A Call to Live / Torah Guidance on Healing
~Avraham ben Yaakov
The literal meaning of the Hebrew word hisbodedus is "making oneself alone." The aim is not to become a hermit. In essence, hisbodedus is private time that you put aside for yourself on a regular basis. You detach yourself from your normal routine for a while in order to explore and develop yourself through meditation, introspection, self-expression, talking, praying, singing and any other method that helps you.
Hisbodedus is alluded to in various places in the Bible. In different forms it was taught by many Jewish spiritual teachers through the ages. It was given special emphasis by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Some of the main techniques that may be used in hisbodedus are discussed in more detail below.
The mark of a successful hisbodedus session is that you should feel good at the end of it. At the very least, you should feel better than before! Sometimes this is achieved through relaxation, breathing, settling the mind, etc. At other times more active methods may be employed, as described later.
The hisbodedus session itself may not necessarily be calm throughout. In one and the same session you may go through a whole gamut of different experiences, from heightened consciousness, insight, joy, gratitude, peace of mind and divine connection to frustration, inner pain, grief, tears and many more. Be willing to face negative aspects of yourself and your life honestly and with the confidence that God can help you discover the good concealed within negativity and darkness. Searching for this goodness will bring you to greater harmony and joy.
Aim to set aside time for yourself every day. This could be anywhere from about ten minutes to as much as an hour, according to your needs. Surely you deserve it!
When and where Choose a time when you are not likely to be disturbed. Many people prefer to practice hisbodedus early in the morning before the pressures of the day build up. Some take a break for hisbodedus between activities. Others practice hisbodedus at the end of the day, finding that it helps them unwind. For best results, choose a time when you have not just eaten a large meal as this may interfere with your mental clarity. If you are unable to sleep at night, you might try some hisbodedus then.
If possible, find a place where you can have some privacy. If you are confined to bed, you can practice hisbodedus right there. If you are up and about, choose a quiet corner whether at home or elsewhere. Natural surroundings can be especially conducive to calm and spirituality. If you have access to a suitable natural spot, or even your own back yard, take full advantage of it!
Before you begin a session of hisbodedus, it is a good idea to decide in advance how long you want the session to last, e.g. fifteen minutes, half an hour, etc. Have a clock or timer handy. Make yourself as comfortable as possible. There is no required posture for hisbodedus. Choose a posture that you find conducive to relaxation and clarity. Many people find it best to practice hisbodedus sitting in a comfortable chair with the back well supported. If you wish, you may stand or walk about. Lying down is acceptable, especially if you are tired or not feeling well. However, at other times lying down is not recommended as it may make you drowsy.
Now you are ready to begin.
Settling the mind
Simply sitting quietly in a relaxed state can free your mind and help you get in touch with your thoughts, feelings and creative powers. One by one you let go of your tensions and they drop away, leaving you with a blessed feeling of profound calm, liberation, clarity, enhanced sensitivity and alertness. It becomes easier to think, understand, remember things and work out problems. New insights may result, together with a growing awareness of the spiritual dimension of life.
The benefits of deep relaxation are so great that it is well worth spending a little time learning the technique. Initially you may have to concentrate more on bodily relaxation. Once you have mastered this, you will be able to enter the relaxed state virtually at will and have full enjoyment of the mental, emotional and spiritual benefits it can bring.
If you wish, start with a few stretches. If you are confined to bed you can practice relaxation lying down. Otherwise, sit erect with your head comfortably balanced and your eyes closed. Focus your attention on the different parts of your body in order, one by one, from the feet upwards. Which muscles are tense? The key to relaxing is to understand that no effort is called for. Simply let go of tension. If you become restless, stretch and move around a bit, or take a few deep breaths, and then go back to quiet sitting.
To relax deeply, you must also let go of the inner fear, anxiety, anger, resentment and other factors that so often cause people to tense various parts of their bodies. The way to overcome fear is by having faith that everything in your life is in God's hands, and God is good and wants your good.
The active phase of hisbodedus
Some people hold that within each individual there are natural wellsprings of vitality and joy ready and waiting to flow forth, and if you can only relax and settle your mind sufficiently, the happiness will naturally bubble up within you.
However, this fails to take into account how hurt, wounded, thwarted and stunted many people are inside as a result of what they have been through in their lives. This is why some people find that when they start meditating, disturbing thoughts and feelings begin to surface, or they feel gray and cloudy and want to go to sleep.
