Challenging Reality

Chanale Schusterman, Indianapolis, Indiana
Essays 2019 / Personal Growth

In this Essay

This world is a world full of challenges. We see a reality in which people encounter challenges daily. Every person has their way of dealing with the challenges and negativity they see. This essay will examine the creation of the world through the lens of Chassidus in order to discover one of the G-dly tools used to approach and totally eradicate challenges. The information will be compared to best-seller Emotional Agility by Susan David, in which the author discusses the way people approach the world and how to alter their mindset. We will discuss the difference between the Chassidic approach and psychological contemporary one. After examining the way people tie themselves down to the reality they see, Chassidus will outline a step-by-step approach people can use to change their perspective and how to change their lives.

Defining Reality

Every society has learned to map out and deal with the happenings in the world around them. In our own lives, people have learned to safely and successfully deal with the factors they encounter. It is necessary for life to evaluate the stimulus around in order to respond. The problem starts when people automatically rely on their definition of reality, often times negative. Defining reality reflects the essence of the stance our world has in the levels of creation.(1) G-d created the world with words.(2) He gave every creation its individual G-dly vitality according to the hebrew letters of its name.(3) This world has all that G-dliness disguised as physical objects. Human beings then perceive those G-dly rays as objects, nature, movement, groups, connections, and problems. Truly, every object and everything that happens is just an expression of G-d, which people perceive as the reality of their lives.(4) It’s this surface level perception that allows people to see and get stuck in their challenges.

Agility and Rigidity

In the book Emotional Agility, Susan David shares a similar idea about what she believes causes people to not reach their full potential. She proves that our troubles stem from automated, rigid response to stimuli. She writes that the key to success is approaching the world in an agile and open way instead of a rigid, automatic way. Emotions cause “physical ‘embodied’ responses [that] keep our inner state and outward behavior in sync with the situation at hand(5)” She explains how this negatively affects people’s lives because every situation encountered requires adaptation and mindfulness. People get hooked on their way of thinking which is really “confusing our perception of what’s happening in the moment”(6). Any judgement or heuristics that is made can end up being used at the wrong moment to take situations out of context, due to natural thought blending. “In scripting our own stories we all take liberties with the truth.(7)” This all shows that the natural way of interpreting reality must operate flexibly to live successfully.

Emotional Agility outlines a four step process to reach this level of openness and success. 1. Showing up- “Facing into your thoughts and emotions,” opening up and noticing them with compassion. 2. Stepping Out – Detaching oneself from his thoughts and emotions to see them for what they are. 3. Walking your Why – Going on to live a life according to one’s values and goals. 4. Moving OnChanging habits through small tweaks in behavior and constantly finding a balance between being complacent and overwhelmed.

Why Change?

The above mentioned sources both state that defining reality and then responding will have people responding to a self-created reality. Why should anyone change their approach if it works for them? Emotional agility explains that rigidity and automatic reactive responses are hurtful because they “aren’t serving you now”(8). It’s peoples’ rigidity which is harming them by “leading us off course instead of protecting our best interest”(9). If someone is mindful of their reactions they are able to feel more happy, self-fulfilled, and confident.

Chassidus adds a deeper level and explains that the fact that all creations see things in a rigid, natural way is the essence of why every person and all of the world was created.(10) G-d wanted people to see the physicality so they can change their view, hence elevating reality to its G-dliness.(11) Every person must change their view of reality since, at its core, that is their entire purpose and the reason they were created. This achievement of seeing everything as G-dliness and not merely the physical definition is the essence of Moshiach, when there will be total world peace (in the world and in oneself).(12)

Confirmation Bias

Many chassidic sources show that humanity views the world and everything in it as stagnant but it is in fact designed to be flexible and able to be understood in many ways(13). There is only hardship and strife because people see reality as challenges and hardships. Therefore if the view changes the hardship changes. A common adage illustrating this is “גוט זיין וועט גוט טראכט” -“think good, then it will be good.” The way a situation is viewed will create actual facts through physical confirmation bias. Thoughts and beliefs are the very harbinger of a reality. This means that negative understanding of a situation is not just that, understanding, but will bear results and validate the perspective. Seeing something as good or the outcome as good, will make it good.

