Who You Are and How You Express Yourself
— Samech Vov 100 Years – Part 4 —
What is the driving force of all human behavior? What lies at the core of the psyche? What is the Kabbalistic/Chassidic view on the unconscious? Which is stronger – willpower or pleasure? How powerful are these two forces in our lives?
This week’s essay, as part of our continuing series discussing central themes of the Rebbe Rashab’s magnum opus, Hemshech Samech Vov, attempts to tackle an incredibly complex discussion on the psychology of the soul. 100 years ago this week, in one of the most profound analyses ever written on the nature of the psyche, the discourses of Lech Lecho and Vayeira 5666/1905 take us on a journey into the innermost recesses of our souls.
Most of us most of the time are immersed into the minutiae of our lives. Our struggle for survival, whatever shape it takes on, requires that we dedicate a disproportionate amount of our time and energy to the means rather than the ends: We work hard to earn money so that we can buy the things that make us happy. We eat, exercise and visit the doctor to maintain our health.
Just take your average day and count how many hours you spend commuting, preparing, cooking, shopping, traveling, socializing, sleeping – all to hopefully achieve certain goals, some immediate, most long term.
The process to achieve our goals so consumes our lives that for many of us it becomes our lives: We live to work instead of the other way around. To the extent that we can even forget what our goals are in the first place – so distracted we become by our plans. In a take-off of a famous cliché: Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans. We make elaborate plans to achieve certain objectives, and at the end of the day the process wears us down to the point that we no longer have the strength and time to remember the objectives, let alone benefit or enjoy them.
It therefore should be no surprise that we don’t have much time to focus on our souls – on our inner lives, the lives of our loved ones and the pursuit of our higher values. To temporarily relieve our existential desperation and enjoy a quick fix of transcendence many us compartmentalize: We carve out moments – weekends, vacations, holidays – which we dedicate to prayer, reading, meditation, music, arts, romance and religion – which help us reconnect. But these are fleeting moments in comparison to the hours that we spend on the means.
The plot thickens. Perhaps the most devastating effect of our being inundated by the mundane means of life, preparing, preparing and preparing, is that it distorts our perception of reality.
What is real: The tangible deluge of the daily grind of our quotidian lives which utterly consumes our time and focus, or the invisible world of our souls and the inner dimensions of existence?
Who has the time and energy to even focus on this question? So, by default our immediate preoccupations dictate our reality and our priorities. The means of our lives first conceal our end goals, and then replace them, like an impostor masquerading as the real thing.
How refreshing is it then when we hear someone uncover the mask and describe for us in intimate detail the nature of our true selves, the nature of reality and the purpose of our existence?
This is precisely what the Rebbe Rashab does in his classic Hemshech Samech Vov. He takes us on a trip into the inner workings of the universe, and you return a different person.
In the first part of this series, we discussed that the purpose of existence is to introduce into the world a dimension that is beyond the world; to transform the material universe into a Divine home.
Samech Vov breaks down the anatomy of existence into three dimensions: 1) The inner force of existence (memaleh kol almin). 2) The force that transcends existence (sovev kol almin). 3) The force that transcends both existence and non-existence, which has the power to integrate existence with transcendence.
In order to achieve this on the macrocosmic level, we have to generate this process within our microcosmic selves, which also consist of these three dimensions:
1) Our personal, specific intelligent and emotional faculties (ten faculties in all, corresponding to the ten sefirot: three intellectual ones – chochma, binah, daat, and seven emotions – chesed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod, yesod and malchut. Click here for a detailed explanation of these levels). The spectrum of human conscious experience is defined by our intellect and emotions, as they are expressed through (the three “garments”) thought, speech and action.
2) Our transcendent faculties (corresponding with the level of Keter), sometimes referred to “all encompassing faculties,” because they but reflect and affect the entire person, not like the ten individual self contained faculties (in the first category) which express only one part of the individual.
