on being awake

A few weeks back, I wrote about time, stressing that what was most important was the present, and that sometimes there is that temptation to get lost in the past or in preparations for the future. The present is the life we are leading, but of course the present is part of the weave of life that includes both the past and the future. But even when we are aware of that, we often find ourselves taking things for granted, or so obsessed by what we’re doing, that we don’t really appreciate the present. For those of us with a religious point of view, the awareness engendered by that framework can sometimes be of great help in living the present while being aware of all those things that usually intrude on our enjoyment of the passing day.


But religion itself, and many of the frameworks of religious teaching, are influenced to a great extent by both the teacher and the student. We liken the torah to water, and those who study it to vessels that hold that water. And as you know, sometimes a vessel lends its own taste to the liquid within, for good or bad… and he that drinks it, can taste the vessel too. In that connection, I am reminded of the wooden barrels in which fine whiskey is aged…

charity will save one from death

A person can hear the greatest wisdom, and misunderstand it because he is occupied with himself, and interprets whatever he hears as it might apply to him. I think that this problem has lead to a certain resentment towards religion in certain quarters, and sometimes even an antagonism to it, though none of us are doing religion a favor by accepting some of its wisdom, just as we wouldn’t be doing technology a favor by using the computer or the telephone. For instance, I remember walking by a charity box near one of my favorite markets in a nearby neighborhood, and I saw a big sign, saying, “charity will save one from death’. The message was so emphasized, that I wondered if those who had put up the sign had intended to confuse the giver. Charity can sometimes save a needy person from death… and sometimes too, not being able to find charity in one’s self, is a sort of death… but there is something cynical about such signs, and that sort of message can be very alienating.

a winter reflection at the white park in Jerusalem

When thinking about living in the present, it occurs to me, that one of the best tests of whether we are truly enjoying the present, is to think, if my end was approaching, would this be what I would be doing today. I have been in the situation, immediately after one of my heart attacks, when a kind doctor told me that if there were any arrangements I wanted to make before I died, this would be the right time. Of course, at the time, the only thing I wanted was to get out of the hospital as soon as possible. But as luck would have it, my situation was not quite as terrible as they feared, and I have continued to live for a number of years since that time. But if this was my last day, I wouldn’t mind writing in this blog… I wouldn’t mind going for a walk either… It might be even a greater pleasure. But it is just as good writing this post. Even if we are doing something that is not the greatest thrill we might imagine… if we’re putting our hearts in it, and thoroughly enjoying what we’re doing, then life is good.

it saddened me to hear that Kodak was going out of business, this week

That doesn’t mean that it is illegitimate to do back breaking work, or cry our eyes out at times. That too is an important part of life. What we have to do, though, is live the experience as well as we can, with perspective and proportion, while remaining who we are despite the intensity of the experience.


26 responses to “on being awake

  1. A beautiful thoughtful post. I love your analogy of the torah as water and the scholar who reads it as the vessel. How can the vessel not interact in some small way with the message? And as you say., sometimes for good and sometimes bad. And the seeker who drinks from that vessel may pause to savor the water, or may gulp it down quickly to assuage his thirst. He may see the sparkle of light on the surface or miss it entirely.

    It is why I so often tell young seekers that they have to find their own truth deep within themselves. That God won’t give the teacher a message to relay to them …. that He will give it directly, if they clear their minds to accept it.

    And your photos are beautiful too …. the soft diagonal shadow partially covering the charity request. The reflection of the pond which is more “real” than the landscape it is a reflection of. Lovely.

    • Thank you very much, nikkitytom, for your kind words. But do you tell your students that they have to find music within themselves? That they don’t have to learn how to read and write music, or study the development of musical languages through the ages? Isaac Newton, when explaining how he reached his understanding of the principles of mechanics, said, “I have stood on the shoulders of those who stood before me”. The same is true for religion, and understanding god and nature. Were each person to try and find language within himself, we would never have had a Shakespeare or a Bob Dylan. I would suggest that you re-examine this thesis before offering it to your students.

