Mindfulness: The Mechanics of Obstacles

Kalman Ezagui, London, England
Essays 2019 / Mindfulness

The Objective:

A stressful day or a period of challenging times, can cause a person to lose control of themselves. Is it possible to stay focused?

Many are the self-help books available regarding facing conflict and difficulty. Many are the articles that we have come across, addressing issues of stress, happiness, and inner peace.

One of the very repeated themes in the spectrum of contemporary psychology and wellness, is that of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the capacity to be fully present. To be aware of where you are and what you are doing. Not to over react or be overwhelmed by what is going on around you. Mindfulness is treating issues at their heart, where it all starts.

Torah is called by our sages the blueprint of the world[1]. Chassidus is the very essence of Torah and the very core of Judaism[2]. That would mean, that Chassidus reaches the essentials and root of existence, and provides the key to understanding the essence of everything.

This essay, with G-ds help, will shed light on the mechanics of the many obstacles we are all faced with. Through the lenses of Chassidus it will do the vital task of displaying the parameters and framework of the different issues we confront. Empowering the individual to mindfulness and focus regarding their issues. Supplying the proper tools and techniques for the specific situation one might find themselves in. Most important, this essay was formatted to display a practical exercise of implementation for the above concepts.

Due to the length of discussion on this topic in Chassidus, this essay is by no means an all-encompassing treatment of the issue. For a more full-scale comprehensive exploration of this issue, one may refer to the sources. This essay, is predominately based on the discourse “Nesata Le’raieche Nes Le’hisnoses” said in the summer of 5736 – 1976, and is printed in Sefer Maamorim Melukat vol. 1[3].

The Strategy:

In life in general, organization is a absolute necessity. All the more so when coming in contact with obstacles.

When going through a difficulty, stay focused. For the sake of structure, and to be able to more easily treat it, it’s vital to mentally (and if needed with a pen and paper) register a few things. All of which will be examined through the lenses and filter of Chassidus.

That what has to be recognized, can be divided into three critical issues.

Suggestion: As you read the following, present yourself some of the challenges you are currently experiencing. Apply the different points mentioned to the specific issue. This will make the exercise all the more effective.

The Critical Issues:

  • WHY = Why am I experiencing this? Why do these things have to come my way? Did I do something wrong? Why would G-d want to do this to me?
  • WHAT = What is it that I am really experiencing? What are the parameters of the issue?
  • HOW = How should I handle myself? Is there anything I can do about it? What can I possibly do to detach, rid and overcome the issue at hand?

WHY = People tend to lose their way when they lose their “why”. As for a foundation to build on, Chassidus first establishes and clarifies “why” they occur. Understanding why, is what gives a person the enthusiasm and drive needed to work their way through what their dealing with.

Chassidus lifts us up, providing us with a bird’s eye view of what is taking place:

We all started out as a pure self-standing soul. Even after being born all the while our true essence is our divine soul. What does the soul find so important and imperative in this physical, mundane, and rather coarse world?

Chassidus reveals to us, that from our souls point of you, it’s here for a great purpose. Her descent is in order for an even greater ascent. Like a businessman, the soul looks at this world and realizes, notwithstanding the different obstacles and some thorns that may get in the way, this world offers great opportunities.

In general, Chassidus explains, opportunities are found in two areas of our lives:

1) Similar to the fact that the highest brick on a collapsing wall falls farther from the base than the others. So too metaphorically the highest, deepest and greatest divine energies to be taken advantage of lie in the darkest and lowest places in this physical world.

The darker the negativity or hardship, the more potent and deeper energies are withheld.

2) Additionally, together with the sparks accessed from the actual darkness, struggle triggers in the individual the deepest and most profound strengths inside oneself.

Remind yourself of those that found hidden strength within to lift disproportional weight in desperate situations.

Think about the infinite love felt by a parent to their child, specifically when the child takes ill.

