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Shorashim Workshop- Part 3 (Finding the "Alone")
We will very briefly summarize what has been said up to this point. At first, we mentioned that the true nature of a person is a soul with clothing, which is the body. Normally, one thinks of himself as a body with a soul inside it. In order to uproot this identification, one must go through a process of three stages: hachna’ah (subjugation), havdalah (separation), and hamtakah (sweetening). We mentioned that the way we will follow is a combination of hachna’ah and havdalah. In other words, the hachna’ah will come through the havdalah, which in turn comes by virtue of one’s da’at (wisdom). The da’at is the ability to separate between good and evil, as well as between good and good.
As we mentioned last time, a person has three aspects: thoughts, feelings, and actions. One must make a separation in all of these aspects. The aspect of action has two parts. There many events that occur not through the person and not because of him, but one tends to immediately assume that they are somehow because of him. But even if the events do occur because of a person, he must know how to make the fine distinction between the real results of his deeds and those which, although related to the deeds, are not truly associated with them. In a deeper sense, even if a person really did carry out an act, only if the deed is positive should he relate it to his essence, but if the deed is negative, he must note that it occurred through an external force of his, which relates to the powers of the body, but not through one’s inner force, the soul. With Hashem’s help, these ideas will gradually become clearer.
Now, we will progress to the next stage. There is a world of emotions. Some people are more emotional, and some are less so. We will try to analyze the world of emotions, and advise as to how to work with it and to cope with it. How does one associate the positive feelings to the true "I," understanding that they are part of the essence of the soul, and how does one separate the negative feelings, understanding that they are external (from the body), and separate them from the true "I"? In a general sense, it may be said that there are two types of feelings: There are feelings that one feels in relation to other people, and there are feelings that are felt in relation to oneself. In relation to other people, there are the feelings of love, hate, envy, respect, and such, as we all know.
If one focuses on his negative feelings toward others, he can destroy his entire life. There is a kind of person who had a negative experience with another, as in the case of an unsuccessful marriage, and then his entire goal in life is to harm and ruin the other person. He will not forgive for the past, and he wastes money, time, and all his energy, just so that the other side should lose and feel vanquished and pay for the misdeeds. Because of this, he will lose days of work, a large part of his own wealth (spending tens of thousands on lawyers), as long as the other side will suffer. The power of hatred is so strong that the person cannot rid himself of it. He thinks about it all day. As we know, there are many examples of this.
We will try to explain the proper feelings one should have. When Adam was created, he was initially alone. After that, "[Hashem] built the side," and He created Chavah from that part of him. After that, children were born to them: Kayin and Hevel. But the initial structure of creation was not two people, but a single person. There is a lot of depth in us. It is true that there is great benefit in having partners and other people, as was the case after Chavah, Kayin, and Hevel were created. But there is an inner ability in a person to live with himself, to live alone, to live in a world with no one else.
You must understand that there are two powers in the soul: There is the power to live in a world with other people existing (which was revealed after the creation of Chavah, Kayin, and Hevel, when the world became more developed), but there is also an earlier power, which is deeper in the soul. It is a power that is based on the fact that Hashem created man alone. At that time, there was no one else whom he could love or hate.
Where should we use this power that exists in each of us? When a person is with other people, and he senses negative feelings toward them for whatever reason, he must bring forth the power of the soul through which one can live with himself, and disengage from what is occurring around him. Even if an opponent has caused him distress and harm, and he does not feel he is participating in sinat chinam (baseless hatred), but "required hatred," he must nonetheless find in himself the world called "alone." This exists from the time of our initial formation, and did not disappear after Chavah’s creation, but was hidden deep in the heart. One must know how to use it in the proper times and places. But if, chas veshalom, one uses this power in the wrong place and time, he will live in an environment and care only about himself, and this is a negative kind of "alone." It is egotism, where one lives only for himself. Hashem gave us the power of "alone," and gave us the ability to decide how to use it. Will we use it in the proper place and time, disengaging inwardly from whom we should, or will we, chas veshalom, use it when we should relate to others, yet choose to live with only ourselves?
Inherently, the power of "alone" is a positive force. There is no power in a person that is inherently negative. The only question is: where do we use the power? If used in the proper place, it is constructive. If used in the wrong place, it is destructive. The power of "alone" should be employed in situations where one senses negative feelings toward another person. That is the time to activate the sense of "alone" and sever the emotional attachment.
