Some performers have a bad habit. Receiving a compliment, they reply “oh, I wasn’t that good”, or even worse, “I was awful tonight”. Rather than showing humility, they are display arrogance and reject your verbal gift.
My LA acting teacher Janet Alhanti said something very strong about this. Her client list has included plenty of accomplished people including Robert Downey Jr, Salma Hayek, Tobey Maguire, Meatloaf and Keanu*, while the teachers she studied with included Phillip Burton (Richard’s father), Sandy Meisner and Lee Strassberg. Janet said “when someone compliments you on talent, just say ‘thank you’ and smile, because it’s not about you. The talent is given by God, it flows through you, and you’re only the guardian of it. This is why it’s also your job to nurture and take care of talent so that it isn’t wasted’. Maybe I’ve paraphrased a little, but I love the idea!
Most of us are familiar with Joseph’s dreams. Firstly he dreams that he’s working in the field with his brothers binding sheaves, his sheaf stands up and all of his brothers’ sheaves bow down to his. He then dreams of the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. There is one major question though. Why did Joseph deliberately upset his brothers by sharing the dreams? Why didn’t he stay quiet?
Some commentators said that he mistakenly thought that sharing the dreams would appease the brothers, because it was only the sheaves and stars who were bowing down, rather than the brothers themselves. He thought explaining the dreams would make them feel better because it was only the sheaves and stars bowing down, not the brothers themselves. How wrong he was.
There’s an fascinating opinion brought by a commentator who explains that when you are given a prophecy, you are obligated to share it with others (Rosh). Wouldn’t it be interesting if it were this way with talent? When children discover their abilities, whether it is to sing, dance, paint, debate or create, that they have to find a way to use their God-given skills?
At the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita we are introduced to the notion of Dharma, or purpose. In some ways we only have one challenge in life, which is to discover our purpose and follow it. In a previous Kosher Sutra we discussed how some people run from following their purpose, such as the prophet Jonah, and we can now consider how to serve this purpose with humility. Dharma isn’t about goals, ambitions, or ego-fuelled ideas. It is about seeing reality for what it is. We are all born with a talent and there is a way to use it for good in the world. We just have to figure it out and do it.
A beautiful sutra is currently being displayed around Los Angeles. The posters for the HBO television series How to Make It in America have the tagline ‘Dream Big or Go Home’. As the grateful recipient of an artists’ working visa from Homeland Security, I find this a poignant daily reminder!
One of the last century’s biggest dreamers was Nelson Mandela, and he supposedly ended his May 1994 inauguration address with the words “as we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”. The quotation came from spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson. Here is the full version from her book A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
There is a difference between humility and arrogance, and if we have been given a gift then we can use it for serving the world with a humble and upright spirit. How does it feel if we give someone a gift and they put it on the shelf to gather dust? I wonder how God feels about people who ignore their natural talents.
Joseph’s natural talent was to interpret dreams, something which is still practiced today by psychotherapists. In The Interpretation of Dreams (1913), it was Sigmund Freud’s genius that taught us about how we can use dreams to understand the workings of our subconscious. Freud also uncovered the idea of a ‘paraprax’ where we unconsciously reveal a piece of information through language, which is commonly known as a ‘Freudian slip’. Altthough the difference with Joseph is that more than delving into his own subconscious, he reveals prophecies through dreams. A more rational approach might describe Joseph as Jungian, because Carl Jung (1875-1961) taught that dreams can help us tap into the ‘collective unconscious’ through the use of archetypal symbols. A Jungian reading would suggest that Joseph tapped into the greater reality, and could interpret the future because he knew how to read the archetype symbols.
When Joseph uttered his prophecy, his brothers said “we will see what will become of his dreams” (Gen 37:20). I once heard the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks describe this as a ‘prophetic slip’. In other words, they were eventually going to see what would become of Joseph’s dreams, but they didn’t realise it when they said it! I love the Chief’s brilliant phrasing of this.
Our waking mind is often full of ego and distraction which is why the unconscious mind has to find creative ways to communicate with us. One way to get in touch with our purpose is through meditation and yogic stillness, and perhaps another way is through sleep.
This Wednesday marks the beginning of Chanukah, a festival of lights. There is a custom of lighting the candles either on the front porch or on a window that can be seen from the street outside. We can use this idea as a reminder to focus on how we can share our own light with the world.
Tonight, may you be blessed with a very peaceful sleep and a very clear dream. And may your dreams come true for the good. Dream big…..or go back to sleep for a little longer.
Which dream will do the trick? Any dream will do….