A Call to Live / Torah Guidance on Healing
~Avraham ben Yaakov
Medical treatment is the more passive part of the healing process. In many cases the patient is asked to do little more than submit to the treatment and wait for it to take effect. But the most important part of your total healing -- healing and vitalizing the inner you -- obviously cannot come about through remaining passive. You must take the initiative. You have to act.
There is widespread agreement today that changes in diet, lifestyle, attitudes and other areas may play a major role in recovery and long-term health. But many people find it hard to make even relatively small changes in their lives. One of the main reasons is often because inside they feel hurt, tired, cynical and despondent. Why make the effort to change if you don't believe it will make you genuinely happier?
Too often people just give up on themselves. They feel helplessly locked into negative attitudes and behavior patterns. Aren't we all too familiar with the repeated vicious cycles that consume our lives? We may not want to so much as glance at our inner mirror. It's easier to reach for that snack, open a magazine, pick up the phone, pour a drink, light a cigarette, throw ourselves into our work or other activities, or just go to sleep... anything rather than face the deeper issues in our lives.
But these unresolved issues and the accompanying inner pain can be major factors underlying poor health and illness. To allow yourself to remain locked in the same old patterns could be a recipe for disaster. If you want real recovery and a life worth living, you must find ways to make the necessary changes in your life and in your inner self.
There are three "power points" or sources from which you can draw the inner strength necessary for growth and change. These are three crucial points of interaction between yourself and sources of help and support. The first is the point of interaction between you and those you choose as your guides in life. The second is the point of interaction between you and the friends whose support you need. Third, and most important, is the point of interaction between you and your own inner self. These are the three points of empowerment.
In each case the essential quality of the interaction involved is one of give-and-take. When you accept counsel and guidance from a teacher, it means giving something. You have to give yourself, in the sense of submitting to the advice and putting your energy into following it. Paradoxically, this giving on your part is actually receiving. What you get back is the new power you gain from your teacher's wisdom and insights and from correct practice of the skills and techniques he or she instills in you. It's like when you exercise: the more effort you invest, the healthier and stronger you become.
Gaining friendship and support likewise depends on giving. The more support you give to others -- through empathy, kindness, sharing and so on -- the more support you will find you receive. By making some good friends and opening up to people who can help you in various ways in your chosen pathway, each one of your interactions with them becomes a "power point" from which you yourself can receive greater inner strength.
Giving is also necessary in order to draw greater power from your own higher self. Here, what you have to "give" is some of your time. You must make time for meditation and other practices that can increase your inner power. When working on yourself in these ways, you are at the "point" of encounter and give-and-take with your own higher self. As you learn to work on yourself in the right ways, you will receive rich dividends of inner power and joy in return for all your time and effort.
The Rabbis said: "Get yourself a teacher and acquire a friend" (Avot 1:6). In advising us to find a teacher, they understood that human beings have a basic need for guidance in life.
Small children need a guiding hand to help them find their way safely around the physical and social environment. All of us -- even adults -- are little children in this amazing, divinely-created cosmos. We all have limited vision. We are all prone to make mistakes. Often we simply do not know what is best for us. Few people have the power to release themselves from their own inner weakness and constriction without some external source of true guidance and inspiration. Anyone who wants to make the most of their life needs someone of greater experience and wisdom to teach them.
You need some- one who cares for your true good, understands what you really need, and knows how to give it to you. Such a person is not always easy to find. But even if you cannot find your own ideal guide in the flesh right now, you can always turn to the great classics of guidance and inspiration, such as the Bible or the teachings of outstanding spiritual masters like Rebbe Nachman.
Empowerment from such teachings comes through reading and re-reading them, pondering their meaning, and thinking carefully about how they apply to you. As you review favorite teachings over and over again, key words and phrases will become imprinted within you, giving you greater strength to face up to the challenges in your life.
Opening up your heart
Even so, reading books is not enough. You also need someone real and alive to talk to about your goals and ambitions and about how you can overcome the obstacles that stand in your way. You need someone who can talk back to you and provide you with greater perspective and practical guidance.
