Achieving Emotional Intimacy

Achieving emotional intimacy

Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Good evening and welcome to Toward a Meaningful Life. Being as this is Super Bowl Sunday, I was thinking about the subject of sports. Nowadays we have the leisure to sit back and relax and watch a game on television. But in the past, sports was much more serious—a preparation for war or some other thing.

But there is one thing that did strike me. Whenever you hear about religion, you always hear the expression “religious fanatics.” Yet you say sports “fan.” I don’t know how many of you know that the word “fan” is actually short for the word “fanatic.” But you never hear anyone say “sports fanatics” and “religious fans.” Just a comment.

So since everything is by Divine Providence, and though the Super Bowl doesn’t necessarily have any significance in our lives besides the fact that it’s entertainment for millions of people, there’s a message in the fact that so many people are consumed with it, so I think this show should be dubbed the “super meaningful” show and we’ll try to find deeper meaning in life as we always do.

I decided to do a topic that has some connection to today’s event, as you’ll see. I recall once hearing a talk that the Lubavitcher Rebbe delivered in 1980, and he was talking about a sports game (he was discussing soccer, which is called football in Europe) and he discussed the message and metaphor it has for our lives.

Essentially, we all have two teams in our lives. One team is called the Divine side of the person—the holy, transcendental side—and the other side is the more narcissistic, indulgent and selfish part of ourselves. The selfless and the selfish. And they’re in constant battle. The battle is who’s going to bring the ball to the goalline of the other side. In other words, each is trying to conquer the other person’s territory.

This is a fundamental concept in Jewish mysticism and Chassidic thought: the perpetual battle between good and evil, between dark and light, and between these two forces in our lives, which is what life is about.

The Divine side in us employs many strategies in order to conquer the other side, for the goal is not only to annihilate but to transform the other territory into something that becomes a channel for the Divine. On the other hand, the other side or team is interested in conquering the Divine. And each of us has that battle.

So we have our little Super Bowl going on in microcosm in our personal lives, and it takes on many different manifestations.

I want to dedicate this show to one of those manifestations, which is the issue of developing emotional intimacy, building trust after there’s been loss and pain. Because when it comes to any battle in our lives, one of the biggest battles that we’re fighting is not necessarily with enemies outside of ourselves, but it’s with the enemy within.

The enemy within takes on many different shapes: the shape of fear, the shape of depression, the shape of lack of trust, both in yourself and others, and it manifests itself in many different ways.

In my own years of teaching and traveling and meeting people, I learn more and more how emotionally hurt so many of us, I would say all of us, are today, in some way.

It’s not a surprise because we live in an existentially lonely world where we essentially are on our own. If we’re blessed with healthy parents, there’s some form of nurturing, comfort and confidence that’s built that gives us the tools to be able to go out there and fight the battle, to fight our Super Bowl.

However, many of us were not given that gift; it was taken away from us. Because we live in a world where careers and money and the various distractions always create some type of insecurity, even for those who had healthy parents. We live in a very insecure world, and this causes a deep erosion of our inner security.

So we don’t have to look far and hard to discover our own battle that we have to deal with, and that battle manifests itself particularly in relationships with others, because when we don’t trust ourselves we definitely do not trust other people. Or to compensate for that lack of trust, we overtrust people to the extreme—we idolize others, we create illusions of absolute trust.

There is an interesting parallel of this in the Torah in that many of its metaphors compare G-d to a relationship, such as to a spouse or a parent. Now, of course, you can’t apply any anthropomorphic principles and descriptions to G-d, yet we have these metaphors, and one of the reasons for that is essentially that we can learn much about our relationship with G-d from our relationship with other people and vice versa.

From our relationship with G-d we can learn how to project that onto our relationship with others. For many people, when you hear concepts like faith in G-d, trust in G-d, those are very religious terms. But in truth, if you really think about it, it’s really about the issue of faith and trust in general, because if you can develop a faith and trust in a higher reality and in G-d, it helps a person develop faith and trust in the people around them. Even though humans are flawed, whereas G-d is not, nevertheless trust is not based purely on perfection. I once read an appropriate line: “Trust is based not on perfection but on accountability.” That is critical in the building of trust and the way we develop emotional intimacy with others and even with ourselves.

