How We Define Our Own Destinies
Dear Rabbi Jacobson,
In many of your writings
I have read that each of us is responsible to be happy. Indeed, it is a mitzvah
to have simcha (joy). You have eloquently explained that each of us is indispensable
and worthy of being joyful. However I would like to ask you, especially now
that we enter the month of Adar, a month of joy: Is it possible that some
of us are just wired to be happier than others? It often appears that way.
Some people seem to simply have a happy disposition while others just don’t.
The real question is this:
Does our wiring define our attitudes and personalities or do our attitudes
define our wiring?
Broader yet: Can our thoughts
change reality? Do our feelings shape our destiny?
The possibility may sound
preposterous, but the truth is that science now is embracing precisely this
idea: That our reality is shaped by our thoughts. Or as it has recently been
coined: Neurons get wired by the way they are fired. By repeatedly thinking
about something a certain way, our minds actually get (re)wired to follow
that thought pattern.
If, for instance, you
think negatively about yourself, your neurons get hardwired with a negative
self-perception, to the point that the negative self-image becomes a self-fulfilling
reality, in which you can no longer distinguish between the initial thought
and the reality it has created.
And once they neurons
get wired into place, through habitual thinking, it becomes increasingly difficult
to unwire yourself.
Yet, just as we have become
wired a certain way, we can also become unwired, through persistent effort
we can refire our neurons and rewire them with new attitudes.
Quantum physics takes this to a further extreme: We have
the power to impact not just our neurons and self-perception
but also the reality of existence around us. Indeed, many
scientists argue that there really is no distinction between
our thoughts and the reality around us. If, for example,
a certain event has never entered the realm of possibility
in your consciousness, then you will not be able to see
the event even if actually is in your sight of vision!
Our entire concept of reality is actually turned inside
out: We always thought that there is an objective reality
“out there” which we then experience and try
to comprehend. The truth is that it’s not reality
that shapes our perception; our perception shapes our reality.
A Japanese researcher, Dr. Masaru Emoto, has demonstrated
that human thought has the power to change the shape and expression of water
crystals. Using powerful microscopes he showed that crystals formed in frozen
water reveal changes when specific, concentrated thoughts are directed toward
them. In his new book, The Hidden Messages in Water, he describes his findings,
that water from clear springs and water that has been exposed to loving words
shows brilliant, complex, and colorful snowflake patterns. In contrast, polluted
water, or water exposed to negative thoughts, forms incomplete, asymmetrical
patterns with dull colors.
A recent documentary called What The Bleep Do We
Know? explores this issue, presenting extensive
interviews with prominent physicists and thinkers.
In some mysterious way, on a quantum level, sub-atomic particles sense that
they are being observed, and they are affected by the observer.
As the physicist John
Wheeler explains: “Nothing is more important about the quantum principle than
this, that it destroys the concept of the world as ‘sitting out there,’ with
the observer safely separated from it by a 20-centimeter slab of plate glass.
Even to observe so minuscule an object as an electron, he must shatter the
glass. He must reach in. He must install his chosen measuring equipment. It
is up to him to decide whether he shall measure position or momentum. To install
the equipment to measure the one prevents and excludes his installing the
equipment to measure the other. Moreover, the measurement changes the state
of the electron. The universe will never afterward be the same. To describe
what has happened, one has to cross out that old word ‘observer’ and put in
its place the new word ‘participator.’ In some strange sense, the universe
is a participatory universe.”
What’s fascinating about this is not the actual concept.
Mystics have always understood the universe as a participatory one. Indeed,
the opening verses of the Bible make it very clear that the human being created
in the Divine Image has the power – and the responsibility – to shape and
transform the universe.
The amazing thing is that this so-called mystical idea
– which seems so counter-intuitive to linear logic – is being recognized by
science as an empirical fact. This only reinforces the mystical teachings
(namely in the Zohar) that at the dawn of Messianic times there will be an
explosion of wisdom – both above and below, Divine wisdom as well as scientific
wisdom. And a wisdom that will reflect the utter unity between matter and
So now, are we wired to be happy or to be sad? Or do we
control our wiring?
No doubt that many people seem to have a despondent predisposition,
and others a cheerful one. Add into the equation the hurt and deprivation
many have suffered in their childhoods it can almost appear impossible to
overcome the dysfunctionality wired into our psyches. And any attempt to change
things would seem futile.
