The Healing Process

A Call to Live / Torah Guidance on Healing 

~Avraham ben Yaakov 

Healing takes time. It takes time for tissues to mend, for organs to return to healthy functioning and for general physical balance to be restored. The same applies to healing the inner you, which is the very essence of the healing process. New growth, greater strength and joy will come to you over time. The healing process will be far easier if you recognize from the outset that you are likely to experience many ups and downs physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. You may start feeling better and more yourself, only to experience a setback that may seem to put you back where you were before. You may go through repeated ups and downs even in the course of a single day.
Don't let reverses and obstacles throw you into despair. It is through repeated cycles of retraction and expansion that the body realigns and heals. So too on the level of self and soul, growth and development often involve repeated bouts of mental, emotional and spiritual constriction or upset. This is the way your soul marshals the inner resources you need to advance. Sinking low may indeed be a sign that you are in the process of moving to a new, higher level in your life.

When you are prepared for hard times, it makes them easier to bear. The wise King Solomon is said to have had a ring inscribed with the words, "This too will pass." He wanted to remind himself constantly that the pain, hardship and suffering of this world are only temporary. Your ability to remain patient in the face of difficulties will help you greatly during the healing process.

Two basic living skills

Two basic skills are vital in order to cope with the ups and downs of healing. The first is the skill of handling yourself well when you go up, when things are good and you feel strong and confident. It can then be very tempting to overdo things, as if you want to convince yourself that you are perfectly fit when in fact you need to take things gently. The skill of the up-phase is to enjoy it and take advantage of it, while at the same time being careful not to do anything that could impair your healing. The second skill is knowing how to hold yourself even when you go down. You may have moments of extreme frustration and demoralization owing to your physical condition or other problems. Even if you are discouraged and depressed, don't let yourself sink into despair. Try to identify what is making you depressed. Is there any practical action you could take to help change things for the better? Even if you feel quite helpless, you still must find a way to take a more positive view of things. Have faith that God is the ultimate cause of everything you are going through, and God does only good.

Searching for the good at all times is the way to keep happy, and this is the key to true healing. The joyous song of the soul brings health and vitality to the body (see Chapter 2). Melodies and songs are made by going up and down -- quite literally! The musician goes up and down on the musical scale in order to build the melody line. Whether he goes up or down, the art of making music is always to go for the good notes.
Play your life as a melody! Whether you go up or down, go for the good notes! Search out the good everywhere. Even in the darkest places, even at the hardest moments, have faith that God's goodness is everywhere and in everything.

Sometimes the way to break out of depression and negativity is by acting a little silly or singing out loud, and so on. If you find it hard to lift yourself out of depression, what about trying to cheer up somebody else -- with a smile or a kind word or gesture?
Even when you are not in a position to help others directly, keep a charity box close by and donate even a small coin or two whenever you feel low! The concern you show for others by performing an act of charity opens a channel through which God's good- ness and kindness shine into your soul.

At times, God's goodness may be totally hidden from you. When things are very dark, cry out and scream to God: "Where are You? Have mercy! Help me!" If all your prayers and cries and other efforts seem to be accomplishing nothing, you have no option but to heave a deep sigh and wait for things to change.

In the words of Rebbe Nachman: "Sometimes you may be disturbed by all kinds of negative thoughts and feelings. It seems impossible to overcome them. You must then make yourself like nothing. Don't even try to speak. Close your mouth. Close your eyes. Don't try to think. Your mind ceases to exist. You have totally effaced yourself. Now there is only God."

Starting again

Children learn to walk because they have an inborn instinct to get up and try again, even after falling down time after time. The ability to start all over again is necessary to accomplish anything. It is especially vital in healing and personal growth. Even if you fall into depression and despair many times, do everything you can to pick yourself up and start again. Obstacles and difficulties of various kinds may pull you far from your goals. Perhaps you have tried prayer, hisbodedus, a new diet, a fitness program and so on, only to abandon them for some reason. But this need not mean that they are lost for ever. You can always try again!!!

