Letting Stress Roll Away
MyLife Essay Contest 2018
Arguably the greatest contemporary societal problem is stress. According to a 2014 study conducted by the American Psychological Association along with the American Institution of Stress (AIS), 77% of U.S. citizens regularly experience the physical symptoms caused by stress. According to the known adage , “Knowing the sickness is half the cure,” any problem must first be identified properly to pose a solution for it. The AIS defines stress as “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” In other words, stress occurs when a person feels overwhelmed by his surroundings and personally incapable of accomplishing the task at hand.
This essay will show the reader how through applying Chassidus to his life, he can succeed in all his personal endeavors worry and stress free.
The method that one employs when having to douse a physical fire that has engulfed oneself: stop, drop, and roll, will be applied on the spiritual level of how to extinguish the fire of stress. First STOP to focus inward on the yechida/etzem haneshoma (essence of the soul), then DROP back into the world with the outlook that avodas habirurim (the Divine service of refinement) has already been completed, and ROLL through life’s challenges with full conviction that there exist no true obstacles.
Chassidus teaches us that the soul is comprised of five levels, each one alluding to the life force behind one’s inter and intrapersonal faculties and traits. The yechida, is characterized as the essence of the soul from which the four other composite levels of the soul ultimately issue forth . Yechida comes from the word yochid, literally meaning “sole,” or “only,” which alludes to a level of unity that negates any other existence aside from the yochid. We praise G-d with this term multiple times each day during the Shacharis morning prayer. As follows, the yechida of the soul is united with G-d on this essential level of Oneness. However, other places in Chassidus explain that yechida still does not represent the true essence of the soul, being that it’s still one of the five names that belong to the soul. Any name applied to the soul shows on a specific quality it possesses. The true essence of the soul transcends all terms and descriptions. Fully understanding this point opens the door to eliminating stress. Having just explained that any name applied to the soul places a certain limitation on it, yechida shows on the way the soul wants to give up on its own existence and simply unite itself with G-d. One of the yechida’s expressions comes about in the daily life of every person when he says Modeh Ani each morning. Modeh Ani expresses the ultimate negation, and giving over, of one’s self and complete acknowledgement of G-d’s omnipotence (as evidenced by the fact that the word modeh (acknowledge) comes before the word Ani (I) in this phrase). According to Alter Rebbe’s siddur, one should say Modeh Ani immediately upon awakening even prior to washing one’s hands of impurity, as the yechida is beyond any blemishes caused by impurity. However, even before saying Modeh Ani comes the moment one awakens from sleep before any thoughts come to his mind, only having the simple awareness of his existence. The true essence of the soul finds its expression specifically at this moment, as the true existence of a person is really one with G-d Himself, beyond even the soul’s simple and pure desire to be one with G-d.
Here in lies the secret of STOP. Most of us try to just get through life without stopping to think about the true capabilities we have. As a result, we tend to feel stressed; overwhelmed and incapable of accomplishing our daily goals. The first step of getting rid of stress consists of taking the time to deeply contemplate the infinite power our soul possesses, being literally one with G-d . This should ideally be done when a person performs a cheshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul), according to the custom, before the bedtime Shema . This way, his soul accounting will factor in the true essence of the soul, and how it knows no bounds. This will enable a person to actualize on the revelation of his soul’s essence that occurs immediately upon awakening in the morning. It will thus serve as the foundation of his entire day ahead. Chassidus compares this essence to oil. Just like oil lies at the essence of every physical object in the world, so to, the essence of the soul that’s completely one with G-d lies at the core of all the person’s faculties. With this foundation, nothing in the world stands in the way of a person accomplishing all his responsibilities in the easiest possible way, completely stress free.
