Friday, October 5, 2012

Cesar Kuriyama, Rabbeinu Yonah and self-improvement has a feature here on a TED talk by artist Cesar Kuriyama on his project, "1 Second Everyday". It's the sort of thing that my friend Neil Harris at Modern Uberdox would love.

As Kuriyama explains it:
The one-second everyday project [in which he recorded 1 second of video of his life every day, for a year, and concatenated the videos] was something that originally started out as a way for me to chronicle my year off from work but really quickly after I started I realized that it was helping me in many more ways. It was allowing me to realize that I could remember everyday that I've lived; it was allowing me to quickly reflect back on the things that I had to done, to be able to zoom out from the past month and realize, "Oh wow, I sat around a lot this month." I instantly decided to do it for the rest of my life and realized the benefits were far greater than the amount of work I needed to put into it, which was just a quick second to remind me of that day.

 I contrast this with the approach of Rabbeinu Yonah, in Yesod haTeshuvah:
This is the path he shall walk and the deed he shall perform to habituate himself to guard himself from sin. Each morning, when he rises from his sleep, he should set his mind to repent and he should examine his deeds... At the time for eating, before he eats, he should admit all of his sins, and if he corrupted anything then he should admit what he corrupted, and this very admission will distance him from all iniquity and sin...and so he should eat his morning meal, and then before eating in the evening he should admit all, as we have said, and then from the time of eating in the evening he should do the same until he lies down.

I see here two different approaches to the concept of cheshbon hanefesh, "personal accounting":

Kuriyama keeps a record, which he can turn back to over time to review where he has been. [Of course, Kuriyama isn't necessarily using this for self-examination leading to self-improvement, but I see this is a natural byproduct.]

Rabbeinu Yonah looks back at each one-second clip immediately afterward, in small increments, to catch problems immediately and steel himself against repeating them.

I do both; I keep a daily log of my activities, to which I can refer at year's end, and I also try to check in with myself pretty regularly.

which do you think works better?


  1. I had a great deal of benefit from R. Yona. But I have a few problem with his basic approach.It does not seem to allow for the question what if a persons whole life is wrong? and also i wonder about the anti Rambam part of his approach. I know he in theory did repentance on that but i am not entirely sure if the seeds of anti Rambamism are still in his book.

    on the other hand i feel i got a great deal of benefit about his teshuva approach and great deal of clarity about what teshuva really is and what is is supposed to be and also i got an idea of its central importance.

    It gave me a kind of starting point to understand a little of later idea of R Nachman about original sin. To rebbi nachman there is an original sin that is the first of ones sins, This is why we say in prayer hamaavir rishon rishon. but it seems to me that rebbi nachman does not mean the original sin in chronological order but in ontological order.that is a person might have an original sin. But that might not be the original sin in terms of causation.It might be a later sin which draws a person towards itself by small sins one at a time.also rebbi nachman seems to allow for several original sins. But in practical terms the implication of rebbi nachman seems to be that it is of utmost importance for a person to discover his original sin or sins and repent on them and then the later sins automatically start to fall aw

  2. Adam-
    Your take on Rebbe Nachman is fascinating to me. Where is R' Nachman on "original sin" discussed?

  3. Just getting around to commenting. Thanks for posting this. It's very timely with things that have been floating in my mind lately.