Last week I spoke about the sometimes difficult, yet important practice of deeply listening to oneself. As I wrote in the final paragraph, I too was doing “an honest Reality Check and ask[ing] what’s best for me now?” There were a few decisions in my life that I felt I was receiving conflicting information about. I’ve written before about the power of intention and defining an ideal vision, and, in order to make the best decision, that’s what I did. When I journaled all the things that I felt are most important to me, I was surprised by the answer of what would be best based on what I captured on paper. Basically, I realized that I actually had all that was important for me where I was. Besides an important lesson of acceptance that that realization brings forth, and despite the following days feeling uplifted and confident, something felt incomplete with the decision I made. What the world was reflecting back to me was a near completeness, like getting to the finish line but unable to cross.
I felt stuck, triggered, immobile, and inactive.
In the Hebrew calendar, the current month is Elul, which is the final month before Rosh Hashana, the new year. In Elul, it is encouraged to do an accounting, a Spiritual Stocktaking, of one’s life over the previous year. Of course, this reflection is to be done not with judgement or criticism, but with an honest and genuine interest on how one can improve. Based on the close-to-finish feeling, I considered that if this is coming up, there must be something I am doing in my Divine service that is in need of improvement. Otherwise, this experience would not have been reflected back to me.
I think I was too stuck in my ways and in a state of stress to see immediately what was limiting my relationship with G-d and, therefore, my experience of life. Thankfully, this is where we have the seemingly useless activity in life called Sleep.
In a short talk the Lubavitcher Rebbe delivered on Shabbat during the Torah portion of Devarim 1990, he explained the words of the Sages, “[the words of Torah] should be new in your eyes every day.” In order to explain the miracle of being able to change the way we think and to be able to see things as new each day, he mentions how G-d gave us the gift of sleep. As I experienced, in need to open my eyes to what I had been not seeing, this is exactly what sleep assists with. After a challenging day we have the mechanism of sleep which allows us to “sleep” off and let go of whatever may have happened that day; “for after a night’s sleep we feel like a new person who is able to break free from the limitations of yesterday.”
I woke up, surprisingly well rested, and ready to do what I gotta do before I meditate and do intense breathing exercises. I recall feeling resistance towards doing the intense breath-work practice, per the one of the things I was receiving conflicting advice on was the effectiveness of this practice for a Jewish soul. “What if I don’t practice the breath?” I thought. “Then, I won’t feel good,” another thought arose in response. “It’s not about feeling good or bad,” another pure thought came forth. That hit me. What if this breath-work practice was what was holding me back, so to speak? Allow me to explain, at least briefly.
When we wake up each morning, we may often experience the struggles of getting up and getting beyond the inclination that wants to stay in bed and do its own thing. In order to teach the body and the ego who’s master, there are practices like meditation and breath-work where the person teaches the body who’s in control. In Chassidic terminology, the process is drawing the knowledge from the Nefesh Elokit (G-dly soul) whose ‘seat’ is in the mochin (brain) down to the middot (heart), thereby refining the Kelippot (shells) of the Nefesh Behamit (animal soul). In cases where one is breaking a habit, such as bringing more intention to the day after having enough of the laziness one exercised in one’s life, this is an effective practice to commit to, as it trains the person to reclaim sovereignty over the pulls and urges of the body, thus leading them to an empowering and healthy life.
Prior to waking up that morning, I would view each thought prior to meditation and breath-work as simply the body resisting change. However, that morning the third thought was very straightforward and took me to a line I heard the day before. In Heichaltzu #9 | Putting Yourself Down Is Not Holy, Rabbi YY Jacobson mentioned that Chassidus is not about feeling good, it’s about truth. Perhaps, what I was doing with the breath-work wasn’t so holy - and/or I was used by the tool of breath-work and needed to improve my relationship with it - and meditation would be more calming and effective if I practice a meditation from Rabbi Rome and then sit in silence. It was. I didn’t necessarily feel uplifted, but I felt grounded. Later on in the morning I became aware of a few questions that helped me take “listening to myself” to a deeper level, and I did an activity to tap into the deepest level of my soul. Although a few days prior I journaled all the pros that option a had, which are important to me and outnumbered the single pro of option b, I didn’t ask one very important question:
What are the priorities in my life at this moment?
Even though option a seemed better than option b, the pro of option b was more of a priority than the other pros of option a. Simply and vitally because it put my soul as a priority, it put soul-care over self-care. Now, mind, body, and soul are interconnected and we should never have to sacrifice one for another; but this decision makes clear what’s most important - Soul care is the foundation of any self care.
In order to come to a decision which took into account a greater, more holistic picture, beyond what other’s saw and shared with me, and beyond what I saw, I knew I had to access the level of my soul that truly has the answer that will be most supportive of my present and my future. The yechida level of my soul.