So in that context, I want to discuss for a moment, on a more conceptual and more scholarly level, the concept of trust and faith in G-d, and love of G-d. You hear those expressions quite often in religious texts. What does that mean exactly? G-d clearly is invisible. Can you love or stand in awe of something that’s invisible? How do you have a relationship with something that’s invisible?

It’s not on our terms. Yet in the Torah there is clearly an oft-mentioned fundamental mitzvah to love G-d. Emunah b’Hashem (faith in G-d), and bitochen b’Hashem (trust in G-d), are all different elements that when applied properly help actualize the human being created in the Divine image, which is the foundation of Kabbalistic thought, that we are not separated from the cosmic order. Our structure, our infrastructure, our psyches, are shaped and formed in the image of the Divine.

The Divine, essentially, is beyond any image obviously, but as the Kabbalah explains, the Divine manifested itself in an image that allows us to access it. So though you can’t say G-d is wise, what you can say is “G-d is not not wise.” So we have a relationship with the Divine because G-d manifested Himself in an image that relates to us and we can relate to.

That image teaches us how to bridge the two – the human and the Divine. You find in the Torah the concepts of trust and love, and when you create the parallel to our personal lives what you find is this: that the development of trust or faith in G-d essentially is confidence and security that we’re not completely on our own. That’s the basis of what trust is all about.

But one could ask the question, who needs trust anyway? Why don’t we just take care of ourselves—i.e., survival of the fittest. Why do we need trust? Because from childhood on, and even as adults, we are drawn to people we can trust. It gives us a sense of strength, a sense of confidence, a sense of security, knowing that even when we’re weak at times there’s someone to lean on, knowing that there are people who care for us, knowing that we won’t be used, knowing that we can be vulnerable.

So, in essence, love, trust and faith in G-d are three different elements. Love, of course, is a close, intimate relationship. Faith is more of an acceptance of something beyond ourselves, and trust is a manifestation of that faith in the sense that you trust that G-d will actually help you in a particular situation, whether it’s a crisis or not.

In our own personal relationships, we also need those three elements. We need love, we need faith and confidence in the other person, and the trust that they’ll be there for us. Faith is more of a passive state, whereas bitachon, trust, is more of an active one, where you actually know that you can depend and rely on G-d, even in circumstances that seem completely dire.

So looking at our relationship with G-d ultimately teaches us if we have that confidence. I would make the argument that if someone does not have confidence, trust, faith, in other people, they probably don’t have it in G-d either, and vice versa. As Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi says, “Love of other people is an extension of love of G-d” because if you love G-d then you also love what G-d loves, and those are His creatures, His children, human beings, men and woman that live with us.

So the issue of trust is really the ability to reach deeper inside ourselves and not feel embattled or afraid to be able to look at and say, as Hillel said, “Im ain ani li, mi li,” “If I’m not for myself, who will be for me” (that’s one half of it) but to also have the strength to say the second statement, “If I am only for myself, what am I?”

Due to losses, fears, disappointments, and vulnerabilities in our lives (being exploited, relationships that didn’t work, etc.) we have created a certain type of island to protect ourselves which erodes our sense of trust.

People who grew up in homes where they could trust those who loved them and were not disappointed by them on a consistent basis, are people who have the confidence that they can trust others as well, because they learned to trust themselves.

It really comes down to trusting a force inside of us that is deeper and more than just your survival tools. So in that context you see that G-d and humans have very many parallels, because in this area, it comes down to the same type of fears, and on the other hand, the same type of courage and strengths that are required.

I’m laying the groundwork here for the topic, but tonight’s subject is how you actually develop emotional intimacy with another person, particularly after you’ve been hurt or in your mind you feel that you could potentially be hurt. Vulnerability is something that most people are not comfortable with, and you see that every creature is created with defensive mechanisms, protective tools. They say that the porcupine, with its sharp needles, has the softest underbelly of all creatures. So G-d, in a sense, gave it those needles to protect its softness and delicateness.