3) The essence of the soul (etzem ha’neshomo), which transcends and therefore has the power to integrate the previous two dimensions.
One distinction between the personal faculties (category one) and the transcendent ones (category two) can be understood as the difference between the conscious psyche and the unconscious one.
A disclaimer should be made that this “unconscious” state should not be confused by the one described by Freud, Jung and other contemporary psychologists. The Kabbalistic/Chassidic “unconscious” is actually more like “supra-conscious,” in the sense that it reflect the person’s inner identity and vision, while the specific faculties express limited and particular aspects of life, which is what we call “conscious” life.
For instance, you can use your intelligence to analyze football statistics (in case you were wondering: this is my own example, not one used in Samech Vov), or to build your business, or you get emotional over a moving scene in a film – and it may be completely fictional or tangential, with no connection at all with your soul’s identity or purpose. In other words, your conscious life can be disconnected (or milder: unaligned) from your “supra-conscious” being. Essentially, this is what happens when we live our days consumed with the means and neglecting our higher goals – a psychological dissonance, what Marx called “alienation” when there is a dichotomy between who you are (your identity) and what you do (your activities).
A good analogy to explain this is the creative process of any given production. Whether it is a new business venture, a book, a film, a composition of music or the construction of a building every effective creation begins with a vision, which reflects the identity of the creator, and then the vision is translated into a specific plan which is then implemented piece by piece, until its conclusion, when the initial vision comes to fruition.
If you were to enter a construction zone you can see the plumbers laying pipes and the electricians wiring the joint, with no clue as to the vision, let alone the identity, of the architect. The same with a book or another production: If you read the first draft of one chapter of a new book, you may not have inkling as to the greater objective of the author. “Never show a fool half a job” is a Yiddish euphemism (“a naar veizt men nit kayn halbe arbet”). Even after the conclusion of the project, it is no small feat to understand the bigger picture, and not be distracted by the obvious details, especially if it is a complex and comprehensive creation.
Every business needs a mission statement to begin with. The mission is usually an expression of the creator’s vision and dream, which goes back into his/her supra-consciousness.
For conscious life (our conscious faculties) to be lived to its fullest, it needs to be informed and directed by the supra-conscious, transcendental faculties.
Just imagine the said plumbers and electricians deciding mid-course to follow their own instincts instead of the blueprint created by the architect! No matter how skilled they are, their specific strengths are only as good as the direction they receive from the vision of the project. Indeed, the more skilled they are the greater damage they can cause should they choose to wander off their own way.
So what does the transcendental “supra-conscious” look like? What faculties does it contain?
A centennial ago this week, the Rebbe Rashab explains this “supra-conscious” state in the discourses beginning with verses in these weekly chapters about Abraham’s journey and commitment – perhaps because in history Abraham reflects the transcendental roots of spiritual life in a material world. Abraham set into motion the vision, becoming, as it were, the historical “supra-conscious” state which informs the rest of history to follow.
The vision, mission, goals, end – as opposed to the means (the ten conscious faculties) – consist of two components: Taanug and Rotzon. The literal translation of these two Hebrew words, respectively, is pleasure and will. But these English words/concepts hardly convey the true meaning of the original, which requires a short introduction.
The soul, before it expresses itself through any of its faculties, has a personality – a unique identity. When you say, for example, that a melody touched your soul or that you feel loved, you in effect are describing your soul’s experience as opposed to one of its faculties (e.g. plumbers, electricians) at work. This is not to say that the soul cannot express its inner identity via its faculties; however the faculties can have a “life of their own” if they are not being directed by the “supra-conscious” identity of the soul.
The most natural state of the soul, when it is at its deepest peace, is a state of pleasure (taanug atzmi). Not objectified pleasure, not pleasure as an experience, focused on some specific goal – but simply a state of being, a state of utter calm and belonging.
In addition to the essential state pleasure, the second dimension of the supra-conscious state is will (rotzon), which is the soul extending and expressing itself. Will, in effect, reveals the interests of the inner pleasure (which always remains hidden in its essential form) and reaches outside of itself seeking something on the outside to fulfill its inner self.
