems with community, for whatever reasons, it is generally believed that you cannot go it alone, just you and God.

So the meme isn’t exactly correct.

On the other hand, it’s not entirely incorrect, either.

I’m writing all this because I’ve seen various messages in social media lately saying stuff like “just returned from such and thus spiritual event and had a wonderful time with old and new friends.” I won’t name names, because that’s one way I get into trouble with “the powers that be”.

But I am reminded of the great times I had in community, both regular, weekly get-togethers and special events and conferences. Those doors are closed to me now, precisely because I closed them (and I had good reasons to do so).

gratitudeThis morning (couldn’t sleep, coughing and return of the evil nose bleed), I came across something at Aish.com, a quote from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Thank You, Gratitude: Formulas, stories, and insights.

A few years ago a person who would be considered successful by most people’s standards shared with me, “Looking back at my childhood, a pattern that I remembered having is, ‘He has more than me.’ ‘His birthday present was better than mine.’ ‘He gets to travel to more interesting places.’ ‘He is luckier than I am.’ ‘He has more friends.’ ‘He lives in a nicer house.’

“On my fortieth birthday I made a mental accounting of my life. I thought about various traits and patterns that I had. The most distressful part of this mental accounting was that I noticed I wasn’t very happy in my life. When I asked myself why, and thought about it, I realized that I kept feeling that I had less than others. I was told to look back at my childhood for this pattern, and that’s when I realized how often this theme came up. There were many ways that others had it better than I did. And my mind was full of thoughts of not only having less, but of being less.

“I realized that if I wanted to live the rest of my life joyfully, I needed to do one of two things. Either I could make it my goal to be so successful in every way that is important to me that I would be far ahead of everyone I knew. Then I would find it easier to be grateful for my accomplishments, successes, and possessions. Or I could learn to gain greater mastery over my thoughts. I would choose to think thoughts of gratitude as my automatic way of thinking. The first choice would take so much time, effort, and energy that I would be in a constant frustrating race with others. I might never reach my goal and even if I did reach it, it was certainly not going to last. Eventually someone would pass me by. This way of thinking would give me many years of stress and frustration and there really wasn’t a way that this would give me gratitude and happiness. It was obvious that the wiser approach would be to be grateful for what I had. Choosing this pattern of thought was one of the best choices I have made in my life.”

So if I feel “deprived” or feel “less” in any way, particularly in the area of spiritual company, I either have to work so hard that I outshine anyone I may be envious of, or I change the way I think about what I do have in my life and be grateful to God for that.

Kind of a no-brainer once you put it that way. Oh, and there’s this:

Ben Zoma says: Who is rich? The one who is appreciates what he has…

-Talmud—Avot 4:1

Talmudic RabbisI saw another “meme” (not really a meme, but it read that way to me) that said something like “Torah without Rabbinics” or “Judaism without Rabbinics”. Yeah. Good luck with that.

Actually, I’ve heard this one before, and more than once. The first time I can remember was when I was in graduate school. One of my instructors described his childhood and how he would literally play on the railroad tracks behind where he lived because his family didn’t live near a more appropriate venue such as a park.

Now you may think that was terrible, and looking back, a lot of people might tell themselves they had a bad childhood because they were poor, but he said at the time, he was having a blast. When you esteem what you have, it’s hard to focus on what you lack (or what others may think you lack).

Over every single blade of grass, there is a heavenly force that whispers to it and commands, “Grow!”

-Bereishis Rabbah 10:7

OK, there is that. It’s easy, without external prompts, to simply tread water in your own little pool, and I have plenty of experience doing that.

In his commentary on the above-quoted Bereishis Rabbah, Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski says in part:

Every living thing in the world has potential, and it is the Divine will that everything achieve its maximum potential. We think of humans as the only beings that have a yetzer hara which causes them to resist growth. Certainly animals and plants, which do not have a yetzer hara, should achieve their maximum potential quite easily.

Not so, says the Midrash. Even plants, and in fact all living matter, have an inherent “laziness,” a tendency towards inertia. Even the lowly blade of grass needs to be stimulated and urged to grow.

We can see from here that a human being thus has two inhibiting forces to overcome in order to achieve growth: (1) the yetzer hara, which is unique to us, and (2) the force of inertia, which is common to all matter.

plant growing through concrete
Image: xellow.com

So while Heaven prompts us to grow, our yetzer hara and plain old inertia counters that. However, if a single blade of grass can push its way up into the air through solid concrete, and if drops of water can slowly wear down a stone, then it possible for a human being, namely me, to pick away at the barriers between me and a more spiritual life, a tiny bit at a time.

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10 thoughts on “Growing Up Playing on the Railroad Tracks”

  1. Me too – the battle to resist inertia and/or the evil inclination and to hear the call to ‘grow’. *sigh*
    I’ve tried giving up before, and it doesn’t work. I can’t throw it all out, I’ve tried. I’m not trying again, I’m just in that lazy spot longing for encouragement that isn’t forthcoming, it must come from within somehow. It’s a daily choice that requires energy, energy that lately I don’t seem to have.
    or do I?

    I get it.

  2. I think the effort is supposed to come first and then you worry about motivation. In my case, being sick pulls my attention away from almost everything. Maybe that’s why I wrote today’s “morning meditation.”

  3. Can I tell you that I don’t like your reasoning? 😉 Effort coming first… I don’t mind the effort, it’s the motivation I guess. I need to *want to* more than I currently do. Hence the inertia part. Objects at rest remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. That outside force could be me if I could muster enough motivation, enough of a reason other than “it’s good for me.”
    May you quickly recover from your illness, and your whole family with you.

  4. Thanks. Feeling like crud is no fun. neither is the surgery on my nose I’m having Thursday. All this from one lousy cold.

  5. ugh! Hopefully the surgery will resolve the problem. All from a lousy cold? Oh man! That’s one humdinger!

  6. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”…and from that which pounds us into the pavement as we wait to gain enough strength for another valiant effort, whether cold, or nosebleed, or the sound of being alone.

    It seems that the effort is really immense while feeling under the weather, but when the sense of well being returns, it seems less hard to attempt the next challenge. Surfers do not paddle when there is no wave coming, but rest in between the swells.

    As for an automatic loss of faith when departing from those that object to your views about that faith….no. It is easier to talk things over with G-d when you are alone.

  7. You reminded me, Questor (with your resting between the waves illustration), that it’s been said sickness is a good time to study — more specifically simply read — nothing but the Bible.

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