In regards to people’s inner character and traits this is also apparent. In Likutei Sichos the Rebbe, in a Sicha on Parshas Emor about speech, teaches that speaking about something brings about that expression in the universe (14). ” – “אן אמירה צו א צוויטען וועלכע איז טהורה ווערט זיכער מקויים”. Something said to another which is pure, will definitely be fulfilled.” Whenever someone speak positively or points out the flaws about another it makes the subject behave in that way. “זיינע און טוב זיין בפועל און בגילוי ארויס ברענגט מען מעלות“ – “We bring out it in a revealed and actual way his good and advantages”(15). It’s the words that will bring out the reality. People who are looked upon as unsuccessful are not really that way. Truly, if they were constantly spoken about as sophisticated then that’s how they would appear and behave.

The power of our responses play out visually in the Hayom Yom of 29 Tishrei: “A resident of Mezibuz had a quarrel with another. Once, while in the Baal Shem Tov’s shul, he shouted that he would tear the other fellow to pieces like a fish. The Baal Shem Tov told his pupils to hold one another’s hand, and to stand near him with their eyes closed. Then he placed his holy hands on the shoulders of the two disciples next to him. Suddenly the disciples began shouting in great terror: They had seen that fellow actually dismembering his disputant.”(16)

Other sources prove that the actual physicality of the world is affected by peoples’ thoughts and actions. This is an idea Bruce Lipton proves scientifically in his book “The Biology of Belief” and that Rhonda Byrne explains in “The Secret”. In Kabbalah it states “The Upper World can only provide the Lower World according to its state. If it glows from below, in the same manner it is shined upon from above; but if it gloats in sadness, it receives judgment in return.”(17)

Here are two short stories that illustrate the difference this can make in someone’s life. “It was the custom of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi to officiate as the reader of the weekly Torah reading in his synagogue. One year, the Rebbe was away from home on the Shabbat on which the section of “Ki Tavo” is read. Ki Tavo contains the “Rebuke,” a harsh description of the calamities or “curses” destined to befall the Jewish people should they forsake the commandments of the Torah. In the Rebbe’s absence, someone else did the reading. That week, Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s son, DovBer, who was about twelve years old at the time, was so affected by the “curses” of the Rebuke that he developed a heart ailment. Three weeks later, when Yom Kippur came around, he was still so weak that his father was hesitant to allow him to fast.When the young DovBer was asked, “But don’t you hear the Rebuke every year?” He replied: “When Father reads, one does not hear curses.””(18)

There is a story attributed to Rabbi Wilhelm from Ukraine. One night, as he was getting out of his car three men surrounded him, intent on taking his money. The Rabbi looked at the leader sincerely and said. “You look like a nice man but you obviously need money very badly. How much money do you need?” The thief looked at the Rabbi confused and then told him that he need a certain amount of money for supper and some liquor. The Rabbi counted out the bills and handed it to him. A few days later Rabbi Wilhelm was leaving his building and he saw the thief standing outside, waiting for him. The man handed the Rabbi a few dollars and told him emotionally, “I forgot what it was like to have someone respect me and see me for who I am. No one has called me nice since my mother died. Here is the change from the money you gave me.”(19)

Creating a New Reality

It’s how we view our lives that makes our life the way it is. It seems to be that the situation is hard, a friend is rude, a trait in oneself is bad, but really it’s just how we perceive and define the situation. The problem is that every person is set up to see their lives that way. How can you change that to see a good and G-dly reality? This is spelled out in these four steps.(20)

Step 1 Intercept and Accept

The first step is to recognize what the real facts appear to be and how you view that in your life. “I see a lot of cars so there must be traffic and I’m going to get home late” Then you can understand that your experiences and personality were set up to see it as such.(21) “Last time I came home late, this is what the road looked like so of course I am really worried.” G-d is the one that set you up to see this situation negatively so it is perfect for you to currently see the situation the way you do. At the same time, you can understand that there is an alternative , non-defined reality currently hidden to you which you can uncover. This is understanding your human imperfections and recognize the total perfection at their core. (22) (23)

Step 2 Switch the Scene

Now, every person can figure out the alternative reality of the situation by seeing himself as a messenger of G-d.

