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Da Et Atzmcha (10) The Ultimate Serenity Within

With the help of Hashem (G-d), we will summarize what has been said and conclude the series. We spoke at length about a person's avodah (work) in uprooting from himself the evil elements of the actions, feelings, and thoughts. After that, one must join and merge with all of creation. In the previous talk, we said that the soul itself provides an independent existence, which must sometimes be alone and sometimes merge with others.

We began to describe the revelation of the independent, distinct nature of the soul. The soul has three basic "garments": action, words, and thoughts. Actions are external. Speech, as well, is an external way for people to communicate with each other. One who talks to himself betrays a lack of mental stability. When Chanah was talking softly (in prayer), Eli (the High Priest) thought she was drunk (Shmuel I 1:13). In general, speech is a means for communication between people. If so, it, too, causes one to turn outward.

Thought is the faculty and garment that is present inside a person. Thoughts are in one's head, and if one does not reveal them through action or speech, they remain hidden from people. The holy works write that even the angels are not aware of people's thoughts. Therefore, if a person wants to bring forth his true self, he must utilize the faculty of thought. Therefore, we said that a person's avodah is to be a deep thinker who analyzes, contemplates, and ponders. One should spend a lot of time thinking, and in general, thought must be central to one's life.

This is the first step to discovering the self - using the faculty of thought to study, contemplate, and analyze. There is another tool to use: If a person seeks to recall something that is not readily remembered, he will naturally close his eyes or place his hands over his eyes, and try to think deeply by himself. When the eyes are open, they make a person think about the outside, because they see what is happening in the world. This harms the power of concentration. When a person wants to concentrate to a high degree, he will close the eyes, which negates the soul's outward turn and focuses the thoughts inward. As long as the eyes are open, part of the faculty of thought turns outward, and thus, the concentration is weaker, and one cannot completely focus. Therefore, when a person wants to think with more power and focus, or to remember something, or to think deeply, he will close his eyes. We are used to doing this naturally, just for a few seconds. When a person wants to recall something, he will close his eyes for a moment. But from here we can learn that when a person wants to be a deep thinker, at least part of the time it should be done with the eyes closed.

For example, when accepting the yoke of Heaven upon ourselves during the morning and evening recitation of the Shema, we customarily cover our eyes with our hands. The concentration employed for a total acceptance of the yoke is achieved through closing our eyes. Therefore, if a person wants to truly get used to inner focus, he must get used to closing the eyes. Understandably, it is not enough to do this as a bodily habit. A person can close his eyes and say the words of the Shema without any real intensity and focus, because the closing of the eyes will just be act of habit from his youth. That is why most people cannot appreciate the profound value of closing the eyes during the Shema. The physical act of closing the eyes must be accompanied with an inner effort. When closing the eyes, the person must employ his power of focus. If a person will be alert, he will clearly notice that when closing the eyes, the thoughts are more clear and focused. Therefore, for at least part of the time one is thinking in solitude, he must close his eyes and contemplate in depth. This custom is the second step toward entering into the self.

The third step is based on the Rambam, who wrote (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:13) that a person attains most of his wisdom at night. Light does have an advantage. A person in darkness cannot connect to the outside. Light is the power for connection, while darkness is the power for isolation. Therefore, Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam writes (HaMaspik LeOvdei Hashem, ch. 13) that when a person wants to meditate in order to uncover the spiritual energy within, it should preferably be done in the dark of night. Alternatively, it could be done in the day in a closed, dark room.

The world we live in has become topsy-turvy; we have lost the night. It's always like daytime outside. Of the future Redemption, it is said that Hashem will light up the darkness of the night like day, but now we see that in a negative way: night has turned into day, as there are stores open 24 hours a day. Things are the opposite of how they should be. The depth of the matter is that night is a gift from Hashem. During the day, the world is bustling and noisy. "A man goes out to his work, and to his labor until evening" (Tehillim 104:23). The natural way of the world should be that day is the time for work, and night is for quiet. Night is a gift from the Creator, but we waste it with all kinds of artificial devices, street lights, and the like. But essentially, night is a kind of tool for the benefit of our inner selves. Its value lies in the fact that it is specifically at night that one can best connect to his inner self. The self can best surface in the darkness. This is because light connects us to the other creations, and night separates us and places each being in its proper distinct place. When a person is in a totally dark room, he is afraid to move, lest he stumble. He is inclined toward inner solitude, not just a cessation from activity. Darkness uncovers the deep power of solitude within a person.