In order to draw out, nurture and actualize the true power of your inner "point," it is not sufficient merely to relax and try to settle the mind. It is also necessary to work on yourself actively in order to overcome inner forces that may be inhibiting this latent power.
After an initial period of quiet sitting, a typical hisbodedus session turns into a workshop in which you contemplate what is happening in your mind, your heart and your life as a whole. Then you actively start working on yourself in order to change and grow.
The power of words
Your most powerful tool for change, growth and spiritual connection is right under your nose. It is your mouth. Just as you can influence others by the way you speak to them, so you can affect your own self. With the right words, songs, cries and other means of expression, you can influence your own states of mind and direct yourself to where you want to go.
Small children quite innocently express themselves out loud -- to God, to themselves, to invented characters, or to no-one in particular. But as we grow older this easy self-expression tends to become muted, turning into the continual, and often negative, internal dialogs within our minds. Sometimes our innermost thoughts and feelings go underground and may be hidden from our very selves.
Talking to yourself is popularly considered a sign of madness. Perhaps it is when the person is not in control of it. But one of the sanest things you can do to enhance your life is to relearn the art of self-expression and consciously use words to focus your mind, to make contact with the different sides of yourself, to direct yourself and to talk deep into your soul and right out to God.
To whom are you really talking in hisbodedus -- to yourself or to God? The truth is that even when you talk "to yourself," you are really talking to God. Although you experience yourself as an independent entity, at root your vitality as a living being derives from God, as does everything else in the world. All your thoughts and feelings ultimately come from God, even though they are channelled to you via the mysterious entity we call the "self" or "soul," which makes them seem to originate "inside" you.
In order to make changes in your life and grow, you must find new inner power. Fresh energy, positive mental states, insights and original ideas are all new creations that ultimately come from God, the Supreme Source of all creation. In hisbodedus you consciously reach out to God with words, songs, cries and the like in order to channel new life into yourself. When you "talk to yourself" in hisbodedus, you are at the point of encounter between your everyday self and the Supreme Power from which your very life derives.
Don't be embarrassed. You are alone and no-one can hear you. Find your own voice! Don't worry if you feel you don't know what to say. Everybody has this experience at first. Experiment with different kinds of self-expression until you discover those that have meaning for you.
By definition hisbodedus is a highly individual practice. You are completely unique. You must find your own way to connect with your inner "point" and with God. Tailor your hisbodedus to your own personal needs. You may use different techniques at different times depending on your mood and your needs of the moment.
These are words or phrases of your choice that you repeat aloud over and over in hisbodedus in order to evoke a desired state of mind, focus your thoughts, etc. Saying words aloud or in a whisper is much more powerful than merely thinking them in your mind. Repeating the word Shalom, "Peace," can help calm you if you are tense. When you want to make changes in your life or achieve other important goals, keep yourself on track with guide words that express exactly what you want, (e.g. "Relax!" "Patience!" "Kindness!" "Moderation!") To develop a deeper spiritual connection, try simply repeating "God" or some other name for the Higher Power that has special meaning for you.
Singing or humming the right song is a powerful way to guide yourself and influence your moods and states of mind. If you are feeling uninspired, negative or depressed, choose a melody with a positive energy. When you first begin humming even a favorite song, it may take some effort to get into the right spirit. But if you persist and sing it over and over again, you will find that the melody will begin to lift you. It will bring healing rhythms into your soul, your mind and your very body. The melodies taught by outstanding spiritual teachers have the power to lift people to exalted states of consciousness and to inculcate deeper faith and trust.
Events, circumstances, other people and certain forces within ourselves often conspire to make us lose sight of essential truths. An affirmation is a statement of some important truth or belief about yourself, your goals and values, or about life in general. For example, "My goal is to heal and to live life to the full every day, every moment," or "I believe in God, and God is good," etc. Regularly making such affirmations out loud keeps these truths at the forefront of your mind. Develop your own set of affirmations about your beliefs, goals and ideals, or choose some inspiring quotations. Say them out loud regularly in your hisbodedus sessions.
Questions If you want to use hisbodedus to explore yourself and resolve certain issues in your life, give focus to your quest by asking yourself guiding questions, such as "What is on my mind?" "What am I really feeling?" "Where in the world am I?" "What is my purpose in this life?" "What do I really want?" "How can I attain it?" "What keeps me locked into destructive patterns?" "What are my positive points?" etc. Asking such questions out loud can aid your concentration when exploring various issues and can also help you develop new answers.
