Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rebbi Nachman on Overcoming Negative Thoughts

This is a recent chat I had with a student which I thought might be helpful.
Micha: You have given me two examples of trains of thought that have been troubling for you. Have we ever discussed Rebbe Nachman’s advice on how to maintain positive thoughts and avoid negative ones?

A.: No, I don’t think we have.

Micha: Hard to believe, but I think you are right about that. Rebbe Nachman explains that thoughts come in a train, one after the other, and the process can be compared to a clock ticking off the seconds.

A.: ok

Micha: Although many thoughts seem to crowd our minds, in reality we can only think one thought at a time However, sometimes a thought can be harmful and cause bad feelings, and it is important to know how to redirect our minds. We must know that our thoughts are like riding a horse. When the horse strays from the path you just turn the reins and go back on the way you wish to travel. He says that one should just start a new train of thought, but you must be vigilant not to "look back" to see if the other thoughts are gone, since this will make them come back.

A.: Ok.

Micha: The “replacement” thoughts can be in Torah, which is the best option, or even in any positive subject that engages you.

A.: So can you give me an example of what I should be thinking about right now at this very moment?

Micha: Sure. Rebbe Nachman’s teachings on joy, or an interesting Chasidic ma'amar, or anything to draw your attention away from this device of your yetzer hara. It works. If you find yourself back there or in another negative place, you just do it again.

A.: So eventually it will be easier?

Micha: Precisely. If you keep trying you will find that you can do it.

A.: How do I remind myself to do this? Because I am so used to following this "train" of thought.

Micha: It’s a matter of desire and persistence. Now at least when you notice that you are anxious you can redirect your thoughts.

A.: You know it is so much easier for me to do work while listening to music because the music puts my mind completely at ease.

Micha: The main thing is not to get bothered or try to fight this with force. If you feel basically positive you should be able to manage fairly easily, with Hashem’s help. Even if not, it is your choice. Just stay cool and redirect your negative thoughts as they arise, without struggle.

A.: Every second that we have been chatting, I have been battling with myself to force the horse back on the path.

Micha: Excellent. No two thoughts can occupy the mind at the same instant. All you need to do is redirect. In this manner you are on a different train to better places.

A.: Amen. Thank you, Rabbi.

Micha: My pleasure, as always! This has worked for countless people.

A.: It’s so good, I’m starting to laugh already. It slows me down so well inside.

Micha: Rav Nosson writes, "Leave the goy (bad thoughts) standing there." He has a long piece about it.

A: Where can I read it?

Micha: I really think you should be learning Reb Nosson's letters in English. They were published in a four volume set as, “Eternally Yours,” by Breslov Research Institute.

A.: ok

Micha: He discusses this and chizuk in general at length.

A.: When you say you think I should be learning...when do you mean that? All the time?

Micha: I will send you a piece I wrote on it.

A.: Excellent.

Micha: Yes, at least one letter a day, which should take five or ten minutes.
This advice holds true for all readers who have not yet learned this wonderful work. Even five minutes a day can change your life. It did mine.
Here is the link to the piece I did for my friend, "A Simple Jew":"Best Source of Chizuk"


Spiritual Dan said...

Awesome approach. Will try it.

What about what the Tztetal Katan says about reciting the verse "The Canaanite, Gergoshite, the Emorite" - etc to reign in a bad thought. I've tried this, to no avail

Micha Golshevsky said...

I am glad. Hatzlocha!
You should get a copy of "Eternally Yours" and read it through several times. Very very potent even for someone going through hard times.
I always understood that the advice of the Tzetel Katan, as well as the Ramak's (brought in the Shelah hakadosh) that one should say, "Eish tamid tukad al hamizbe'ach lo sichbeh"--"An eternal fire should burn on the alter and should not be quenched," are meant to be used to deeply contemplate what they mean.
In that sense the Noam Elimelech's path is to consider the klipah-husks that must always be encountered before any holy endeavor can be pursued. This contemplation naturally connects one to Hashem in a very powerful manner; but only if he is up for deep contemplation. I know it sounds hard but it's probably easier than some of the other advice in this very lofty letter.
Hashem should help us guard our thoughts with joy!

yaakov said...

yasher koach, clearly explained.

can you please tell us where it speaks about the value of simply being still, watching the breath, letting the self be quiet?

i think we see this in tehilim 23 al me menuchot ynahaleni...

somewhere else, shlomo hamelech mentions 'sheket v'shalva'...

please tell us what you think

Micha Golshevsky said...

Ya'akov: Thank you for the chizuk as always.
In terms of the importance of silence, there is definitely much to write. Right now I just finished translating Rav Morgenstern's shiur on Parshas B'shalach and am very inspired by his words as always. He teaches a very deep lesson that is inextricably bound with the continuous avodah of silence which I would love to post, but unfortunately cannot.
If you would like to see this lesson, you can send a request to receive the shiur from my friend Sharaga at the following address (you have to scroll to the side to see the whole address):