Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Letter to Yourself

Chassidic philosophy teaches that we each have two competing souls – a G-dly soul and an animal soul. Our G-dly soul is home to all our higher aspirations like generosity, fairness, empathy, etc. while our animal soul pushes us toward grasping, greedy, and self-serving behavior. These two souls are in a constant struggle inside us.  But it is not a fair fight,because the animal soul is our more natural state while the G-dly soul is foreign to the body and must be pursued. If you were to throw a rock into the air, it would naturally fall back to earth unless a constant force was present to keep it aloft. The same is true of the G-dly soul. If we are not actively working to live in our higher selves then we will naturally fall back into our baser instincts.

A client once told me a story that perfectly illustrates this idea:

She went on a three day canoe/camping trip in the southwest US with her Alcoholics Anonymous group. After dinner on the first night, while everyone was around the campfire, a facilitator led them through a guided visualization. This is an exercise where a leader guides a group into a meditative state through vivid spoken imagery. She reported that it was an amazing, transformative experience and that she felt centered and at peace when it was over.

The facilitator then passed out paper and pens and asked everyone in the group to write letters to themselves describing how they were feeling at that moment and what they thought was important in life. Envelopes were then passed out and the members of the group were instructed to write their addresses on the front, put their letters inside, seal the envelopes, and hand them to the facilitator. She informed the group that she would mail the letters to them at some future date.

Several months went by and my client forgot about the letter. Unfortunately, life was not going very well for her at this time – a bad breakup with a boyfriend, troubles with her teenage daughter, pressures at work, etc. A downward spiral was starting that had, in the past, led her to relapse on alcohol.  She reported that she fought it as long as she could but had finally given up and made up her mind to go to the liquor store after her daughter went out for the night. Remarkably, her “camping” letter arrived that very day. She opened it with shaking hands and read exactly what she needed to stop the relapse. She couldn’t believe how prescient and wise she sounded in the letter and thanked G-d that it arrived when it did.

The lesson of this story is that she had a wise woman inside herself who only spoke under the right conditions. This wise woman needed to be invited and provided with a space in which her quiet and measured words could be appreciated. This aspect of herself could not push and jostle to the front like the animal soul, demanding attention. Rather, it was only brought out by the meditation exercise in a caring and supported environment.

A human support system is vital if we want to stay strong. We must gather around us people who challenge and encourage us to seek our higher selves. In this way we will be strengthened for all that the world throws our way and will actualize all that G-d hopes for us.

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