People sometimes dream of having their own ideal mentor in life, but it may turn out that the people who become your actual guides will be different from what you imagine. If you put your mind to it, you could probably think of several people to whom you could turn for help and support. You may not always feel willing to follow all the advice you receive. But the very act of airing issues with another person can help you clarify what you do want to do.
Some people talk to their rabbis. For others it may be a therapist, a counsellor, a lawyer, an old aunt, or just someone who impresses you because of the way they live their life. All you have to do is ask the person you have in mind if they would give you some private time.
Make an effort to overcome any inhibitions you may have about opening up. Be willing to drop your masks and defenses. Admit your inner tenderness and sensitivity. Talk out your fears and worries, your hopes and desires. Tell your life story. Share your pain and grief, your tears, your laughter and fun times.
Talk about your mistakes. Admitting your mistakes and weaknesses to someone else can provide you with a more objective perspective on yourself, helping you to develop greater self-understanding and to make better choices in the future.
There are mistakes and there are also sins. Be willing to admit that some of the things you have done in your life may have been truly sinful -- against family, friends and associates, against God, and against your very own self!
Whether you need to talk about sins, mistakes, personal hurt and pain, fears, worries, confusion, loneliness or any other private burden, you can only benefit from insight and guidance from the right person. Nothing is more therapeutic than to open yourself to someone with whom you feel secure, someone who listens with true empathy and really cares about what's best for you.
In order to heal your inner self, seek out a doctor for your soul. Some people can benefit from long-term counselling or therapy. For others, periodic discussions with a mentor combined with reading the right books may be sufficient. Overcome your pride and hesitations and go to a guide for help. By giving yourself, you will be receiving. For in return you will gain a world of inner power.
In the same breath as the Rabbis said, "Get yourself a teacher," they also said, "Acquire a friend." The two ideas are closely bound together. A true teacher is your best friend, while a true friend can be your best teacher.
One of the main differences between a relationship with a spiritual guide and one with a friend is that the latter is more reciprocal. Sometimes you receive from your friend, sometimes your friend receives from you. Each of you has his or her unique inner "point" from which the other can receive.
The friend may be an old chum, your spouse, a brother or sister, or someone else you love dearly. It might be someone you've known for a long time. It could be somebody new. Illness or injury can often be the catalysts to help us make new friends or see fresh sides of old ones. People with specific problems can often find friendship through support groups for those with the same problem. Others may wish to build their own support circle.
Friendship plays a special role in healing (which is why the Jewish tradition places such emphasis on visiting the sick, bikur cholim). Social isolation is a major underlying factor in many illnesses. There is a human need to share thoughts and feelings, especially in relation to traumatic events. When this need is not met, feelings fester, putting chronic stress on the heart, the nerves, the immune and other systems. Friendship is one of the main keys to actual physical health as well as to emotional and spiritual balance.
A true friend is very precious. A friend is someone you can open up to freely without having to hide behind a mask. You know that your friend will accept who you are and what you are saying with love and respect. The ideal friend is one who wants your true good and will therefore not hold back from giving you honest feedback for fear of hurting your feelings.
Opening yourself up to such a person is empowering because it helps you to be yourself. Talking things out with your friend can give you a better understanding of what you really feel inside and what you really want. When you give expression to your highest aspirations and discuss the changes you want to make in your life, this can help you actually make them. Good friends can support and encourage each other to eat more healthily, persist with their fitness programs, practice meditation, deepen their faith and many other things.
How to "buy" friends
It's not the number of friends you have or how much time you spend with them that counts so much as the quality of your relationships. The kind of friend who is a real support is worth buying! That is why the Rabbis said, "Acquire a friend."
Paradoxically, many people who seem to be surrounded by friends are actually very lonely and feel they have no-one to whom they can really turn. Some do indeed try to "buy" friends -- with gifts, flattery, or by trying to impress them. But these methods of seeking closeness may be self-defeating, merely setting you further apart from the very people whose friendship you seek.
When the Rabbis spoke about buying a friend, they were talking about payment of a different kind. The way to buy friends is through giving friendship. To get a good friend, be a good friend. Be to others the kind of friend you your- self would like to have.
