A Pre-Shabbat Meditation: “When Shift Happens . . .”

Byline: March 5th, 2010 — 5:45 PM

Life’s Unexpected Upheavals

With all the economic upheaval and uncertainty we face these days, it is important to not lose faith in the possibilities of today’s momentous hour. Nobody can afford the luxury of a negative thought—whether we like it or not, we are on a journey. Where exactly the road is taking us, is anyone’s guess, but the boundaries that have for decades been intact are in a state of movement. When I think about the earthquakes that have devastated Chili, Haiti, and other places in recent times, it reminds me of the economic, psychological and spiritual earthquakes that are forcing us to reinvent ourselves anew.

So far, this has been one real unusual year. It is amazing that life brings us on the threshold of new experiences whether we are ready for it or not.

Shift Happens

A professor once lectured how the borders of the various European nations were all in a state of shift after the cold war was over. The borders of the Czechs, the Hungarians, Russians were changing and so on; all changed. One fellow, with a wry sense of humor, offered the following double entendre: “I hear that even the Poles were shifting (e.g., the North and Southern Pole),” to which the professor quipped, “So what does all of this prove? It proves that “Shift happens.”

Attitude and Change

Indeed it does. Shift happens, whether we like it or not, one must learn to embrace the changes, because if there is any one constant in the universe, it is that change is—and  will forever be—inevitable–except when it comes  from pay phones and vending machines. The evangelical scholar Charles Swindol once said something I can actually agree with, “The remarkable thing we have is a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.”

The Eternal Flux of Creation

My favorite modern Sufi thinker, Hazrat Inayat Khan, wrote about the ontological nature of change–from the macro–to the micro:

“Life is full of inconstancy, at least so much of life as we can see. It is constant changing activity. A mystic calls life motion. It is constant motion in every aspect, both fine and gross, and in all its planes. Where there is motion there must be change and diversity. If there was no motion there would not have been creation and without change, there could not be diversity. The first two aspects of nature are male and female and the significance of them we can notice by keen observation in all objects and even plants, so that we may see the outcome of motion and diversity in life. Colors and sounds are due to rays of light and the changes of vibrations. The diversity of sounds come from uneven and invisible vibrations, while those of colors are even and visible. So that all that is visible and perceptible in form is constantly changing. It is nature which makes them intelligible and we recognize them as life  . . .”

Our attitude colors the way we experience change. A negative attitude can cripple us, a healthy and buoyant attitude can make all the difference in the world.

Yes, change is inevitable. The boundaries of our lives are always in a state of shift and change. Sometimes we have to touch the nothingness and void in order to experience the miracle of resurrection and renewal. All of this is doable, provided we have but the courage to embrace the impossible, and She [the Shekhinah] will do the rest.

The Three Princes of Serendip

Let me share with you a caveat.

In the medieval period there was a legend about the “Three Princes of Serendip”  (the ancient name for Ceylon). Three young noblemen take off to discover the hidden treasures of the world before them. Rarely did they find the treasures they were actually looking for. But as Providence would have it, these three princes constantly found themselves discovering other treasures that were equally great or even greater which they were not seeking.  In looking for one thing, they found something else.

It dawned on them, that this was one of life’s clever and wonderful tricks. When they realized this, they developed a whole new slant on life, and every day resulted in a new and thrilling experience.

Even though their goals eluded them, they discovered fame and fortune beyond their wildest dreams. They came to realize that there is an Unseen Power who knew what was best for them in the long run.  This was the gist of the old legend. When the princes began to “dip” into life with “serenity” everything happened that was exciting. [1]

The story of Serendipity in many ways, resembles the personal narrative we all have. Life can also be seen as an adventure.

Learning to Risk

The Chinese have a saying, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Every great journey—whether it be an attempt to climb Everest, or the journey to awaken the human spirit—calls for great courage, patience, and steadfastness. To bring to realization any significant quest or possibility, we need to get in touch with the deepest recesses of our hearts and souls to bring it to a new and transformed reality. Adversity teaches us what we are truly made of, for the heart of a warrior demands that we dare to risk.

Risk is an essential part of our heroic journey. As one poet once wrote:

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach out for another is to risk involvement.

To expose feelings is to risk exposing our true self.

To place your ideas, your dreams, before the crowd is to risk loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return.

To live is to risk dying.

To hope is to risk despair.

To try at all is to risk failure.

But risk we must, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The man, the woman, who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, is nothing. As we venture forward on the journey ahead, we enter into new and unfamiliar territories; we find ourselves seized with moments of fear, doubt, and uncertainty, who serve as companions in our travels, yet travel on we must! Few journeys are completed without an occasional detour or distraction. And as we make new beginnings in our lives, we initiate new directions. The very unfamiliarity of our travels means that there are few signposts we can rely upon for reassurance.

Journey through the Wilderness

Inevitably, we will feel as though we have lost our way, and have made mistakes; we wonder whether we will  ever complete our journey and still be  intact. In the Torah the metaphor of the wilderness is one of the most important images of Scriptures. God shepherds us in the wilderness as we attempt to find our way to the “Promised Land” of spiritual fulfillment.  In a simple sense, the wilderness with all its profusion represents a realm of chaos that threatens civilization. In psychological terms, the wilderness may be found in the depths of the unconscious; it is a region that leaves one feeling helpless, alone, and out of control, which threatens to turn all orderly life  topsy-turvy.  This pattern occurs again and again throughout the Tanakh. Yet, despite the dangers one faces in the wilderness, it is always the place of revelation and transformation. As a result, the wilderness functions as a vehicle for revelation, conversion, and personal renewal.

Live with a Warrior’s Spirit

A shaman, by the name of Don Juan, once said that the difference between an ordinary person and a warrior, is that with respect to the ordinary man, he tends to see everything as either a blessing or a curse—whereas  to the warrior, everything is a challenge.

As the warrior embarks on his quest, everything is a challenge. As we embark on great journeys and make new beginnings, God beckons us to learn how to become a warrior, but we must be a warrior with heart and conviction. So what are the qualities that typify the warrior spirit? Focus, courage, the willingness to face danger, and perseverance. The quality of mindfulness will also assist us  along our journeys. Acute awareness and an inner trust in our quest will help us find the strength to conquer adversity and win the treasure that awaits us.

It is reported that the late newspaper counselor, Ann Landers, once wrote that she received an avenge of 10,000 letters each month, and nearly all of them from people burdened with problems. When she was asked if there was any one of theme which predominates throughout the letters she receives, and her reply was the one problem above all others seems to be fear.

Let me reiterate: the greatest danger we face in life is to risk “playing it safe.”  Any man, woman, who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, is nothing. People who are afraid of losing their health, their wealth, or even their loved ones–are afraid of life itself.

Therefore, “Choose life that you may live” (Deut. 30:19).



[1] The American Heritage Dictionary 2008 Edition translates Serendipity, “Word History: We are indebted to the English author Horace Walpole for the word serendipity, which he coined in one of the 3,000 or more letters on which his literary reputation primarily rests. In a letter of January 28, 1754, Walpole says that “this discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word.” Walpole formed the word on an old name for Sri Lanka, Serendip. He explained that this name was part of the title of “a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of….”

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