Monday, February 28, 2011

Cheshbon Hanefesh, an account of the soul

I took an IQ test once, well likely more than once, but as an adult and likely for the last time. I saw it advertised in a local paper as part of a research study and who doesn’t want to contribute to furthering science? Okay, I was grad student, predictably low on cash, and they were offering money for subjects.
At any rate taking an IQ test was a lengthy and somewhat boring affair. During one of the breaks I got up and made coffee, as we were seated in a break area. I did ask first. The interviewer said, “yes.” But she was looking at me at lot like a bug under glass. And I started to wonder what it was they were REALLY measuring. As in so many blind studies, researches often give misleading information to the subjects so as not to influence their behavior. Hmmmmm.

When I was finished I received a paper with information and a phone number. I could schedule an appointment and pick up my test results. Admittedly, I was curious. At my next meeting the doctor told me the ‘secret number’-which was satisfying. He also mentioned that the test was not valid. (Okay, I already mentioned that it was arduously long and arguable more than somewhat boring, did I not? Perhaps I should have also mentioned that arduously long and arguably boring tasks are not my strong suit.) He also mentioned that he thought I was an underachiever. My thought at first was, “Gee I could have saved us both a lot of time an effort!” But I held my tongue. Finally, I thought ‘okay I’ll bite’ and asked, “What makes you think so?”

It seem that it was my job, I was a high school teacher at the time, and my level of education, I had a Masters. Seems my numbers reflected I could have done better. My first thought was maybe this process was invalid on a number of levels! A reversal of logic and the question- “Is it possible I am too competent as a teacher?” - made him smirk, but I couldn’t help, but notice he didn’t answer. Education was another matter. When my daughter was about seven years old, I was invited to the Ph D program at my University. And while I would have liked to stay under different circumstances, mine were that I had a little girl at home who would never, ever. be little again. And I already had a full time job. I told my very understanding advisor that I just wanted to go home…

In retrospect, it occurs to me that what one person thinks is good for me cannot stand up to decisions I make for myself. How could this test know what it is I truly wanted in my life? Do I ever wish that I had finished that last program? Sure, but not at that expense. No one ever dies wishing they had spent more time away from their children, do they?

Similarly, it is a good idea to take our own spiritual inventory, (and maybe not just in the month of Elul.) And, like my helpful, friendly, if mislead, psychologist friend, it is also not such a good idea to take someone else’s. (If one is being honest, as well as human, there should be plenty to work with.) Consider your relationship to G-d. Consider your relationship to fellow humans.

What do you need? That’s right you. Are there mitzvots you want to undertake? Is there a spiritual need you have not answered? Could you be a better parent? Spouse? Perhaps keeping a journal or a small notebook would help each of us to weight, first, where we are, against, where we want to be and to create some decisive, concrete goals and bench marks along the way. If you get overwhelmed, perhaps the best idea is to try one thing at a time. When you feel like it’s on track move to the next. Knowing what one needs to do is half of the solution. Only we know when we are truly “achieving.”

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