Experiencing I and Thou While Rock Balancing.

January 29, 2023

Experiencing I and Thou While Rock Balancing.

May 29, 2023

The great 20th century Jewish philosopher Martin Buber is best known for his thesis on “human existence as encounter” known as “I and Thou.” Buber suggests that there are two primary types of encounter: I-It or I-Thou. These modes of consciousness, interaction and being can take place between people, inanimate objects and all reality in general.

I-It encounters are most commonplace. It is where we see the other as an object, something to be utilized and experienced. Essentially, this form of objectivity relates to the world in terms of the self - how an object can serve the individual’s interest. For example, when I get into an Uber, my relationship with the driver, and her connection with me is mostly I-It. She needs me in order to earn money. I need her to get from A to B. We are using each other. There is no harm in this, it is merely how most of life is.

I-Thou encounters are of a deeper nature. These encounters stress the mutual, holistic experiences of two beings. It is where we meet in authentic existence, without any qualification or objectification of the other. When you are in I-Thou you know it, you feel it, you perceive it. This might be the feeling shared between two lovers when you are fully awake and aware, or with a pet, or when you are in what is referred to as “flow.” It is when time and space seem to disappear and you are fully present to what is.

This week I had an I-Thou encounter with a rock. As part of my sabbatical from Community Synagogue, I am attending MEA in Baja. One MEA activity was spending a few hours on the beach balancing rocks. You found a rock and tried to balance it. Stacking a rock is easy. Like making any pile, stacking rocks require strength but little intention. Balancing a rock requires intention, patience, and grit. It requires the wisdom gained through past failures, knowing that while it might not work the first time, with enough trial and error, it just might. And it requires one to truly be present and mindful with what one is doing; in essence, to have an I-Thou encounter with a rock.

I had never done this before. At first I thought it was silly, hokey, woo-woo. But, in this space, I was willing to give it a try (I am also meeting with a shaman named Saul Kuperstein (yes, his real name) tonight as Shabbat descends and have signed up to try to surf tomorrow a.m. (both firsts). I picked up a rock. Stood it up. Tried to balance it. It fell over. Tried again. It fell over. Then something magical, ephemeral, spiritual happened. I felt myself slow down. A calmness set in. All that seemed to exist was me and this rock. As though I was slowly opening a combination lock, I moved the rock this way, then that until I felt a “click.” Before my eyes, a heavy rock stool vertical on another one. The only word that describes how I felt in this wondrous state was “Awe.” The Rock was no longer an object to be stepped on, stepped over or cast aside. The relationship was one of true presence. It is the type of relationship we often strive to be in with those we care about, with all beings on our planet, with nature, and with the Mystery we call God.

I hope you too can find an opportunity to be fully present to be with those you love, to do the things you want to do (vs. doing the things you have to do) and to find in that time and space, an opportunity to be with “an other” in their authentic existence. For as Buber once said, “all real life is meeting.”

Daniel Gropper was ordained from Hebrew Union College in 1998 and serves as the spiritual leader of Community Synagogue in Rye, NY. He is married to Tamara, is the father of Elijah, Shai and Noa and just graduated from the Modern Elder Academy on January 21, 2023.

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