Simi Sebbag, Brooklyn, NY
MyLife Essay Contest 2018
It’s happening more and more often these days that I look around and find that the people whom I had relied on in hard times are nowhere to be found. An empty ache in my chest is making me aware that I feel alone. I’m coming to a stark realization that in my present time of need, I will have to be my own comfort. Rabbi, how can I be my own source of inspiration when I myself need the encouragement? Is there a way to reassure myself when I am so forlorn? Will I forever be confined to needing the support of others who often do not want to provide it? I feel helpless.
Helpless but Searching Soul
The quandary of which you speak is not a surprising one. As we tackle life head-on, it can get rough and tiring. In those bumpy times, it’s easy to fall deep into the pit of despair. Next, the loss of how to regain courage and continue with strength. Access to self-inspiration has been provided by the first Lubavitcher Rebbe in his masterwork of the Tanya; Iggeret HaKodesh; Epistle 11. There, he lends tremendous insight into the role that challenges play in life. I’ll also reference the Freudian theory and the contemporary belief of self-worth, self-acceptance and validation for contrast in methodology of addressing the topic of helping yourself out of a rut.
In Freudian Theory, all issues are believed to stem from the subconscious; infamous Id; root of all base and low wants. He suggests probing inward to discern the source of your despair and need for support. Perhaps this is result of a deep and subconscious trauma or an unresolved issue that occurred in your past. This is probably causing you to resort to various behaviors in attempt to cope with and manage your uncomfortable feelings of despair and loneliness. In psychoanalysis, the unconscious is made conscious so that hidden emotions can be addressed and cured. This is accomplished by a number of means, among ‘Free Association’ where associations with a particular picture or topic of conversation are analyzed to determine the underlying and undealt-with event. Another method is ‘Dream Analysis’ in which the psychoanalyst evaluates the individual’s dreams to determine the core issue.
Understandably, the above-mentioned method requires a tremendous amount of time in discerning the source trauma and then dealing with it. Additionally, recalling painful issues from the past, should they not be successfully cured, can cause a severe regression in state of functionality due to unbearable emotional pain short of a clear coping technique. Another thought on this matter is that how can one be sure of which underlying issues are the cause for which unhealthy behaviors? One error in this area can be the cause of many wasted hours, funding and much wasted daunting emotional work, as well as the repercussions of uncovering unconscious memories, all for naught.
Finally, is there a method that can be used by in the moment, and without the aid of another’s analysis?
Contemporary Psychological Views
Current psychology promotes a wholesome sense of self as the solution to many problems. Should one’s worth be dependent on external circumstances such as appearance, social status, popularity, financial worth, accomplishments, successes, etc., they will find themselves pretty down in the dumps. Reducing emphasis on the uncontrollable circumstances and focusing on unchangeable personality and essential existence will significantly boost self-worth. As a result of a healthy self-esteem stemming from one’s own essential value, there will have be more strength to encourage oneself to continue in hard times.
While positive-image increase will indeed strengthen one’s general moral, better equipping them to face hardships, will this provide the support that is so direly needed in face of a debilitating challenge? In struggling to deal with what feels too overwhelming, will self-worth relieve the stress of a heavy burden?
Alternatively, contemporary psychology also strongly encourages self-acceptance and validation. When emotions in connection to a particular experience (past or present) are not given due consideration, they will remain in the psyche until recognized. They may even begin to “act out” in effort to be noticed, such as bad moods, headaches. In focusing on feeling the emotion, agreeing with its cause and allowing it to be experienced, the sentiment will feel validated, no longer requesting attention in an unsolicited manner. In self-acceptance, no feelings are off limits. They are all valuable and deserving of expression.
Self-awareness and acceptance are healthy habits. Yet, in practicing these methods, there are high chances of extensive self-obsession. Instead of graduating from the issue, emotions are experienced without cap and begin to control one’s life. Feelings become the ‘Ten Commandments’ of addressing issues, while there is already an over-indulgence in the emotions and wallowing in self-pity to the point of non-growth. When in a rut, it’s easy to revert to feelings, but often they are what hold one back from moving forward. Moreover, as the problem itself is still yet to be overcome, there are high chances of becoming overwhelmed all over again. Also, at times, the emotion can be so overpowering that to experience it, dissect it, and understand it, is simply not feasible.