As you ask yourself guiding questions, many different thoughts and feelings are likely to pass through your mind. In order to understand yourself better, express what you are thinking and feeling out loud. Try to articulate your thoughts and feelings as clearly as you can. Listen carefully to what you are saying. Often we are in conflict within ourselves. Articulating the different sides of our personalities can help us explore and resolve inner conflicts. Give honest expression to all aspects of yourself, and especially to your highest ideals and aspirations. To give continuity to your mental and spiritual growth, it can be helpful to jot down some of the ideas and insights that come to you in hisbodedus and keep them in a special file.
Cries and tears
Little children naturally cry out in pain and hurt. You too are allowed to cry out because of your pain and to complain about the things that are troubling you. Cry to God about the pain in your body and in your soul. Cry out about your fears. Weep over your deepest hurt and sorrow. Weep for yourself. Weep for your dear ones. Weep for the world. For many people a cry of pain or an unarticulated sob rising from the depths of the heart can be their first act of outreach to God. "Where are You? God, please help me! Please help!!!" Thanks Don't dwell only on the negative. Think about the good things too! If you can see, hear, smell, taste, feel... thank God for it. Express your thanks out loud. "Thank you, God, that I'm breathing, I'm thinking... I may not be well, but I'm alive! I've had good times, I've done good things..." List the good things in your life. Count your blessings and thank God for them. People often associate prayer with making requests to God. But before you start asking for what you need, first give thanks to God for all the gifts and blessings you already enjoy in your life. Make it a habit to speak to God about all the different aspects of your life.
List your prayers and requests. Even if some of them seem unrealistic, for God anything is possible. Make detailed requests: e.g. "Please send healing to my arm, my leg, my heart, my lungs, my liver, my kidneys, etc. Help me work on my lack of confidence, low self-esteem, anger, pessimism, etc. Help me in my relationship with so and so. Help me in that situation at home or at work, etc." Pray for joy and the will to live. Ask for insight and enlightenment. Put your dreams and deepest yearnings into words, and ask God to help you attain what you want.
Psalms and Prayers
If you feel unable to express yourself to God or you feel that your own words are inadequate, open the Siddur (Jewish Prayer Book) or the Psalms. These are rich spiritual treasuries containing prayers of many different kinds expressing every mood and need in life. If you wish, open them at random and read until you find a passage that has special meaning for you. When you find such a passage, say it out loud, even several times. Leave marks in the book so that you can easily find your favorite passages another time.
Hisbodedus and Growth
Make use of the different techniques of hisbodedus according to your own personal needs each day. Life is constantly changing. New things are always happening. Our bodily states fluctuate from day to day. Our moods and our thoughts shift from minute to minute. For this reason, hisbodedus is different each time you do it.
Some people may want to launch immediately into the more active forms of self-expression such as talking directly to God. For others, quiet sitting and contemplation may often be the prime element in their hisbodedus.
No matter where you choose to put your focus, the most important thing is to practice hisbodedus regularly. The effects are cumulative. As you practice, you'll gain experience and learn how to make use of different techniques as appropriate in order to grow and accomplish what you want.
Use hisbodedus as part of your self-healing, or to work on specific problem areas in your life, whether within yourself, in your relationships, at home, in your work, in the wider community, etc. Use guiding questions and self-expression to define and understand your problems and obstacles.
Whether you want to heal yourself, make a change of lifestyle, attitudes, outlook, etc., or accomplish any other goal in life, the goal starts off as an idea in your mind. In order to turn the potential idea into an actual accomplishment, you must first develop a clear understanding of what it is you really want. Next you must work out exactly what you will have to do, step by step, in order to attain it. Then you must actually take the next step.
Hisbodedus is the time to do this work of clarifying your ideas and working out strategies for attaining your goals. The way to do it is with words. Articulate what it is you really want. Try to define the obstacles and difficulties you face. Express out loud your various ideas as to how you can overcome your problems. When you express your thoughts as clearly as possible, you can begin to see where your ideas may need further clarification.
What is up to you to do and what is up to God? Many things are in God's hands alone. All you can do is pray about them -- again and again and again. Even when it comes to the things that are in your hands, you should also pray for help and the strength to actually do them. But when the time for action arrives, it's entirely up to you. The more you articulate your goals in hisbodedus and break them down into small, do-able steps, the easier it will be to take that next step.
