I opened this book with five quotations, and now I will take the time to reflect on the reasons for them.
Let us begin with Rabbi Tarfon: It was recorded that he taught the following. ‘It is not your duty to finish the work, but you are not at liberty to neglect it.’ Life seems to present us a series of tasks, and the scale of them varies. Some of these tasks are as immediate as a homework assignment or a pile of dirty dishes. Others are the care for a loved one, or the pleasure of being in a loving relationship with another. These are open-ended and ongoing. Others are large goals that you have taken on, like obtaining a degree, or some creative endeavor. Additionally, I have presented the Rabbis’ idea of Tikkun Olam, the healing of the world, and how we all play our part in this. When it comes to contributing to the wellbeing of others and the world as a whole, they are not meant to be goals with an end; they are ongoing work. Tarfon urges us not to be discouraged. We all have a part to play, but the finalization of the work is not the point; it is the willingness to try that is important. He, like the proverbial Jewish mother, reminds us of our duty to our sense of self and our duty to our community. We must not neglect either.
This leads me to the saying of Rabbi Hillel. He taught that, If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?’ He teaches us a simple truth; it all starts with the self. We have to care for, respect, honor, and love ourselves. It is only from a position of health and strength that we will be able to be of service to others. Each of us has the immediate responsibility to be concerned with ourselves. If we do not show that we are worth considering, who else will? But, he says, if we are for only ourselves, what are we? Self-centered? Self-absorbed? Selfish? We do not live in isolation. We are a part of a community. If we are egocentric to the extreme, then what has happened to us? If we put ourselves above all others, have we not become, at worst cruel, or merely uncaring? Thus we need to harmonize and balance these non-oppositional dual commitments to ourselves and to others. Lastly, Rabbi Hillel teaches that this is not something that can wait for a better day. The better day will never arrive. The day to start is today. We need to act here and now. It all begins now.
To help ourselves, we must ponder the challenge that Socrates and Thales proposed.
‘The most difficult thing in life is to know thyself.’
Thales (624 BCE-546 BCE)
‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’
Socrates (469BCE-399 BCE)
 (Breverton 2009, 9) Attributed by Diogenes Laertius, (circa 200 BCE) in his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers to the philosopher Thales ,(635/620-546/543 BCE)
 Plato, Apology, 38a
We must examine our life by considering the origins of our thoughts and beliefs. It is from gaining insight into who we are that we can know what we can do. This is what I have been trying to teach, to offer you tools that will give you insight into the forces that shaped you.
Lastly, I believe that life is not linear. There is not one single path laid out before us in an unchanging situation. We change over time, and thus opening up many diverse and divergent paths. I believe we should be open to doubt and inspiration. This is the teaching of Carl Jung and the meaningful coincidences of synchronicity. Look around with eyes, ears, and hearts open. Recall that unexpected invitations are dancing lessons from the Divine. Do not be afraid to take time to dance. And, it is all right and even renewing to meander about and enjoy ourselves along the way.
This brings to mind the pleasant wisdom of my childhood ‘friend’, Winnie the Pooh. He, with his Taoist simplicity, accomplished many things that direct action by itself did not achieve. One could think of him as you recall what J. R. R. Tolkien: wrote; ‘Not all those who wander are lost.’
May you find your way.
u would think it was as simple as opening it up and just doing it...but it can be a bit more complicated.
A work of fiction is that simple...you start by looking at the cover, front and back, to see if it connects with you. If it does, you do what the Red Queen told Alice- begin at the beginning and go on till the end. Of course, some of us like spoilers and we cheat by taking a peek at the end of the book even as we are reading the beginning...but that might just be me.
A work of non-fiction is another thing altogether. Roughly non-fiction books are of two types. One end of that continuum is the 'book of facts' at the other end is the 'book of ideas'.
Books of facts are historical or procedural, encyclopedic-- they present details, facts, about someone or something in some kind of set order. Either chronological or some conceptual order- say from the outside delving inward or the inside bursting outward. Biographies and historical books are two of the most basic form of the book of facts and both use chronology to lay things out. A textbook or a encyclopedia are two other basic forms of the book of facts.