Each of us does need defense mechanisms but the question is, have we become trapped and are we victims of our defense mechanisms? Is there a time or place, or a person with whom we can allow our vulnerabilities to emerge, where we acknowledge ourselves to be truly intimate and trusting?

In some way I think that’s the ultimate, the epitome of the Super Bowl in our lives, the battle of overcoming fears and learning how to trust. It doesn’t mean trusting the other team, obviously, because they’re adversarial, but rather to learn to trust yourself and have the confidence to be able to go out and fight.

You see that in sports as well as in real life, that when you go with confidence, it boosts your morale. Any good coach does this. There was a custom in the old days, when they would go to war, the soldiers would sing a song of victory when they went into battle, even before they began the first battle. People would ask, how could they sing victory songs; they haven’t even begun fighting? But it was a sense of confidence that needed to be infused at the outset.

In the Vietnam War, for example, the soldiers, the armies, did not know what they were fighting for and definitely were not confident that they could win, so it became a demoralized battle.

So battle requires some type of boost and therefore a confidence and trust in yourself, in your teammates, in the people around you, your family, and those who can help you fight the battles of life. G-d should help us that we should have minimal battles, but each of us has our battles, our territory, our turf to conquer.

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Jacobson: I think to put things in context, it’s wise to begin by discussing what trust is exactly. We described earlier that it’s a form of accepting something beyond yourself and recognizing the need for your own growth and self-actualization, to be able to have more in your life than your own little survival space.

Now the question is, are we born innately with trust? If you look at children, they have a natural trust for their parents, adults and those around them that love them. They don’t have to acquire that trust. After nine months of pregnancy where it was completely dependent on its mother, a newborn child doesn’t even have a choice. It cries, it expects to be fed, nurtured, and taken care of.

We don’t really even know what a child is thinking in the newborn stage, and it may not be consciously thinking about trust, but it’s accustomed to receiving its needs. So trust is developed and established right at the outset.

As the child grows, and there is a conscious sense of parent, at whatever age this occurs, where a child knows that it can run to its mother or father, trust is continuously developed and cultivated further, consistent with what the child experienced in the womb and what the child experienced in the early stages outside of the womb.

So trust is really something that we are all entitled to and should inherently have in a healthy environment. As long as parents in the early stages continue to provide for their child in a healthy way, the trust continues to be fed. When trust is contaminated, when the first disappointment comes (now none of us remember that first disappointment because it may have been very subtle and we may have been too young), we only remember when the disappointments begin to accumulate and they begin to become a factor, an issue, in our lives.

The first disappointment is when a parent does not provide something or an expectation is not met. Again, I don’t mean an expectation that’s unhealthy, I mean the natural expectation that a child has from its parents.

Then, of course, the child grows older and begins to go out into the world, but in the world it doesn’t expect the same type of provisions it expects at home. Nevertheless, if the child has good friends, family, community, school, and schoolmates, if they’re healthy, they can continue to feed that trust.

Trust is something that needs to be fed and reinforced throughout our early stages in life. The longer that lasts, the healthier that child will grow, because as they grow older, they have an arsenal of trust built up which gives them trust in themselves. They can begin to pick and choose whom to trust, because they’ve seen what real trust is. By contrast, they see whom they cannot trust.

And once you grow into an adult, you have the tools that are essentially fundamental and critical in determining a spouse, or someone you can trust in business. Obviously mistakes can be made, but you have the confidence and the fear is not there to the same extent.

This perfect picture that I’m depicting may not be realistic for most of us, but, as I often say, when you study art you need to have a backdrop that is as perfect as it gets, so you can then juxtapose a the actual situation and compare the two.

So it’s valuable to look at the situation at the optimum level and then compare it to your own life. Now we’ll go to the other extreme where that reinforcement did not take place, where after leaving its mother’s womb, the child did not feel wanted, or the reinforcement stopped or never began.

Most of us fall in between these two extremes.

So what happens is, the child, who had a natural sense of trust and expectation, suddenly deep inside begins to stop trusting—not trusting others, not trusting itself because the message became quite clear. All this is happening on a very unconscious level which makes it so profound; if it happened consciously then you could always correct it and say, okay, you can’t trust this person but you can trust that person.

