Thursday, May 9, 2013

My Way

I like to do things my way.

That may seem self-evident, but I have to examine it. Is it even true?  I don’t mean to be self-critical, but do I really even want to do things at all? Maybe I’d rather not do things. What things are we talking about, anyway? Maybe it’s just that I’d rather do other things!

Let’s back up. What’s this about? Twice in two weeks I’ve gotten important advice that is both liberating and demanding.

In a conversation with rabbi, teacher, mentor, friend—Nadya Gross, who runs the Jewish Renewal Sage-ing program with her husband, Rabbi Victor Gross—I asked about getting an advanced copy of the facilitator’s manual so I could get a head start on preparing for the Sage-ing programs I plan to deliver beginning in the Fall. It turns out there is no facilitator’s manual. Nadya told me it was up to me to shape the course to reflect who I am and who my students are. In other words, I can do it my way. In a subsequent conversation with Ron Kravitz, a vendor of shruti[i] boxes, I was asking for clarification on the proper way to chant along with the instrument. He discerned from my question that I felt beholden to a particular set of dos and don’ts that I had received. Like Nadya, Ron proceeded to explain that there was no single approach and that all I had to was breathe and make my own sound. In other words, I can do it my way.

Anyone who knows me knows that that is how I like to operate. But that’s only a half-truth. People who really know me know that I am also very concerned with rules. When working with others I like for us all to operate by the same rules—more or less. I often declare that I don’t care if we have rules or not, but that IF we have them we should abide by them (and if we choose not to abide by them, then let us not pretend to have them). Then there are the times when I simply decide—consciously or not—that the rules simply do not apply to me. There’s that too.

When I described the two conversations above to a retired friend she immediately remarked that that was the whole point of being retired! You get to do it your way now. When I later reiterated these conversations to Debbie she said practically the same thing. So why is it that this is coming to me like new news? How is it that I paradoxically seem to need permission to do it my way? That’s when I started to wonder if I like to do things at all. Maybe I’ve been using artificial constraints as a wedge between me and the actions I purport to want to do.

On the other hand, as I’ve been receiving this license to be me—twice in two weeks—I feel something exciting opening up inside. While there is still some hesitancy—some of the old boo-birds at work—there is also a liberating sense that I am on the verge of great discovery. To paraphrase an old Alan Watts title, I feel as if I am about to truly break the taboo against knowing who I am.

[i] A shruti box is a small accordion-like wooden instrument used to provide a drone in Indian classical music and in my case Jewish spiritual chanting.