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LIFE is the Interview
Our spiritual traditions, whether Chasidic, Mussar*, or Kabbalah, encourage us to be aware of being in God's presence—-all the time. Wait a minute….really??? How do we possibly do that? And all the time? How are we are to attempt this, existing as we do in our materialistically minded culture, the moment-to-moment goal of living in the spiritual realm?
As we take in the enormous challenge I just mentioned, let’s not even talk about the elephant-in-the-room assumption that we recognize God as an active presence in our lives in the first place.
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So, how might we possibly begin to think about bringing God into our everyday life? It seems so far-reaching. Maybe it would be possible if we lived on a mountaintop, away from civilization, engaging in meditation and all things spiritual — but not here, in our device-holding, scrolling, posting, and texting mindset.
I want to share a concept I heard that helped me understand this in a concrete way. It was a very short description that I’ve expanded and embellished quite a bit.** So, go with me here, and use your imagination…..
Pretend that you've been interviewing for a new position at different firms, and are now waiting for an interview with a company that is at the very top of your list. Your first choice. Your appointment is with a human resources professional and the position you're interviewing for is Director of Investor Relations. You have about fifteen minutes before the interview, and you’re so relieved that you'll have this window of time to prepare a bit more. You can use it.
Into the room saunters a disheveled person, with wrinkled clothing and unkempt hair, whom you clearly surmise couldn't possibly be there to interview for this job of Director. Their overall demeanor is haphazard and sloppy, and not only that....they proceed to ask you for information! "Why are you here? Where do you come from?", "What job did you have before this?" “Why do you want this job?”, and even asking what you ate for breakfast!
Needless to say, you first try to politely ignore them, but then, you actively brush them off so you can finish rehearsing your responses to the most difficult questions you anticipate you’ll be asked. The non-verbal, subtle hints didn’t work, and this person is beyond annoying, asking you more and more questions, so you act more aggressively, saying things that are not the nicest…so you can get on with what you're there for. Who could blame you?
Time seems to inch forward really slowly, but finally, you're called in. Aha! Now you get the chance you were waiting for and prepped for, all these weeks. Now you can 'show your stuff'!
Okay, now that you've pictured all that (and have been honest with yourself about your own reactions) pretend for a minute this next scenario.....
When you arrive in the room, the interviewer welcomes you and then proceeds to tell you that the person in the waiting room was a 'plant'...placed there on purpose to see how you would handle a difficult relationship, since you may be faced with similar circumstances in this role.
What's going through your mind now?
What would you do differently?
How much are you regretting your behavior of just a few minutes ago?
Got that? Okay, so here's another replay.
Pretend that everything about the first situation is the same. Exactly. The only difference is that now, prior to walking into the waiting room, the receptionist told you in advance that the firm has added a new component to the interview to judge prospective hires. Now, you will also be evaluated on how you handle a random individual who enters the waiting area and behaves in a challenging way.
So, what will change about your behavior? Think about this. Why will you naturally be more patient? Why will you be forgiving? Why will you work hard not to judge this person on their outer appearance?
If you're like most of us, you'll change because now, you realize that your interactions will be noticed. You are being judged. Your actions are no longer anonymous. What you do counts.
What if, instead of 'getting on with what you're here for' as I said above, the waiting room is part of what you're here for. Your life is the interview…but not only the interview, it’s what comes before it, during, and after.
What if we conducted our lives that way? What if we behaved as if we are constantly being evaluated on our actions? Yes, that is just so intimidating....but I think it's what the spiritual guiding masters were going for in recommending how exactly we begin to change our behavior.
We begin to think that we are not just in a waiting room. Our life encompasses all and God is the One with whom we will have an accounting. We are not anonymous. Our actions are being noted.
And whether or not we buy into that idea, when we do act that way, as if everything we do counts, as if we are being judged on what we say and how we act, we become better people. And isn’t that the goal of our lives?
[An earlier version of this article was first posted on Linked-in, during the month of Elul, 2022]
*Mussar: (in brief) with ancient Jewish spiritual roots, it's the practice of step-by-step spiritual and character development.
**I believe in properly attributing content, but unfortunatley I don't remember where I heard a version of this story. But if it sounds familiar and you know the source, please let me know.
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