These methods may be helpful, but let’s go further to provide an essentially effective plan to selfempowerment and support in times of resignation and need for support.
HbSS, your need for reliance on others is normal. I believe it stems from the innate knowledge that you are not invincible. You are an honest individual who knows that one person cannot possibly be responsible for all their life’s events and occurrences. And so, when you are faced with a challenge that does not fit on your plate, you look to share the challenge with another who may be able to carry the burden with you, making it lighter to hold.
The situation becomes painful when there is no one to support you in your hardship, or when they don’t provide ample support. Alternately, it is provided, but in a manner that does not sit well with you, leaving you to feel uncomfortable and unwanted. There are seldom gifts of friendship, but they cannot be relied on for constant support as who can guarantee that another human will always step up to the plate? There must be a more secure technique to be relieved of the unceasing burdens of life.
It is, in fact, correct that it cannot be done alone. As much as we would like to think so, we cannot successfully carry the weight of life’s issues on our own. It must be shared. The question is, with whom?
The Bigger Picture
In Epistle 11 of Iggeret HaKodesh, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe (Alter Rebbe) sets the stage for comprehending challenges. This understanding will provide the method of relief from them.
The first step is to acknowledge the source of existence. There exists an extensive Universe, replete with galaxies, stars, planets, Earth, human beings, plants, trees, vegetables and plants, insects, wild-life and infinitely more. All this paraphernalia is not self-standing. It was brought into being by the Omni-Present Higher Power.
In fact, since G-d is the initial and infinite, He is therefore the only true existence. (Nothing created Him, as He always existed. Since time is a creation, He is beyond that as well. Truth is determined by permanence, of which He is the most of all). By extension, any creation is not independently existing, but rather, is completely dependent on His trueness to remain in being. When a typical handiwork is built, the craftsman will depart thereafter, leaving the piece to stand on its own. This is not so with the Creator of the Universe, Earth and everything beyond and in between. Were He to “walk away” from any creation, it would posses no ability to continue existing its own.
And so, it is. All creations, from the Sun down to the shoelace, are constantly being brought into being; created and recreated by the One Above. (And since He is the source of all existence, He is also the One Below). Were He to cease His active creation, the creations would cease in turn.
With the awareness of this knowledge in mind, it is logical understanding that any potential issue or challenge that you may encounter, whether it be a death, financial crisis, difficulties in child-rearing, late-night stress, or anything else, is all, not only created by Him in the past, but is presently being brought into being again and again by Him at every moment. He is the perpetual creator of your challenges.
Proprietor of Problems
Taking this further, if G-d is the Creator of your problems, then surely, they belong to Him. In other words, your problems do not belong to you.
When you worry and stress about an overwhelming situation, it is because you believe that the problem belongs to you. You feel that there is something that you can do resolve it. Yet, you are struggling to tackle the issue that seems to constantly grow stronger than you. It keeps on getting out of your control. This makes you want to stop trying; a negative sort of giving up; where despair and helplessness are rampant. Who can be of help? Probably no one.
The issue here is that you have a misconception of who is the owner of your problems. Were you to acknowledge where the ownership, power and control lies, you would be able to direct your energies to productive means, avoiding despair before it can surface.
G-d is the owner of the circumstance. He will determine the outcome. He will also determine how the situation will play itself out.
We like to believe that our anxiety helps. In truth, however, we’re fully aware that our apprehension is not helpful in the least. Our worry does not determine anything about what will truly occur. If anything, the anxiety only accentuates the issue as it adds undue stress.
The key to self-encouragement lies in returning the control back where it belongs; in the hands of G-d.
Yet why is relinquishing control so unnerving, and frankly, downright terrifying?
HbSS, this is because humans want to see a positive outcome. We are afraid of the negative result that may occur.
The Alter Rebbe explains here that not only is the outcome good, but the entire hardship is, in essence, truly good. This is because “No evil descends from above”. G-d is not evil. He cannot be. It is not in His capacity. Yet, what is in His capacity is to give us opportunity to grow. And this, He does by way of challenges. Challenges are opportunities for growth. It is good, yet we are blind to it’s goodness because only a deeply mature individual will admit that hardships are sweet candies of growth. They are sweet, only the sweetness is too overpowering that all one perceives in the situation is negativity.
Strangely enough, though, G-d can easily make us humans see the challenge in it’s positive light. So why doesn’t He?
