Soul Challenge

Moises Perez, Cordoba, Argentina
Essays 2019 / Personal Growth

Imagine we had the possibility to observe our world from above, what would we see? We would see a complex world, with landscapes, towering mountains, blue lakes, exotic beaches and a network of roads. We would see cities with skyscrapers and mansions. We would see modern cars, electric buses, fancy planes, and houses to shelter people from both the cold and the sun, to house moments of joy with their dear ones. We would notice a variety of people—men, women, and women in the parks, in the cities, in the fields. A world seen from above manifests itself beautifully… But how do the masses we observe feel inside? What are their internal lives like? Probably, many experience a world full of love, joy, and sorrow, with family and friends who care, protect and listen to them in difficult moments.

But there is also another reality, the one experienced by those who live in homes which lack values. There are people who live with little hope, lives full of anger and intolerance, divorce and infidelity, disloyalty, and unhappiness. All this chaos translates into children lost in solitude, adolescents willing to do anything for a “like” on social media, and adults immersed in a business culture where self-promotion is valued above all. In short, we are in a bankrupt world.

In this essay we want to raise the root of the problem and a possible solution, using the Hasidic concepts of the G-dly soul and the animal soul.

Understanding the root of our habit

There was an experiment done by the European Laboratory of Molecular Biology (1) in which they used a group of rats enclosed in a cage with an electro conductive floor material. In one corner there was a small area covered with insulation (rubber safe area). The rats were subjected to a regime, in which an audible alarm was triggered along with an electric shock that followed. Quickly, the rats learned how to avoid the electric shock by rushing to the rubber safe area whenever the alarm was rung.

Once the rats were sufficiently trained, the experimenters introduced a change. The alarm would ring, but the electric shock was left out. The rats, however, continued to run to the rubber safe area, even when there was no discharge, believing that each time they reached the rubber safe area they managed to avoid the “danger”. They never discovered that there was no such threat and never thought to doubt their theory.

Something similar happens with human beings. We are accustomed to respond to situations in life in the same way as we learned as children. We generate habits and we do not question them. Our mental models have an internal self-preservation mechanism, we have something similar to an immune system that is responsible for preventing change, trying by all means to maintain balance, even when that balance causes suffering. (2)

Analyzing child behaviour

From an early age, when the child is hungry, he cries and cries without stopping, which is the only way he can show his parents that he has a need. The child is not able to empathize, so he does not care if his parents are tired or had a rough day. When he needs, he cries; it is a simple equation.

As he grows up, he learns that through crying and shouting, he gets their parents attention and the thing that he desires, hence he gets used to applying this method on a daily basis. Later, he understands that when his actions are opposed to his parents´ desires, they react with anger. For that reason, he starts a process that will be with him for his entire life: justification.

Many examples can be given for this behavior. When a child throws a glass to the ground, he say: “it fell”. If he punch his brother, he says: “He hit me first.” He is constantly negating his own accountability in the situation, and in this way, avoids his parents´ anger. In the child´s perspective, everything is about him and his need, regardless of the people around. This behavior generates deep habits in people, which remain in their behavior as adults. If we don’t do anything to try and change this, these habits simply remain in us.

How do these habits affect adults? How we can change them?

As Kegean and Lahey say in Seven Languages for Transformation(3), “If we want to understand the development of change, we must pay more attention to our powerful inclinations who want us to not change at all. To unlock this system, we have to release new energies by relying on new ways of seeing and being.” In other words, we must transform our child vision of life into an adult vision. But what does this mean? What are these new ways of seeing and being? We will discuss and analyze this question through the lenses of Chassidus.

The Alter Rebbe writes in his Sulchan Aruch haRab, “The establishment of the G-dly soul of man occurs when he turns 13 years old and for the woman when he is 12.” (4)

It seems to be very confusing! If the G-dly Soul enters fully at age 13 and in the woman at age 12. I´m living without a soul until age 13 and 12?! Certainly, that is not the case.

Animal soul vs G-dly soul

Explains the Tanya, fundamental work of Chassidus Chabad, written by its founder, Rabbi Zalman of Liadi, that we have not only one soul within, but two: One called animal soul, which accompanies the person from the very beginning of their life; and another so-called G-dly soul (5) that fully settles at the age of 13 (Bar Mitzvah) in man and 12 (Bas Mitzvah) in woman.

