Greetings from Jerusalem, where I am teaching in the Pardes Institute summer program and reconnecting with so many fabulous people here. While we are deep in the summer, the Jewish new year, Labor Day and the start of school are not that far off. Indeed, the Hebrew month of Elul has its own set of rituals, including daily shofar blowing and special prayers for some communities, to help us prepare.
Preparation in itself is an important spiritual practice. I’ll admit that it is not one I am particularly good at. I’m more likely to show up to a meeting, performance, prayer service or class at the last minute happy that I got there on time. The idea I’ve heard attributed to McKinsey Consulting, “five minutes early is on time and on time is late” is quite foreign to me.
Despite Woody Allen’s quote that 80% of life is showing up, our teachers emphasize the spiritual value of preparing in advance and not just “showing up.” According to the rabbis of the Mishna (Brachot 5:1), “The early pious ones would sit an hour before prayer in order to direct their hearts to God.” Rabbi Wolbe makes this teaching more accessible to someone like me and writes that even a minute preparation time before prayer can make a difference. Even easier is Rabbi Dov Zinger’s suggestion in his powerful book Tikon Tefilati to remember just before starting to pray that you are praying to get closer to God. When I can remember to follow Rabbi Dov’s advice, the entire experience of my prayer changes.
I think the spirituality of preparation is about mindfulness and honor. By putting even a few moments of thought into an activity before starting I am raising my awareness and honoring what the activity is trying to achieve. I am also honoring myself and the time I’m dedicating to the activity. My mentor and colleague Dr. Alan Morinis once said to me regarding preparing for public lectures, “If you don’t prepare you are not honoring the audience. If you only say what you’ve prepared you are not honoring the moment.” Of course, the higher stakes the activity, the more preparation is called for. While a minute or a quick thought might work for a daily morning prayer service, I’m going to want to give much more time to preparing for the High Holidays (on that note – please register for the Teshuva Workshop or Webinar here).
This spiritual wisdom applies to so called secular endeavors as well like work or board meetings. If you are not the person preparing the agenda or leading the meeting, imagine how much more presence of mind you would bring to a meeting if you sat for 60 seconds before heading over to the conference room, bringing your attention to what you were about to do. In my interfaith community organizing world we start every meeting with a faith reflection. Let’s use these moments of communal reflection as that time for bringing mindfulness and honor to what we are about to do.
The Jewish holidays are around the corner. Rabbi Wolbe writes that the most important thing one can do during Elul is to set aside at least an hour to contemplate your life. Many people use the holiday services themselves for that reflection time. That is good, but it is even better to prepare in advance. I created the Kirva Teshuva Workshop over 10 years ago to give people the time and space for this preparation. Whether you join the workshop/webinar or not, I invite you all to mark a time in your calendar now when you will have that hour of preparation before the holidays.