The empowerment realized by tuning into the etzem haneshoma prepares a person for the next step towards the utter abolishment of stress: DROP. After tapping into the deepest level of the soul which brings to the perfection of all his soul’s powers, the previous victim of stress is ready to DROP back into the world around him and realize it, too, doesn’t stand in his way. Not only does it not oppose a person’s life because of the infinite capabilities he possesses from his etzem haneshoma, rather even without them there exists no true opposition from the world on both the macro and microcosmic level. Chassidus expounds on the statement from the Midrash that the purpose for the creation of the world was for G-d to have a dwelling place in the lower realms just as in the supernal worlds. The Tanya explains that this is accomplished through subduing the side of darkness and transforming it to light, so that G-dly revelation should shine even in a place of its very antithesis. On a more technical level , G-d not only wanted that light should shine in a place of darkness, rather that the light from the beginning should be completely integrated and hidden within the darkness, and from there the light should overpower and shine forth. This process is called Avodas HaBirurim (The Divine Service of Refinement), with which one “refines” and separates the “light,” the Divine energy responsible for the sustainment of all G-d’s creations, from the “darkness,” the physicality and corporeality of those creations which cover up over their true lifeforce . In 1990, the Rebbe announced that this process has been completed. On another occasion the Rebbe explained one expression of this fact is evident in the way the nations of the world treat the Jewish people with kindness and even support them in all areas of accomplishing their Divine mission. Here the Rebbe explained that from seeing this type of conduct from the nations is understood that the physicality of the world and the body of a person have completed all their respective refinements necessary to be a conduit for G-dly revelation. The obvious question is what does the body’s refinement on an individual level have anything to do with the observance of the kindness of the nations on a global scale? Chassidus explains that an individual’s conduct has a direct effect on the conduct of the world at large, so from the result of seeing the conduct of the nations in such a way reflects on the cause, being that the body of the individual has itself undergone its refinement. With all this in mind, what is the difference before and after the completion of Avodas HaBirurim? Chassidus describes Avodas HaBirurim with the parable of processing animal hides, an extremely strenuous job requiring tiring effort . So the completion of Avodas HaBirurim practically means that the way a person interacts with his surroundings now is on an entirely whole new level than before. He shouldn’t feel like he’s fighting a war, man against World, being that the inherent holiness in everything he comes across is readily accessible without the struggle. DROP is the person’s simple realization that his surroundings not only do not oppose him from completing his mission in life, rather they assist him making it easy and stress free.
Now that a person has realized that nothing stands in his way both from the capabilities he has within in himself (STOP) and from the world around him (DROP), he is ready now to ROLL through his day-to-day life, like a ball rolls down a hill without any challenges, hindrances, or stress! Any problems a person perceives in life are only a result of his personal exile . Since throughout our entire lives we’ve been living with an “Exile” mentality, we’ve put limitations on ourselves and what we believe we can accomplish. The ideas of the revelation of the etzem haneshoma and the completion of avodas habirurim are both ideas associated with the Final Redemption about which Maimonides states will be no more hunger, war, jealousy, competition, and scarcity of resources, namely the main causes of stress. When we start to switch perspectives and begin living with a Redemption mindset, we’re able to ROLL and stress becomes a thing of the past .
To sum up our process of STOP, DROP, and ROLL:
1. STOP: Spend a few moments each night when making a cheshbon hanefesh before the bedtime Shema to deeply contemplate the infinite power our soul possesses, being literally one with G-d. Even though the revelation of the etzem haneshoma already passes once a person’s consciousness kicks in upon awaking in the morning, try to carry it over into your conscious thought by simply being aware of it before any other thoughts come to mind, establishing it as a foundation for the entire day.
2. DROP: Begin to see the world as your asset towards accomplishing your goals by contemplating the magnitude of the Rebbe’s announcement that Avodas HaBirurim has been completed, the process that we’ve been working towards finishing since the beginning of time, which culminates with the Final Redemption in which all remnants of stress will be abolished.
3. ROLL: Start living with a Moshiach mentality by going through the day with complete confidence that absolutely nothing truly inhibits you from accomplishing any of your endeavors effortlessly and emancipated from stress.