Most of the week, we spend our time dissecting, and noticing the negative things around us. This is my space to attempt to get us all to devote some real time (at least a few hours) to thinking, and being positive.
I found this article very interesting and hope you do as well. I have posted sections of it below (with a few personal changes). Although it was written by, and for Jews, I believe its message transcends religion – It is “change I can believe in”TM.
Either way, enjoy the Open Thread.
The camera caught a glimpse into a life that had, in many senses, vanished before it even began. A child, who could not have been more than three or four years old, was carrying building materials…in today’s Sudan, he — and his parents — are slaves.
His owner looked at him and saw two arms that will grow larger and stronger. It is not likely that they saw a mind or a soul. The child had no idea of the name of his country, or his village. Looking at him from my home in Jerusalem, I mourned for his childhood far more than he did. I silently wished that he would somehow be able to return to himself and learn that he is more than his two strong arms.
In the course of our lives, we close doors to higher and deeper selves and sometimes forget that we, too, are more than earners, spenders, and travelers through life. Our thoughtless enslavement to mindless routine can leave us without much of a relationship to our souls. In a materialistic society, it is all too easy to view others as competitors. As toddlers we observed that when you have three cookies and give one away, all you have left are two. From that point onward we are afraid to give.
The problem is that the soul, unlike the body, thrives on giving, and on the love that is its offspring.
This is the problem. The solution is teshuva, a hebrew word which means “return”. Through teshuva we learn to re-establish a relationship as God’s creations. It is a way in which we learn who we are, and where we are. There are three primary steps to teshuva. Let’s go through them one by one.
The first step is confession to God. In concrete terms, this means examining our lives and honestly admitting to our mistakes and to the possibility of having wasted opportunities for growth.
One method of doing this is to divide your life into eras (childhood, teen years, young adulthood, marriage, career, parenting, middle-age, etc) and spending time with a notebook going over each era. Ask yourself: “What did I learn from this?” — not: “How did I feel?” nor: “Whose fault is it?” When you finish, review what you have learned. When you look at the negative things you have done, look for patterns. Once you have a sense of what the patterns look like, you can confess not only the actions that you now regret, but also the underlying causes of choosing those actions.
The purpose of this confession is to help us regain our true identity, by seeing ourselves as we are, and asking God to help us heal the damage we have done to ourselves. We can’t erase the imprint of our choices, but when we do teshuva honestly, we can opens doors that we may have locked years ago, erasing the negative impact of our choices.
The second step is regret, which entails a disassociation with negative patterns to the point where they are demystified and repugnant. Regret and guilt are not the same thing. Guilt creates paralysis. Regret creates redefinition. Guilt is passive – e.g. I can’t deal with this right now. I think I’ll eat chocolate and go to sleep. Regret is active -e.g. I must deal with this right now. So, I think I’ll call so-and-so and see what my next step should be. Regret leads to release from the prison of self-limiting behavior. Guilt goes nowhere, and is so unpleasant that we tend to blame anyone available — just to liberate ourselves from its violent grip on our souls.
RESOLUTION TO CHANGE
The third step is making changes within you that are so real that the old patterns will slowly fade. Eventually the day will come when old choices are just plain unappealing. This is analogous to our no longer biting a friend who annoyed us as was our practice at the age of two.
But, how do we change our patterns? There isn’t one answer for everyone, but the following are a few suggestions. Use whatever works for you, and recognize that as you change, methods that worked at one time in your life may not work forever. You will need to change methods now and again.
Method 1: Daily Accounting: Once you identify your patterns, and you sense which traits are the underlying cause of your errors, learn as much about the trait as you can. The point of gathering information is to find a sentence that really resonates. This should become your mantra. Every day of “week one,” look at the key phrase first thing in the morning. Repeat it a number of times. Keep an accounting of how many “slip-ups” you have.
Does it seem childish? Yes! Does it work? Yes — and with startling rapidity. Within 40 days, you will begin to see dramatic results, even with traits that you have lived with your entire life. Of course if you don’t continue the process, the results fade.
Method 2: Maimonides’ Method
1. Picture yourself in a moment of failure due to your inability (or lack of desire) to overcome whatever negative trait(s) are the source of your difficulties. Now picture yourself responding to the same situation in an entirely different way. It is important to actually visualize these two scenes so that the emotional self, which is moved by imagery, will be as involved as the intellectual self. 2. Ask a critical question: Since the gap between how I would like to respond and how I actually respond is so great, what can I do concretely today to narrow the gap? 3. Be careful to see that the steps are small enough to be comfortably attainable, and big enough to actually generate change. 4. Once you are at home with the first step, be sure to take a second step. 5. Go beyond where you would like to be. For instance, if your problem is anger, aim at serenity, not merely at “not losing my temper.”
Method 3: Turn to God
Don’t focus on yourself. Don’t chart your behavior. Turn to God directly, openly, passionately, in your own language. Ask Him to free you from the prison you have erected around yourself. Tell Him where you have been, what you have done, and how you now know that you have done great harm to yourself and to others. Tell Him about the times you have tried to change and failed, and how you now acknowledge that He loves you and has given you life, and that only He can help you.
Make this a daily practice in which you include Him in every aspect of your journey.