Recently, I was in the bookstore (not a Torah bookstore) and I noticed all the books on happiness. Happiness seems to be "in" right now. That doesn't seem odd. Why shouldn't there be books on happiness? It's desirable, it's pleasant and it's something we base our entire lives on. Am I happy? Are my kids happy? Is my husband or wife happy? Of course, everyone wants to be happy. It's almost as if we feel pressured into measuring our happiness levels daily. If we don't meet the standards, we become more anxious and stressed out. Eventually, we may end up feeling sad because we aren't happy enough.
As I was writing this, I searched for the definition of happiness. The first place I checked was my in "Word" Dictionary. I typed in "happiness" and it came up "no results found." That's strange, even the dictionary doesn't know what happiness is! I continued my search and here's what I found:
1) a feeling or showing of pleasure, contentment or joy (Encarta)
2) a state of mind or feeling characterized by contentment, love, satisfaction, pleasure or joy (Wikipedia)
3) a state of pleasure and contentment related to something or someone; happy about something, happy with someone or something (Google)
It seems that happiness is having an identity crisis. No one knows what happiness is!
Isn't happiness a temporary feeling that is related to an event? You can be happy at a wedding, the birth of a child or a Bar/Bat Mitzvah and other happy events. Is it a permanent state, or is it related to a joyous occasion? After one year of learning and living mussar, I now believe that the best way to experience true and lasting "happiness, contentment, satisfaction, pleasure or joy" is through the process of improving one's character traits.... Mussar.
Let's learn this week's mussar lesson and see how to achieve a more joyful way to live. The text was from Pirkei Avos/The Ethics of Our Fathers. The lesson is called "A Good Eye." Rabbi Miller asks, "why is it so important to have a good eye? The answer is beautiful, profound and comforting. He answers....
"Our life experience is dependent on how we see other people."
Think about it. It's so simple and so beautiful. Our life experience is all about and only about what we see. It's about how we see ourselves, our kids, our husbands/wives, our families, our friends and our associates. How we process what we see is what causes us to have a good, joyful, sweet life experience. It's all about and only about how we process what we see. Through Rabbi Miller's lessons, we are learning to adjust the human lens so that we are able to process everything through a positive filter. How we process what we see causes us sadness or joyfulness. Imagine something so simple, all we have to do is adjust our lens by changing the filter to see only good.
Through mussar wisdom and Torah text, we learned that our initial impulsive reaction is towards the negative, the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. It gets hold of us and traps us into judging others for not doing things right or the way we think things should be. Most of us have built up a huge warehouse filled with negativity, in our heads. Of course, there is plenty to complain about. We all have our own agendas, scripts and dreams and often life doesn't exactly follow the path we had hoped it would. We have created paths for ourselves that we thought we would be traveling on. Often, we also create paths for others to travel on. That usually doesn't happen either. We can free ourselves from living imprisoned by the yetzer hara by creating new paths. The only path we can create is the one we design for ourselves where we choose how to see others. This is the path that determines the way we experience our life.
The text teaches us that the greatest of all virtues is the attainment of "a good eye." That is, a completely positive view of others- to always see the good in every human being. If we see someone else acting in a way we don't like, it's human nature for us to automatically access that little black book of negativity in our head. We categorize people and we judge them. We have a whole list of so many things we don't like. This is a very serious middos (character trait) problem. Mostly, because when we access our negative list we don't have rachamim (compassion/mercy). If we are acting without compassion, we are harming ourselves. While in that state, we are far from our goodness. We are distant from HaShem and very far from emulating His ways.
When you think about it, what purpose does negativity serve? Isn't everything that comes from negativity harmful? We harm our relationships, we harm the human spirit and we harm ourselves and our relationship with HaShem. Nothing good comes from negative thoughts, negative words or negative actions. As we journey through the lessons each week, Rabbi Miller always steers us away from anything negative. We are struggling daily to detach from it. However, in this week's lesson, since it's so hard to imagine seeing only good, we need to realize that the negative path is a harmful one and what it looks like if we go on it. Since we live so easily and comfortably there (on the negative path) we must be aware of what lies ahead if we travel down it. If you do, you can be sure, it is a path you don't want to take. Usually, we hurt the ones we love. We have to steer ourselves away from that path and create a new one. A beautiful path filled with favorable thoughts towards others. Create a path filled with loving kindness, compassion, mercy and forgiveness. When you do, you will certainly enjoy the atmosphere and the view, much more than if you traveled down the negative path of harm.
