Shmot: In flow

Let's use the Exodus' lessons to galvanize another Redemption.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow,

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

Need A Break?
Have you ever felt worn out and ready for a break? You wake up in the morning and all you can think about is getting away and doing nothing. Sometimes you only need a day, sometimes a week, but sometimes you feel like you could use an entire year. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you want to be happy, don’t go on vacation. Go into flow.

It’s uncanny. Whenever we have nothing to do, we start looking for something to do. If work was so terrible, the word ‘boredom’ wouldn’t exist. The fact that we grow bored and desperate for distraction is indication that inaction is just not the way we were built.

Sometimes children give us insight into life because they are pure and natural. When they have nothing to do, they complain. And they say it like it is, “Oy, I have nothing to do!” as if that’s a tragedy. We look down from our sophisticated perches and muse, if only I had nothing to do. But the fact is that they are right. We think we want to do nothing, but once we are doing nothing, we can’t stand it either.

This is because man was not built to do nothing. Man was built to work. When we are at work, we are in synch with our inner purpose. Our entire system is in flow. When we sit idle, we are at counter-purpose. We feel wrong and can’t put our finger on it. Why are we unhappy with the idleness we once craved?

In Flow
Sometimes we get so absorbed in our work that we lose track of time. The task at hand occupies our entire focus, creativity and energy. It absorbs us completely until we are unaware of our surroundings. Psychologists call this the state of flow because our entire system is in flow at such times.[1] All our faculties are in synch. We don’t even realize how much we enjoy it because we are not aware of ourselves. We are only aware of the task at hand.

Not being self-aware defines the state of flow.[2] When the task at hand is not all-consuming, it doesn’t challenge or take up all our faculties. When we are at work and part of our brain is still available for self-awareness, we are not fully absorbed. Part of us isn’t at work and that part is bored. It isn’t in synch with its inner purpose. We don’t enjoy such work because that part of us isn’t occupied, it’s out of rhythm.

When we are in flow, fully absorbed in our task, we don’t notice fatigue, hunger pangs, passage of time or the presence of others. When we snap out of it at the end of the task, we notice the clock and can’t believe how much time has passed. Snapping out of flow and coming to the realization that we had just spent hours in flow produces the greatest delight known to man.

Psychologists today agree with Jewish mystics of old that it’s better to be worn and happy than rested and weary. So why do we crave vacations? Because the happiness comes at a price. The experience of flow is so absorbing that it leaves us exhausted. We crave some rest and want a break, but when we get it we realize that we aren’t happy. We feel underutilized.

That is the dichotomy of life. If you measured brain waves while in flow you would not find a happiness reading. You would find strain, effort and concentration. But if you measure it after flow, you would find two things, exhaustion and happiness. To be happy, you have to work hard, give it your all and move forward. The moment you stop, you grow bored, which is just another word for unhappy.

In Action
Man was created to toil.[3] To sit back and rest is mere vanity and vanity doesn’t satisfy. In action, we are happy. At rest for lengthy periods, we grow weary and lethargic, grumpy and unfulfilled. We can fight this truth for a while, but in the end we must admit it is true. It is why retirees seek new interests and hobbies. Life can only be enjoyed through the windshield, not the rear mirror.

General Ariel Sharon once told the Lubavitcher Rebbe that he often speaks to youth groups and encourages them to take pride in their Jewish ancestry. The Rebbe wanted to know how he urges them to express their pride. Sharon didn’t understand. Pride is a feeling. It means not to be ashamed of our glorious people and meaningful past. Is it necessary to express it?

The Rebbe replied that inactive pride holds little meaning. It can last for one generation, but won’t be absorbed by the children. The next generation won’t identify with pride based Judaism unless it is expressed in action. Advise them, suggested the Rebbe, to let their pride mark their daily life through Mitzvot and Jewish traditions. Pride channeled into concrete action can be lasting.

If it is actionable, we can sink our teeth into it. If it’s just an idea, it isn’t real for us. It’s not enjoyable to live in the ivory world of ideas. We live in the world of action. We are only happy in action. Life is only real for us when we are in action. If we can show our children how to be in flow with Judaism, they will love it and make it part of the next generation. If it is just an idea, if rituals are boring family pastimes, they won’t be inspired to transmit them to their children.

In Egypt
We are taught that in Egypt, our ancestors neglected most of the traditions they had learned in the homes of their forefathers. The only traditions they maintained were the avoidance of gossip and the preservation of their Jewish names, language and attire.[4] They had jettisoned their Jewish ideas and turned to idol worship,[5] but because they were Jewish in four areas of action, they were redeemed.

Acton is real. If you are Jewish in action, you are Jewish for real. Of course flow means that your actions are in concert with your mind and heart and that is the best state, but if you have to choose between ideas and actions, creed and deed, it is the latter that is true and real in our world.

Imagine how much more quickly they would have been redeemed if they kept more than just those four. Now imagine this. If we keep these four traditions, if we avoid gossip, use our Jewish names exclusively, wear our kippah in public and speak Hebrew and at all times, we too will be redeemed. And guess what. If we do more, we will be redeemed even faster.

My dear friends, we have waited long enough. Let’s bring Moshiach now.

Sources:

[1] Stephen P. Robins, PhD, The Truth About Managing People [Pearson Education inc. 2015) p. 61.

[2] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PhD, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience , p. 62

[3] Job 5:7.

[4] Vayikrah Rabbah 32:5.

[5] Shemos Rabbah 21: 7.



More Arutz Sheva videos:


top