The soul, in simple terms, is in itself a state of consciousness, an observer of reality, which possesses intellect and emotions generated by this observer.

When we refer to the animal soul, as its name implies, we talk about a state of animal consciousness, behaving in a similar way to an animal. Just as the animal seeks its survival, reacts automatically to external stimulus and is guided by his desires, the animal soul of the person possesses these same qualities. In our own dimension, this soul is self-focused, seeking survival and looking to avoid pain as much as possible. In simple words, his way of responding is simply stimulus-response.

(Although according to the above explanation, it may seem that the animal soul is evil by nature, it is important to mention that this is not true. Rather, it is merely self-centered. The person driven by his animal soul can still perform deeds of kindness, but these deeds would be driven by personal satisfaction—not pure kindness. This not necessarily a bad thing. We find instances when the qualities of this soul are critical. For example, when a dangerous animal pursues someone, this soul will generate in that person an immediate reaction, promoted by the instinct of survival and not by a logical analysis. This is an important concept that Chassidus explains helping us realize that this consciousness is not bad, rather, it is an animal consciousness, and just as animals are neither good nor bad, neither is this soul).

Now, let´s talk about the G-dly Soul.

The book of Tanya explains in the beginning of chapter two: “This soul is a part of G-d on high, literally.”(6) Just as G-d is free, safe, complete, true, eternal, etc., this means that our G-dly Soul has these same traits in its “DNA”. In other words, a complete consciousness that observes reality from the perspective of a creator-being and not from a created being, who is not searching to obtain something from the world, rather, to give to the world. If we could describe this soul with one question, it would be: in which way am I necessary in this world?

By synthesizing the concepts that we learn, we can clearly understand the root of the actual crisis in our world and not be surprised. Since we are kids we got used to looking at the world and work from the perspective of the animal soul, with all its characteristics already mentioned. When we grow up and have the opportunity to look at the world from a superior perspective, it is very difficult to do so, since we have become accustomed to seeing everything from a lower perspective. So, if we do not make a paradigm shift and wake up from this lethargy, if we continue to be automatic, our responses will always be egocentric.

Let’s illustrate these concepts with everyday situations

David arrives at his house after a strenuous day of work. A day with different problems and challenges. His intention is to arrive home, have some rest and fulfill his needs. His wife Sarah receives him and she also had a hard day with the children, and asks him why he didn´t answer her calls? David feels misunderstood, without respect to his fatigue, or his right to have a moment of tranquility. Under these emotions, he responds: “You really think that I didn’t do anything all day? If only you could experience a single day from my shoes, you would understand!”

We see clearly that David felt attacked by the comment of his wife. He heard in her words that she was complaining about a lack of his commitment to the household. Sarah also had her own expectations. Her intention was never to attack David, rather she was looking for understanding and emotional support. Since none of them responded to their partner´s expectations, feelings of anger and arguments arose, certainly each from their own emotions, just like a child who demands attention from his egocentricity.

A similar situation can be found at work:

Alex is in a work meeting where he is expressing his own opinion on a certain project. After listening Alex s opinion, John who is one of his project partner, refutes Alex’s opinion on the project. Alex quickly jumps out of his chair and answer to John saying how wrong he is and without even actually listening to John´s argument.

We can see how Alex entrenched himself in his position arguing in an unproductive way about who is right. The discussion was never really about the merits of the idea, the real dispute was to determine a winner and a loser. Then, any opposition to the idea, will be a declaration of war. Alex felt that he was devalued, rejected and left out. Just like the child when his mother prioritizes his brother.

A resemblance situation arises in adolescents:

Natali is at home on Sunday, after a whole morning of a photo shoot in her patio, editing that photo showing the greatest perfection. She waits until the clock reach 8:00 pm (rush time on social networks) to upload a photo on Instagram and get an important amount of “Likes”. After an hour pass, she realizing that she didn´t get the certain amount of “Likes” that she expected, and she is invaded by such a big frustration and pain, she feels obliged to delete the picture and forget the failure as soon as possible.