Don’t think that the final goal is to be emotionally detached from others. We mentioned earlier that there are three stages: hachna’ah, havdalah, and hamtakah. The first two cause separation; the third brings unity. The separation is only a temporary means for reaching the ultimate unity. The goal must always be to unify and not to separate, but in the process, there must also be a separation. If so, when we mention that one must use the inner power of detachment, it is not the goal. Obviously, the goal is to attain love for the other person, but it is impossible to switch from hatred to love. There must be the intermediary process known as havdalah. From the hatred, one goes to the world of "alone." Then, when cleansed of the hatred, one can develop love even toward a person who had harmed him. As we said, that will occur in the stage of hamtakah, but we are now dealing with havdalah.
We have described the way to cease negative feelings toward others. The avodah is to live "alone." We will now try to describe the practical applications of this avodah. As mentioned, a person has a social aspect, which pushes him to seek and need companionship, and there is also the aspect of "alone." When we look around in the world, we see that most people seek companionship, and there are but few people who like to be alone. They go to faraway places, and live alone. Understandably, of this it is said (Kohelles 7:18), "Do not reject this one or that one." A person must have the ability to be alone as well as to relate to others.
Naturally, most people are surrounded by others almost all day. In particular, in recent times, even when a person is alone, he is almost constantly involved with forms of media, various kinds of cell phones, and other forms of contact with the outside. There are those who even keep their cell phones on when they go to sleep. They put it near their ears, because "I don’t know who might need me." Such a person is connected to the outside world 24 hours a day. Yet even though the social aspect of a human is positive, it is only positive within its proper limits. Beyond that, it is negative. When used within proper limits, it develops a person. Beyond that, it destroys a person. One must work to ensure that his social aspect will not be his entire life. It must be a part of life; not all of life.
One must get used to the idea (or continue with the idea) that there is a world called "alone." We will try to explain it at its most basic level, and somewhat beyond that. We will use a very simple example: One is sitting and examining his financial records. If while doing this, he picks up the phone, he will lose track of his calculation; he will have to start all over from the beginning. To come to live in the world of "alone," one must get in the habit of completing his task without interruption. If someone is trying to call, he can wait a couple of minutes. If one is too nice to ignore the person, he can say, "I’m sorry, but I’m not available now." But one must get used to the idea that if he is involved in something for a few minutes, he need not be available every moment. Unless it is urgent, if one makes himself available at the time, he will lose track of what he was doing. One might object, "What difference does it make if I need to start again later?" This is correct, but incorrect. What is incorrect is that he doesn’t get used to thinking by himself about the practical things he needs to do. We’re not even discussing anything spiritual yet. This is only the absolutely material world. Yet one must get in the habit of being temporarily unavailable while involved in something that would be disturbed by an interruption.
What is the depth of this habit? It is not just that he will gain the couple of minutes that were not disturbed. Rather, he will attain the habit of doing something that requires thought without allowing anything else in his life to disturb the thought — as if he has nothing else to do. Simply, this is called "focus." One must focus on what he is doing. There are people who have two cell phones and lift both of them at the same time. Such a person says, "Just a minute, just a minute," without even realizing whom he’s speaking to. And while he’s talking to two people, he’s also writing. He’s also looking at the screen in front of him. How many things can he do at once? Even a malach (angel) can’t accomplish more than one mission; apparently, he has become higher than a malach.
We must realize that we are in a world that is completely noisy. In the old days, people lived in quiet villages. One would go on his donkey to reach the field. Occasionally, he would meet someone and stop. He could then be in the field all day, and barely meet anyone. Nowadays, our lives are completely the opposite. We are terribly accessible. In the past (30 years ago), if one had an overdraft in the bank, they couldn’t call him to notify him. Many homes didn’t even have telephones. In some places, it took ten years to get a phone line installed. This is not such ancient history. So a person would at least have a week of peace, until he found out about the overdraft. But now, he is readily available through his cell phone. They immediately call him at any time of the day, and he already can’t sleep that night.
You must understand that we lost the kind of life known as "alone." I’m not specifically dealing with the religious consequences of this, as when people answer their phones during davening (prayers) and make noises in the receiver (to indicate that they can’t talk). We’re just asking for a person to at least be calm, even if he is involved only in material things. A person must direct his life in an organized fashion. When a person is busy with something, this should be the only thing he is doing.
