Combating Burnout: Bring Light to Others, Bring Light Upon Yourself

By Chaya Mushka Kosofsky, Brooklyn, NY
Essays 2018

MyLife Essay Contest 2018

We all suffer from “burnout syndrome” every so often. Many of us have days when we resort to our mechanical mode and we operate on auto- pilot. Rather than feeling excitement, enthusiasm and gratification, we feel helplessness, despair and apathy. Then we tend to blame our physical and emotional exhaustion on “those” people who seem to exhaust all our energy, and the many demands that life places upon us, or even on “winter blues”. This usually includes our family responsibilities, our job, friends and acquaintances. This “burnout syndrome” has a far reaching, detrimental effect on so many aspects of our lives. It causes us to feel stressed, apathetic, anxious, depressed, despondent and strain in our relationships. This strain makes especially difficult to be a lamplighter and bring light to others when we just aren’t feeling the light ourselves.

How is one to combat feelings of burnout and to continue giving to others? How is one to keep his inner flame alive and active when it feels cold and dim?

In letters that document the Rebbe’s correspondence with those who wrote to the Rebbe about feelings of sadness, depression, and apathy, the Rebbe’s directives indicate a number of methods that one could apply to assist him in combating his feelings of “burnout”. The Rebbe also advises that this can be worked through in a step-by-step manner.(1) Through concepts discussed in Chassidus, such as letters, chapters 29 and 30 and chapters 35-40, we will apply a 3-step process to help one overcome “burnout syndrome”

1. Mindfulness: The importance of Davening and having a mindful moment each day for connection and gratitude to Hashem, and how it helps us combat “burnout syndrome”.

2. Being a Lamplighter: Each of us are empowered to bring light to our surroundings. One way of practicing this is the “reverse method” way of being a light to others: Act first, then process.

3. Outreach: Reaching Beyond Our Nature and Giving to Others: Each of us have unique qualities and a special way of reaching out to others. We must use our gifts that are within our easy-to-reach domain, while simultaneously developing more of our qualities that we may have not yet discovered on our own, and use it to project light to others.

1. Let’s start with mindfulness. We are told that the idea of “Davening Be’avodah” is held in very high esteem by Chassidim and our Rabbeim, and it is closely related to our mental and emotional health and well-being being. To invest effort in one’s Davening is not only the time set aside for davening. It is also the concentration and attention that we devote to our davening. In essence it is the process of Teshuva; developing a deeper connection with Hashem.(2) Connecting with Hashem can be done through practicing mindfulness and developing a thought process to bring one to appreciate the G-dliness that is expressed in the Divine Providence in his life(3). Among the directives of the Rebbe on how to combat feelings of hopelessness, the Rebbe writes that one should add in Torah, Tefilla and acts of kindness(4). Just by taking a few moments of our day for mindfulness, reflection, and concentration to think of our connection to Hashem, we have already invested effort into making our day more meaningful and illuminated. After having illuminated oneself, he has the ability to spread his light to others.(5)

2. Chassidus teaches us that through giving to others, we bring light upon ourselves. When one does a Mitzvah, he brings light into the world and brightens himself and his surroundings. Adding in light is one of the primary methods of combating burnout and reigniting our “burnt-out” flame.

We can all be lamplighters, and we can all access the empowerment of a lamplighter. We were born with empowerment, and we need only to awaken it. The promise of the Neshama before it is sent into the world is also an empowerment for us to reach our sphere of influence in the world to the best of our ability(6). Having the knowledge of the merit entrusted within us to be a lamplighter and bring light into our environment through the light Torah, Chassidus and Mitzvos can bring us great joy(7), thereby dispelling our feelings of “burnout”. In addition, despondency is also dispelled through Ahavas Yisrael and bringing light to others(8).

In a letter to someone who expressed his feelings of despondency to the Rebbe, the Rebbe replied that he should not feel sad or depressed, being that the Frierdiker Rebbe had given him his blessings many times over. Considering this, being that he was blessed and empowered with blessings of a tzaddik, he should feel empowered and uplifted(9). More so, through lifting the spirits of others, Hashem reciprocates one’s efforts many times over, and that through helping others, one will surely be granted courage and strength by Hashem so as not to come to a state of depression from the start.(10)

מאך ליכטיג ביי אנדערע און עס וועט זיין ליכטיג ביי אייך -Bring light to others and it will be light for you(11)

By being a lamplighter and reaching even into the dangers of the desert or the sea to illuminate others who are in danger- whether it is one’s children, students, or friends- one merits Hashem’s help. When one invests even a bit of effort(12), Hashem reciprocates many times over and assists him in countless ways(13). Doing a favor for another, extending oneself for the sake of someone else, and projecting warmth and genuine care draw others close.

