18 Tishrei 5782 / Friday, September 24, 2021 | Torah Reading: Sukkot
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Effective Soul-Healing    

Effective Soul-Healing

When people are promised quick faddish solutions that don’t address their deeper needs, the problems soon return and when they do they are often worse than they were before...


Most people today have been to some type of “helping doctor” or “guru” in the hope of obtaining lasting relief from their pain.  In the end, the reason why those counselors or spiritual gurus failed to help was because they don’t teach people how to uncover the roots of their problems and heal them at their source. When people are promised quick faddish solutions that don’t address their deeper needs, the problems soon return and when they do they are often worse than they were before.


Cheshbon hanefesh, which means an accounting of the soul, is a deep form of self-analysis based on emuna. People need periods of introspection in order to stay emotionally and spiritually healthy.  It’s all the more essential for people who are struggling with more severe types of emotional and relationship problems.  Cheshbon hanefesh can be combined with personal prayer or done with therapist. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, which is a lengthy subject in itself.  The main point for now is that in either case the essential process is the same. It is a process of steadily peeling away the distorted beliefs and illusions we have about ourselves and others and replacing them with G-d’s truth.


The process is surely easier to describe than to do, yet anyone who works at it with the right attitude will make progress. Essentially you spontaneously express all of your thoughts and feelings in an uncensored way either verbally or in writing. To get started, you let yourself relax and just allow yourself to spontaneously express whatever comes to mind.  By remaining relaxed and being spontaneous you can be reasonably certain that G-d will assist you to intuitively select those subjects which you need most to work on and which are most accessible to your current understanding. Whether you’re speaking or writing: the point isn’t to produce a scientific or literary masterpiece but to give as complete and full a rendering of your thoughts and feelings as you can – regardless of the inevitable dark-side nature of some of them.


It is essential to abstain from reasoning while doing cheshbon hanefesh, our first and main task is to express not to understand. Spontaneous self-expression is itself healing because it brings the person closer to Hashem who is the source of truth in the personality of the person.


You might wonder if speaking spontaneously may mislead you by allowing you to take the path of least resistance, and not touch upon the subjects that Hashem wants you to work on. For example rehashing subjects that are already quite familiar to you or otherwise going off on tangents that will distract you from the hard work of honest introspection. This is where it’s wise to be gentle with yourself. Don’t try to break through your resistances too quickly. This is surely a ploy of the evil inclination who wants to discourage you from practicing cheshbon hanefesh. It’s preferable to peel away the illusions at a slower steady pace. If you’re patient, in time, your more deeply buried difficulties will surface and loosen their grip on you.


Following a period of self-expression I recommend a period where you review what came up in an effort to understand the themes and connections between themes that Hashem has sent you. In this second phase of cheshbon hanefesh , rather than being entirely passive and receptive to whatever emerges, you become more active. We might say, at this point, that reason comes into play to a greater extent, but even now you don’t rely on it exclusively. We aren’t relying on our power of reasoning but we are also not excluding our reasoning when it comes on its own.  It is difficult to describe the attitude that you should adopt when you are trying to grasp the meaning of a series messages from Hashem. For sure, we don’t want the process to degenerate into a mere intellectual exercise. Suffice it to say that the most reliable meanings that we can decipher from what Hashem sends us are those that also come upon us rather spontaneously. The best description I have for this is emuna-based understanding.


 A young man suddenly felt unable to complete his work. Sitting at his desk, he became fidgety lethargic and unable to focus. He had no idea why he was suddenly overcome with such a paralyzing inertia especially because he knew he was well rested from the night before.


In stage one of his cheshbon hanefesh he asked Hashem to help him to think about the “heavy” feeling he had in his body. The word “heavy” reminded him of a heavy (obese) child who had bullied him growing up. He had more thoughts of having been bullied and ridiculed as a child. He re-experienced his childhood pain and noticed that his lethargy was in the process of lifting.  He then recalled how frightened he typically felt in the presence of a certain aunt of his. His mind then turned to an incident with his mother. She had just yelled at him and told him that he would never amount to anything in life. That he was bound to sabotage any possibility of his ever succeeding. She left and he found himself sitting alone in the family car. There he felt frozen with a mixture of sadness and rage toward his mother.


He began stage two of his cheshbon hanefesh by thanking Hashem for leading him back to the thoughts memories and feelings that he made his fatigue unnecessary. But he had been relieved of his work inhibition even without a full understanding of what had stopped him.  He asked Hashem’s help to understand what had happened to him and then began to review his notes. When he came to the word “frozen” he was flooded with a series of memories that seemed to him to be connected to the theme of “fear of success.” He recalled a number of people who had given him a negative image of himself and how angry he felt towards these people. Once again he felt frozen because he was unable to express his rage at these teachers and relatives because they were authority figures. He realized that his initial fatigue and inability to work was a message from Hashem. He understood with increasing lucidity that Hashem had given him the opportunity to work though some unconscious barriers to his success in his current life.


Without the emuna-based tool of cheshbon hanefesh he would have taken a nap and returned to his work several hours later not having grown in the slightest. But because he did the inner work, not only was he able to work again but the quality of his work improved. Hashem is sending us a constant series of communications some of them are “easier” to be grateful for than others. But perhaps it’s when we get stuck that Hashem is sending us the most valuable message of all.



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