But once the scar is embedded in the child’s psyche, it becomes a very profound scar because it’s something that can’t even be talked about. The child begins to create its own way of trusting, or better put, its own way of survival.

A child like that may move around a lot and not be comfortable in one place for too long. A child like that may not develop healthy friendships because he or she always has to be fearful that it won’t work. And, of course, a child like that who grows into an adult is always going to find it increasingly difficult to trust another person in its life and have real emotional intimacy.

Now of course this is a deep therapeutic analysis that’s required case by case, but the fact is, understanding the deeper causes helps us then to look at what the remedy is, because everything has a remedy.

As a matter of fact, the Talmud says that preceding any illness is a cure. And that’s why doctors and researchers are completely confident that a cure will be found for any newly discovered illness. How are they sure?  Perhaps some illnesses won’t have a cure? But humans have a certain confidence that there will be, and that confidence comes because G-d built it into the system, an immune system, the ability to heal.

Let’s take an average situation where a child has not been completely abandoned but subtle disappointments have taken place, so you grow into an adult where there’s a certain amount of trust because you had some experiences that reinforced it, but you also had experiences that undermined it.

In that type of situation there’s at least some type of rationale that’s working, where the person says, okay now I have to pick and choose. Some of us may be extremely careful to find the right person to trust because we are not totally sure of ourselves and others, but there isn’t the same compelling powerful force that, for instance, a child who has been abandoned has, G-d forbid, where they don’t have any trust at all.

I will try to address both of these issues, but here’s where the key element to this entire picture comes into play, and that’s what I mentioned earlier about G-d.

If we lost complete trust in people around us, then the question is, what alternative do we have? Do we just continue living a life of survival and basic distrust, trusting minimally just for particular needs, for a livelihood, a boss, for very quick instant gratification, not sticking around for too long, no long-term commitment? That’s one option, but I’m not going to accept that option here, because that’s resignation and fatalism, where you’re a victim of circumstances.

Option two is creating some type of alternative way of accessing trust. Here there is no choice but to turn to G-d or what we’ll call the Divine soul. It’s recognizing that beneath or beyond transcending all the experiences you had at home, transcending all the disappointment, the fact that you’re alive means that there’s a purpose, a design. You have a soul. You may not trust it because your environment didn’t allow you to access that soul, but it is critical that you recognize your soul as your foundation, your anchor. Without it you will remain a victim.

Here’s where the faith, trust and love in G-d is so critical in learning how to have faith, trust and love in other people. Because ultimately anything that is temporary—including our parents, friends, and community, even when they are trustworthy and they have nurtured us—it’s still temporary quantitatively and qualitatively – relative to what they are able to do. They are human beings. And if one day they turn against you, does that mean that suddenly the rug is pulled out from under you? No, because parents don’t give you your soul. What they do is help create an environment in which you can trust yourself.

So the idea of having a soul in this context is not even a religious issue. It’s not religious fanaticism, it’s a religious “fan” because it’s about having the confidence that you can do it.

There are football players now playing a game (the Super Bowl). The fact that they excel at what they do is because they’ve learned through their training, through their experience and through their raw talent, that they can do it. There’s an element of experience.

Any trust we have in ourselves is based on two things: a talent that you recognize and the confidence that you can access it. There are many people who have talents but they’re afraid to access them. They don’t know whether they can do it well.

That’s why you need the experience. Both together create a powerful force that allows anybody to really have confidence and trust. So what is it in us that we have to look for to gain confidence? Is it a talent? Those are not bad, but they’re fundamentally not necessarily going to create confidence because you see people who are extremely talented and don’t have any confidence. Somebody had to be there for the person—a mentor, a parent, a teacher—that had to say, you’re good at this. Do it.

Ultimately it comes down to the fact that not only do you have a talent, but you have a soul. You have a purpose. That purpose manifests itself in your talents and your skills, and that’s yours and yours alone. Without the awareness of your own power and the experience of actualizing it (using your soul, to influence or inspire others for instance), those two things develop the type of confidence that creates trust. That spills over to how we trust other people as well. So the element of creating emotional intimacy and trust is very much connected to our spiritual side.