Both supra-conscious pleasure and will stem from the same source in the essence of the soul. They are not two distinct faculties, but one. The only difference between them is that pleasure is the internal dimension and will the external one, which expresses the inner pleasure.
Supra-conscious pleasure is who you are – your essential identity; Will is how your identity expresses itself, seeking to fulfill and realize your inner self (pleasure).
It’s critical to distinguish this supra-conscious pleasure from conscious “pleasure” as we know it. Conscious pleasure – regardless of its cause, healthy or unhealthy – is object oriented: You have pleasure in a certain feeling, activity or experience. You therefore desire the things that bring you pleasure.
The same with will: Conscious will reflects the different things we want, whether they are informed, healthy and productive or not. Supra-conscious will reflects the soul in search of its destiny – the “will of all wills,” the “essence will” or the “will to will,” which precedes all attributes and faculties.
This also explains the apparent contradiction about pleasure or will – which is more dominant? On one hand we find that pleasure is the root of all. If you have no pleasure in something you won’t want. Clearly, will is a product of desire. On the other hand we also see that if you set your mind that you don’t want something you won’t have any pleasure in it, even if it’s a natural pleasure.
Samech Vov explains that this interplay between pleasure and will is only on the conscious level. Because both pleasure and will are two sides of the soul’s essence, that’s why they are interchangeable: In certain instances pleasure affects the will, in others willpower can affect pleasure. But even when it does, it only affects the conscious level of pleasure, not its essential state, which always remains more intimate and fundamental than will; even when will overrules conscious pleasure it has within it the essential supra-conscious pleasure (which remains concealed).
No doubt that this subject matter requires much more elaboration. But even on an ostensible level it gives us a fascinating insight what we are capable and the infinite possibilities we have before us.
It is an absolute breath of fresh air (to say the least) to hear that we all have at the heart of our soul a deep calm and profound pleasure.
In today’s society we have been programmed to think that we are all dysfunctional “damaged goods.” And then our self-fulfilling prophesy of doom is fulfilled. Looking around we see a cruel world, greed and corruption the norm, with the occasional glimpses into human nobility, but only occasional. The wicked prosper and good suffer, people hurting each other all the time, even those they presumably love, children scarred by parents, long term committed relationships the exception, inhumane behavior of senseless murders around the globe – all this feeds our fears and insecurities that we will never attain lasting, meaningful pleasure, only bouts of escape.
Comes Samech Vov, written one hundred years ago, in most difficult times with bloody progroms and more (see Rise Up), and tells us that we each have within a deep-seated state of pleasure – an innate knowledge that we belong and have an indispensable role to play.
The only way to free ourselves from the inbred psyche of our desperate universe and its regurgitated message is to access the supra-conscious dimension within ourselves, a force that transcends the common laws of society and the limited resources of our conscious faculties. And then align our conscious lives with our supra-conscious identity, so that our daily activities are infused with the vision and clarity of our inner selves.
How do you align your inner and outer life?
Through a multi-fold plan:
1) Free yourself of some of the trappings that hold you hostage and keep you from seeing the end from the means. Transcend your conscious wills and pleasures that offer superficial satisfaction.
2) Recognize the “peace at the center” that lies at the core of your being – the pleasure in the essence of your soul.
3) Actualize the supra-conscious pleasure of your soul with your willpower: To want and desire to realize your soul’s mission in this world, and then act upon it.
4) Practically this means, as the Rebbe Rashab eloquently concludes, that by living a virtuous life filled with mitzvot we have the power to uncover the essence of Divine will and pleasure (see The Power of a Mitzvah) and actually reveal it in this universe.
That is the ultimate achievement: The ability to defy paradoxes and consciously experience the supra-conscious, to reveal the unrevealable and express the inexpressible – in a total fusion of that which is beyond, and beyond beyond, with the here and now.