The Talmud states, “I received a lot from my teachers; I received even more from my colleagues. And from my students, I gained more than from anyone else.”[4]. Which is explained, that the questions and adversity brought out from the students brings the person deeper than they can reach on their own[5].

The common denominator[6] of all our tribulations and challenges is, that they aide to reach limitless capabilities.

In other words: Recognize, that this negativity placed in front of you, also has a source in holiness. The reason challenges, darkness and adversity, were placed in front of you, is the reason your soul descended from on high.

Specifically, the potential for the greater ascent lays in accessing those exceptional energies withheld in darkness. Together with allowing them to call out from yourself, your deepest divine energies. Imagine a mother who never gave her child the challenge of learning how to walk.

WHAT = After explaining “why” we experience tests and hardships, the Rebbe goes on to explains “what” is it that’s being dealt with. Knowing with clarity what is being dealt with, is the optimal lead in knowing how to handle it[7]. The Baal Shem Tov said, “Or” (- ‘light’) is the numerical equivalent of raz (‘secret’). Whoever knows the ‘secret’ contained in something can bring illumination to it[8].

Chassidus explains, that our general structure of difficulties occurs on two different general platforms with which we come in contact with:

  • “Avodas Habirurim” = The service of refinement and cleansing. The complications that are, when dealing with events where the person has the potential to influence. Where a person is able to either embrace or reject possibilities.

Practically, although we may face obstacles, we all[9] have (G-d grants us) the capability to restrain from unhealthy temptations. Notwithstanding the barriers we may be faced with we all can create a more positive relationships. Despite the deterrents we all have the ability to bring more happiness into our lives. G-d only gives a person what they can handle[10].

  • “Avodas Hanisyonos” = The service of tests. Those scenarios and situations that present themselves as an impediment to our daily lives, where physically intervention won’t change the reality[11].

Practically, not all monetary challenges or issues regarding health, are the results of a person’s actions[12]. As well, the reality is, that certain negative inclinations are a natural phenomenon and one may never fully be successful in eradicating them from their life[13].

In other words: Challenges face us in every area of our existence. There are two general platforms, which on it is experienced all of our different difficulties.

The situations which necessitate and involve intervention, for which we have the capability for success, which are termed “Avodos Habirurim”

Those situations don’t have that capability, and we are not expected to change, which are termed “Avodos Hanisyonos”.

HOW = When it’s clear “why” we are confronted with hardships and challenges, and “what” exactly is the nature of the specific test, Chassidus applies itself to explaining “how” to rid oneself of them.

Chassidus postulates, using one formula for everything may be counterproductive.

When adversity strikes, first and foremost, assess the situation. Don’t allow confusion and indecision to overtake you.

Suggestion: If possible, “make for yourself a mentor”[14]. Ask an objective outsider, for “man is closed to himself”[15] and “on all faults love covers over”[16].

Stop for a minute (if needed go to a quiet place) and consider, does the present challenge require my direct input (“Avodas Habirurim”). If yes, what needs to be taken care of or rejected.

Mentally make a plan of action. Put the system in place to success. This avodah (‘service’) is all about practicalities, getting the job done. Act appropriately. Not acting and restraining oneself may be the action necessary.

In such scenarios, sighing and feeling remorse isn’t the key. Indeed, the Rebbe Rashab writes in one of his letters: “One action is better than a thousand sighs . . . Abandon sighing, apply yourself diligently to actual avodah, and G‑d will be gracious to you[17].

If a person objectively concludes that a certain aspect or circumstance isn’t in his power to change (“Avodas Hanisyonos”). Be it health, family dynamics, or negative impulses. There the solution is a bit different.

The avodah (‘service’) is learning how to properly react and respond to the circumstances.

Many have experienced challenge without becoming broken. The solution lays in the conviction and confidence in one’s stance. Let yourself know, that regarding this all that is needed from me is to react properly. Not to be swayed from the moral, proper, and upright G-dly path. To evoke in oneself a place of strength and will power, to stand firm in one’s perspective. Let yourself know that “this too will pass”[18].

