Chani Segelman
Essays 2020 / Finalists

Stop thinking about it. Stop thinking about it. Stop thinking about it!

Doesn’t feel too easy, huh?

We all struggle with the “Don’t Think About the Pink Elephant” challenge. We feel that we are a slave to our thoughts, the onslaught of anxieties, distractions, a constant whirlwind of noise. No matter how much we tell ourselves to stop thinking, we can’t. Thought isn’t a process that can be stopped. It’s a roaring train at full speed and there’s no stopping it in its tracks. There’s no such thing as a void in the brain. If we empty ourselves of our storage of thoughts, new and scarier ones take hold and residence in our minds. Our thoughts create the reality we live in, and it’s a wavering reality to be held hostage in, if the train is its own conductor.

In this essay, we will discover how we can take control of the direction of the train. We will discuss how we can control our thoughts, providing instant relief and long term solutions. We will accomplish this through a psycho analysis of a popular figure and hero in the master Chassidic text of the Tanya: the Beinoni. While exploring their inner consciousness and tools they use to create their reality, we will learn practical techniques for our personal mind control, reaching our ultimate in human potential, and create our realities anew.

The Beinoni: The Inbetweener

The Beinoni: a living breathing phenomenon of every human being’s potential at its finest. A hypocrite. An oxymoron. He appears to be perfect, a fully righteous Jew, only speaking words of Torah, performing good deeds, and thinking only positive thoughts. But take a look behind the scenes:

There’s a war. A war between good and evil. A war that we are all fighting.

We are born with two souls . We have our animal soul, the one we are instinctively inclined to.1 The one that wants us to survive, taking care of our physical body, making sure we eat, sleep, and that has desires for what can be against G-dliness. Next, a divine soul, pure, only wanting to do good, speak good, think good. This soul is a literal part of G-d2 and is our spiritual motivator inside. As an inbetweener, his animal is active within him, wanting to do, speak, and think bad, but his divine soul asserts control over it and makes sure he is only expressing G-dliness.3

We: Beinoni in Training

In Chapter 14 of Tanya, the Alter Rebbe explicitly states that anyone can become a Beinoni. For at any given moment, we can assert control over our animal soul, exercising our power of free choice to use our expressions of thought, speech, and action to serve G-d. The Beinoni is our model for the ultimate in human potential. We will delve into the realm of thought and discover how the Beinoni’s control techniques apply practically to our own thoughts as well.

Thoughts: An Article of Clothing

The Beinoni isn’t perfect on the inside; he has thoughts and desires that arise in his mind.4 The moment that determines a Beinoni status, a perfect expression of thought, is in the choice whether to think actively on the thought presented before him or not, controlling what he allows into his consciousness. “Thought is a garment and a servant for the mind and the emotions”,5 meaning, just as a garment can be taken on and off, so too, thought is only a garment, to be controlled. The Beinoni decides in a split second, if the thought is positive and productive in helping him serve G-d in that moment, or if the thoughts are unwanted guests, hurtful and harmful, anything but constructive. For they are only voicing their opinions,6 and the Beinoni recognizes that they are suggestions, not verdicts. He is the final judge.

Not in My Home

What does the Beinoni do in response to the negative thoughts?

He pushes away the thoughts immediately! Irresponsive, and completely ignoring,7 he doesn’t let them into the home of his consciousness.

Visualize this: A homeless disheveled looking man is knocking on your front door with a knife in his hand. Will you let him in? Absolutely not! For he has no right to enter into your home. If he wants to hurt you, you are going to slam the door shut in his face.

In response to a disciple’s question of, “Can we control our thoughts?” The Maggid of Mezritch8 sent him knocking on Reb Zev’s9 door to learn a lesson. In the cold winter night, he begged to be let within the comfort and warmth of the home, but to no avail. No answer. After an exhausting night of knocking, he is invited in, and Reb Zev answered, “In my home, I am the boss.
Whomever I wish to admit — I allow in; whomever I do not wish to admit — I do not.”

Fill the Void

No void can remain empty.10 The Beinoni pushes away the thought, but can’t say no to one 10 thought and expect it to walk away with a skip and smile. The void has to be filled immediately. The train can’t be stopped but it can be directed. When attention is directed to a positive place, that asserts the control the Beinoni has over his mind.

The thought we invite in is of any neutral topic, from baseball to math equations, or a happy memory. For an even greater effect, it can be directed to holy thoughts, a piece of Torah study that was learnt, or a Posuk memorized to distract from the knocking. We have to build ourselves a reservoir of positive thoughts to invite into our consciousness.

Don’t Despair

We shouldn’t become upset if we’re having thoughts knocking constantly on our doors, because we’re not perfect, and we can’t always control what pops up. We can control what we do with it. Having the opportunity to take this thought and turn away from it is a command we get the
privilege of fulfilling, “Don’t go after your heart and eyes.”11 Once you have the thought, and actively push it away to concentrate on something else, at that moment, you are accomplishing an actual Mitzvah,12 so no need for sadness.