So often people feel that right now, at this particular moment, they are simply unable to live their life the way they really want. Either circumstances are not as they would wish them to be, or they feel unwell, uncomfortable, restless, tired and depressed. So they throw away the present moment as if it doesn't really count, as if today is not one of the days of their life. They put off "real living" until later, when they hope that circumstances will improve and they will be feeling better, stronger, clearer, more relaxed, less tired.... "Tomorrow... and tomorrow... and tomorrow...."

Does that tomorrow ever come? Each new day brings its own problems and tensions. And so, one day after another is thrown away. How many minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years of your life can you cross off and still be left with time to live?

You cannot afford to wait for everything to be perfect before you start living. Healing essentially means living now. Living is what healing is ultimately all about -- for why do you want your health if not to live and fulfil yourself? If this is what you want, you have to take the initiative and start living right now.

In physical rehabilitation, when you are ready to start getting back the use of stiff, painful joints and muscles after injury or illness, the way to do it is not by waiting for them to spring miraculously back to life. No: you must gently initiate the process with small but increasingly adventurous movements in the right direction.

In the same way, when you want to live, you must start now by taking small, sure steps despite the fact that you may still be feeling weak, tired and disheartened.
The key is to do just a little. Try hisbodedus for just one minute! Sing one short nigun. Say a few words of prayer. Pick up an inspirational book and read just one paragraph. Share one kind word with someone, offer one single gesture of kindness and sympathy. Set yourself a few achievable goals for today, and pray to God to help you at every step.

Relax and enjoy!

The best way to live in the here and now is to take a real holiday as free as possible from anything unpleasant, with no hard work or errands: a day when you can just take it easy, relax, feel good and enjoy life now! The idea is called Shabbat: a regular, complete holiday at the end of every week from just before sunset on Friday until just after dark on Saturday night. "Six days you may labor and do all your work, and the seventh day is Shabbat..." (Exodus 20:9).

It may be impossible to avoid all tension, depression and negativity all day, every day, seven days a week. There are always unpleasant tasks to be done, stressful situations to be faced, and so on.

But surely for one day a week you can take a holiday -- a day to live and rejoice here and now rather than pushing off living for a tomorrow that may never come. Shabbat is a day to take a break from work, errands and other tasks and their accompanying stresses and tensions. Arrange whatever you can in advance of Shabbat in order to leave yourself free to relax and enjoy.

With nothing pressing to be done and no rush, you have time: time for yourself and your soul, time to be together with dear ones and friends, time to think, breathe, meditate, sing, pray, read, chat, stroll about, sit, nap, daydream... time to savor your food and drink, time to look at the world around you with new eyes, gaze up at the skies and rediscover the wonder and glory of creation.

Make Shabbat your very own holiday. Arrange your surroundings as pleasantly and comfortably as possible. Where possible, take a good bath before Shabbat. Freshen up and wear your favorite clothes. Try to have the finest foods, fine wine and other delicacies for your Shabbat meals. See that all the preparations are made in advance so that everything is ready to eat and enjoy. Do everything possible to create an atmosphere of peace, warmth and openheartedness. Put worrisome concerns out of your mind. Think good thoughts. Speak kindly and wisely. Enjoy, and let others enjoy!

It may not be possible to avoid all tension and negativity whether in yourself or from those around you. Still, try to reduce them to an absolute minimum on Shabbat. Where those around are unable to join you in your Shabbat celebration, explain to them that Shabbat is a necessary part of your healing, and ask them to respect this.

The ultimate healing song

Celebrating Shabbat does not only affect the Shabbat day itself. The calm and enjoyment of Shabbat radiate into the weekdays that follow, giving you more inner strength to face the challenges of life. As the week progresses, you look forward to the next Shabbat. Knowing it'll soon be Shabbat again will carry you through all kinds of difficulties. And sure enough, Shabbat arrives with its unfailing magic. As Shabbat follows Shabbat, you learn to refine and enhance the way you celebrate, so that you enjoy your Shabbat more and more.