In such scenarios, lifting the weight of the problems is unproductive, and may be counterproductive. Realize they aren’t yours to handle.

Keep in mind, that it is possible for one scenario to be compartmentalized from both avodas, and one has to distinguish which aspects, belong to what category.

Let’s Summarize:

We all have those days where things turn out a bit chaotic. We lose control and turn into victims of events.

Mastering such situations, demands mindfulness. To realize what’s really taking place.

Chassidus relates three critical elements vital for internal registration to reinforce such situations. Giving meaning to each one of them. This essay displayed the collective issues in a fashion fit for practical exercise

1) Why is this occurring? Difficulties and challenges are the reason for our soul’s descent into this world. They are the medium to reaching the greatest of heights, and to release the greatest of energies inside our self.

Knowing “why”, is crucial in giving yourself reason to persevere.

2) What is the specific nature of what is taking place? Everything in our lives occur on one of two platforms. Those of “Avodas Habirurim”, and those of “Avodas Hanisyonos”, i.e. one that calls for our intervention, and one that doesn’t.

Knowing “what” is the optimal lead to solving an issue.

3) How will I go about solving the issue at hand? In regards to #1 “Avodas Habirurim”, take action. One must put a system in place and get the job done. Sighing and feeling remorse isn’t the answer.

In regards to #2 “Avodas Hanisyonos”, stay strong in your position, whether in regards to your morals, practices, and beliefs by evoking the will power needed.  Carrying the weight of the problem is unproductive. Realize that “this too will pass”.

[1] Bereishes Rabah chap. 1,1.

[2] See Kuntras Inyana Shel Toras Hachassidus.

[3] See also the discourse this discourse is based on of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbes, said in 5693, and printed in Sefer Maamorim 5711 p. 289. As well see discourse “Ki menase” Sefer Maamorim 5708 p. 94.

[4] Tractate Taanis 7a.

[5] See Mamori Admor Hazaken 5562, vol. 1, p. 11. As well as, Mamori Admor Ha’emtzoei Shemos, vol. 1, p. 257.

[6] Take note, that the above examples span over the physical, emotional, and intellectual of the ourselves.

[7] “Knowing the sickness is half the cure” – Toras Menachem vol. 22, 148.

[8] Hayom Yom 6th of Elul.

[9] The examples below obviously don’t apply to situations which are outside one’s control. As well as, it doesn’t diminish the fact that there is such a reality. For those individuals that scenario would be included in “Avodoas Hanisyonos” dealt with below.

[10] See tractate Avodah Zara 3b that “G-d doesn’t plot against a person”. Meaning, G-d works with the capabilities of every individual.

[11] For more sources which bring out the exact definition of Avodos Hanisyonos which this paragraph is based on, see Lekkutei Torah parshas Re’ey 19,2, Derech Mitzvosecha discourse “Acharey Havaye Elokecha” p. 186.

[12] Actually, according to Torah the amount of money earned by a person is almost fully dependent on G-d. See Hayom Yom for the fourth of Av, that though one must do the necessary work, one must remember that the main thing is G-ds blessings. And, a person can’t earn even a cent more than what G-d has in mind. See also Kuntras Umayon discourse 17.

[13] See Tanya chap. 14, that in regards to becoming a Tzadik (a person void from negative temptations) one doesn’t really have free choice. As well see chap. 27 there, that one mustn’t fall into depression from negative thoughts that fall into their mind, for perhaps their victory (accomplishment on earth) is the very battle itself which G-d has enjoyment from.

[14] Avos chap. 1,6. See Biurim Le’pirkey Avos Le’perek Vav, Hosafos p. 391, where it’s brought down the Rebbe’s discussions on the mishnah at lengh.

[15] Tractate Yevamos 25,2.

[16] Proverbs 10,12.

[17] Hayom yom for the eigth of Adar beis.

[18] This saying has been said to come from a very wise man (some say from a story regarding Shlomo Hamelech).