Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
If you had to go live alone on a desert island for, say, the rest of your life… what would you want to take with you? I reason we have all played this sort of party game at some point. Never mind how you would get there, or why, or if it’s tropical or a frozen wasteland because this is about YOU. Maybe you answered Mozart and your favorite wine and a fishing rod — all very good choices! I say this because, at various points in my life, my packing list would have looked much like yours, though in some years I would have preferred prog rock or ’80s techno, some great tiramisu and coffee and a wonderful companion— because life is like that. It’s not that we don’t know what we want— it’s just that what we want changes from time to time— maybe in a direct relationship with how easily we feel we can attain our chosen treasures.
So— what do you want? I mean, right now! And what if I asked you in 10 minutes… or 10 years ago?
Of course, it’s not easy to decide if we think about material goods. So let’s turn our focus a bit to non-material needs. What would you need to sustain you in the all-alone-out-there? Go ahead — close your eyes — or let your eyes wander away from the infernal blue screen you are looking at, and daydream a bit. While you are at it, you may as well make is a lovely place. Just let your heart and soul – and not your brain – speak to you.
My guess is that you would choose exactly what you feel will sustain you right now, in whatever less-than-idyllic place you may happen to be at the moment. But there are so many distractions and responsibilities to sustain our lives as we know them it can maddeningly difficult to make our lives even glimmers of our idyllic fantasies of paradise?
But hey, wouldn’t we also be busy on the island… gathering coconuts, repairing our grass shacks, fighting off beasts who mean to steal our bananas, and keeping the spark of our little fire lit?
So it’s not the distractions that keep us from creating our own paradise here – because we aren’t talking about a place – we’re talking about learning the differences between want and need (I want a vacation/I need balance in my life), between what is urgent and what is important (the bills need paying today/my kids need my compassionate attention), between what we choose to do and what we are compelled to do (the fifth trip to the gym this week/volunteering to bring healing to the world).
And yes, we’re talking about taking some risks. Change is challenging, after all. But what could be riskier than not allowing our souls – the spark of life within us – to experience the lives they were meant to have? Do we need to delay until we have a better grasp on what we want and how to do it? In the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe – If you wait until you find the meaning of life, will there be enough life left to live meaningfully?
I really believe that thinking we can whittle down the distractions and responsibilities will bring us greater joy is the catalyst for the small homes movement, the proliferation of books on various methods of decluttering, and even detox diets. But as my wonderful old friend once said: “You can take your life to the bus station, but it won’t get on the bus!” It doesn’t matter where we are. What matters is not worrying about who may be after our bananas – it’s all about keeping the spark of our little fire within lit.