Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I want to get to my second encounter with Ma, but I think we should talk about Pride first. And that's not especially easy. I don't know how to talk about pride honestly without exhibiting it, and that makes this a difficult piece for me to write and reread. But I think I've come to understand pride, my own uglier pride, a bit better over the last few weeks, and that's what we can talk about.

That pride goes like this: I'm not just smart, I'm right. I'm not just charming, I'm convincing and inspiring and very charismatic. People like me now, sure, but when I really get myself together, everyone will love and admire me. I'm not just spiritually insightful, I'm going to radically transform the way we talk about God. And all of that's so because I have a special destiny. In the dark of night, I have these thoughts and hope that they're true.

Even by day, I have grand aspirations. I want to help people, lots of people, discover their own internal spiritual compass. I want to help tell some part of a story that unites us, and inspires us, and provides meaning to our daily toil. I want to be a part of the long and continuing line of spiritual leadership that has helped people everywhere for always. There are always leaders at the spiritual growing edge, and I think I'm as right for the position as almost anyone. I know it's work I would love. But I don't know how to actually do it, and that makes me worry I won't be able to.

I feel like I'm a key, wandering around looking for the lock I open. I feel like I've got a really good idea in me somewhere, and I just need to learn the right words, and find the right references, and I'll express this thing I don't know that I know and be done with it. I have this big, righteous, and specific job to do, but if I'm not smart, charming, and spiritual enough, I won't succeed at it. Walking around, washing dishes, driving to the grocery store, I wrack my brain to figure out what that job is and how to do it. I know it's something about truth, and consciousness, and God, and religion, and the sum direction of history, but I can never quite put it all together. Yet. My value as a person comes down to getting this right, and on time.

But that whole feeling I just described, that sense of a specific and pre-determined trial or destiny - that's a load of crap. It's a tempting fantasy, but that's not how being a rabbi works. That's not how leadership works,  or anything like that. With you, friend, as my witness, I'm giving up that dream. There are critical moments, to be sure, but most of the good work done in the world is slow, gradual, and fuzzy around the edges. If I'm going to be a good rabbi, it'll take some virtues one day and others the next, and no one moment of truth will define me.

And even good rabbis fail sometimes. If I'm just trying to produce some single idea, that idea has to be really, really right, and I have to be really, really awesome to have thought of it. If I'm trying to produce a lot of little ideas over the next 50 years or so, some of them can be better than others, and I can still be a normal, mildly awesome human being.

I think that pride comes out of that illusion of simplicity. Thinking that being a good rabbi means there's some definitive difference between me and the next guy. Thinking someday I'll have that flash of insight, and congratulating myself in advance. Thinking that "being a good rabbi" is something that happens, and not something I'll have to work on, day in and day out, for a long time.

Jealousy, the other vice Ma named in me, draws from the same well. I'm jealous of my father, 'cause he's already Reb Zalman and I never will be. I'm jealous of Ma for the depth and vividness of her spiritual experiences. I'm jealous of Elizabeth Gilbert, because "Eat, Pray, Love" is so much clearer a spiritual travelogue than this is. I'm jealous of Ken Wilber for how brilliantly and clearly he thinks. Smaller, similar jealousies pop up around my friends, and my peers, and complete strangers, but there's a theme here. I'm jealous of people whose spiritual work makes more sense to me than my own. I'm not confronted with how much they struggled to speak so lucidly, and it's easy to assume they didn't have to. 

With all this pride and jealousy, with this mistaken sense of a mission, it's hard to stay flexible. I'm afraid to lose what I already (think I) understand. I've worked hard to reach my opinions, and they're leading me on to my predestined Big Idea (right?), so anything contradictory is a distraction. And if it's not contradictory, why would I waste my time on what I already understand? 

I do listen, and learn, and even change my mind sometimes, but I'm too quick to categorize into boxes I can already account for. I keep thinking I've already got the basic structure, and anything new has to fit somewhere in that. I'm hardly alone in that habit, but I'd be a better man with less certainty. 

I don't know how to change that, yet. It's hard to absorb information I don't understand. It's hard to admit that I don't understand it. But it would be a whole lot harder to reach some one, single, all-encompassing realization that will transform human spirituality forever. Given the option, I'll start trying for humility instead.

So I don't know. I don't really know what pride is, or what my problems are, or whatever. But I'm glad to be working on it. I take a deep breath, I close my eyes, and I let go of expectations. I just am, and I want to know, and God will use me however he wishes.


  1. another beautiful post. the last paragraph, in particular, is so calming and good and true. keep up the (very difficult) good work. love you.

  2. It was you who said something about us being G-d's puppets at one point, right? That is the essence of humility. You are brilliant and charismatic, spiritual and a leader. But just remember, these are gifts that you were given that are essential for you to do the job that you were created to do. Your puppet needed them to play it's part the the Divine drama. Humility doesn't mean ignoring your strengths. Even Moshe wrote in the Torah that he was the most humble man. Humility is acknowledging that our strengths are gifts and using them in kind. You're awesome, I love you!