Several situations and learnings this week point a finger at a similar lesson. In previous articles and guides, you’ve read information on and learned about the tools of journaling, meditation, and other ways to zoom out and focus on the positives. Earlier in the day I caught up with mentor and previous podcast guest, Rabbi Laibl Wolf, for some guidance. Then, as I sat down to write this week’s newsletter, reflecting on the past week, I recognized a powerful lesson that began last week on Shabbat, occurred with Rabbi Wolf, and has been a lesson in episode 6 of Heichaltzu by the Rebbe Rashab that Rabbi YY Jacobson is teaching online.
This past Shabbat was known as Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort, because it is the first Shabbat after the ninth of Av. Additionally, it followed right after the full moon of fifteenth Av, the tipping point when the destructive events of Av are transformed into joy. So much so the Mishna in Taanis (fasts) 4:8 states, “there never were greater festivals in Israel than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur.” In short, there are five festive events that occurred on the fifteenth of Av that are counterparts to the tragic events during the first half of the month. Each of the five events emphasize unity and loving one’s fellow, which directly opposes the tragedies that occurred due to baseless hatred. The transformation lifts us up as we enter into Shabbat Nachamu with intention to experience comfort and consolation for the troubles we may be having.
There are many ways to be comforted and sometimes the process of being comforted is not so comfortable. As mentioned in the first paragraph, there are many tools to practice generating comfort and peace (See Blog I wrote How to Achieve Emotional Stillness (Even in Times of Chaos); however, these tools are not always available or applicable. For example, if one fully engages in Shabbat according to its laws, writing is not a permitted activity. Also, even though meditation is powerful and effective, one is not recommended to always find a place to retreat to and close their eyes. After all, the purpose of meditating with one’s eyes closed is to practice being calm with one’s eyes open. What is another effective way to capture the intense internal discomfort and thus experience comfort?
During the daytime of Shabbat, I was feeling overwhelmed. Even after meditation, the intensity did not subside. Although uncomfortable, one should know that this too is a sign of an effective practice. The rising of unpleasant thoughts can actually be a positive sign that one is doing things correctly. Once observed, limited beliefs and ways of thinking lose their effect. The discomfort is a message from the body trying to stay in familiar, unpleasant emotions. Often, holding space and allowing the emotions to be present without judging or resisting them, allows the limited beliefs to unwire neurologically and draw in more empowering beliefs to fire neurologically. As I like to say, ride the wave of discomfort. Nevertheless, the intensity was great, very painful, and I felt unclear mentally.
After lunch, I asked to have a conversation with my Rabbi. Upon listening to what I had been experiencing, the space he held for me to verbalize the pain I had, brought much peace and comfort to my intellect and emotions. Talking it out didn’t immediately bring a sense of complete peace, but capturing the thoughts and emotions was very calming as, like with journaling, they are no longer in the brain and the body. And sure enough, calming the emotions allowed for me to be in a state of openness for something I needed to hear; otherwise impossible for anyone in a state of stress. In talking it out, I became aware of a type of fear in me that was aiming to protect me from something that was actually safe. Once there is awareness, the next step is to change the response. Instead of choosing to feel fear, I chose to embrace what was present with joy.
When I caught up with Rabbi Wolf and shared current challenges, I again felt grateful and calmed for the opportunity to talk it out. In regard to a question about my health; however, Rabbi Wolf had given me different advice. He said don’t even think about the health issue, to push away any negative thoughts about it, and to replace it with positive thoughts. By placing attention on it, it only makes the pain more prevalent. In simple terms, where you place your attention is where you place your energy.
Taking from these two scenarios, there is a unique dynamic with speech that in one instance, talking it out provides a therapeutic effect and in another instance, one is recommended to push the thought away and not to think about it nor talk about it. Interestingly enough, there’s a synthesis in episode 6 of Heichaltzu, The Therapeutic Benefits of Sharing Your Painful Emotions, that illuminates the two approaches. In the discourse, the Rebbe Rashab writes that through talking out pain there is a lot of repair that happens, including realizing what happened and seeing what you really do and don’t want.
In Mishlei (Proverbs) Chapter12:25, King Solomon writes, “If there is concern in a man’s heart, let him cast it down [yishchena, יַשְׁחֶ֑נָּה], and a good word will make it cheerful.” The Sages in the Gemara comment that yishchena means to talk about the concern to others. It seems that talking about one’s concern makes it more real and apparent, which is true, but afterwards, as the Sages teach, there is a release of tension and stress. In the same Gemara, the Sages give another meaning to yishchena from the phrase chesa chadas, which means to push the concern away from your mind. Rabbi YY shares that there is no paradox, rather one cannot push the concern away from his mind if you don’t talk about it. However, learning from the approach from Rabbi Wolf, another meaning can be understood. Pushing the concern away from your mind does not mean repressing or resisting the pain. It is a conscious choosing of where to place one’s attention. As a result, this approach fully accepts what is and thus allows the body to self regulate and self heal. We just need to get the blocks out of the way by not resisting and overanalyzing.
In conclusion, talking things out provides two effective approaches for concern or overwhelm. It may seem contradictory to recommend talking about a concern and pushing it away from one’s thoughts; however, as the comments on the verse by King Solomon shed light on, talking about a concern compliments pushing it away from one’s thoughts. I don’t know if it gets mentioned at a later point in the discourse, but it should be noted that, as with other tools, it can be overused. If a person has a pain or worry and they continue talking about it, they will continue to make the problem larger than it may be or they will make a problem that isn’t really there. So, if you have some pains and concerns, find someone you trust, like a friend, and share your thoughts and emotions. Then, start placing your attention on what’s under your control, what you’re grateful for, positive thoughts, and other uplifting areas of focus.
You got this!