  2. Wisely written. It was so nice to read you dear Shimon. Your photographs are another beautiful touches for me, standing so amazing and so artistic. But, yes, I am so sad too when I heard Kodak… Maybe I wasn’t behind the camera of this one but there were so many photographs of mine were taken by it. Yesterday, -full of memories and experiences, today, -with our experiences and memories, tomorrow, – our dreams… I think the most beautiful thing to know/to learn how to live in today/now with all these memories and experiences… In my youth ages it wasn’t easy, especially when there is a broken years in the past but then you learn how to balance them I think… I do believe in God, dear Shimon, but I can’t say the same thing for religion… For me they are all same just God spoke with us in different time, different places, different languages… Otherwise the messages are same. This is my humble thought. Thank you, Blessing and Happiness, with my love, nia

    • I understand what you’re saying about god. Some people have almost an allergy to the subject. I believe that there is one god, but think that he talks to different people each in their own tongue, relating to what is important to them… their personalities… their limitations… their faults… their needs. Of course, if a person isn’t that connected to the culture he comes from, or the society in which he lives, the words of god don’t mean that much to him… then he has to go searching for his own relationship to god. For most, it’s easier to climb the mountain on a path that is already there. But there are some who feel the need to make their own path. Thank you so much for your comment, Nia.

  3. I really appreciated the comparison of torah to water, and how everything we study is filtered through our own experience. I often confuse religion with God, and for me, they are not interchangeable. I hold a mostly negative opinion of religion, and yet I have a deep and inquisitive mind in relation to God. Sometimes I forget that one can exist without the other.

    I especially heard this part: “live the experience as well as we can, with perspective and proportion, while remaining who we are despite the intensity of the experience”

    remaining who we are … survivor, person of strength, student … all reflections of the person who is the filter through which all things pass

    • I’ve gotten a number of mails relating to the subject of religion… and I realize that in this generation, there is a lot of reservation about the subject; sometimes hostility… sometimes a sort of allergy… As I mentioned to Nia, here on this post, religions are a formalized way of understanding god for an entire people. For most, it is easier to go up the mountain on a path that is already there. Sometimes, a person from a Christian society might feel more in tune with the Buddhist way, and there are many ways. But there are some who feel the need to make their own path. That is usually the hardest way. Thank you, N, for your comment.

  4. Shimon, this is such a beautiful post and I am so sorry to hear of your heart attack ~ I hope your are in full health again. Your post’s theme of being present and aware is so timely.These days, i find myself wanting to do everything and sometimes lacking the focus to concentrate on one thing. With the computer on, music playing in the background, looking at my recent photographs, writing a post, planning an article – I do it all at the same time and am trying to curb myself to one task at a time. I must do this to be fully aware though it is hard. One thing I can say is that whatever I am doing, I try and do it with a happy disposition. As you say: “if we’re putting our hearts in it, and thoroughly enjoying what we’re doing, then life is good.” You put this so well and I thank you for making me stop… concentrate on your post and really let a message sink in 🙂 Thank you.

    • I am very glad, Marina, that I had the opportunity to address something that concerned you. I think that focus give great strength and depth. And though it might seem unfortunate to some, we have to balance our freedom and curiosity, and appetite with a modicum of self discipline. Especially in art, discipline is the way to reach the depths and the heights. I wish you great success in your work.

  5. Such a lovely and heart-felt post that I will read again, and again. Thank you so much for this. Especially today.

  6. I will re-read this post of yours, for there is much to mull over. In Christian circles it is common to hear someone exclaim to a listener, “But, the Bible says [x-y-or-z]. . . . “. In Seminary our Theology Professor told us, “Remember this–the Bible ‘says’ nothing. It is mute. It is a book. YOU say ‘the Bible says’. You’re colouring it through your subjectivity–and usually putting words in its mouth”

    thank you for your kind remarks concerning my work.

    • In this particular case, Weisser, I have to say that I don’t agree with your Theology Professor. I believe that the bible says oh so much; that it presents us with a set of values that go as deep as our personalities… and often can touch our very soul. The problem is, I believe, that many people like to pick and choose, often taking things out of context… sometimes in an attempt to strengthen their own arguments. And of course, we are subjective too, even in our innocent love of a tree, an animal or another human being. But I do believe that sometimes, we can reach beyond ourselves, and touch the universal… and that may be an experience of artistic inspiration, or a religious experience… or both.

  7. Night is coming and there will be plenty of time for sleep then. Today, though, we can walk through the world wide awake. Thank you for these wise words. I taste the flavor of your life through your words.

    • My dear Yearstricken, I have read your post on the approaching night, and I still ache with the appreciation of your words. How good that we can appreciate both the day and the night; both wakefulness and sleep. All of it, part of this sweet adventure we call life. Thank you so much for your comment.