We have presented three methods for a person to enter into himself: deep analytical thought, closing the eyes, and being in darkness. Obviously, one should not always be in the dark, but only at certain times.

We will contemplate and delve a bit more. In order for a person to attain his inner self, he must be serene. Why? The desires of a person draw him outside of himself. As mentioned (in the fifth talk), the word ratzon (desire) is related to the word ratz (run), because it draws a person outside of himself. This running makes one exit the self toward what is outside the self, exiting from the inner self to the outside world. As long as a person's desires keep their full force, one "runs" outward, and immediately leaves his self. The ratzon itself is a departure from his essence.

Why is this? We understand that material desires take a person outward. If one wants a special apartment, a fancy car, or magnificent clothing, he seeks things outside of himself. In those cases, it is clear that the ratzon takes him away from his self. But seemingly, if a person desires spiritual heights, in what way is he going outward? After all, he clearly seeks the opposite: to expand his inner self! Certainly, this ratzon has an advantage, but in a subtle way, it draws a person outward. He is trying to bring in from the outside something he doesn't have. Once he does truly attain the level that is his object, or more accurately, reveals it in his soul, there will no longer be a departure outward. But this is only after the desire is fulfilled. While he maintains the desire, that which he wants to attain causes him to move outward. He sees something outside of himself and wants to bring it into himself. The recognition of something outside and the desire to attain it is a form of departure outward.

Therefore, as long as a person desires material acquisitions, or even if he is not happy with his lot in spiritual matters, he is always in a state of movement toward things outside him. (This is besides the fact that he really should want spiritual acquisitions, and both kinds of sentiments are needed.) If so, his soul is always running, and this precludes serenity. This is like when someone is physically running. He might be huffing and puffing, or even if he is running properly, he will not have total inner serenity. Total serenity requires one to be at rest. Therefore, as long as one is even in a state of spiritual running, he cannot uncover his real "I."

One might object: "But my desires are unique to me, so they reveal my uniqueness!" There is some truth in that, but yet, such desires are not a revelation of the essence of the self, but only of rays projected out from the self. This is because there is still a desire to attain something from the outside. Deep down, one possesses a serene existence. To access it, one must nullify the material desires and even attain "Who is wealthy? He who is happy with is lot" (Avot 4:1), in spiritual matters, as explained by our master, the Gr"a. Then, he can be serene. There will be set times when the ratzon will be in its full force, to desire spiritual acquisitions, but there will also be serene times, when one is happy with his lot. If one has not nullified material desires and become happy with his lot in spiritual matters, he has no inner peace. He will not be able to discover his true self. The deep thoughts, the closing of the eyes, and the darkness will help but little; they will not allow him to uncover his true self.

So that a person can find the real self, he must go through the process we have discussed. He must remove the evil from himself, because the power of evil stimulates inner conflict and destroys serenity. He must not be affected by outer things that could disrupt his serenity, and he must nullify material desires and be happy with his lot in spiritual matters. Once this is accomplished, there will nothing to drag him outward. A person is dragged outward by desires, and once they are quieted, the basis of the outward departure becomes silenced. Then, he can really uncover the essence of the soul. Therefore, everything said here about thought, closing eyes, and darkness require first a quieting of desire. Success is impossible otherwise. Once the desires are quiet, and one does these three things (thought, closed eyes, sitting in darkness), he will surely sense a revelation of an inner essence. It will not yet be strong, but he will begin to sense an inner entity that he has not yet recognized.

I must again emphasize: this contemplation is impossible without the silencing of the desires. I am saying this explicitly due to experience with people that worked only with this later stage (thought, closed eyes, sitting in darkness) and were not successful. Therefore, we want to make sure that the order is clear.

After a person has fulfilled all this, he will be able to sense an entry into a deeper world, the beginning of the revelation of the "I" that is shining within. But that is only the beginning of a process. The more this continues, the more intense it will become.

There is another stage: The neshamah, deep down, is a living entity, and it has the three aforementioned garments: action, speech, and thought. They are not the soul itself, but three garments over it. Therefore, as long as one's thought is in its full force, he cannot uncover the essence of the neshamah. Only after he has quieted the thought can he uncover the essential "I."

To be absolutely clear, we first said to strengthen and bring out the thought, and now, we are talking about a completely opposite process. This is because the soul has three garments: act, speech, and thought. Normally, a person will begin with action, ascend to speech, and then to thought. The fourth stage, after thought, is to enter the essential self, which is above thought. But it is impossible to skip from action or speech to the essence of the neshamah. In general, we must go through the entire process. A person begins with action, goes on to speech, and then to deep analytical thought. If so, one is really building in order to destroy. We build the thought as a stage in our growth, but it is not the goal, but only one of the stages of the neshamah. As long as a person has not attained a deep acquisition of thought, he cannot enter further inside. But once he has attained thought, he must go deeper within.