Now, in a strange way, people who do have trust in parents, family, and community, may in some ways be more insecure than those who don’t, and I’ll show you how the tables turn after the break.

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Jacobson: Unfortunately, the eclipse of the sun often teaches us more about sunlight than sunlight does. The fact that some of us grew up in secure homes may give us a healthy sense of security, but ultimately the bottom line fear is that it was given to you by other humans, which means in a way, that they can take it away.

In a strange, ironic twist, people who did not have security from the home, or who had it minimally and were hurt by those who were supposed to love them (which creates even more distrust than being hurt by a stranger), have a unique opportunity because for them, the only thing they can turn to is their soul. They don’t have the illusion of depending on humans—humans who are mercurial, temperamental, and so on.

In a strange way, it may be harder for them to do so, but when they do, they reach into a much purer place of trust. That trust comes from the ultimate, absolute confidence that we’re here on this earth and that G-d put us here and that you have a soul.

I’m going to discuss more about exactly how we access that soul, but since I invited phone calls, let me take one. We have Jeff on the air.

Caller: Hello Rabbi. I was fascinated with your show, driving home from flying for a few days (I fly for a living). I’m in New Hampshire, and I found your topic to be basically the story of my life and found myself… you used the word “island,” and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that. Though I have a lot of friends, intimate relationships have been elusive for the reason you’re describing: a lack of trust and a lack of confidence in myself. Both of those things have been extremely difficult for me to overcome, and I have felt stuck for many, many years.

When you said you had some ideas on how to get out of being stuck, that made me stop and pull over to the side of the road and give you a call.

Jacobson: I appreciate that. Is this the first time you’re listening to the show?

Caller: Yes sir. I just found you on the radio.

Jacobson: Let me ask you this. How did you get into flying? Do you think that’s connected to your experience?

Caller: I don’t know. I have loved airplanes since I was eight or nine years old and I don’t know where that came from other than I found a real freedom and peace while I’m in the air and it’s almost…

Jacobson: Maybe it’s flying away from all the problems down on earth.

Caller: Possibly. It’s also a place where I’m in control and I feel like I know what I’m doing.

Jacobson: Where in New Hampshire are you?

Caller: A place called Lake Winnipesaukee. Are you familiar with it?

Jacobson: Not exactly. I’m familiar with a lake, but not that particular lake.

Caller: Did you ever see the movie On Golden Pond? Part of that was filmed on this lake.

Jacobson: Okay, I’m going to answer the question. It’s a great question and of course a key question for a person who is stuck in a place like that. Of course I want to say to you Jeff, that each of us has our own particular situation that is unique and difficult to speak about case by case on the radio, but you could say this. I think it’s critical to use exercises that help a person access the deepest and innermost self which is the soul. Whether you’re a religious person or not, everybody has a certain purpose of existence and it’s critical to access that center of your life. Without it, there’s no way that trust will be built based on humans, particularly once people have disappointed us. Then we’ve given up on people.

So where are we suddenly going to find trust? Some people do find trust perhaps in a reckless way where they just give up their entire independence and they just trust someone absolutely, which is also unhealthy at times.

So where’s a person going to find that type of trust? You have to discover something new that did not hurt them. And that new thing is your soul. And that may be through prayer or through study.

Jeff, if you’re still on the line, speak to the producer and leave your name and number and I can make some specific recommendations and suggestions in your case. And I’ll soon give more examples. But let me go to the next call. We have Douglas on the air.

Caller: Hello. How are you? Well, the subject of which you talk about. I want to ask you if you think trust emerges from your ability to die freely or to die and/or sacrifice your life via election, conscious choice with full knowledge? Is there a relationship between death and trust that cannot be erased?

Jacobson: Are you in a particular situation like that?

Caller: I am just thinking about many things. I’m thinking about the greatest act of trust I could think of offhand when Abraham went up to the mountain and Isaac was trusting too because he did not resist. So they were both very complicitous in this. There was tremendous trust and it was in the face of death, so that’s one thing. The other thing that’s on my mind is illness. There’s a member of my immediate family who is gravely ill. I don’t use the word lightly. Everyone’s listening and watching the clock. I think about trust and betrayal.

