Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sweeter Than Honey

Chassidic philosophy teaches that cooking a bitter vegetable like radishes in honey creates a dish that is sweeter than the honey itself.  The tremendous heat of cooking draws out the vegetable’s inherent – but hidden – sweetness so that it surpasses something that is sweet by nature.  The analogy is used to illustrate how the darker and more unsavory aspects of our personalities like anger, depression, and anxiety can actually be transformed into something sweet through the heat and pressure of difficult experiences.  The point is made that the trials that we go through in life are purposeful, and sent to us from G-d, in order to refine, elevate, and sweeten our baser natures.  Hard times are needed to develop the mellow sweetness of a mature personality.

The complete resolution of difficult situations demands that we must first become bittul.  The concept of bittul, which is at the core of Chassidic thought, states that separation between people and people, people and nature, people and G-d is an illusion.  In fact, all of creation is actually integrated and unified – like one body with many different limbs and organs working in unison.  Seeing ourselves as somehow removed and apart from the rest of existence is seen as a great sin and a sign of tremendous arrogance.  We are bittul when we humbly accept that we are just one part of a much larger reality.

Difficult and intractable problems arise in order to force us to look outside of ourselves and join with the larger world.  It may be as simple as asking advice from someone who has been in our shoes before.  We sometimes think that our problems are unique to us and that nobody else could possibly understand them.  However, the truth is that there is “nothing new under the sun” and that many other people have preceded us on whatever path we are currently on.  Or it may mean joining a support group that uses the power of camaraderie to educate, support, and heal.

Ultimately, it requires that we realize that there is a single unifying force that created the world and that we are caught up in that Creator’s awesome plan.  Recognizing that we have been born to serve a higher purpose depersonalizes our problems and shows us that their resolution depends on our ability to go beyond our own finite resources and draw from G-d’s infinite energy and light.

There is an expression in Alcoholics Anonymous that can be applied to any situation in life:  Let go, let G-d.  It means that we need to stop obsessing over things that are out of our control and realize that we are not the final arbiters of our own reality.  Rather, we are tools in the hands of a great artist – or master builder – who is using our services to accomplish a task.  Our egos view this as a diminishment because we have to admit that we are not as in control as we thought, but our souls are triumphant because we are now poised to accomplish our purpose and will finally have the wherewithal to get the job done.  

We are less inclined to get angry over perceived slights, depressed over disappointments, or anxious about an uncertain future when we are attached to the infinite source of life and recognize that we are never alone in our struggles – that our problems are not ours alone.  We realize that we have a partner who is ready to help – as soon as we learn how to ask.  This state of bittul does not come easily – or even naturally.  It only arises when intractable problems force us to admit that we cannot do it on our own and that we need to reach out and ask for help.  The process of transforming the bitterness of our lives into something sweeter than honey can now begin.

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