All that is true, if we are bound to our wiring, like a
computer dependent on its circuitry. However, we are not mere machines. We
have the power to rewire ourselves, and to reshape even a daunting reality.
Besides the fact that many of our demons are our own self-destructive illusions,
even the ones that have some objective reality are also in our control.
Someone once came to the
Tzemech Tzedek imploring that he pray on behalf of a certain individual who
was seriously ill. The Tzemech Tzedek replied: “Tracht gut vet zayn gut,”
think good and it will be good. Positive thinking can actually change the
situation for the better.
Once upon a time this
could have been taken as a religious statement, driven primarily by faith.
Today it is becoming scientific fact that our thoughts define our realities.
As one great master once
said: Some people think “why am I so sad because things aren’t working in
my life.” The truth is that things aren’t working because you are so sad.
People often believe that they are not happy because they have no joy in their
lives. The truth is the other way around: By being joyous you become happy.
Which comes to explain
the ultimate question: Will this world ever change and actually realize the
purpose of its being – a world filled with virtue and love, with no more injustice
It almost seems like an impossible dream. When we witness
the selfishness around and within us – with some researchers arguing that
“the average human being is about 95 percent selfish in the narrow sense of
the term” – you have to wonder how human inclinations will ever change? Of
course, Divine intervention can achieve anything. However, we are told to
not depend on miracles. How will things change naturally?
Robert H. Frank wrote in a recent article in the New York
Times (Business, February 17), that we are influenced by our own theories.
Our personal attitudes and beliefs about selfishness and giving directly impact
and define our own behavior.
He cites an experimental
study of private contributions to a common project, which “found that first-year
graduate students in economics contributed an average of less than half the
amount contributed by students from other disciplines.
“Other studies have found
that repeated exposure to the self-interest model makes selfish behavior more
likely. In one experiment, for example, the cooperation rates of economics
majors fell short of those of nonmajors, and the difference grew the longer
the students had been in their respective majors.”
Frank concludes, that what is particularly troubling is
that “the narrow self-interest model, which encourages us to expect the worst
in others, often brings out the worst in us as well.”
Everyone is affected by
the attitudes and expectations of those around us, and ultimately by the expectations
we have of ourselves. If you have been inundated with a message that you are
a lowly creature, or that we are all not much more than selfish beasts, especially
if this position helped shaped you in your formative years, inevitably your
“script” has been written.
I’ll never forger my shock
when I heard for the first time someone tell me, in response to my question
what he looks forward to in life, “I would be happy if I just did not get
hurt in life. When a day passes and I come out intact, I breathe a sigh of
relief and feel accomplished.” This individual was hurt so many times, that
his threshold for “normal” and his expectation for happiness was: No damage.
Well, the good news is
that within the disease lies the cure: Our attitudes and beliefs have the
power to rewire ourselves and the universe – to higher the standard that we
expect of ourselves.
We are not doomed and
we are not static. Each of us has a vibrant spirit, and with will power, persistence
and good support, we can unplug, refire and rewire our systems.
We have the power to not relegate our lives to watching
others watch others watch others watching us – in
one vicious cycle of “the blind leading the blind”
spiraling downward, with producers accusing consumers of
lowering the standards and vice versa; punctuated by the
prerequisite hand-wringing “oh my, look how things
have deteriorated,” with everyone winking at each
other while scowling at Janet Jackson. How often do we hear
producers arguing that the low standard of TV broadcasting
is due to the demand of the consumers, and the consumers
arguing, that “we watch what they show us,”
and advertisers salivating either way as long as they get
their product planted into our hearts.
Yes, we have the power
to rewire ourselves – to rewire the very consciousness of existence.
The world will change
when we change our attitudes. Expect more of yourself and you will become
more. Expect more of others and they will become more.
All it takes are a few
individuals who will stand up to the prevalent status quo. Instead of going
with the flow and following the current, they will be truly “independent”
and lift the expectations that we have of each other to its deserved place:
That we live up to the Divine image within ourselves.
All it takes is you and
I and a few other individuals. If ten of us can do, ten thousand can. If then
thousand can, ten million can. After all, the six billion of us are merely
six billion individuals like you and me.