Jacobson: Thank you for the call. It’s a very good question. I think trust has very much to do with mortality and health, because one of the contributing factors to the insecurity of our lives is our mortality, our health, and all the unexpected elements that can always hit us and strike us in spontaneous ways. But particularly mortality—many thinkers have written that mortality is something that haunts people, even from a very young age, even though they may not be conscious of it. The fact is, as the Bechayei, a great medieval Torah scholar writes, that as soon as a child is born it begins to age.

So mortality begins at the beginning of life. For many, the fear of death, or better than saying the fear of conscious death (which doesn’t really come until later on in life or when you really brush a very dangerous situation or come out of a crisis), we could say the temporariness of life, where we see people coming and going and we see that life has an end and a beginning), is one of the biggest contributing factors to insecurity. That just underscores even more the inherent insecurity of life, one that that nobody can take away from you. Even your parents. Healthy, nurturing, trusting people cannot take away the inherent mortality that we have. And that’s why the immortality of the soul is such a powerful force in our lives because it creates an eternal anchor.

The fact is, if all of your actions, if every good deed you do, every price that you pay in your life, disappears and is eaten by the worms that will eat your body one day, then how invested can we really be in those actions?

I mean, we’re invested for the time being, but it doesn’t have eternal, cosmic value. However, when you recognize that you’re here for a purpose, a divine purpose, and your soul actualizes that and lives on forever and ever, whether we understand it or not (and our bodies are not who we are; our bodies are just vehicles for a spiritual experience), it changes the entire confidence and trust in what we do. So I think illness, health and death are very big factors.

Let’s go to Bernard on the air.

Caller: Hello. Glad to talk to you. This is a very timely subject for me. I’m just going through a trauma that is totally unbelievable. My wife was admitted to a hospital seven months ago for a urinary tract infection. You talk about trust? We’ve been betrayed by doctors, by the medical profession. I got her back. By the time it was all over, they gave her an aspirated pneumonia which I didn’t realize because the nurse pushed some liquid Tylenol down her throat. Then she was transferred to a nursing home.

To make a long story short, she was seven months on a respirator and she just died. My wife died because the medical profession did not take care of her. Now you’re telling me to trust? If we don’t trust our doctors, and I have very bad experiences with it, who can we really trust, because we live in an interdependent society. You tell me, I think this system is totally broken. I’m a victim of it. Not only that, at the end they give you a bill that I have to pay for their mistakes.

Jacobson: Bernard, I have no words to console you, obviously, and my feeling about your pain I’m sure I speak on behalf of all the listeners. It’s very painful to hear this. I’m not suggesting that you have to trust doctors who have betrayed you. That’s not the issue at all. At this point in the game where you are right now, your outrage is legitimate and I’m not suggesting that you swallow or in any way compromise it. Maybe you have to sue them for everything they’re worth, as I often suggest here.

Doctors are human beings and especially if they were negligent and caused you so much pain and anguish, you should not ignore or overlook that. My heart goes out to you. All I can say in the larger sense of it is that the key is not to remain bitter and broken from it, but in some way the memory of your wife is with you, and frankly, the trust that you need to have is not in doctors, it needs to be in the immortality of your wife’s soul.

Though she’s gone physically, and I’m not minimizing the loss, nevertheless her life was worth it. You don’t want to say that the years she was here with you were just temporary ones and you’re just going through temporary pain. She lives on forever, and how you dedicate your life and how you memorialize and commemorate her life is ultimately the greatest victory.

In no way is what the doctors did forgivable; nevertheless, you can’t continue living purely with anger, you must do something productive. But I think at this point, the fact that it just took place, my heart goes out and right now the shock and the anger is appropriate and I wouldn’t in any way swallow that. But I’m just describing in the bigger picture what it does for you, and I would pursue those doctors and the medical profession.

