Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Balanced Chizuk

Alice asked for guidance regarding a very important issue in the comments: How [does] one remain positive the majority of the time yet also allow for the release of pain in a healthy way—in a way that allows for pouring out one’s heart?

This problem is so prevalent that Reb Nosson of Breslov warns against it in the very first piece of Likutei Halachos. The Midrash teaches regarding the red heifer, “Let the mother come and clean up after her child.” The child of the heifer is the golden calf, the paradigm of willful sin, and the cleansing from the impurity of death (through the ashes of the red heifer as prescribed in the Torah) symbolizes the internal cleansing of teshuvah. This is achieved by focusing on our good points and returning to our real identity, which makes the negative fall aside. Just as the red heifer must be completely unblemished (since if it is blemished it is disqualified,) the good within us is absolutely unsoiled by whatever bad we may have done.
But this focusing on the good is double-edged; like the ashes of the heifer, it can defile the pure even as it purifies the impure. Seeking out our own good points is appropriate for when we are feeling discouraged and far from Hashem, because it ensures that we won’t fall completely. However, when we are in a good state, such a focus can easily lead to arrogance. Knowing when to focus on the good in ourselves and when to focus on how far we have to go is a great challenge. Perhaps this is what Shlomo HaMelech referred to when he said that although he had tried to understand it, the mystery of the red heifer remained “far” from him.

It is important to put this into perspective. When chizuk is as it should be, it empowers us to do all we can to serve Hashem. Reb Nosson writes that chizuk engenders a feeling that Hashem is truly near and even the smallest good is eternal. The natural outcome of this is that one does everything he can to serve Hashem.
While we are waiting for Hashem to finally grant our prayers and help us truly appreciate the importance of even the smallest good act or prayer, we can fall into the false-chizuk about which Reb Nosson warns. In this state one focuses on the positive even when he should be moving ahead by seeing what is still incomplete in him. This can bring a person to various levels of arrogance that manifest in different ways. In a person who has a more calm type of personality the arrogance from too much chizuk often leads to complacency or spiritual indifference. In more dynamic temperaments, inappropriate chizuk can lead to feelings of depression, unwarranted anger, or emotional buildups which burst out in an unhealthy way.

Before we discuss what to do about this, it is important to note that people tend to need more chizuk than hisorerus (inspiration to change). Reb Nossson actually prescribes the balance: one full “plate” of chizuk for every small spoonful of hisorerus. So our major focus should always be chizuk. Clearly, finding this balance in ourselves is a step-by-step process that can take many years.
So how exactly does one practically achieve this? Although Rebbe Nachman provides more than enough advice relevant to this problem to literally fill a book, I will only write here what has worked for me in my personal experience.
I have noticed that the more chizuk I have gained, the less depression has been a problem for me. Now my problem is just realizing that I am in a “low state” and applying the appropriate chizuk teaching to help me overcome it. As Rav Nissan Dovid Kivak has explained, there are many different pathways to chizuk. Many people find that sometimes one will work, while at other times a different method will be efficacious.
The same holds true regarding the other issues for me. I need to notice that I have one of the above problems and apply the correct spiritual medicine.

Hisbodedus is a very powerful path and the best healthy way to channel unhealthy emotion as Rebbe Nachman writes. The most powerful method for me is to completely nullify myself to Hashem as Rebbe Nachman discusses. What helps me the most is to just hope to Hashem with my whole being. The Ramchal writes that the Hebrew word for hope (kivuy) is also the same as the word for “line,” since one who hopes to Hashem with his whole heart attains a direct “lifeline” to Hashem. First hoping to Him and then begging is one way to diffuse such emotions. The Ramchal adds that just as a worried person is depressed and experiences spiritual death, one who hopes to Hashem is filled with vitality and joy.
In addition Rebbe Nachman discusses screaming during hisbodedus and prayer. He speaks of the silent scream, an internal cry that is fully visualized and felt within that one has resort to even when surrounded by people, which also helps release negative feelings.

I have found that what works best for me is to find the source of what is causing such feelings and work on changing my attitude. The first step is feeling truly grateful to Hashem that it is not worse. We call this, “Ba’tzar hirchavta li”—“In trouble, You have broadened for me.” Even in “trouble,” there is always some aspect of “harchava”—of broadening or opening, of ease. This has become such second nature for me that no matter what happens I immediately see something positive and usually thank Hashem for it on the spot.
This attitude eventually leads a person to joyously thank Hashem from the bottom of his heart for all the good even though he has not lost sight of the challenges. Rebbe Nachman calls this transforming the bad to good. He explains that just as a spoilsport will avoid a circle of joyous dancers so as not to be swept up into a happy mood, the bad attitudes and feelings also run away the moment we have a truly joyous attitude. They aren’t brought into the “circle”—they are just biding their time on the side. The true rectification of the negative feelings is to “draw them in”—to transform them by “dragging them into the circle” by force. This means that one must use the opportunity afforded by being in a positive state to chase down his fleeing issues and work on them.
Hashem should grant us the vitality and joy of balanced chizuk!


Yaakov said...

reb micha,
yasher koach. there is so much great stuff here i can't even begin to say. can you please give the tehilim for in the difficulties, H' broadened me.

the ramchal on hope/kivuy/direct line and all the rest are beautifully put! thanks so much!

yaakov said...

ps, i hope this can go to our soldiers in gaza!!!!

Alice said...

Thanks so much. I need to print this and tape it to the inside of my glasses. : )

yaakov said...

i need to tape inside my brain

Shorty said...

An amazing lesson that i too have learned lately - learn to cope with those things that one cannot change. for me, it was a challenging relationship with my parents. Without going into too much detail, i decided that is the difficulty worth it? Do i want our last conversations to be so difficult? How would i feel if my last words to them were less than constructive. So i decided to change my attitude - and it has worked for the better. thank you!

Micha Golshevsky said...

My pleasure! Chizuk is one of the purposes of this blog.

Micha Golshevsky said...

Shorty: Excellent!

yaakov said...

thanks shorty, that's a big help!!!