A friend introduced a concept to me tonight which is difficult, and ruins the way in which I'd like to see things. I would prefer to see things the way I did before, which is within the parameters of a kind of halo, a sort of golden haze. You see, we spend most of our lives trying to justify the actions of others. We try to come up with reasons for why they are all right, for why the people who have hurt us haven't really, and how things are okay. We don't like to think badly of people and would prefer to explain away everything they do. And we end up relying upon weak reasons, and assuming that these are answers to questions. What my friend did was point out two very weak reasons that I rely upon when it comes to the questions I ask myself.
Generally I let myself do the things I want to do. This is especially true when it comes to gathering or amassing knowledge. I have never thought of knowledge as bad, no matter the form in which it comes. It does not particularly bother me if a book is filled with prurient or graphic material, so long as it is interesting and adds to my world view. But that becomes the question- in what way does this book help me? Why am I allowed to read it? Can I only get the ideas available in this book through this particular book, smutty as it perhaps is, or are the ideas available to me from a different source? And if they are, what gives me the right to read this book instead?
I have always answered this question very simply. "I want to," I would say. "Curiousity." Curiousity has opened innumerable doors to me. It is because of curiousity that I should be allowed to research, look into or read everything I want, no matter its content or its nature. And I believed this to be an answer.
So my friend put it very strongly, and even slightly cruelly and said "If that is truly your answer, then you are simply a slave to your passions and desires, as much as the next person down the street."
And I have never thought of myself that way, because I have always thought of people who are slaves to their passions or desires as "others" of some kind, other people, but certainly not me. People who perhaps suffer from some sort of addiction, or who do absolutely everything they want, especially bodily, who indulge their every desire. But do not I indulge my curiousity freely? I place no limits on my curiousity and I never have, because I have never believed that knowledge is inherently bad or evil. But my friend showed me a different way of doing things, one that I have not thought of before, and now I have thought about it and realize that it is right.
What one must do is live an intentional life. One must realize the very meaning behind each possible moment, each second, every minute of time and the way that it is spent. Whatever one does, one must realize the various choices that lie before them, and the various ways in which they can spend that moment. The goal is growth, both personal and on behalf of others, and to amass the skills necessary to accomplish ultimate growth, stronger and better, for other people. So when I spend my time, the question becomes, "Why am I doing what I am doing? What am I going to gain from this? And is this the best use of my time?"
These questions may seem deceptively easy. In truth they are extremely hard. When I sit down to read a book, it is worthwhile to question what I am going to gain from this book. Is it the ideas that are new and original? Is it the point of view that is interesting and novel? Why am I spending my time in this manner- and is it worth it for me to do so? Or as my friend put it, more specifically, "How dare you read books of that nature [those that contain obscene or smutty references for instance] when you haven't learned all of Tanakh, or learned Gemara?" The question becomes- what is my goal, and how am I getting there, and what will aid me the most in my quest for personal growth. Will it be reading this book, which gives me an idea I have seen before, but in a new form? Or would it be reading something else that will allow me access to a new and interesting idea, one that I have never understood or comprehended before, especially if it something in Tanakh, for instance?
To live an intentional life is to realize and recognize the possiblities that lie within every moment. At this moment in time, I could be writing this post, or reading a book, or talking to a friend, or drinking a soda, or innumerable other things. But I have chosen to write this post at this point in time, and now that I have done so I have decided this is the best use of my time and must commit all my efforts and energies to focus on this. The difference between I and someone else is that I have chosen to write this post knowing all the other possibilities and uses of my time. I have chosen to do this anyway. I have prioritized, weighed my options, and made a decision, determined that this is the most important thing at this moment in time to be doing.
In this way, everything becomes more precious. The time I spend with a friend is precious because I realize the other things I have in theory "given up" in order to do so. All things are a form of sacrifice, because every moment is laden in possibility. When I talk with someone, or spend time with someone, this is deliberate. It is not something I do on a whim; it is a deliberate choice on my part, an intentional, conscious decision. Because of this it gains far more meaning.
Do you understand the widescope large-reaching idea at hand here? To live every moment with intention, to do everything because one has understood it and believes that one will gain from it. Not to do things because they feel right or they seem right or because they satisfy one's curiousity, but to do things because they are true and they will help one or others to grow. To do things for a purpose, for a reason, for a goal. To do things, in other words, in order to become and to be the best human being I can be.
It is a burden to live in such a way; it is not easy. It takes much of the light-heartedness out of everything, for one must consider and carefully decide whether it is necessary and why. It is not that someone who lives in such a way must be sad all the time; of course not- but when they take their pleasure now, they take their pleasure deliberately, intentionally, consciously, knowing what they do. The idea is always to know what one does and what it means, not to lie to oneself or trick oneself into thinking that something will be meaningful when it will not be. One must dedicate one's time to a goal and then work for that goal.
One's life in this way becomes a sort of sacrifice, a dedication, given up for a goal, laid before God on an altar. Every moment can be defended to Him- everything we do can and should be able to be explained. In all ways I am working for a purpose. Such is the ideal espoused by such as Halakhic Man. People who live with intention, with a goal and most importantly without lies. Doing things because one feels them to be right, or because one is merely curious, is a way of lying to oneself, of telling yourself something is important because you want it to be important. But that is not so. And if you dared to admit it to yourself, you would know it is not so.
This is a very difficult way to live. I find it very daunting. But it makes all things beautiful because it makes them meaningful. Everything one does, if taken in this way, becomes meaningful. It is a methodology applied to life. Before I do anything, I would ask myself, "Why am I doing this? What is the purpose? What do I gain?" And if I can answer these questions appropriately, in a manner that makes sense and is logical and true, then I can proceed. But if I cannot, and if my answers fall short- if my only answer is that I wish to do it, I want to, I am curious and I want it- that is not an answer.
To imbue a life with meaning is a very difficult thing. It may even be an impossible thing; to offer up every second of one's life to God. But it is something to strive for, something which is difficult but which is beautiful- to try to give every moment over to Him, or to growing in a way that allows me to better serve Him or His people. To live a meaningful life, a truly intentional life; to make all things deliberate, conscious choices...is nigh-on impossible. And the people who would try to do this are those who would become frustrated with themselves for failing, but then, they are struggling to live for an ideal. The only thing which we can ask of ourselves is to truly try, in every way possible.
It is hard, and in many ways I don't want to do this, but since I believe it is true, I see that I will have to try. And I do not know if this is the way that everyone should or must live- I only know that I see why it is true, and why I would have to try.