A doctor-patient relationship, whether a psychological or medical doctor, is a sacred trust, perhaps more sacred than anything, because we put our lives in their hands. Actually, G-d tells us, I give permission for doctors to heal. But doctors are human beings, and many of them are arrogant, I mean, there are many stories of where doctors abused and betrayed that sacred trust.

But in a broader sense, I must say to all the listeners, each of us is in some way a doctor because there are people who trust us in particular areas, and we have to be acutely sensitive not to betray that trust. Particularly when you’re trusted in a certain area, that’s where you have to be most careful. If you stay on the line, Bernard, I would like to get your name and number and talk to you perhaps off the air.

Let’s go to Baruch from Brooklyn.

Caller: I would like to say maybe you want to address the role of big cities? People living in big cities seem to have more of a problem with the topic you’ve mentioned as opposed to other areas, or at least that’s the stereotype.

Jacobson: Why do you think big cities? Because there are more people to distrust?

Caller: Well, I would say that in New York City you have the stereotype of people being ripped off. If you consider that a marriage is one type of trust, the rate of “singleness” is the highest in New York City and especially in Manhattan. What does that say? Maybe you want to address that.

I think also an important thing is when we’re talking about this topic, there’s a saying, “A trust given is a trust earned.” I think that’s a piece of wisdom that people say. I think also for example, let’s say somebody is working for the Department of Defense and they start off and have a certain level of security clearance. After a while, if they perform well, they get a higher level, and progressively they’re entrusted with access to more and more sensitive things.

Jacobson: I understand. That’s a very good point. Thank you for the call. Well, about big cities, there are many factors that contribute to fear and insecurity, lack of trust. I wouldn’t put cities on the top of the list although I’m sure it’s a factor as well, but one could argue the other way around. In a small town where you know all the people and their parents, and grandparents and great-grandparents, sometimes distrust is so deeply embedded that there’s no hope. There are no strangers, there’s no one new there. So it has its own internal politics. It’s almost like cross-breeding and there’s no relief. Whereas in a big city, there are more people, strangers, a certain turnover that allows for some breathing room. Sometimes when things are unhealthy in a small town, they remain unhealthy for generations and generations — you have many themes in novels and real life stories that demonstrate that. Whereas in the big city there’s a sort of recycling.

On the other hand, a big city has a depersonalization that does not always exist in a smaller town. I really think it comes down to not whether it’s a big city or a small city, but whether there is a healthy community that cultivates a sense of trust.

To use the Jewish community as a model, one of the most important things in the Jewish community, if you look at Jewish history, whenever Jews moved to a city or town, one of the first few things that they establish is besides the mikveh, (a ritual bath place, which is important for family structure), and a synagogue, but also a gmach, a gemillas chassidim, a freeloan society, where they make sure to provide for the people who are more needy in the community.

It’s part of the infrastructure of every Jewish community and I think the secular world can learn much from establishing similar responsibilities in every community. The United States, thank G-d, is a land of charity and graciousness. You find so many non-for-profit organizations that do just that. Sometimes an organization becomes depersonalized as well, but I’m talking about the personal touch, the attitude, of being able to cultivate trust in the community for those who may be in need, for orphans, for widows, people who are ill.

You find so many hospitals that are very much based on Jewish thinking. You find people who visit the sick every day or give them a gift. These are factors that definitely contribute to creating that trust.

Going back to the suggestions I was going to make, the real question is, how does one nourish their soul and develop trust?

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Jacobson: I think the first thing is to develop a trust within yourself and your soul. How do you do that? Well, there are no gimmicks and no shortcuts. It comes down to a commitment that’s consistent and absolute. You see, one of the traps of a distrusting person is that they always look for panaceas, quick or even long-term solutions that are going to solve all their problems. And they grab onto them like a straw in a stormy ocean for hope.

These desperate attempts usually do not result in long-term security. Perhaps it provides a bunch of short-term security blankets. Ultimately it comes down to a commitment to your soul that may be a blind commitment. But that’s exactly what a person with a blind spot in search of survival may need, a blind commitment to your soul. You have to designate time every day for study—not just mathematics or physics, study of the soul. There are books, tapes, classes that talk about who you are, what your soul is.