How to books can be in the middle of our continuum as they will present an idea, perhaps one single major thematic idea and then show how it works or developed by presenting facts to bolster that argument/presentation.
A true book of ideas offers up a concept, usually original, or at least the author believes this insight is a new one and then uses facts to persuade you that the idea is valid.
In both of the non-fiction type of books, you don't really need to get all hung up with reading it from page 1 till the end. Actually, you should be willing to playfully peruse the contents. Bouncing around and meandering amongst the pages. The author definitely had a plan, and laid it out in the sequence of chapters that the book presents. But, you are not the author and you might have a different idea how to learn. You should not be so confined by the form and structure that you find laid out before you. A good book of ideas will work even when you meander through it. Let your intuition and thus your fingers do the walking. A good book of ideas will germinate within you and will work even if you meander around.
A good book of ideas should never be read as if you have to memorize in detail what is being presented. Nor should you have to worry about getting it totally comprehended at the first go round. If you come upon a difficult passage, don't slow down! Speed up! Race through that complex mess or mass of words like you were running through a forest or swimming upstream. Plow through and don't look back. Your unconscious will absorb what it can as the words run by you even if you consciously don't seem to be taking it in. If the author was a deep enough thinker and a good writer, the ideas will sneak in, seeping through the dense consciousness and lodging and waiting like seeds to germinate later.
A really good book of ideas is one that you read fast through and then put it down. You got what you can--this time around. Let it sit on the shelve. If it really contains something worthwhile, it will call to you with the passage of time. You will start to feel and hear the ideas resonating in your mind and you will want to and feel the need to go back to that book. You will find on the second, or third, or X time you re-read it that somehow the author improved in her writing and things are clearer now than when you first read it. She just did a better job writing this book when you re-read it. Things hard to understand will now seem clearer.
So, don't be discouraged. A good book of ideas can and will change your life. Just don't let it stop you and don't think you have to memorize or understand it all the first time around. If it doesn't seem relevant to you, then your unconscious will just not bring you back to that book.
But if it was relevant, you will feel compelled to go back and re-read it and re-explore its topic and presentation of ideas.
Enjoy and may you always find your way.
I listed as one of my guiding principles the phrase:
The beginning of wisdom is the realization that you may be mistaken; mistaken in your observations, your analysis, or your conclusions.
Let me explain.
A fool, who is the opposite of someone wise and is also someone lacking in practical knowledge, would assume that to accept and admit that you can make a mistake is an act of defeat, resignation, an admission of weakness, or some such notion. A fool forgets the simple ‘carpenter wisdom’ of the proverb “measure twice, cut once.” That simple proverb is a variation on the same theme as my phrase. Recognize that you could make a mistake, plan for it and anticipate it be checking your work before implementing the act.
That is what wisdom is, simple, neat, and elegant.
Wisdom is different from knowledge or being smart. Both of those is about acquisition of information. Wisdom is knowing how to be and how to act. You don’t have to have factual specific knowledge about anything and can still be wise or act wisely. Wisdom is having knowledge of how to be and act to create harmony.
I define wisdom as the striving for harmony. Trying to find harmony within oneself, with others and with the world at large.
My phrase is about recognizing a truth about us all. That we are not simple or only conscious thinking beings. We are also, and mainly, do most of our thinking unconsciously. It is there were we are shaped and led for good or ill.
Here I am back at ideas that shape us and back to the idea of bias. Those hidden influences and assumptions that can take control and guide us. Wisdom is recognizing those real influences and anticipating consciously their contributions.
The carpenter proverb is about forethought and planning. Whereas mine is indirectly concerned with the same theme. The carpenter proverb directly gives advice about how to act, whereas mine is more in line with Miguel Cervantes proverb of ‘forewarned is forearmed.’ [Cervantes, Don Quixote, Part II, Book III, Ch. 10.] It simply alerts you to be aware, be open, and be cautious and then it gives advice once you realize that the outcome of your action was not what you expected. If the outcome was not desirable then my saying gives you suggestions about what to do next.