We can see how Natali’s failure emotion of her early childhood where revealed, when she brings her drawing to mama or papa and they don´t care, when her classmates leave her out of the popular group. Her failed integration into the world of friendships is reflected here, in her frustration at not achieving her expectations of “likes” in her photo. In this case we see a tireless search almost obsessed to obtain the approval of their peers, regardless of the personal cost that this can lead.

These three examples allow us to understand in a clearer and more current way how our animal soul reacts; insecure, defensive, alert and searching for external approval. Let´s now think about the three situations above mentioned in a way that invites our new consciousness (godly soul) to shine:

David, could just listened what happened to his wife, but he didn’t because of his own fears and own insecurities, that didn’t allow him to listened his wife’s word from his divine observer, he missed the opportunity to support and understand her. The couple situation certainly would had develop in a much more constructive way, with a shift in David inner self.

Alex could have evaluated the arguments raised by John and used the discussion to achieve the common goal in the best way, instead of defending his own position, feeling that the failure of his opinion is a personal failure that make him less valuable.

Natali, should not depend on whether or not you gets “Likes”, she should just be happy with the picture that she has taken, after so much work.

Paradigm shift, from “animal” vision to human vision.

It is written in Pirkei Avos: “against your will you are born” (7). This powerful teaching hide a beautiful message to us, when I understand that I never had a real need to come to this world I´m able to connect to a higher purpose. The world need each and everyone of us to reach a perfect state, our inner and special light must be revealed to the world, and the way to do it is by understanding that we are here to give our light to the world and not to receive something from it. I m a complete human being. When I apprehend this concept in my mind, I´m able to think, act, speak and discuss from that beautiful inner space (G-dly soul).

Soul Challenge

I suggest to the reader to perform a Soul Challenge, which is going to train us to always be aware of our inner world and in this way overcome our animal soul.

The first step is to know that the natural tendency of man is to go after the animal soul, therefore the only way to defeat it, is to live a consciousness life, in order to recognize which consciousness is activated in each moment of our life.

The Alter Rebbe says that both of our souls have three garments that allows our souls, to express themselves, these garments are: word, thought and action (8). The soul dresses, as if it were a hand in a glove, in one of these three garments, in order to express itself.

When I am thinking, speaking or acting, I must analyze myself and see who is expressing at that moment, if it is the animal soul, meaning my fears, my insecurities, my desires for social recognition or my immature habits, I have to STOP that energy. Our goal is to avoid giving strength to that soul.

It is clear that a house owner only allows to enter his house the visitor that he or she wants, and those unwanted visitor are not allowed to go in, in the same way we also have to become owners of our own life. The only way to silence the noise of our own habits is by changing them, and we do it by becoming aware of our inner world asking to our self before acting, speaking or to thinking: Where my act, speak, thought comes from? From my egocentric consciousness or my complete consciousness?

Our Choice

I would like to conclude with a parable related in The Talmud (9): Once I walked and I met a boy sitting at a crossroads. I asked, “Which road must I take to get to the city?” He replied, “There is a way that is short but long, while the other road is long but short”. So I decided to take the short but long way. I saw the city very quickly, but found myself surrounded by weeds impossible to cross. I went back to the crossroads and asked the boy, “Child, did you not tell me that this was the short way?” He replied, “Did I not also tell you that it was the long way?”

This parable summarizes the central point of this essay: in our life we have a path that seems short, which we choose by nature, on autopilot, as if we were a children. This is the road that humanity has taken, and unfortunately, is not leading us to a good place. On the other hand, there is another way, the one that Chassidus invites us to choose. This road seems long, requires effort, discipline and conscience, but this is the path that will take us to our final destination, to recognize who we really are, to live without fears, without self-centeredness and without insecurities, to embrace the great self that will illuminate our life and the world.

Foot Notes and sources:
2. See Metamangment, volume 3 philosophy, Fredie Kofman.
3. See Kegan, R. y Lahey, L.: How the way we talk can change the way we work. Seven languages for transformation, Jossey- Bass, 2000.
4. See Shulchan Aruch HaRab. This is also written in the Zohar (jelek alef 179) and in Midrash Koelet Rab (pasuk 4,13).
5. See perek 1 on Tania
6. See the beginning of the chapter 2 on Tania
7. See perek 4, Mishna 22
8. See the beginning of chapter 4 on Tania
9. Talmud Babli Irubin 43