Sunday, March 9, 2014

THE WORRY CURE

I am so tired of all the DO NOT WORRY advice that’s out there. Everyone (aka Google, websites, and emails) is offering tips on how to stop worrying. These are some of my most unfavorite ones:

 Tip #1- Reduce stress. Oh really? How am I supposed to do that? Most of my stress comes from my family. I certainly have no intention (or desire) of reducing my relationships with them. Even though I must admit, sometimes, they do become a bit overwhelming.

Tip #2- Be mindful of your worry. This has got to be the worst advice to give a person who is in a spiraling-out-of control-negative thought cycle. A mind filled with negativity is a hallway of horrors. Becoming mindful of that is like someone is standing at the opening of a dark, bat-filled cave inviting me in, “Welcome, come in, have a seat, please make yourself comfortable here.” Uh, no thanks, I think I’ll pass on that one.

Tip #3- What are the odds (of fears becoming reality)? I’m not an expert in statistics. I failed high school algebra and Las Vegas is the last place on earth I want to spend precious vacation time- so if I have to calculate odds- I can't. When FEAR is alive in my mind, statistics of the odds most likely not happening, doesn't calm me. It only encourages me go deeper into my fears (false creations based on movies, TV, or what I read in the newspaper) find the events when they did actually happen, wake up that scary sleeping monster, see it, relive it, and re-feel it. I know it's supposed to do the reverse, but I never seem to get that bright light realization that's supposed to calm me down. My mind doesn’t really appreciate this one either.

Tip #4- Don't think about your worries. Oh! How I wish that I could. If I could just stop thinking that and then magically, all my concerns would just vanish, I would be so happy. I wonder if that means all of my problems will stop too. This is probably the least effective tip of all. It may work for a few minutes, but the more I try to banish my worries, the stronger they become.

The subconscious mind has a wonderful photographic storage center (especially for creative people like me). It is a place where I store images from years past and create new ones for the future. Trying to stop my thoughts only causes me to pay more attention to them.

Worry is a form of control that I don’t want to give up. 

Oddly, there is something about worrying that gives me a feeling that I can steer the outcome in the direction I want it to go in; even while my body is involved in a state of hyper-speed (mind-racing, heart-pounding, stomach churning) panic. I know,  it sounds crazy, right?

Those tips may be effective for some people, but they don’t last when I try them. They provide fleeting relief until the next onset happens (usually about ten minutes later ), and then I have to restart the whole routine again and again and again. 

Mussar wisdom is the only method that works for me. Believe me, I know, I've tried all the others.

MUSSAR IS EFFECTIVE BECAUSE…

1) You don’t have to do anything to make a change. There is no don’t do this and don’t do that.  

2) Just learn it!
MUSSAR KNOWLEDGE CREATES AWARENESS THAT BRINGS REALIZATIONS- AHA (Wow! I am not going to do that anymore) MOMENTS THAT CAUSE CHANGE. 

The only thing you have to do- is learn it daily so the wisdom gets into you. That means into the depths of your being... into your soul.

I know this process works because it happened to me. 
One day I was reading Ohr Yisrael and came to page 391. That's where I found this…

“Man is free in his imagination but bound by intellect.
If used for good, the imagination is one of the most vital spiritual powers we have. However, if misused, it is one of the most dangerous. The primary strategy of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) is to subvert man through the power of his own imagination."

WOW! I hit the emotional lottery! That was all I needed. I had found relief, an escape from the weird and wild creations in my mind. 

I copied the page, cut it out, and placed those words in my wallet. I needed to have it with me at all times to remind myself- that the worries I create come from a real live spiritual power within me. (Isn’t that empowering?) Then I realized... I am misusing my intellect. That's not its purpose. It also reminded me that the evil inclination is lurking right around the corner, with a barrage of negativity, ready to attack in any given moment.

Mussar knowledge creates automatic change. 
It’s subliminal, with a direct line to the subconscious mind.

I thought I had found all I needed. Until last week's lesson, when I received the ultimate cure to end all of my worries.  

