One of my favorite “corporate training/coaching” stories relates the following…
The instructor filled an empty jar with rocks. “Is it full?” he asked.“Yes!” came the response.
Without a word the instructor then poured a pitcher of pebbles into the jar.
“Full now?” he asked.
This time the response was also “Yes!” but with less enthusiasm. Clearly the seminar participants knew something was up.
The instructor then poured sand into the jar and asked again,
“Full?” This time the participants were silent.
Taking note, the instructor then picked up a pitcher of water and poured it in. “Now it’s full,” he said.
After waiting a few moments he asked, “What do you learn from this?”
One participant raised his hand and said, “No matter how busy you are, you can always fit in one more thing?” The instructor smiled at the realization that his demonstration had had the intended impact.
“No,” he said, “what we can learn from this is that you have to put the rocks – the big things that matter most – in first. If you start by filling the jar with the pebbles, sand or water- the small things, if you will- there will be no room left for the big things that really matter.”
I spent much of my life operating under the assumption that there is always more room. No matter how busy things were, I could always fit in one more call, one more meeting or one more task. But, as my colleague Rabbi Laura Geller puts it, “…when I fill my jar with what seems urgent but not important, there isn’t room for what I really need: time for my inner life — prayer, study, reflection; and time for my family. I need to get clear about what my rocks are, and to promise myself to put them in first.”
This Sunday evening the Hebrew month of Elul begins. During the next four weeks we are called upon to begin preparing ourselves to welcome the New Year. The month-long process of spiritual preparation is called cheshbon hanefesh– taking an accounting of our souls. It challenges us to look in the mirror and take the time to really see ourselves. This year, as we continue to navigate the uncharted waters of this ongoing pandemic, there is no better time to take a hard, honest look at ourselves. What ARE the rocks, the big, important things in our lives? And are we taking the time to ensure we are putting them in the jar of our lives first?
Rabbi Daniel Cohen