Friday, October 07, 2011

Do Something Wonderful

Hard not to comment on all the big stories of the week. I've decided to save the great material from the Nobel prizes for future Table Talks.

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” 
           — Steve Jobs (The Wall Street Journal, May 25, 1993)

As as user of Apple computers since 1984 (even in the 90s to the derision of most of our friends), it's tempting to write about Steve Jobs. We loved him because he spoke truth.

I don't mean his speeches or interviews. Frankly, I don't pay attention to those things.

He spoke truth through his actions. He declared that a "good" is a four-letter word! A person should strive for great. He stated that computers could make work more fun. He asserted that everyone, even the visually, physically or mentally impaired, should have access to the new technologies.

But these values didn’t make him a guru. What made him a guru were 4 pillar beliefs:
  • Truth at all costs, even when the rest of the world tells you you’re wron
  •  how you travel matters as much as getting there
  • aesthetics matter
  • create for the sake of the creation, not the money
I know what you're thinking: How does all this tie into Yom Kippur?

I am going to try to explain why we fast on Yom Kippur. I will do so with a personal story, and then try to tie it back to the quote above.

My story actually begins last winter, when I decided it was time to listen to the voice in my head that kept saying, "You should get your body back into shape!"
There is so much great wisdom available on mp3, it seemed to me a great excuse to get on the treadmill. Just like I wasn't taking hte time to get exercise, I wasn't making the time to listen to all those hours of Torah audio that I'd downloaded.

Anyway, in late January I was able to jog/run a mile in about 11 minutes, 10 minutes if I really pushed myself.

After a mile, that was plenty.

Funny thing happened, over time I found myself able to go faster and farther.

By September, my record mile was 7:15. That was after a 1-mile jogging warmup, then starting at an 8 minute pace and then at .80 increasing the speed one notch for every 1/100 of a mile until the end.

But I never seemed to be able to go faster than 7:15. I figured that was just my body's physical limit.

About a month ago I started to wonder if a different strategy would produce different results.

Instead of jogging my 1-mile warm-up, I thought I should walk it and conserve energy.

Instead of sprinting at the end, I thought maybe I should try starting too fast, then slowing down at the end.

Instead of listening to an erudite discussion about Jewish ethics, I'd listen to Beethoven's 4th symphony.
So after the warm-up and stretch, I set the pace for a 6:30 mile, and figured that each 1/4 mile I'd slow it down a bit.

The first quarter wasn't bad (actually, it flew by pretty quickly!) and I realized that I could probably make it to .30 or .40 before slowing down. Then I soon realized I was going to make it to .50 without a major problem.

You can probably guess where this is going.

At .50, the way I felt, it suddenly occurred to me that I could keep the pace up, perhaps even to the end. It wasn't easy, but with concentration it was working.

At .75 I really wanted to slow down. Or should I say, my legs really wanted to slow down.

My legs started complaining, "Enough already, you've proven your point! Slow down already, and we'll make the 7-min goal easily."

But my heart said back to the legs, "Shut up and keep moving. We're going to blast this one out of the park!"

.90 and I could see the finish-line. I could see the tape. I was going to make it. It was taking every ounce of concentration to keep those legs from quitting on me.

Here's where things got difficult.

You see, at the Baltimore JCC, there is a special room that alternates between women-only and men-only.

At that exact moment, a staff member came in to tell me my time was up.

I tried to ignore him. Couldn't he see I was concentrating?

But all he saw was a guy lost in his headphones and going over time.

It was a battle of wits, his determination to get me off the treadmill versus my determination to run a mile in 6:30.

He won. He broke my concentration. 6:40.

I learned two lessons from that experience. Lessons that I already knew, but had forgotten.

1 - I'm not always performing at my highest level.
2 - A lot of what stops us from reaching a higher level is an internal block, rather than external circumstances.

This internal block, in my case, was the comfort of my body. My body didn't like running that fast. The real battle of wills wasn't between the staff member and me, it was between me and my body.

And that's why we fast on Yom Kippur. We fast in order to remind our bodies (and ourselves) who's really in charge.

We wander around all year acting like human beings trying to have spiritual experiences.

On Yom Kippur, late afternoon, after a day of fasting, near the finish line, we remember: Oh yeah, I'm really a spiritual being having a human experience.

That can't happen on a half-day fast, nor on a 3/4-day fast. Only after about 23 hours or so of denying your body the comforts of food and water can you really truly get it to shut up. Then you've won.

But what have you won?

If you were only fasting, the very least you've won is the knowledge that you are in control of your body and not the other way around.

If you were using Yom Kippur to reflect on your life and your mistakes of the past, then you've won a great deal more. You've conquered, temporarily, that one force in your life that always derails your attempts at greatness — your body and ego.

Isn't that a happy ending?

I promised I'd tie this back to Mr. Jobs.

Here's another quote:

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” — Steve Jobs, [Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]

Happy Yom Kippur!!

PS - This new vid puts a similar spin on Yom Kippur:

PPS - Yes, 2 days later I tried again and hit 6:30. Now that I know I can do it, it doesn't seem like such a big deal.

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