For the last week, I have been home recuperating from a planned knee surgery. I’ve done this a few times, so I knew that I would have a lot of time to lay around. I’m not saying that I was looking forward to the time in my bed (pain, uncomfortableness), I was a little excited to have some time for myself–maybe I would have time to read those “important and significant” novels I’ve been meaning to get to, or I would have time to catch up on emailing old friends, or some other “worthwhile” things. I have read part of a novel. No email, but yes Facebook. And, I have surfed the web and watched sitcoms on Netflix.
We always plan to make the best of our time, but we often let it slip away. This week I did read a column in the New York Times by Arthur C. Brooks called “To Be Happier, Start Thinking More About Your Death.”
His lede drew me in:
Want a better 2016? Try thinking more about your impending demise.
Years ago on a visit to Thailand, I was surprised to learn that Buddhist monk often contemplate the photos of corpses in various stages of decay. The Buddha himself recommended corpse meditation. “This body, too,” students were taught to say about their own bodies, “such is its nature, such is its future, such its unavoidable fate.”
Paradoxically, this meditation on death is intended as a key to better living. It makes disciples aware of the transitory nature of their own physical lives and stimulates a realignment between momentary desires and existential goals. In other words, it makes one ask, “Am I making the right use of my scarce and precious life?”
(As an aside, there is a Jewish version of this. In 19th century Lithuania, Rabbi Yosef Yozel Horowitz, the Alter of Novardok, would have his yeshiva students sit and meditate in a room with a rotting fish to contemplate eternity.)
Brooks is not advocating this corpse practice, and neither am I (or the Jewish fish version), but I do advocate the main point of the op-ed: “Our days tend to be an exercise in distraction. We think about the past and future more than the present; we are mentally in one place and physically in another. Without consciousness, we mindlessly blow the present moment on low-value activities.” By “low-value”, Brooks doesn’t mean activities that don’t make money; he means activities that aren’t meaningful.
What are meaningful activities? The answer(s) to that question are subjective, but in a Jewish communal context, our Tradition would answer Torah, Avodah, and G’milut Chasadim–study, worship, and acts of compassion, kindness, and justice. At Holy Blossom Temple we strive to be a community of meaning through our programs focused on these areas. I think that we at HBT can help each other spend our fleeting time in meaningful activities. In 2016, let’s resolve to make meaning in time, rather than waste time because we don’t have that much time.