I meet Z., a third year rabbinical student, for breakfast yesterday, at an East Village café. He is busy reading the journals of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. Why? ‘The man was a genius when it comes to ways of self reflection,’ he says. “He instructed his followers to go into the wilderness for forty day of solitude and meditation. He even wrote the intention for each day – to become more and more like Jesus, closer to God.”
Interesting, I say. This 40-days technology of change seems to be shared by all religions. Who knew? It goes back, I suspect, to the mythic 40. The 40 days Moses spent on Sinai, pleading for Divine mercy, 40 days that Noah spent inside the ark, saved within destruction, the 40 days that Elijah waited in the cave and Jesus walked the wilderness. 40 days is the Biblical time frame for transformation. But is what’s good for the prophets and saints doable for us mere mortals?
Loyola writes: “Act as if everything depended on you; trust as if everything depended on God.” OK. Putting aside the trust in God for a moment – can we work with the first part of this teaching? Simple. What can I do today to make my life better, and to make the world better? Just one thing. One post-it on my laptop, reminding me to, lets say, stop checking emails while I write this, be less distracted, more focused. Or just one post it with a SMILE reminder. Look at the positive, breath before you act. How can I make a difference in someone’s life today? Will I go to sleep tonight knowing I’ve taken one tiny step towards improvement? Maybe we need harsher interventions.
In another quote, Loyola promotes self-mutilation: “The safest and most suitable form of penance seems to be that which causes pain in the flesh but does not penetrate to the bones, that is, which causes suffering but not sickness. So the best way seems to be to scourge oneself with thin cords which hurt superficially, rather than to use some other means which might produce serious internal injury.” Lovely. I think I’ll stick to post it notes. For now. Tomorrow I upgrade the process – starting to go through the address book and deal with the unfinished business of sour friendships and conversations that require resolution. It’s that or thin cords.