Man is born to toil. In this world everyone has to work and struggle in some way. But work and effort are meaningless and punitive unless directed towards a worthwhile goal. The ultimate goal of work is to enjoy the fruits of one's labors. Shabbat is the time to live and enjoy. This is what gives meaning to one's work and effort during the week.
Viewing our time in this world from a broader perspective, we can describe our entire life here, with all its pain and struggle, as "six days of labor" in relation to the higher life enjoyed by the soul when our time comes to leave this world. That higher life is the true Shabbat.

Only in that higher realm can there really be perfect healing. Here in this finite, physical world, healing is always relative and at best temporary. True, many physical problems and illnesses can be more or less totally overcome; many injuries can heal completely. Indeed, the body's capacity to heal is perfectly miraculous. Even so, sooner or later every body passes its peak and starts deteriorating. The human body is simply not made to live for ever. In the end, everyone has to die.

The body is given to us in order to accomplish our unique mission in this material world, so that our higher soul may then attain the joy of the life to come. In this world the soul cannot attain perfect joy, for the simple reason that nothing in this finite, material world is perfect or everlasting. But when the time comes for the body to die, the soul is free to spread its wings and attain the boundless life and joy of the world to come. That is the true Shabbat and the ultimate healing.

Even in our life in this world we can have a foretaste of this future joy. It is attained through celebrating Shabbat here in this world. The weekly Shabbat experience is a "glimpse of the world to come." The vitality, goodness and pleasure we enjoy on our earthly Shabbat is a taste of the pure goodness and bliss of the future Shabbat.
This taste of the world to come has the power to sweeten any pain, hardship and struggle that may have to be endured in this world. Why people go through pain and suffering is one of the deepest mysteries of creation. The only way to make any sense of pain, illness and death is by understanding them as a means of preparation of the soul in order to attain its ultimate destiny: the perfect Shabbat of the life after life.

Only that ultimate Shabbat gives meaning to the struggle and suffering people endure in this world. When we get a taste of that ultimate Shabbat through experiencing the enhanced vitality and joy of our weekly, earthly Shabbat, this gives us fresh strength to face up to the challenges of this world and go forward, step by step, to accomplish what we must.

"Six days of work, then Shabbat; six days of work, then Shabbat" is a rhythm of living through time. It is the primary life-giving rhythm, the rhythm that brings health and healing, spiritually and physically.

For Shabbat is the root of all true healing. The key to health and healing is the joyous melody of the soul that sends pulsating vitality into every cell of the body (see Chapter 2). The soul makes its melodies out of the "good notes" that you pick out as you go "up and down the scale" in life. The Shabbat experience gives the soul a glimpse of the ultimate good. This brings supreme joy into the soul, strengthening and vitalizing its melody.

Shabbat therefore has its own song -- the song of perfect goodness:

"A psalm, a song for the Shabbat day. It is good to give thanks to God and to sing to Your Name, Exalted One; to tell about Your kindness in the morning and Your faithfulness in the nights. On the ten-stringed instrument and on the lyre, with singing accompanied by the harp. For You have made me happy, God, with Your acts, and I will rejoice over the work of Your hands. How great are Your works, God; very deep are Your thoughts!" (Psalms 92:1-6).

The traditional Hebrew Shabbat greeting is Shabbat Shalom! -- "Shabbat Peace!" The "six-days-of-work, then Shabbat" rhythm brings harmony between two necessary poles of our being: the side that wants, yearns and labors for what we lack, and the side that can enjoy what we already have and give thanks for it.

When we are at harmony within ourselves, we can make our peace with those around us, with the world and with God. When we have made peace, we can truly live. And living is what healing is all about.

May God grant us perfect healing, healing of the soul and healing of the body. Refu'ah shelemah, refu'at ha-nefesh u-refu'at ha-guf. Amen.