It seems that the only purpose negativity serves is for us to learn how to not behave according to it! It is there solely for us to have the opportunity to tap into our positive eye, "the good eye." When we tap into the "the good eye," we are fighting the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. We are spiritually elevating ourselves, as we are also elevating others. Then, we can create the most beautiful path to travel on.
King Solomon said (Mishlei 22:9): "One who has a good eye will be blessed." How comforting to know that HaShem looks fondly upon us and blesses us for having a good eye. Imagine, it is such an important behavior to live with, that HaShem will bless us if we are able to achieve it! This is a valuable point to remember as we try to inculcate this difficult lesson into our lives. So often, we fall into the trap of only focusing on ourselves and our view of a situation that we forget there are also, other people involved. In addition, when we become so self-involved, we also forget that HaShem is there too. If we are able to keep the Presence of HaShem in our situations, by the way we think, act or speak, we will surely want to elevate our behavior so that we will feel good for maintaining a positive eye. We can feel tremendous comfort in knowing that HaShem will bless us because of it.
In order to elevate your behavior and realize there's more to every situation than just the way you are viewing it, there is a tremendously rewarding spiritual exercise to try. Practice feeling HaShem's Presence with you as you go about your day. There are many ways to do this. Of course, there is prayer, chanting Tehillim, or just talking to HaShem anytime or repeat throughout the day "I am Tzelem Elokim," or "I am holy," or " I can act holy"(Created in the Image of Hashem). Feel HaShem's Holy Presence with you always. When you do, you will begin to realize that you are holy. You will feel that you are truly Tzelem Elokim. You will want to act holy towards others. And you will most probably, want to look through that positive lens as you are walking on that beautiful path, the one you are creating for your life.
When doing the avoda, it is so important to constantly remind ourselves that as we are struggling to treat others with a good eye, we also want to be viewed through a positive lens, with a good eye. We must consider that if we were in his/her shoes, we might have acted even worse. We certainly want to be forgiven and judged favorably if we do something improper. Why not be the first to give what we want to receive? Once we display this behavior in our relationships, we realize that we can set the whole relationship onto a refreshed, more loving path. If we think of it in terms of what we want to receive from others, it will probably become easier to give it to others.
Rabbi Miller teaches us in Tomer Devorah (the Palm Tree of Devorah), a Kabbalistic mussar book on the attributes of HaShem, we learn about the eye of Shemayim (Heaven). It teaches us that Hashem looks only to the good. He doesn't look to catch us on our faults! HaShem maintains a positive eye to all!
Through mussar, we are learning to emulate HaShem. Our task is to use our laser insight and go against the evil inclination and to see good in all. Not to look at others and try to catch them for their faults. Too often we are searching for the "not so good" in others. There is no middle ground with this. We have to be holy and consciously work to see the good in others. We must keep the focus and never give up! Mussar is like erosion- consistency over time creates transformation. If we do, we will receive countless blessings and HAPPINESS from HaShem. Mussar gives us the tools to do so.
This avoda comes with levels. If you are a beginner, you can start by creating beautiful positive paths to live on, by using "positive vision" anywhere you can, as you go through your day. Practice by turning any situation around to start searching for goodness in it. If you are intermediate, you can do the previous one and additionally, use your "good eye" in times of conflict and remove yourself from the trap of the yetzer hara, as you view the other person. If you are at the advanced level, do the previous two and in addition, pick the most difficult person you know and use your laser insight to find that little tiny spark of goodness in that person.
Rabbi Miller tells a most meaningful story. (One that has personally carried me through many difficult, challenging and painful times with a successful outcome B"H. Thank you, Rabbi Miller). The story is from a now famous Rabbi living in Israel. He tells this personal story and how this changed the course of his life.
The Rabbi tells when he was a 10 year old boy. He had just eaten a sandwich and suddenly there was a knock on the door. His friends were there, asking him to join them, to come outside to play ball. Of course, he jumps up, ready to go, when instantly, his older brother stops him. "Did you bench?" (the blessing after eating bread) he asked him. "Yes," he answered, as he hurried out to go with his friends. "Wait a minute, let's go to Abba (Father) before you go out." The older brother takes his younger brother to their father. "Abba, he said he didn't bench." The father asks the younger brother, "did you bench?". "Yes Abba, I did." The father (knowing he didn't say the blessing) looks to the older brother and says, "If he said he benched, he benched."
That's what the Rabbi never forgot. It encouraged him to know (not that he can get away with lying) that there is no greater or more loving power than the power of believing in another human being .... and letting them know it. Who knows, it may even change the course of their life?
May you blessed as you travel on loving, peaceful paths filled with only seeing good, in everything!
Blessings for a beautiful week,