Kavana is a Jewish term that has multiple meanings, but for the purpose of this post, I want to focus on only one: “Duties of the heart alone. To be humble and reverence respect to God and to love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. To keep your heart, your mind, your thought to regard humility, reverence, and respect. To have good wills, loving kindness, morality and virtues towards God and towards others” (Chovot HaLevavot, Bahya ben Joseph ibn Paquda).
As we progress through this life, we are afforded multiple choices. Who we are has very little to do with who we say we are, but rather how we act. Thus the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” We get to choose who we gradually become throughout life. Ultimately, our choices determine who we become. How we act, react, and respond all have a role in who we become. We can say we are loyal, but unless our actions prove loyalty, we are not loyal. We can say we care, but if we walk by someone in need and do nothing, do we really care? What we do expresses who we are.
John Mark Comer, a pastor at Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon states:
Kavana is the barista at your local coffee shop that doesn’t just put on a lid and tells you to have a good day, but takes time to put a heart in the foam, puts the lid on securely, faces the logo toward you, makes purposeful eye contact, and says something to bless your day. It’s the construction worker that doesn’t just throw a bathroom remodel together as cheaply as possible and ignore the stuff he found behind the wall, but does every step with skill and attention to detail with the passion of an artist. It’s the preschool teacher that doesn’t just babysit children and throw fishy crackers at them, but gets down at eye level and communicates, if without words, that “you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and you have a destiny in God’s great universe.” It’s the parent who doesn’t just hand their children a device and go and try to survive the day, but is there to unfold children to their full potential. Any task, no matter how mundane, no matter how unglamorous, can be a form of Kavana.
What if we lived a life where our focus was Kavana? Imagine what our life would be like if we lived and breathed Kavana on a daily basis. What if our life was lived with such humility and devotion that our heart, mind, and thoughts were centered on good will, loving kindness, morality and virtue toward others? What if we realized that how we treat others is more important than expecting to be treated a certain way? What if we realized that the people we work with, live with, and come into contact with are more important than our virtue signaling and pride?
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” This means we shouldn’t be expecting others to change, but rather ourselves. However, there are a few things that keep us from doing this. 1) We focus more on the problems of others rather than on our own issues. 2) We would rather be right than be humble. 3) We would rather have the last word than know when to stop talking. 4) We would rather feel safe than be vulnerable. To be honest, the list could continue, but I feel you get the point. Change must come from within if change is ever to happen without. This is where Kavana comes in.
Whether we are sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, employees, employers, public officials, etc., we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. We must focus on the duties of the heart. We must purpose within ourselves to be better for each other. We must choose Kavana in all that we do. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and if we are to be a better people, we must discipline ourselves to work from the inside out. My hope and prayer is that we become a people, a society, a culture that embraces Kavana.
As always, stay humble and serve well!