We will try to give a few simple examples. A person, especially a woman, is at home at the children’s bedtime. While she is telling them a story, the phone rings, and she answers it. Does she really think that the phone call is more important than her children? If asked, she would certainly respond in the negative, but she has some kind of habit. It’s not only in a rare case where she expects some very important, urgent call. She must become used to realizing that putting the children to bed is an important enough goal that it should not be interrupted. If it is very hard for her to hear the ring and not answer it, she should disconnect the phone at that time, so she won’t hear it.
There are plenty of examples in which anyone would say that their activity is more important than the phone, yet we cannot free ourselves of it. What does one lose here? He loses the deepest power that exists in the soul, the power of "alone." And even if one is not absolutely alone, as when with the children at night, there is no need to "enlarge the circle" further.
One must see to it that there will be time in the day in which he will be alone. We will try to develop this further. A person comes home at the end of the day. One day, no one is home when he returns. His wife went somewhere with the children, and the house is perfectly quiet. Now he has a quarter of an hour or half an hour free. What will he do? One kind of person will immediately open the newspaper to see what’s new. Another will want to listen to the radio. A person doesn’t allow himself even a moment of quiet by himself. Alternatively, he will start with the telephone, to close any unfinished business. He just worked for seven or eight hours, he sat in the car and spoke on the speakerphone, and now, he has an opportunity for quiet, and he doesn’t want the quiet. He doesn’t take advantage of it. If you would ask him about this, he would say, "Why should I take advantage of this? What did I do wrong? Everything is fine! Am I hurting anyone by reading the paper? Did I hurt anyone by making another phone call? To the contrary, I called to find out about how someone was doing, and he was very happy, and I was also happy. Why not?"
Most people have few opportunities to be alone. Hashem gives us some occasions in life when there is some opportunity for peace and quiet. No one is mentioning here about thinking deep thoughts and developing a structure of thoughts. We are just simply saying that you should allow your mind to relax. Leave everything for a little while. And this does not mean to look for a substitute that is noisier or quieter. Just relax. You can even lie peacefully in bed for five minutes, to get used to the idea of an environment with nothing: no news, no distractions, no activities — just peace and quiet. At first, this will seem very strange to a person, a waste of time. Someone who is a little more spiritual will insist that it is a waste of time if one does not use these moments for Torah study. This is only partially correct. One who has no peace of mind cannot learn Torah properly. He cannot work properly, he cannot have proper peace in the home, and his Torah and tefillah are not as they should be.
To live properly, one must get used to having a calm mind throughout life. This is attained by quieting one’s life. We are not at all suggesting that one should leave home for a week and isolate himself somewhere. We are only dealing with the short periods that are present during one’s day. One can then calm himself, whether it is a matter of focusing on a task and not turning to additional things, or it is a matter of sitting with nothing and having a few minutes of quiet. If one has not tried this, he has no idea of what can be experienced through it. "What can you do then?" But if one has tried, and I’m sure some of you have tried, he knows that the person discovers a new "I." I’m not even slightly exaggerating. Why does one discover a new "I"? Because the "I," as we said, has two aspects: one aspect turns outward, to other people, and the other turns inward. If one only uses the part that turns outward, he only recognizes half of himself, and in a deeper sense, less than half. He lacks the part called "I, by myself." There is a world of the person by himself. It is a world not recognized by many; not, chas veshalom, that people don’t want to recognize it, but due to the distractions and pressures of life, and due to of a lack of knowledge that it even exists.
One must make a goal of discovering the true "I," and this is revealed when a person sits quietly, being alone with himself. To repeat, we are not prescribing any direction for one’s thoughts at that time. Just have quiet and be calm. If helpful, one may listen to relaxing music; not modern music with its loud beat, but something peaceful. There are tunes that can calm a person, so that he can live in a world where there is inner quiet. Inner quiet is a great treasure that exists in a person. There is yet a deeper treasure — the revelation of the presence of the Creator in the person, but this can only occur if one has inner quiet. "Hashem does not come with a commotion or with a strong wind, but with the still, small voice" (Melachim I 19:11-12). For one to discover his "I," he must reach the world of the "still, small, voice," the world of "alone," the world of quiet, the world of focus. You should understand that we are not yet speaking of the World to Come, but that one should be a proper human in this world — calm, and with measured behavior.
