Listening To The Call Of Growth

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Rabbi Alan Lurie Author, 'Five Minutes on Mondays: Finding Unexpected, Purpose, Peace and Fulfillment at Work'

In the Talmud - the encyclopedic compilation of Jewish moral and ethical debate - can be found this beautiful and mysterious sentence:

Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow.'

For some, this sentence presents several obstacles to understanding its message. First, based on painting, statues, and greeting cards, we may think of angels as pretty, androgynous beings with feathery wings. If these actually do exist, can there really be one of these over every blade of grass? Second, even if we do have a less literal image of "angels", we may associate them with miracles, or of conveying a crucial message to human beings - not of hovering over blades of grass. Lastly, you may simply say "I don't believe in such nonsense as angels", and dismiss this sentence as superstitious nonsense.

These obstacles stem from the reading of this sentence as a literal description of an actual event. As with any mystical text, however, we must read deeper in order to understand the writer's intent. Within the spiritual vocabulary, "angels" are the non-physical carriers of the Divine will in physicality, just as gravitons are postulated to be massless manifestation of the force of gravity, photons are the basis of electromagnetism, and wave-like electrons underlie all matter. According the Talmudic writer, one of the forces that angels carry is the urge to grow - to develop, improve, and evolve. By noting that even every blade of grass is imbued with this urge, the Talmudic saying teaches that, like light, gravity, and electromagnetism, growth is a ubiquitous force of nature.

Everything yearns to grow; it is an inherent drive embedded in all creation. All you need to do is watch a seed push through the earth, or see a child's relentless urge to walk, to understand that everything is pulled forward by the call to growth, like a plant leaning toward the sun. As the Talmud writer implies, the persistent whisper "Grow! Grow!!" calls to all creation. Like grass, we grow physicality, because physical growth is naturally built in to the cycle of all life. Unlike grass, though, we also have the capacity to grow in another, more crucial way. We can grow in consciousness - in our ability to connect to others, to live meaningfully, and to have a positive impact. This force of conscious growth is what drives us to forward to create a personal and communal future that is better than what we had yesterday and what we have today.

We can choose to hear and to act on this call to conscious growth, or we can ignore it, drowning out the angelic whisper with the noisy external distractions of constant entertainment, the internal chatter of our mental judgments, or the drone of our unconscious routine ways of thinking and reacting. We resist the call of conscious growth in order to feel safe and to avoid the discomfort of change, but this strategy inevitably backfires. Since this resistance is in opposition to nature, it will eventually lead to feelings of frustration, dissatisfaction, meaninglessness, and depression.

Conscious growth, then, begins when we chose to listen to its call, and invite it in. We invite growth when we are willing to examine our fixed beliefs: who we think that we are, why others behave as they do, and how the world works. Many (perhaps most) of our beliefs about ourselves and others are simply constructs that we created, usually at a very early age, in reactions to fears, unmet needs, and disappointments, in order to protect us from the uncertainties that we could not understand, and to ensure survival. Because these are built on our fears, many of these constructs are negative, such as - people can't be trusted, I'll never be good enough, what matters most is what others think of me, that which I can't control must be eliminated, those that I love will hurt and betray me. We then grow up believing that these constructs are absolutely true, and since we can not imagine another way of responding we assume that everyone else lives from the same constructs that we've created, thereby driving us further in to a self-protective stance and away from others.

Conscious growth happens when we break this pattern and begin to realize that there are other, more effective, more positive ways to be. This can happen through the example of another person, or by experimentation. Let's say, for instance, that you "just know" that if you're not perfect you will be hurt in some way (criticized, rejected, abandoned), and you make a mistake in front of someone who you respect, but that person shows no signs of the rejection and criticism that you had assumed naturally accompany such an event. Perhaps this person actually draws closer, and supports and encourages you! Or you may find that you've come to a crisis in your life (another failed relationship, fired from a job, a health crisis) and out of shear desperation you are willing to try anything new, and decide to step in to the darkness - of trusting someone, when you just "know" that people can not be trusted, or telling someone about your fears, when just "know" that you will be taken advantage of if you reveal your deepest feelings - and to your shock, you find that this desperate measure works; the person is trustworthy, and vulnerability brought you closer.

Now you begin to realize that there are possibilities for understanding the world to which you were completely blind, because you absolutely believed your construct about how things are. Suddenly the incredible possibility arises that your construct may not be the absolute truth, and there is another way of seeing things. Then, in the birth of new possibilities you grow and are pulled forward, as new ways of seeing your life and the world appear. Then, you look back of where you've been with gratitude at the urgent, persistent whisper of growth.