When you look at other people, try to see the inner person behind the face. Many people desperately crave a little understanding, kindness and encouragement. Take an interest in who this person really is rather than only thinking about what you want from him or her. Project yourself into their situation. What do they need? What are they searching for? What could you give them that will genuinely benefit them? The effort to understand and sympathize with others will also help you understand yourself better and be kinder to yourself.
A second kind of giving necessary in order to "buy" deeper friendship and intimacy with someone is giving yourself, in the sense of taking the risk of lowering your outer walls and letting your tenderer sides be seen. When you have the courage to lower your outer walls and disclose more of your real self, warts and all, your friends will feel safer about showing their real selves too.
If you are recovering from illness or injury, this is a good time to seek to heal relationships with your dear ones and other people you are close to. Healing your relationships is an important part of healing yourself.
The way to heal relationships is through seeking open and honest communication. Communication must be two-way. Get into the habit of expressing clearly what you think and feel so that the other person can understand you better. And you must also listen intently to what they are saying, avoiding the tendency to judge harshly or jump to hasty conclusions. Rather, you should seek to empathize. What are they really expressing? What inner feelings lie behind their words and gestures? When you show a willingness to understand others, it will make them more willing to understand you.
Learning to communicate better does not mean you have to be totally open and defenseless to all people at all times. Not everyone is mature enough to understand or accept your more vulnerable side. Not everyone is capable of giving you the friendship and support you need. Some people might knowingly or unknowingly hurt you or take unfair advantage of you. The friends you need are those who understand your needs and sympathize with the steps you want to take to make changes in your life. Choose your friends carefully.
When you find the right friends, talk together frankly and honestly about the things you each want in life. Share some of your more private thoughts and feelings. Speak about your hopes, your fears and concerns. Think together about how you might be able to alleviate some of your concerns. How can you be more positive and joyous even if things are very hard? Affirm your faith together. Encourage each other. Discuss practical steps you can each take to move closer to your respective goals.
It is this give-and-take between friends that empowers. With the support of others, you can accomplish things you would not ordinarily be able to do on your own. Friendship and support -- whether from individuals or from a group -- can give you a greater sense of meaning in your life and help you feel more connected with the world, with yourself and with God. This will make it easier for you to turn inwards in order to draw new power from your own inner point. This is the third point of empowerment.
3. Your own Inner Point
Your inner "point" is the creative source of all of your mental, emotional and spiritual life. It is what religion and mysticism call the soul: an invisible, ever-renewed wellspring of vitality and inspiration from which you can draw at all times and in all circumstances in order to grow, heal and lead a richer, more meaningful life.
Turning to your own inner point means getting in touch with yourself and learning to draw upon your inner resources in order to attain your most precious goals. You must take a calm look at yourself and your life. You must think seriously about who you really are and where you stand. What do you want to accomplish? How are you going to succeed?
Going to your inner point involves working on yourself in different ways in order to enhance your mental states, improve your outlook and cleanse yourself of negativity. You may have to go deep into the innermost recesses of your being. You must learn to make any necessary changes in your life and to direct yourself to what you want to achieve. In this way you become more proactive. You take greater control of your life instead of being swept along by surrounding currents.
Turning to your inner point also means looking far beyond yourself -- reaching out to the Higher Power that is the source of the whole universe and of your very life. You make direct contact with the Divine -- whether through inner quieting and "listening," or more actively, through prayer and other forms of self-expression. Illness or injury may confront you with some very serious issues. Turning to God will help you face everything, and you will grow and elevate yourself in the process.
Learning how to draw a steady flow of inner power from the "point" within your own self is a crucial part of self-healing. Otherwise, insights may come to you but you may do little with them. You may make decisions and resolutions but find it hard to follow them through.
To draw power from your inner "point," you must take time. If you want to keep your body fit and strong you have to make time for regular exercise. In the same way, to keep fit mentally and spiritually you need to set regular sessions in which to practice the techniques that lead to inner growth and spiritual connection.
In the Jewish tradition, the word for this private time is hisbodedus. So central is the place of hisbodedus in health and healing that it deserves a chapter to itself.