G-d only gave doctors the power to heal, not the power to decide life and death. They are only able to be messengers of G-d to give treatment and solutions.(24) So too, with every person in life. Every person is only here in this world as messengers of G-d to use their abilities and individual traits to bring healing and fixing to the world.(25) The fact you see a situation a certain way means you have a special perspective or talents to lend to it.(26) If you notice your coworker being rude it means you have the ability to help them, or a perspective to look at them differently.

Viewing a scene with the realization you have a role in fixing it allows for people to disconnect and go beyond the way the situation appears to them.(27) Viewing everything through the lens of the solutions instead of “just the way it is” elevates any event to G-dliness.(28)

Step 3: Fighting Nature

Some challenges will still appear to be negative even if you find a solution. It will still seem that they can only end badly. Now is when you can strengthen your knowledge that things don’t need to play out according to its stagnant course of nature.

1. You can ask a friend or mentor to try to play devil’s advocate, to show the side you were not given the ability to see. This allows your friend to do Step 2 and offer their perspective.

2. Another option is praying(29) or writing a letter to the Rebbe(30) to transfer the situation to spiritual responsibility instead of it’s natural course. Look at a problem as an incredible feat.(31) G-d only causes someone to have or encounter an issue if they have the ability to deal with it. Therefore, wherever there is negativity there is the strongest potential and ability.

Step 4: Make a Change

Now you can actually transform and change the reality you see. (32)

1. Share a vision. Even if the solution isn’t obvious, you can share what you see the ideal situation as. Even if you see heavy traffic you can say, “Ideally all these cars will start to speed up and go off at the next few exits.” This will automatically open you eyes to seeing how different factors can actually make your vision happen. Sharing this will bring out the ideal into actuality.

2. Jump to the solution. Even if you notice a problem, you can just point out the solution without pointing out a problem. This would be like someone who recognizes a robbery and simply calls the police or someone who notice a misbehaving child and find out what is bothering them. That will actually fix the problem. Most people are good at finding and sharing problems that imply something must be done. Why not share a solution which implies a problem? (33) This instigates a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset.

3. Say the opposite positive expression of the negativity.(34) The same road that can cause traffic is the road that lets you get home. The same way your friend wasn’t there when you needed her she won’t get involved in your business.

Plan B: Jump the gun. One can skip this whole thought process and just do a Mitzvah or kind deed. That automatically takes the physical reality and elevates it to its spiritual reality.(35)

Changing our Challenges

Now, this process can be applied to problems people encounter with the world and situation they are in, with relationships and other people, and with themselves.

Whether we encounter a problem with the world that plays out physically such as traffic and disease, or emotionally such as an opinion on politics, we can remember that it doesn’t need to follow its natural order. We can acknowledge that we see it a certain way, but it’s really a hidden reality. This is the time to pray to strengthen the not natural course. Finally, transform the situation by sharing what it could ideally look like. If you want to tackle a new task or goal that seems impossible, remember that the boundaries are in your mind and then continue to jump, strive, and be creative.

Everyone has encountered friction with others or met difficult people. When one is the target of any hurtful words or actions, the first thing is to recognize that “their words were hurtful because I am a human who can get hurt by others and can perceive certain actions as hurtful.” Then one can realize that being hurt by others can be changed by starting to think about how it might be perceived differently, or how the same trait that made the person act rudely, is truly an asset. For example: The same way this individual is flighty and inconsistent with the way they talk, they are also very enjoyable and easy-going to be around. Or that the same way their insults have so much power, their compliments also mean a lot. Realizing that positivity will make it more real. Better yet to share it with them. Society can constantly empower and better those around them by giving specific character trait compliments.

One should remember that if anyone shares a problem or is discouraging in any way it is not their right to create that truth. They are taking on a role that is not under their authority. Inversely, one should realize their words have so much power and only say things to people that will empower them. If there is an issue that you see, share a solution or vision. Remember, it is only the truth for you. It doesn’t have to become the truth for others. Whenever you consciously refuses to see something as a problem it is not being fake, it is creating a new reality.

Anyone can end dissonance by realizing a situation only exists because he sees it that way instead of continuing the self-righteous and self-perpetuating disagreements. By changing the way you see the discord you will actually change the fight. You can stop yourself from judging others by realizing that someone only has negativity because they were set up a certain way. You can stop yourself from being affected by their negativity by remembering that it is true for them because they see it that way but you have a different truth.

