February 4, 2013
The Point of Life?
By Yeshaia Blakeney
If one were to come hangout at Beit T’Shuvah (and I invite you to) they would probably use one word to describe it...crazy. Really I shouldn't joke about it, there are weeks when people in our community are suffering and there's a tension in the air, when both staff and residents have difficult decisions to make and the end result is unknown. I was talking to a friend about what makes Beit T’Shuvah so unique but also so difficult. And the conclusion I came to is that at Beit T’Shuvah, human life is the bottom line. I think if the bottom line was money, or profit, or making the most efficient computer out there, it would still have its challenges but of a different kind because the point would be clear. We would know if we were in the red, or the black or customers agreed that we make the best computers, or the cheapest t-shirts, however our "business" is not quite like this. We are in the mental/spiritual health arena and even at most other treatment centers the goal is more clear: abstinence from drugs and alcohol and the appearance of smooth functioning. If somebody can stay sober and look pretty good for a descent length of time they've done their job. But at Beit T’Shuvah sobriety is not the point (at times we might settle for that) we are much more ambitious, nothing short of living well, of living a spiritual life, those are the areas which we trend towards. But here's where it gets difficult. The question that comes into mind for me is what is the point of man/woman. I mean, if I want to help you live well what criteria do I look at? How do we define living well? Socrates asked the question in another time phrased as what is "the good life?" Is it personal happiness? Social success? How much you help others? Independent? Interdependent? All of the above, none of the above?
So, from my point of view here's where some of the confusion lies. We are not sure what the point of man is, I would say these days we’re not even sure if there is a point. I would argue there is a point, and a process, a particle, and there's a wave. Man by his very nature being endowed with free will is both an ends and a means. Most wise scholars and sages would agree that no man should be a means to another man. That men are ends in and of themselves. That individual people and the lives they live are the point. Their happiness, their independence, their relationships, their creative capacity, their love, their pain, their joy, that is an end in and of itself. But here's where it gets tricky. Man is also a means. If the point of MANKIND is our individual ends, then life becomes a little absurd. One of my favorite quotes comes from a scholar named Huston Smith who says, "the self is too small for perpetual enthusiasm.” That we as individuals, our lives aren't big enough, important enough to stay jazzed about, eventually most descent human beings get sick of their own petty desires, opinions, thoughts etc. Now a psychologist might say I’m suffering from self-esteem issues, but a religious person would tell me I'm missing the point if I think the point is me, because mankind is also a means, I mean a wave, a process. Our sources tell us that history is leading somewhere, That mankind is of the utmost importance for the sake of something greater healing, for G-d and Tikkun Olam healing our broken world.
Our choices have sacred consequences in a larger spiritual matrix which cannot see, but in moments of great insight can sense. Are we Important? Yes as a tool to bring about redemption. Individual life is a paradox, an end in itself but also a means to an end.