The world of "alone" is where our holy forefathers lived — Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Moshe Rabbeinu and David HaMelech lived there. There is a book called HaMaspik LeOvdei Hashem, written by Rabbi Avraham, the son of the Rambam. In the last chapter of the work (the work was originally larger, but we refer to what remains), he speaks of the world of the solitude of the soul. (As we mentioned earlier, all our ideas come from the holy Torah, and not from other books.) He explains that our forefathers went to the wilderness for shepherding because they sought a world of quiet. The cries of the goats and cows are preferable to the words of most people.
One must follow in the ways of our forefathers, who lived in that way. We are the people of Israel. We continue with the heritage received from our forefathers. We do not create new methods, but we follow in their footsteps. Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, as well as Moshe Rabbeinu (when with Yitro), sought quiet, as taught by Rabbi Avraham ben HaRambam. Moshe wanted to be a shepherd, and in that way, he attained the revelation at the burning bush. Likewise, he came to Mount Sinai in solitude, and there, the Torah was given. Chazal say that at the time of the giving of the Torah, a cow didn’t make a noise, a bird did not chirp, and the world was quiet. And Moshe Rabbeinu reached his level because he chose solitude, quiet, and calm. This is not a new method, or something that comes from India. This comes from our holy Torah. It is the way of our forefathers, written by Chazal, and explained by our teachers, the Rishonim (early authorities).
This is not solitude for its own sake, but for the sake of disengaging from the evil in the world and connecting to the living G-d, as we will explain later. As the body needs bread and water, the soul needs solitude, and no less. If one cannot sense this, it is a sign that his soul is so deeply buried inside that he’s no longer aware of what he needs. He’s like a person who, G-d forbid, is so ill that he loses his sense of taste and his desire to eat. And it’s not that he doesn’t need to eat. If he doesn’t eat, he will die. But he has lost the feeling for it. If one doesn’t sense the need to live in the world of "alone," it is a sure sign that his soul is buried very deep within his physicality, and he can’t even listen to his own needs. Solitude is a vital need. It’s not peripheral; it develops one’s soul.
We have explained that a person has a social aspect and a private aspect. We will now try to explain how to be free of the negative feelings. A person is in his office on the phone. A dispute erupts, and he is yelling. Everyone in the surrounding rooms hears the yelling. He concludes the conversation and is very tense. He cannot work any more for the rest of the day. You can’t talk to him. He is completely angry inside. With difficulty, he can fall asleep at night. He is thinking about what to do and how to it. We are familiar with such situations. How does a person calm himself? If he tries to calm down, his thoughts will pull him exactly to that place! He thinks about it more, and burns up even more. If a person accustoms himself to live with the state of "alone," he discovers a place in his soul to where he can go.
Just as one can go from one room to another, so are there rooms in one’s heart, as it says, "with da’at, the rooms will be filled." There is a room in the heart for turning outward, and there is another room in the heart for a person to be with himself. To illustrate: A person can be here in the room, but there is a camera, so people can see what he is doing. In that way, he is relating to people on the outside. But if he goes to the next room, he can sit in peace, because no one sees him. So too, one "room" inside the person is for turning outward, and one is for living with quiet, living "alone." These rooms exist inside the soul.
A person must acquire a habit, but when one is already angry or envious, it is not the time to acquire habits. He is not calm then; he is aggravated inside. Rather, on ordinary days and times, one must accustom himself to live in a world of quiet, a world inside himself. He then begins to discover a new self, a self he is not used to and has not recognized. Once that self is exposed, a person will have a place to which to escape. He will have a room in the soul, where no one is present besides him. With no one else, there is no one to arouse anger or envy. But if one does not identify such a place in the soul, where will he go? The anger will pursue him, and since it is inside him, he won’t have any way to be free of it.
We will try to gradually explain how to uncover the world of "alone" in the soul. We have said that one must find the times, even if brief, during which one is by himself. What does he do then? Even if he does not contact anybody, or read a newspaper, he could be by himself and have all of New York inside his head. He is alone at home, and he can turn off his cell phone, but he thinks not only about his street, city, and country, but about events all over the world. Even though he is alone at home, he is not really alone. In fact, the whole world is in his head. This is worse than a cell phone; the cell phone is near the ear, while these thoughts are inside his head.
