Thursday, August 22, 2013

Holy Task Force, Batman!

It’s been a long time since I’ve convened a task force meeting, the kind I held for decades back in my “corporate” days. I have to thank the rabbi for “pushing” me into it. He was well aware of my studies in “spiritual eldering” over the last six years. Moreover, I had signaled my interest in conducting my first workshops on the subject at our synagogue in the coming year. The culmination of the Aleph Sage-ing Program in which I am enrolled is to do a practicum of this sort with the guidance of one of the program’s leaders. However, I had not counted on the rabbi asking me to also chair a committee with the mission of providing a spiritual context and resources for our community elders. Nor was I particularly thrilled by the idea of being shouldered with this responsibility on top of the already significant task of designing and delivering a ten or twelve week program. The benefit of doing double duty, as the rabbi saw it, was that a committee of this sort would help inform the content of the workshop, making it more relevant to our community’s needs. It would also provide a cadre of interested, involved people to bolster participation in the workshops. I had to reluctantly agree, knowing that the extra work would probably pay off as the rabbi suggested, but I was still somewhat selfishly concerned about having to expand the curriculum to suit others.

Deciding who would be on this committee was next. At first the rabbi started rattling off a list of names of congregants—some well-known to me, some I had never heard of. When he suggested I select a team from these I demurred. I had no basis for choosing even the people I knew, having little awareness of how they would contribute to this particular work. I had even less ability to discern whether total strangers would be a fit. Therefore the rabbi, who has a keen sense of his congregants’ abilities, went one by one down the list and evaluated who would be most suitable. I sent an email to ten people beginning as follows: “Rabbi Ezray is committed to developing a comprehensive program to address the needs—medical, legal, spiritual, et cetera—of our community elders. …he has asked me to convene a select committee to explore issues related to ‘aging with grace.’” My invitation remarkably resulted in eight enthusiastic acceptances. Even the two who had reasons not to join expressed a great deal of interest in the subject.

After a predictable struggle to find a meeting time for ten people, and close to a month after the first email, yesterday we finally met. Kickoff meetings are important. As the saying goes, “You have only one chance to make a good first impression.” A good first meeting is not sufficient to guarantee a team’s success, but it can really help set the direction, establish relationships, and build the foundation for future activity. I can’t remember the last meeting of this kind that I led. It may have been a staple of my corporate diet at one time, but now I was feeling a bit rusty. I dusted off some of my trusty team handbooks to remind myself of some of the essentials of establishing a task force. The rabbi and I met to clarify our goals so I could effectively build an agenda.

In developing he agenda, I had an intuitive sense that I needed to infuse a certain spirituality into the meeting itself just as I would a workshop on spiritual eldering. I decided to open the meeting with a chant—even before our introductions or goal setting. The way I explained it to the team, some of whom were meeting me and each other or the first time, was that this was more than a task force. I saw it as a sacred mission making this a “Holy Task Force.” Every endeavor offers the potential of being infused with spiritual consciousness. This work, in particular held that potential. There seemed to be agreement. I provided a kavannah (spiritual intention) for the chant: “Hodiyeini Yah kitzi, u’midat yamai ma hi—Oh God, show me my end, and what is the measure of my days?” from Psalm 39:5. I suggested that at the end of the chant they could sit silently, eyes closed for a minute, picturing themselves at an advanced age, and with the wisdom of the years coach themselves in the present about how to make a meaningful contribution to this work. I began pumping the bellows of my shruti (Indian drone instrument) to set a foundational tone for our chant. I demonstrated the chant after which the group joined in. After a few minutes we ended in silence as I had suggested. When we opened our eyes the space and the group had been palpably transformed. If nothing else I felt more present, more prepared to be a vehicle for the content of the meeting which flowed beautifully from that moment forward.   

We proceeded through the agenda with introductions, including the unusual detail of “how many years of life experience” each of us had acquired. The rabbi iterated his goals of harvesting the wisdom of our elders, helping people to start early in a process of anticipating and planning to age with grace, to stay engaged in acts of mitzvot even when one’s capacities had become  diminished. The team brainstormed a long list of perceived needs of elders. We set some intentions for future virtual and real time work together.

Later I expressed my appreciation to the rabbi for getting me into this. Just being up in front of a room, facilitating any team of interested and informed individuals is energizing in itself. This is work I have always enjoyed, and done effectively. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed it. To do it in this holy setting, with this A-list group, on a topic of such extreme importance, was all the more gratifying. I can’t wait to see what develops!