The Happiness Workshop
The ultimate goal of hisbodedus is to attain happiness! If you practice hisbodedus regularly, you will soon see changes and improvements in your life. If you feel more relaxed, more optimistic and positive after a session of hisbodedus, this is the best sign that you are doing it right.
But don't expect release, insight, illumination and joy every time. Even the most assiduous practitioners of hisbodedus go through periods when they feel they are making little or no progress. Despite all their efforts, they find themselves tense, closed up, spiritually disconnected, frustrated, and unable or even unwilling to open their mouths and talk.
This is because hisbodedus is an active endeavor to elevate yourself spiritually. As soon as you face yourself as you really are and start grappling with yourself in order to take your life in hand, you will inevitably encounter powerful resisting forces. Some of these forces may be within yourself, others in the world around you. Often the resistance may become strongest when you are on the verge of a major breakthrough.
Even when you really want to talk to God, there may be times when you can think of nothing to say. At such moments simply say the word "God," or repeat the phrase, Ribono Shel Olam, "Master of the Universe." If you don't know who, what or where God is, or if you feel cut off spiritually, cry out: "Where are You?" If you can't speak, whisper. If you can't move your lips, say the words inside your heart.
There may be times when nothing works, no matter what you try. Sometimes things may be very bad. You may be assailed by negative thoughts. Life is full of pain and trouble. When we start examining ourselves, we may imagine that "nothing is sound from the soles of the feet to the top of the head -- only wounds, bruises and festering sores" (Isaiah 1:6). We may feel that we are faced with insoluble problems on every side, while inside ourselves all we see is pain, frustration, anger, grief and contrition.
The essential work of hisbodedus is to dig and search beneath this surface negativity in order to uncover the redeeming sparks of good that exist everywhere, both in the external situations we face in our lives and within our own selves.
In the words of Rebbe Nachman: "You must seek out the good in yourself. Maybe when you start looking at yourself, it seems as if you have nothing good in you at all. Even so, don't let yourself be discouraged. Search until you find even a tiny modicum of good within yourself. Maybe when you start examining it, you feel it is full of blemishes. Even so, how is it possible that it does not contain even the tiniest amount of good? Search and search until you find some small good point in yourself that will give you new vitality and bring you to joy. And when you've found one good point, carry on searching until you find another... and then another...
"When you search for the positive points and gather them together, each good point becomes a `note' in the melody of life. The music made by all these good points will bring life into your soul, and health and healing to your body. Then you will be able to pray and sing and give thanks to God!"
Hisbodedus may well turn out to be the single most important practice you adopt in order to bring your life to a higher level. Set regular times for hisbodedus. Work out the best time for you according to your schedule. Practice every day.
Sometimes people feel daunted by the idea of sitting down to meditate and pray for twenty minutes. If you find it hard to set a hisbodedus session, try it for just five minutes! Try it for even a single minute! Speak to God honestly for one minute! You'll find you can pour out many prayers even in as little as a minute!
At any time and in any place, you can always take a few moments for hisbodedus. It is always possible to snatch a little time to take a few deep breaths, offer some words of prayer, hum an inspiring melody, etc. You can do this even while washing dishes, standing in line at a checkout counter, or waiting to see a doctor, etc.
As a trial, take ten minutes for your first session of hisbodedus. You can practice hisbodedus right where you are at this very moment. Just decide that for the next ten minutes you are going to practice hisbodedus.
Spend the first five minutes sitting quietly, as discussed earlier. You might focus on your breathing or repeat a guide word such as "Shalom!" in order to settle your mind.
As you become calmer and clearer, you are ready for the second, more active phase of hisbodedus. Take a few moments to thank God for the good things in your life. Say the words out loud, or in a whisper. "Thank you for my life. Thank you for this. Thank you for that..."
Next, use guiding questions in order to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings. Ask yourself, "What am I thinking? What am I feeling? What is on my mind? What is really troubling me?" Ask these questions out loud or in a whisper.
Now start articulating your goals, needs and desires. Talk to God and to yourself about how you can attain them. You could spend five minutes or more on this active phase of hisbodedus. When you are ready to conclude, give thanks again for the good things and affirm your faith in God's ultimate goodness.
The time is now! Put this book aside and make a start!