In Judaism, it is taught that there are five levels to one’s soul. There are three ‘lower’ ones that correspond to one’s thought, speech, and action, one ‘higher’ one that correspond to one’s life force, and a fifth one corresponding to one’s essence. The fifth and ‘highest’ level of the soul is called the yechida, which is a “literal piece of G-d.”
In addition to and/or even beyond all the tools that assist in living by one’s yechida aspect of their soul, meaning living most aligned with G-d, there is an activity that aligns you with your yechida, which I mentioned in How to Respond to the Unknown:
Writing a letter to the Rebbe.
In writing to the Rebbe explaining what’s going on, I realized I had to evolve the question I had asked before - what’s best for me now? - into to the following question:
What’s going to be best for me beyond what I think is best for me?
As someone who learns about the science of belief and practices meditation and tools to live aligned with G-d, including writing a letter directly to G-d, this seemed like a strange and limited activity. Additionally, there’s the concept of placebo and seeing possibility or hope in something or someone; as we also learn, “we are not allowed intermediaries between ourselves and G‑d.”
The following will hopefully bring light to why one writes to the Rebbe or another Tzadik. In Judaism it is known that the Jewish People are one body. There are souls that correspond the brain, like our leaders, and other souls that correspond to different parts of the body, which do action. Like a body, all limbs, organs, and parts of the body are connected. Tzadikim, righteous individuals, are like the brain of the Jewish people and, therefore, a Tzadik is not separate from you. Rather, someone like the Rebbe represents the yechida level of one’s soul, which is deeply connected to you.
In order to truly understand this concept, as I’ve struggled with it for some time, I recalled reading an article by Tzvi Freeman on the Torah Portion Korach, where towards the end he explained the above concept through the explanation from the The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. He explained, “an angel is an intermediary, because there is you and there is the angel. A Tzadik is not an intermediary, because you are both part of one body, the Jewish people.“
Sometimes when we write to G-d we can misinterpret the messages and guidance He reveals to us. In attempt to explain why this may happen very simply, this is due to several ‘contractions’ as not all of us are so in tune with G-d that we always know what’s best for us. It also depends on the situation and guidance one is asking for help with. Since we aren’t always aligned, it makes life, although challenging at times, interesting and have texture. Imagine playing the game telephone with thousands of people. By the time the message gets to you, it has a great chance of being distorted from the original message. Someone who is a Tzadik, however, is completely (although there are types of Tzadikim) aligned with G-d. So, when you pour out your soul for guidance from a Tzadik, it is connecting with the soul of someone who can see the full picture and help guide you towards what’s going to be best for you. Using the analogy of telephone, this would be going to someone who truly understands the Boss and has His best interest at heart, therefore delivering the clear message.
Later that day after writing the letter, thank G-d, I received a very clear message with guidance to what will be best for me. It helped me see beyond what I had thought was best. Last week, the final paragraph concluded with the following sentence:
Your answers are not outside of you in someone else, they are in you — trust yourself.
Sometimes, the best way to listen to yourself is not to listen to yourself. Rather, the best way to listen to yourself is to tap into and listen to the yechida aspect of your soul.
Your answers are not outside of you in someone else, they are in you. And some leaders help us reveal those answers. Learn to trust, tap into, and live by your yechida.
You got this!
Look at the activities you do in your day and ask yourself if they are aligned with what’s best for you?
I remembered the book I read in September 2019, exactly 3 years ago, The Illusion of Money by Kyle Cease. In the book he has an activity called "Your Average Amount of Alignment:” “Make a list of basically everything you do and have in your life. All of your habits, routines, your jobs, your relationships, any addictions, all the people you spend time with, the things you spend your money on, the things that you listen to or read, the things that you do for fun. Everything. You don’t need to stress about every single tiny detail; just write down everything that comes to mind in the next five minutes or so.” Then, one rates each thing on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most aligned with your soul. A quote he later writes that I like is, “if you have to think about what number something is, then it’s probably not a 10.” This gives insight into how we know which things excite us and spark joy to do. Thirdly, one divides the total by how many submissions they wrote, which gives the Average Amount of Alignment.
In our discussion, a 10 would be living aligned with your yechida. The more you can do activities that are 10’s - and understand some activities may not seem like 10’s at first, such as option b I wrote about - the more you live aligned with your soul. Also, the process involves letting go of activities that are not 10’s best for your soul, such as eating fast food, scrolling through social media (What I Learned from and experienced during a social media retreat), and other soul-sucking activities. To learn more about the activity, checkout chapter 9 in The Illusion of Money by Kyle Cease, or checkout Kyle’s Youtube channel.
If you missed the first post in this series, you can find it here: How to Trust Yourself - Part I