To attain the world of quiet, one must learn to quiet his thoughts. We will emphasize again: we are not talking about quieting the mind during a time of commotion, or when one is particularly distracted or angry. We’re talking about an ordinary day, with ordinary distractions. One must set aside two minutes a day. In these two minutes, he will not read anything, or talk to anyone, but be with himself. At first, he should give free reign to his thoughts. He will be immediately taken somewhere by his thoughts. A person might think about his mother, or children, or aunt, or his job, each person according to his situation. Let’s say that the first thought that enters the mind is about his work. He should then contemplate and think: "What am I thinking about now? About my work. Is that me? No! So am I alone, or is my head already in the middle of the office? My body is at home, but my thoughts are on a very noisy street." He should first identify where his thoughts are, and then, whether his thoughts are calm, or noisy. Is his mind with his "I," or is it very far from the "I"?
We are not yet talking about positive thoughts; we are only discussing quieting the thoughts through a slow and gradual process. As mentioned, this will occur through hachna’ah and havdalah. The havdalah is the da’at that defines the proper place for each thing. When a person is aware of the thought and its relationship to him (whether it is close or far), then he can see if he is truly alone or not. One can be in a secure room, but it is open to the whole world. He must notice the content of his thoughts. Is the thought in the category of the "alone," or is it totally apart? If it is very far from him, since it is not a time of special pressure, he can move his mind away from the thought with relative ease. He will calm himself and say, "There is no need to think about this; it will not help. I already decided to have two minutes to myself."
If any time remains, he should give his thoughts free reign another time, and then check again where his thoughts went. Let’s say that he started thinking about his bank account. He should ask himself then, "Where am I? At home, or at the bank? Am I alone, or with twelve bank officials and seventy people on line? Where am I?" And he realizes that he is far from being alone. "I am very far from where I need to be." This is called "da’at," "havdalah," "self-awareness": "Are these thoughts related to me, or far from me? Are they part of the ‘I,’ or are they part of the garment, the body, which is not the ‘I’?"
We mentioned before that there are three parts to a person: thoughts, feelings, and actions. They cannot be totally separated. We have been discussing a separation within the feelings, but that is clearly based on a separation in the thought process. Only through the separation of the da’at, through the thoughts, can one separate the feelings, not by working with the feelings directly. Therefore, whether separating the negative actions or the feelings, one must always use the power of da’at. We will try in the next session to analyze this further, until we examine the worlds of thoughts, feelings, and actions, so one can disconnect and not identify with the negative manifestations.
It is clear that there is more to explain if this is to be fully understood (because more principles and details would need to be taught), but the basic idea is that to disconnect from negative feelings toward others (and this helps for other areas of life, as well) one must discover within himself the world of "alone." "Behold, a nation that dwells alone" (Bemidbar 23:9). Each of us has the ability said of Yaakov Avinu: "And Yaakov remained alone" (Bereishis 32:24). As mentioned, one must uncover this power by setting aside quiet time daily and trying to disengage from whatever is not connected to the essential "I." This is a gradual and slow process.
Basic points that emerged from the question and answer period:
One cannot start right away and connect with Hashem through conversation with Him. First, it is necessary to quiet the mind and disconnect from the outside world. Only then is one ready to communicate with Hashem. This fact is found in the laws of tefillah. Even before the brief tefillah of minchah, one must say a chapter of Tehillim so as to calm oneself before relating to Hashem.
Knowledge of truths is only the first step, but it is not enough to change the person until it is internalized. One runs away from fire not because there is information that it burns, but because one senses that fact. The deeper the information is ingrained, the more likely it is that one will be successful with it.
When we speak of the soul as good and the body as negative, these are not absolute terms. The body has some good, but it is primarily negative. The soul has five parts, and the outer parts have progressively more negative energy. Hence, there are negative spiritual forces, which are used in sorcery and such. When we speak of the soul as perfectly good, we refer to the deepest part of the soul.
Some people are more comfortable with action, others with speech, and others with thought. If one is more comfortable with action, he can focus on these ideas through writing. However, since all people relate to all three modes, it is necessary for everyone to express these concepts in thoughts, words, and actions. The only difference is that each person will place a different emphasis on one of these modes.