Personal "Exodus" from the Rat Race

The Passover starts this evening. Every time I celebrate it, I ask myself what my personal "exodus" of the year is, that is, from what bondage I liberate myself. Probably the most significant personal "exodus" I've experienced so far is what I thought liberation from the bondage of working part-time in multiple locations. But since I was finally liberated from this ten-year bondage more than ten years ago, I've come to realize that actually I'm in bondage again, though of a different kind. This new bondage is called the rat race.

One insightful about the rat race - Losing the Rat Race, Winning at Life by Rabbi Mark Angel - "found" me, as it were, last week. Here are some lengthy quotes from the book that have been resonating with me since I first read them last week:

[W]e cannot genuinely "win" at life unless we "lose" the rat race. Stated another way, a life well lived is characterized by calm wisdom, a transcendental sense of life's meaning, and an ability to love, empathize with and help others. It does not view life as an eternal and meaningfless battle to get "ahead."

People in the rat race are busy trying to keep up with and surpass the Joneses. They are driven by jealousy, greed and competitiveness. They do not see ultimate meaning in their lives, but want as much as fame, fortune and fun as they can get. People in the rat race usually are not evil or corrupt, although some are. Many are simply drawn into the race because they have not thouroughly thought through their philosophy of life or do not have the independence of spirit to stand up for their values and ideals. They are driven by conformism or quasi-totalitarianism. They surrender their freedom and autonomy in order to play the game of life according to the rules of the rat race.

What are the characteristics of the rat race?

  • An inordinate emphasis on external matters - good looks, wealth, power, popularity, fame.
  • A profound feeling that life is a great competition, that we must not allow ourselves to fall behind.
  • An acceptane of standards set by others; a drive toward comformity even at the risk of betraying one's own values; an internalization of standards that compromise our freedom to make responsible choices.
  • A willingness to abandon ethical standards in order to advance oneself.
  • A realization at some point and on some level that the rat race is ultimately meaningless. What I achieved by "winning"? Has "success" brought me real happiness?

Actually it was only after I decided to leave what seems to me now the rat race that I realized that it's the rat race. I started to feel instinctively more and more signs of spiritual dissonance, until I couldn't silence and ignore this dissonance itself. Having read this book, especially the above quotes, I understand rationally now what I started to feel instinctively.

When I was first granted "citizenship" of this "Egypt" I'm official leaving soon, I couldn't imagine that the time would come one day to leave it even of my own free will, following my intuition and conquering the fear of the uncertain "Canaan" awaiting my arrival.

Not only am I taking a "long short way" (instead of a "short long way") like the Israelites who left Egypt to enter Canaan, but also am I planning in my "Canaan" to help others help themselves find their own "long short way" from their "Egypt" to their "Canaan".



I don't know how, but it suddently occurred to me that I still remain highly judgemental of other people and things in spite of my daily mindfulness practice, which is supposed to help me become less judgemental, and I really have to do something with my judgementalism as one of the most persistent and destructive forces of my ego. Naturally, these two sentences also reflect judgementalism of my own judgementalism - meta-judgementalism.

The first idea that came to my mind as a possible way to combat my judgementalis (and meta-judgementalism) is simply accepting and letting go of it instead of resisting it and thus making it persist. Of course, this is easier said than done. Every waking moment is an enormous challenge for me in this respect as whenever and wherever I am, my egoic mind doesn't stop judging everyone and everything even if I try very hard to be mindful.

Then another idea occurred to me - forgiving once and for all those who have seriously hurt me in one way or another. Actually, I've already tried to forgive all of them when I started to undergo this spiritual transformation out of turmoil, but I can't say I've completely stopping resenting what they have said and done to me. Inspired by one book I read this week about how to let go of judgementalism, I've started to try a new experiment - to choose one of these people and pray for that person!

Speaking of prayer, the author of this book writes that the desire to release judgment is in itself a prayer. I've read about and started believing in the power of prayers, so let's wait and see how these two prayers of mine will help me become less judgemental, if not completely non-judgemental.


Trust and Compassion as Two Most Important Manifestations of Commitment

I'm learning as part of my study of Chabad Chassidus now - hopefully, not too belatedly - that marriage is a precious opportunity to do the kind of daily work on our ego we can't do alone, especially in that our spouse does us the "favor" of humiliating our ego even on a daily basis. Giving up this opportunity because of all the difficulties marriage constantly poses seems akin to giving in to our ego even if this is a reaction to some egoic speech and/or action by our spouse.

But naturally, fighting against the ego of your spouse, or anyone else in this regart, with your own ego only worsens the situation. I've come to realize, again thanks to my formal study of Chabad Chassidus, that your commitment to marriage must manifest itself first and foremost as your trust in your spouse and his or her abitity to tame his or her ego and its "garments" (i.e., thought, speech and action) and your compassion for him or her when he or she is jailed in the ego-made prison and struggling to liberate him- or herself from it.

I used to think until rather recently that to give in to a "sweet whisper" of the ego and give up marriage is a kind of betrayal. But now I feel that such an action and the person who has decided to take it deserve both our compassion as it stemed from his or her ego and our trust in his or her ability to become aware of this someday.