Monday, August 17, 2009

What's Next

[The following questions came from a graduate student researching middle–aged clergy. The questions thoughtful, and I share my answers with you if only to get those of you who are my age (58) and older to think about how you might answer similar questions.]

What were your goals when you first graduated seminary, and how close have you come to reaching them? I had one goal when I graduated Hebrew Union College in 1981, and that was to create a Judaism in which I felt comfortable. That meant shifting from dualism (God as supernatural Other) to panentheism (God as all reality), which in turn required revisioning liturgy, holy days, and Torah to reflect that nondual theology.

I created my own synagogue to carry out my vision and achieve my goal, and stayed with that shul for twenty years. I would say the experiment was a success in that a thriving community arose around the ideas I was teaching. I have published these ideas in two books, Minyan and Open Secrets, published in 1997 and 2004, respectively.

How did mid–life impact your career, and how do you feel about it? My mid–life shift came around my fiftieth birthday in 2001. By then I had taken my synagogue work as far as I could, and I needed to do something else. I wanted to be free from communal obligations and limitations. I didn’t want to represent anything or anyone other than myself. So I left my shul and focused on my writing and speaking.

Writing has been my passion since seventh grade. I have published about fourteen books, written numerous essays and poems that have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, write a spiritual advice column for Spirituality & Health magazine, and have even had some of my short verse published as greeting cards. My writing has won several awards, and allowed me to reach thousands of people through both my books and articles, and the retreats and workshops I give based on them. So I would say the last decade has been very good to me.

What are your current goals and interests? How do plan to spend the second half of your life? Let me start with the second question. I think it is a mistake to divide one’s life in halves. Given that three of my grandparents were long–lived, and that both my parents are alive and well in their mid–eighties, I expect that, barring anything unforeseen, I will live into my eighties. That means I am not in the second half of my life, but in the final third. [Notice I have no problem with dividing life into sections, I just think three is better than two. Hindus prefer four to three, and that deserves some consideration as well.]

The first third of my life was devoted to earning the credentials that would allow me to do whatever it was I was going to do with the second third of my life. The second third was devoted to making my mark on the world these credentials opened to me. I did this by creating my synagogue, and writing books, music, liturgy—everything for which I am currently known. But the final third…. Hmmm.

Here is what I know so far:

1. I have no interest in going backwards. That is to say, I cannot foresee taking on any kind of communal responsibility. Nor do I wish to be a guru of any sort. I am a seeker, and have desire to either lead or follow.

2. While I imagine I will continue to write books, I question whether or not this is a backward move. Does the world need yet another book? Are books the right vehicle for reaching the twenty and thirty–somethings I hope to reach? The future isn’t the printed page, but the third screen—the pocket Internet platform we anachronistically call a phone. My fledgling efforts on YouTube along with my seemingly never ending Holy Rascals film project may be more indicative of my creative future than anything I have done in the past.

3. Judaism is no longer my primary focus. While I continue to study and teach about Judaism, I have long been drawn to more interfaith settings. Yet interfaith gatherings, even the larger spectacle–oriented events, are too often simplistic compare and contrast affairs that bore me. This is because I have been blessed with, and spoiled by, teachers who point toward a post-religious Interspirituality that honors one’s religion of origin even as it focuses on an unbounded quest for meaning rooted more in mythopoetics and scientific cosmology rather than in neo–tribal partisanship and pre–modern theologies.

4. This means I am searching for what’s next for me. I have made peace with being a Jew, but I refuse to let Judaism define me. I certainly don’t want to take on any other label. So where I go from here, I have no idea. Not–knowing isn’t a bad thing. It may be the blessing of the final third of life. And yet I admit to finding not–knowing anything but comforting. It isn’t that I am choosing not to know, it is that I have no choice but not to know.

So here is what I don’t know:

1. I don’t know if I will publish another book after the next two (The Angelic Way and Tanya: A Guide for Inbetweeners). And I don’t know if I care to.

2. I don’t know if I will make more short videos, though I hope to.

3. I don’t know if I will create a killer spiritual app for the iPhone or Blackberry, though I am working on it.

4. I don’t know if I will find a way a way to more deeply honor and engage with those teachers who have continued to shape my thinking since the 1960’s—Ramana Maharshi, Martin Buber, Alan Watts, and J. Krishnamurti—but I want to.

So, the bottom–line for me is this: I had goals and I achieved them. For that I am blessed and grateful. If I die today I can honestly say I did not live in vain. (Which is not to say I did not live vainly.) As for the rest—I just don’t know.


Patti said...

Thanks for peek behind the curtain. ;0)

Maggid said...

Thank You -
I'm still finding my (new-ish) way -
and I like having - okay, wait - I like pretending I actually have your company along the way . . Which I do rather well (pretending you are traveling along with while i find a bit of balance.) I like having your books - I didn't know I could find you on utube . . so , , hurray!!!! I'll go looking.

Karen said...

Thank you for sharing. I've recently been thinking about the role of goals and dreams in my life, and I appreciate your illuminations.

Maybe I'm choosing to forget, or maybe the dreams I had in adolescence I now look back on as "silly." And my recent memory doesn't reveal any current goals, ambitions, dreams for the future. I recently finished a phase in my professional life, and getting through each day with work and family seems to take all of my energy right now. What down time I have I use to revel in peace, quiet, mundane contemplation, and relaxation. I feel like I'm in some sort of holding pattern, waiting for the next "big thing" to reveal itself to me. Sometimes I feel lazy about all of this. Sometimes I kind of resent society's desire for me to have dreams, goals, ambitions. I think I'll just enjoy the moment and take a day at a time! I guess you can say I do have at least that one goal!

Unknown said...

Thanks, some nice insight into your perspective. I also got an answer about reasons why you attend interfaith events!

Peter Schogol said...

I would really like to read what you have to say on the Tanya. What a glorious choice of subject matter!

eashtov said...

Shalom Rav,

Are you still planning on co-authoring a book with
Pastor/Dr. Mike Smith based on your blog "Mount and Mountain?" If yes, when might that be available?


Mano said...

LeRavRam HaYakar

Thanks for nice honest posting..blessed be you in your not knowing, and may the unexpected ever surprise you