Trust in Hashem. Strengthen yourself and He will grant you courage. Trust in Hashem.

At first, I thought- I could do this. Sure, I've prayed when my teenagers were out late at night and didn't answer their phones. I prayed when the airplane turbulence felt like I was riding a mechanical bull at a rodeo. I prayed while waiting for test results from doctors. This prayer works for me.

It's easy to repeat this verse from Tehillim over and over again. I've done it many times. I've noticed when my imaginary thoughts faded to the background and my pulse returned to a normal rate.

When times are tough, when moments are dire, (even when daily routine events happen that get my  heart palpitating), I start saying this verse again and again and again. I call it my Jewish mantra. I let the  chanting begin and give it all I’ve got. 

I also realized how I can use those heartfelt, gut-wrenching moments of panic to connect to Hashem. Those are the moments I have to surrender, knowing there's only one thing to do... 
Pray my way out of it. 

Then, I looked at the words again.

The verse starts with and ends with “trust in Hashem." I noticed that in between the two bookends of trust is... Strengthen YOURSELF and He will grant you courage.

When I strengthen myself, Hashem gives me courage.

Does that mean that I am supposed to just "let go" and turn it over to Hashem and then I will immediately feel strong, brave, and fearless? 

No, it's telling me I have to strengthen myself, and then after I do, Hashem will give me courage. 

I have to strengthen my trust. I have to strengthen my relationship with Hashem. 

Trust is an unnatural state. In relationships, it must be earned. Trust develops through proven experiences. I trust people because I remember the times when I needed them, and they suddenly appeared. They showed up with a shoulder to cry, listened to my tears, and never told another person about it.

But before I can trust anyone, I have to take a risk. 

I have to be brave enough to trust someone with my secrets, my pain, and my soul. 

That's the hardest part.

Trust is not about what someone does for me; it's about what I do! 
I have to take the first step: give up control and let someone be there for me. 

So too, with Hashem. 
I have to be brave enough to take the risk, give up control, and let Hashem be there for me.

                        ************************************************************

FOUR STEPS TO DEVELOP TRUST IN HASHEM:

1)  Chant:
Pray with the melody of the chants (verses of Tehillim).

2) Visualize:
Connect to Hashem through visualization. Imagine His Goodness, blessings, kindness, and compassion flow into you like fresh water in a spring.

3) Review:
Just 10 minutes a day- get the wisdom into your subconscious mind.  Read a Mussar book, a past lesson from one of the daily emails, read an archived blog post, write down a thought you might have about it, print your favorite blogs, highlight what speaks to you, keep them in a notebook, or discuss one of the lessons with a trustworthy friend. 

*The most effective way to learn Mussar is to learn it in a vaad. Join in the weekly conference call or start a discussion group of your own. 

4) Keep a journal with 2 columns: Remember when Hashem was there for you.
a- Gam zu la tova: Record the times when an unexpected good outcome came from a difficult event.
b- Hashgacha Pratis: Remember the times when Hashem appeared through spiritual coincidences that knocked your socks off. Think back. When were there surprises that came down from the Heavens, that showed up in a neatly wrapped package, right on your doorstep?

Trust in Hashem. Strengthen yourself and He will grant you courage. Trust in Hashem.

                                  *********************************************

One day, a man was walking along a cliff when he slipped and fell over the edge. As he began to fall, his flailing arms grabbed onto the branch of a small tree that was growing out of a crevice in the rocks. Hanging on tightly, he realized how helpless he was. Jagged boulders were above and below him. His grip on the branch was weakening, "Only God can save me now. So he called out, "God, if you exist, please save me!" There was no answer. He called again, "Please God, only You can save me now."

Suddenly a great voice boomed down from the clouds, "I am here. I can help you. Do you trust me?" Yes, the man answered. "I do, I do trust you!"

God spoke again, "I will help you. But first, you must let go the branch."

"Let go of the branch!" the man exclaimed. "Is there anybody else out there?"

                                ***********************************************

It's a powerful little parable, but I'm sure you know the answer is ....
No, there is no one else out there but Hashem.

Blessings of peace, strength, and trust!
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