“When a lantern is set up all those near and far gather around it because light attracts”(14)

Through bringing light to others, it reflects the light back to oneself.(15) Having given of oneself to others, there is more space for Hashem’s light to shine through him and illuminate his character. Having our G-d-given Sefiros illuminated causes our character to have a greater capacity for further self- development. One can shine outward to others with strengths he would have never known he possessed had he gotten “stuck” on the burnout phase mindset. More so, when one reaches out to other, it is his candle igniting another. Fire is limitless. In turn, those who he ignited will go on to illuminate their spheres of influence in the world, bringing an infinite chain of light into the world.(16)

3. Each of us have a unique sphere in the world that is our domain, and our place to set up a lantern. It was with this intent that Hashem formed each of us the way He did, in a way that is perfectly tailored to our unique Shlichus. We explore and develop our capabilities through giving to others and brightening the world. There are two approaches through which to be a lamplighter.

A) To start by working within, and projecting outwards:
Pnimiyus → thoughts → speech → actions

B) To start by doing what one must do, regardless of his inner intentions, and gradually gaining a greater appreciation and understanding that will affect our inner core:
Actions → speech → thoughts → Pnimiyus

We must not limit ourselves to reaching our sphere of influence through what appears to be our natural, first-resort comfort zone. Each of us are an “Eretz Chefetz(17)” and we have an innate, G-dly capacity that is far beyond our knowledge of who we think are and of what we define ourselves as. It isn’t by coincidence that Shlichus is called “outreach”. Outreach, by definition, compels us to reach beyond ourselves and our comforts to bring light to others. We initiate Shlichus by activating what we know of that is within our capacity and acting upon it. This, in turn, empowers us to reach farther and deeper and broaden our sphere of influence in the world. Rather than projecting our inner energy outwards, we can act on outer energy and then draw it inwards. This begins with action.

One can dispel feelings of burnout and emptiness through using it as a springboard to greater achievement(18) to broaden the domain of one’s reach and gain a greater depth and unearth a greater capacity within oneself. The various difficulties, tests and personal challenges that we encounter within ourselves and our surroundings brings us to attain even higher levels and greater accomplishment.(19)

Each of us are compared to a small world. One of the elements found in the world is earth. At times, to reap successful harvest, one must invest more effort in digging to activate its potential to be fruitful and to produce. this represents the idea of investing effort into unearthing our innate natural resources that are buried deep within and unearthing them. This greater effort is invested through experiencing difficulties and challenges and the product is the revelation of a greater is capacity within ourselves.(20)

One of the greatest gifts we are entrusted with is the ability to reach beyond our confines and give to others, which brings gain for us and for the world at large. Through Chassidus we can perceive “burnout syndrome” and its difficulties as an opportunity to invest more effort in having mindfulness, bringing light to others, and reaching beyond ourselves. Mindfulness brings us greater appreciation and connection to Hashem, enabling us to give of ourselves to others and broaden are reach to touch others This results in a far greater accomplishment and self-development that we could have

not attained without experiencing “lows” and difficulties.

1. Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIII, p. 147
2.  תניא, אגרת התשובה
3. “התבוננות”, ,תניא כ”ט
אגרות קודש כרך כ’ דף 4.33
5. Story “A Chossid is a lamplighter”
6. תניא פרק א’
7. Igros Kodesh, Vol. VI, p. 246
8. Igros Kodesh, Vol. X, p. 42
אגרות קודש כרך ד’ דף 9.34
10. Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIV, p. 420
11. The Rebbe said this to my grandparents on one occasion
12. “Open up for Me [but the space] of the head of a pin, and I shall open up for you [a space as broad as] the opening of the Ulam [in the Holy Temple].” brought it (Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 222) (שיר השירים ה:ב)
13. Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIV, p. 420
14. היום יום י”ג טבת
15. “כמים הפנים אל פנים כן לב האדם”
16. שיחה בהעלותך את הנרות
17. Sicha of 15 Shvat 5752
18. Sicha of the Frierdiker Rebbe, Pesach 5694, (From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 16 Adar, 5712)
19. Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 222
20. Sicha 15 Shvat 5752