Saturating yourself with that information begins to cultivate a sense of trust in your soul. It’s like anything. With players in the Super Bowl or army soldiers, 90% of their time is training and some of them never even go to battle. What is training? You have to get accustomed to doing it. So with developing trust, you have to get accustomed to yourself. It’s like any research. There’s no way you can know about something unless you learn about it or read about it. So it’s critical that you learn what the soul looks like, how it functions, how it does not function, what signals it sends to you, how you nourish it. So study is the first thing.

The second thing is prayer. Prayer is more of an emotional experience. You literally make time, and if you need to cry as well, to ask, to turn to G-d and say, I need help, I need to be able to get out of this place. I’m not turning to human beings, I’m turning to a higher force. That type of surrender is a critical element as well.

And finally actions. I mentioned before graciousness and good deeds, whether it’s volunteer work with the ill, widows, orphans, or people who are in pain. Even if you’re in pain and you help another person, it says that G-d answers you first, so there’s a certain empathy that you bring to the table that someone who does not have that loss cannot.

So for people who have lost trust, perhaps a good way to work with it is to teach others, because we’re usually always good at giving advice to others even though we ourselves don’t always apply that advice. But by helping others in that situation, there’s always going to be an echo, a certain reciprocal force that will help you as well.

The key is consistency, that all this has to be done consistently whether you like it or not. If you’re trapped and there’s no way that you’re going to get away with comfort zones. It’s critical to be consistent and really do something, make a move.

On the currency of the United States, it says, “In G-d We Trust.” They chose the word “trust.” Not “In G-d We Believe,” not “In G-d We Depend.” Trust. And that word is key because I don’t know what was the inspiration of the founding fathers or whoever created the currency, but of all places to put that on money, which is the most temporary of things, can we trust money? Can we trust people with money? You know the answer to that. You can’t trust money because money is constantly being spent and earned. It’s not consistent. It’s not eternal.

People who have money can be bought and sold. You see what money does to almost everybody. So onto money, the epitome of temporariness, of selfishness, of materialism and greed, was etched the words “In G-d We Trust”—in our coins and printed onto our dollars, There is definitely very deep inspiration in this, because it’s saying that even while I’m spending this money, I recognize that there’s something greater that I can trust in.

In an interesting way, it also focuses on why you have this money. You have the money in order to do something great in this world with it. It’s not an end in itself. It’s not just to be collected and hoarded to have the security of knowing that you have a lot of money.

That’s a false security. Everyone remembers what happened to Howard Hughes, how he became a victim of his wealth. And who has not become a victim? We should all be blessed with wealth, but with the wisdom of how to use that wealth and how to recognize that wealth, material gain is only a means. It can never ever create and give you security.

So in this battle of the ultimate Super Bowl in our lives, our super meaningful lives, the message is quite clear, and that is, none of us have absolute trust, neither in G-d nor in other people, for all the reasons that we mentioned. Life is a very insecure place. This world is a very insecure dungeon in many ways, and it breaks us. It definitely demoralizes and weakens us; it disappoints us and betrays us.

The question is, what are you going to do with it ? Are you a victim and you’re going to remain there and bemoan the situation, or wallow in the pain of it? Or can you do something about it?

The masters that I have been privileged to study and learn with suggest that you have a power that transcends that. You do have the power to trust, if you access deeper resources. It’s like going to an athlete (or for that matter, a professional in any area) who’s lacking confidence but you know clearly as a friend or as a coach that he or she has the tools. First of all, you have to boost their ego and their morale. Secondly, you have to put them on the field and say, “Do it! I’ll show you that you can do it.” And they do it once, twice, three, four times and they begin to succeed. That infuses confidence.

The same thing is here. You have a soul. The only way you can know you have confidence is to use it, to use it in active consistent situations. If you’re desperate and looking for survival, then you must force yourself to commit in a consistent way.

May G-d bless us all that we should develop the type of emotional intimacy that is a direct consequence and result of true trust, not just in ourselves, but trust in G-d, in our souls, a trust that ultimately spills over and allows us to have the power to have very meaningful relationships.

This has been Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. We hope you’ll join us next week.


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