It points towards the various steps in the cognitive process, observation, analysis, and conclusion forming, and how each step needs to be checked and consciously examined for those hidden assumptions and biases, those shaping influences that could be the culprit that lead you astray.
My phrase warns you that the ‘simple act of seeing’ is not really so simple. You see what your nature, nurture and culture trained and influenced you to see. You see according to your biases and expectations.
The way to overcome those unconscious influences shaping your observations when you revisit a mistake or you simple want to go back and check your work, is to physically do it differently. You need to understand that your unconscious assumes that it got it right the first time and will fight you in trying to check for mistakes. At least it may do this. It won’t if you have inculcated as one of those biases and shaping ideas the carpenter’s proverb or my own. Then you will have the bias of acting wisely and you will be ‘forearmed to be forewarned’.
Most of us have not been shaped by such wisdom.
Many of us have been taught the arrogance of being right.
That assumption can prevent you from seeing things as they are.
Hence my advice to physically do the checking by doing it in a manner physically different that the way you did it the first time. Go to a different place, sit in a different way, move the objects in a different way, do something, do anything differently. That will trick your unconscious into thinking that you are not doing the same thing as you just did and thus ignoring the possibility of you being wrong. It tricks your unconscious into thinking it is doing something new and different and then you get another chance to look with conscious awareness.
This all explains why it is so hard to proof read your own work immediately after you finished the task. It is as if your unconscious were saying to you, “Hey I know I’m right and I just did that, and I didn’t right so don’t waste my time.”
By physically changing the process and circumstances, you get a chance for a conscious and more effective do over.
At birth, you are on the threshold of your true journey into the human community.
You are uncarved blocks awaiting artisans’ hands and insights.
From the moment of creation, you are potential.
At that moment, how you unfold and where you will wander was shaped by unseen factors.
But not unknowable.
The shaping by those factors is hidden deep in the darkness of your unconscious minds.
If we truly want to know ourselves, you need to bring those factors that shaped you into the light of your conscious mind. By doing this, you can make conscious use of them to change who you are and to help you to find your way.
1) People shape and are shaped by ideas. [A revelation I had when I was nine years old and has guided my life’s intellectual and spiritual journey ever since.]
2) The beginning of wisdom is the realization that you might be mistaken; mistaken in your observations, your analysis, and/or your conclusions.
3) Unexpected invitations are dancing lessons from the Divine.
4) If, and when, you react emotionally to something, some event, some experience, or some idea, that reaction is evidence of your bias making itself known to you. The intensity of your reaction is an indicator of how intensely you value, or how old that bias was acquired. You are indifferent to stuff that is unimportant to you.
5) Do not confused or mistake utility for accuracy. Maps of the Territory are made to be useful, but that does not guarantee their accuracy. Lastly, no single map is every a complete description of the Territory.
To give you a preview, a foreshadowing of what is to come later in the book, I wish to present one of my own overarching themes in this brief description of a mythic map.
I believe that the creator, the infinite Divine, aka the Tao aka Ayn Sof, needs us.
I believe that the act of creation did not go as planned.
I believe that the act of creation led to the cosmos being flawed and in a state of disharmony.
I believe that sentient beings were created to help restore harmony, although this is a choice that each one of us has to make throughout our lifetime.
We are needed by the infinite Divine/ Tao/ Ayn Sof to restore harmony to ourselves, to the cosmos and to the Divine / Tao/ Ayn Sof.
This task that we may choose to participate in is called in Hebrew: Tikkun Olam. That phrase means in English, to heal / to restore/ to repair / the World aka the cosmos.
You are here because you are needed to contribute to this cosmic need.
You are here to assist in restoring, repairing, and healing yourself, the cosmos and the Divine.
You can do this at every moment of your life.
You can do this by any act of goodness, truth, beauty, justice, and harmony.
Will you answer the call of the Divine?
Will you help?
And if not now, when?
[from my book Find Your Way, pp 9-10)