  8. Today I walked through a nature preserve. A woman was out with her dogs~5 lovely dogs running through the woods, so joyful. Then I came home and settled in between my two children and read your blog. It is delicious, this present moment. Thank you for the care you put into your words. I always feel refreshed after visiting here.

    • I am so glad you enjoy my writing, Melissa. I love nature preserves, and when I spent some time traveling in the world, I used to visit a lot in parks and nature preserves. For some people it is important to see the most famous sites, the commercial centers, the fashionable shops, and the museums. I liked visiting the bars, and the parks, and getting to know how people live. Sometimes I visited museums too, but I find them so intense, that I usually don’t try to see everything. For me it is much more important to soak up the mood, and get to know a fee of the place. Thank you for your comment.

  9. No, dear Shimon, I am not one of them. Oppositely I do appreciate all the religions… They all have beautiful messages and words of God…
    I have a strong belief of God. Just I don’t feel myself belong in one of religions… But this is not as you mean for me

    “ …. Of course, if a person isn’t that connected to the culture he comes from, or the society in which he lives, the words of god don’t mean that much to him…”

    I know where I come from and I can find so meaningful and so precious my own culture and society in which I live… For me religion is not being an address for culture or society… You can find believers any where in the world with the same religion… Geographical places can be different, and the religion can be same… I know this is different for your belief.

    By the way, I don’t feel myself almost alone on my way and relationship with God. Because it doesn’t mean that I don’t interest, I don’t read and I don’t know The God’s sacred books… Oppositely I can say this, all these different books are being a light for me, for my own way… I can find light in them… Christianity, Buddhism, Jewishness and Islam, they all say something to me… they all mean something to me… I am not climbing this great and highest mountain with myself… I hope God accepts me,… Just I am not a believer one of them… I am a believer of God who speaks us in different languages…

    You are welcome and Thank you again, dear Shimon. Usually there are two subject for me that I don’t like to talk, religion and politics! They all seperate the people…

    with my love, nia

    • Believe me, my dear Nia, I don’t have any interest in trying to fit people into boxes, or selling them on a particular path of awareness or religious feelings. I don’t feel a need to judge my fellow man. I am sure that god accepts you and loves you just the way you are. I have heard this many times, that it is better to avoid religion and politics. Maybe it is true. But I hope that though I do talk about the things that matter to me the most in this life, which sometimes include religion or politics, that I don’t alienate or offend any of my friends or comrades along the path. Thank you for explaining your point of view.

  10. Shimon, I like coming in here, you make me pause and think. and the allegory (is that the word I’m wanting?) of the vessel and water is simple but spot on.
    And I’ve enjoyed reading other peoples responses. To add my penny’s worth, I’m a believer in faith and not religions, in that I respect and sit back and listen to someone with faith but not someone who has religion. It’s a bit difficult to explain but I’ve come across many people, some who have a deep faith (my mother for one) and others who seem to be wearing their religion. Maybe the latter group are still searching out what they are looking for?

    • You know, Claire, I come from a very different culture, and speak a different language. I know that some people have some negative attitudes towards religion, but I am certainly not trying to convert anyone to my beliefs… nor do I think that I have the answer to life’s problems or anything like that. I see myself as a religious person, and also as an enthusiastic sinner. In my language, Hebrew, faith is almost synonymous with religion, and the concept is also tied to art. To me, the path has many parallels in love, and in nature, and in music and mathematics. What I am trying to do, basically, is to share my thoughts and views of the world, and a little of what I’ve learned… and I sincerely hope that I haven’t offended anyone. I certainly have no wish to create a provocation. Thank you so much for your comment.

  11. Ah the joys and frustrations of language 🙂

  12. Pingback: World Happy Day, and Thank You for the Inspiration | Marina Chetner

  13. Kodak was a very big brand in South Africa for many years, I too am so surprised at their downfall.

    • There was a time, when Kodak was big everywhere. They invented the roll film, and it turns out that they were too attached to film photography, and in the end, couldn’t keep up with the digital age. It is a shame, because they are a part of the collective memory of a lot of photographers… but time changes everything.

  14. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    This is so insightful, Shimon. I really felt appreciated this one. I hadn’t thought about drinking the vessel too, that holds the liquid. So thoughtful, this piece.

    • Very glad that this spoke to you, Noeleen. Nowadays most people drink out of glass, or out of a throw-away cup. But there used to be many different vessels, some of wood and some of clay… sometimes I would even get a certain taste from a silver goblet that was slightly foreign to the drink itself. That’s what gave me the idea. Thanks for the comment.

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