Prompt, Hide, Seek & Find
In the response, the Alter Rebbe teaches that we do not exist nor are our challenges for naught. The entire purpose of man’s creation is to determine his reaction to the above-mentioned hardship. Will he recognize the hand of G-d Who is constantly creating and recreating his challenge? Or will he choose to deny that this is a personal call from G-d to acknowledge Him, and instead, revert to anger and resentment, despair and helplessness at being lost in difficulties?
G-d set up this challenging situation entirely to prompt us to seek Him out, recognize and acknowledge that He is directing the show, and relinquish our paraded control of a situation that is, in any case, beyond our power.
Should we choose to be overtaken by the challenge, we will have failed the test. Should we recognize that G-d is making this happen and react accordingly, we will have fulfilled the purpose for which we were created, that being to see past the dense façade of physicality and perceive the truth.
Relinquishment is the key to success here. You see, He only goes where He is invited. When you assume the control, He does not take the lead. He allows your worry to pervade your life and wreak havoc. When you let go of the control, He assumes responsibility again. You are then in better hands than you could have possibly dreamed for. He is holding you in His hand. Have a seat and relax. He takes good care.
We often observe the phenomena of assuming unnecessary control in teenagers. Many times, parents or educators can readily identify the issue with which their child or student is harming themselves. They will approach the teenager in aid, but the child will not be receptive to hearing advice that would be so helpful to him. In fight for independence, he will close himself off. Would the child only be open to the adult’s help, he could be assisted. This is an example of how G-d only enters when he is invited. Often times, G-d “tries” to enter our lives and provide assistance, yet in fight for control and independence of our lives, we deny he aid. Would we be open to G-d help and trust that He will sustain, He will, indeed. We must only allow Him to.
The knowledge that a challenge is G-d’s personal request for your recognition of Him and interaction with Him will allow you to be able to fully rely on G-d. He will not harm you. He can do no harm. You are blatantly aware that you have no authority to determine the outcome of your situation, only He does. He desires only for your good, and He wishes for you to allow Him to lead. You can then calmly relinquish your so-called control which you held onto in hope of producing a positive outcome.
From His perspective, too, it is compelling. If we rely on Him, how can He deny such an honest and open request from support? When a child relies on his parent to catch him as he jumps from the table, the parent responds. So does G-d. (Only, the trust and jump must be honest, as He knows your heart.)
G-d is only waiting for you to notice Him, let go and let G-d. When you do, the test is successfully passed. He no longer needs to fabricate a situation that makes you look for Him, as He is consciously present in your life. And so, in automatic response your acknowledgment of Him, He removes the negativity of the situation. You will then be able to perceive the goodness, not only due to your perspective, but because it will, indeed, be transformed to an openly positive circumstance.
How, you ask? Remember, G-d is creating the situation again and again at every moment. Is it too difficult for Him to change some factors to make it positive for the human eye as well?
In this lies the insight how to encourage yourself when you are in a challenging situation with no support to be found. Remember these five steps:
1. Perpetual Creation: G-d creates the world, your life, and your challenges, constantly.
2. Proprietor of Problems: Since He creates the problems, they belong to Him, not to you.
3. Good G-d: G-d is not evil. He cannot be. Challenges are His gift of growth to us.
4. Prompt, Hide, Seek & Find: He set up this situation for you to recognize and acknowledge Him.
5. Relaxed Relinquishment: This understanding of G-d’s goodness and plan will allow you to calmly and trustfully relinquish your control, allowing space for Him to enter your life and take care.
6. Sweet Success: When you pass the test by showing that you have found Him, He will fill the space and convert the situation into goodness.
Dear HbSS, these pearls of wisdom provide an abundance of tranquility in the awareness that one need not rely on oneself, ancient or modern-day psychology, nor on one’s close ones, or lack thereof. This method is foul-proof as when given the space, G-d always responds.
Consciousness of G-d in humanity produces magnificent results. It breeds substance, morality, purpose, drive, motivation, hope, safety, security, true love and respect. It breeds perseverance, integrity, and beauty found in effort. It allows one to find meaning in challenges and provides the courage to deal with them head-on. (As we are to do what we must yet to leave the results to G-d).
The next time you find yourself feeling stranded, abandoned and helpless to remedy your situation, recognize Him and allow Him to take care of you. He will.