If a thought comes during prayer,13 or any good action, this is also not something to be upset about, for it means the devotion and concentration of the divine soul was so great that the animal soul felt threatened and sent a foreign thought to battle it. Once pushed away, continue on with even more passion and concentration; don’t let the thought bring you down.

Long Term Solutions: Preventative Tactics

1. Night Time Digs

If there are constant thoughts that aren’t healthy or productive and we find ourselves pushing them away multiple times during the day, we have to get to the root of the issue. We can’t address them the moment they appear, for that won’t be productive. Instead, we designate time, at the end of the day,14 in a process called Cheshbon Hanefesh: an accounting of the soul. It is a time to concentrate fully on our mind, finding what can possibly be causing the destructive distractions. Are we watching certain violent movies that cause scenes to flash in our heads at times we don’t want? Do we have an underlying stress that hasn’t been dealt with and the thoughts that are constantly occurring are stemming from an undealt issue? We have to do our part, by being aware of where the thoughts are coming from, taking care of the possible underlying stresses and issues, and lessening our exposure. Then G-d will do his part15 and the struggles with those specific thoughts will lessen.

2. Fill Up on Light

“The cause of …evil thoughts is an empty mind. When one’s mind is busy, thought has a purpose to serve…” – Hayom Yom: 16 Cheshvan.

The simplest and easiest solution to preventing negative thoughts, whether of depression, anxiety, or scenes we don’t want on replay, is to fill up our reservoir with light! For adding in a little light can chase away a lot of darkness, as the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz, said, “Darkness you don’t drive away with a stick.” Instead of spending a lifetime trying to fight off the negative thoughts, if we fill our mind with positive thoughts, specifically Torah study, there isn’t any room for the negative thoughts to begin with.

Realities Anew

We are created in the image of G-d; just as G-d creates using His wisdom,16 so to we reflect G-d’s creative power in every thought we choose to think. Being in control of our thoughts creates our reality. A positive thought creates a positive reality, truly impacting our surroundings.17 The more light we bring into our life, the brighter our realities become. Setting our mindset at the beginning of each day to focus on the good in every situation and within another,18 stimulates the light in our thoughts for the rest of the day. When we are able to push away the dark
thoughts, and bring in the light, the world at large is impacted.

The Train Conductor’s Guide: In Summary

  1. Push the negative thoughts away by ignoring- squeeze your eyes shut, and imagine slamming the door closed in the thoughts’ face.
  2. Focus on a positive thought instead- build a reservoir of them to have at hand. Shift your mind to neutral, by thinking about a happy memory, a math equation, or a baseball game. Or even better, focus on a holy thought, a sentence of Torah that you feel connected to and can memorize for these occasions.
  3. Take time to think about the cause of possible thoughts, from exposure to movies, or stresses that can be leading to recurring distracting thoughts.
  4. Take action by lessening the exposure, 1 less movie or 1 less hour of screen time, and talk through the stresses with someone, a close friend or family member, to prevent the thoughts from recurring during the day.
  5. Add in more light into your life to have a general positivity and holiness in your thoughts, by filling your mind with positive thoughts, and learn a subject of Torah you connect to and feel passionate about. Torah study can include learning something small about the weekly Torah portion, studying works of Chassidus that enhance a person’s connection to G-d in a deeper and essential way through understanding G-d and the inner makeup of ourselves and this world. Read the “My Life Chassidus Applied” essays that address dealing with contemporary issues through the lenses of Torah and Chassidus.

At any given moment, we have the power to fulfill our ultimate potential and achieve the level of the Beinoni. We journeyed through their inner battle and path to victory within the realm of thought, as it is a journey we are all on. The train forging ahead at full speed is one we are now at tthe head of, conducting it in the positive direction of the reality we want to live in. The control is now within our hands, the light within our minds, and the choice is ours. Who can stop us now?

1 Tanya, Chapter 1
2 Tanya, Chapter 2
3 Tanya, Chapter 12
4 Tanya, Chapter 12
5 Hayom Yom: Cheshvan 16
6 Tanya, Chapter 13
7 Tanya, Chapter 12, 28
8 student of the the Baal Shem Tov, founder of chassidus
9 another disciple of the Maggid
10 Genesis 37:24, Lekutei sichos, vol. 15, pp. 324-325
11 Numbers 15:39
12 Tanya, Chapter 27
13 Tanya, Chapter 28
14 Tanya, Chapter 26
15 Tanya, Chapter 28
16 Psalms 104:24
17 Igros Kodesh by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol.1, p. 239.
18 Likutei Diburim, vol. 1, p. 2.