These ideas and steps can be used in the most meaningful way for oneself. True confidence comes from realizing one has inherent worth and that one’s faults do not take away from that. Recognizing that your faults are only your perception and can be changed by focusing on their opposite good side can restore that equilibrium. Have someone tell you the positive side of your trait and how you’ve used it. If someone is procrastinating they can tell themselves, “ I have set it up in my head that since I have no more time to do this; that means I was procrastinating. It is this same character trait of being easy going and open that allows me to have time for everyone around me and be so caring and comfortable. I can use that flexibility to sit down now and do what I have to do.” You have the capabilities to have any trait if it is brought out in you. You have the G-dly given right to see yourself as someone who was created as a perfect human being that can always grow.

Negativity vs. Positivity vs. G-dly.

This method can help everyone overcome negativity but where does positivity come in? There is a difference between positivity and G-dly. There are many definitions to the word positivity. Usually positivity is looking at everything as consistently good. This positivity can stops people from growing and changing things. This is still defining the reality and can set us up for failure. What if the factors enabling you to define something as positive are removed? Looking at things in a G-dly way is neither negative nor positive; it’s looking at a situation to see how one’s talents and solutions can be added to make it better. This in effect will create a very positive reality, but it’s a higher form of positivity. It doesn’t just ignore the negative and focus on the positive, it makes the negative itself positive too. The G-dliness shows the negativity is inherently good.


Chassidus added a fundamental aspect that Emotional agility didn’t share. This is the fact that going from rigidity to agility actually changes the situation and transforms the world to the way it should be. There is so much to be discovered on the way people can change their lives by changing their view. This essay has scratched the surface of tools Chassidus gives us to change our lives for the better. It teaches that imperfections can be transformed into perfections, how recognizing your abilities can be instrumental in your life and how you can be a constant instigator of change. We can change the world, one reality at a time!

1 Maamer Veyadata- 5657 Page 57 and 58
2 Maseches Avos Perek 5
3 Shaar Hayichud Vhoemuna Perek 1
5 Emotional Agility by Susan David Page 2
6 Emotional Agility by Susan David Page 3
7 Emotional Agility by Susan David Page 18
8 Emotional Agility by Susan David Page 4
9 Emotional Agility by Susan David Page 3
10 Concept of daas tachton/daas elyon
11 Hayom Yom for 29th of Adar Sheini and 27th of Teves
13 Maamar Vayadata -5657 Page 57 and 58
14 Likutei Sichos Chelek 27 Parshas Emor Page 160
15 Likutei Sichos Chelek 27 Parshas Emor Page 164
16 Translation from
17 Zohar, volume 3, 56a. translation from
18Translated from
19 Heard from farbrengen, could not verify details.
20 Various parts of the Steps are sourced from These three different meanings can be viewed as successive steps in our process of self-refinement: first, we need to eliminate our imperfections; next, we must develop our inborn talents and gifts; and finally, we must strive to apply this perfection to all aspects of our lives and to all situations we encounter.
21 Hayom Yom Cheshvan 28
22 Level of Avraham Likutei Sichos Chelek 30 Lech Lecha
23 This can correspond to Showing Up and Stepping Out in Emotional Agility
24 Igrot Hakodesh, Vol. XX, p.183.
25 Level of Yitzchak Likutei Sichos Chelek 30 Lech Lecha
26 and
27 Likutei Sichos Chelek 3 Parshas Beshalach
28 This includes various aspects of “Walking your Why” in the Book Emotional Agility.
29 Tanya, Kuntres Acharon p. 155 and Hayom Yom Shvat 24
30 A tzaddik decrees and Hashem fulfills – Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeira 19
31 Likutei Amarim Perek Lamed
32 Level of Yakov Likutei Sichos Chelek 30 Lech Lecha
33 Idea of Lichatchilo Ariber as brought at end of Likutei Sichos Chelek 27 Parshas Emor
34 Tanya Perek 6 (Zeh leoomas zeh) song of songs -This works out because every negative trait has the opposite, positive expression of that trait.
35 English Hayom Yom Supplementary footnotes Adar Sheini 29 p. 127