These are not novel ideas. Just as our teacher, the author of Chovat HaTalmidim (Rav Klonimus Kalman Shapira), writes, the inner way of avodah is the way our teachers, the prophets traversed. And although we have no prophecy nowadays, we have the same pathway. This was also the pathway of Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam - the way of the prophets. One of the conditions of a prophet is that he must be wise, as the Talmud states in Nedarim (38a). If there is no wisdom, one cannot be a tool for prophecy. A wise person is not someone born with a high intelligence, but rather, one who always thinks, as the Ramchal writes (Deretz Etz Chaim), "The wise are always thinking." So that a prophet will attain prophecy, he must have a habit of deep thought, primarily as relates to the Holy Torah. Unless one develops deep thought, he cannot progress further. But once the prophet did develop deep thought, what happened next? When prophecy came to him, his thought was silenced, so he could receive a light even higher than thoughts. If one is always involved in thought, he cannot receive anything deeper. When one is busy producing ideas, he cannot be fully receptive, as we say regarding the laws of kashrut (that something exuding cannot absorb). As a practical illustration, it is like a pipe that cannot receive while it is emitting water. So that it can receive a stream of water, it must stop emitting water.

At first, one must develop deep thought, which will be active and alert throughout the day. But after that, one must learn to silence the thought. This is a requisite process for anyone who wants to uncover an inner light inside, whether he wants to uncover the neshamah itself, or the light contained within. Until now, we have spoken of the ways to go through the levels, until the highest level, which is thought. After that, there is a process of silence. We will try to explain it to the extent possible.

These are subtle and sensitive issues; that is to say, one needs a certain subtle perception in the soul. When the mercury in a thermometer rises, and one wants to lower it, he shakes it, and the temperature goes down. A person needs a subtle feeling for how to shake it. If you give it to a child to shake, he will shake it hard, and nothing will happen. You need a delicate movement, which cannot exactly be explained. There is a subtle feeling needed to sense exactly how to shake it properly.

Another example: You teach a child to ride a bike: At first, you give him training wheels on both sides, and then you remove one but leave the other one so he won't fall, and the third stage is to remove both. But can anyone describe to a child how to balance himself on a bike? It's impossible; everyone tries, but no one succeeds. But how does he do it in the end? He develops an inner sense of balance. If someone does not have this inner sense, even if you hire a private tutor for a thousand hours, it won't help at all. About this and the like, Chazal said (Chagigah 14b), "a wise man who understands on his own." If he is wise and can understand, why does he have to do it on his own? Let someone else teach everything, and he can know! The answer is that if he doesn't have his own inner understanding, nothing will help, because he will not grasp the inner point.

The inner point in the soul is so subtle that it cannot be expressed. You explain from the right, then from the left, from the front, from the back, from the top, and from the bottom. You can surround it from all six sides, but you cannot explain the deep point itself. A secret (sod), as described by Rav Dessler and others before him, is a thing that might be openly stated to a person, and he will mentally understand what is said, but he won't really hear anything. The secret is not the words; it is a certain grasp of the neshamah. An example of a secret is riding a bike. Why? Because it cannot really be explained to another person. Anything that requires a certain inner feeling is a kind of secret. If he understands on his own, he gets it. If not, the introductory information will not help. The introductions bring him close to the point, but from there on, one must go on his own.

We were taught to walk when we were infants. But once one reaches a certain point, he is required to walk on his own. This should serve as a profound example for all of one's inner life. We receive much instruction from the outside. Some of it is more correct and precise, while some is not all that correct. But even if one receives precise guidance, it can only take one up to the inner point; once he is at the inner point, he must cope by himself. The words that will now be said will be directed to take a person up to the inner point. As to the inner point itself, it is as Hillel said to the man who wanted to convert (Shabbat 31a), "Go and learn the rest." One must learn this from within himself. The more a person has inner da'at (wisdom), not just mental da'at, but a deep understanding in the heart, the more he will be able to bring himself closer to the inner point. But if he is only smart, but lacks an awareness of the subtleties of his soul, it will be hard for him to grasp the matter. This introduction was needed so that there will be no error. Our words will not be able to express the process until its endpoint. They will leave the person without the "training wheels," so that he can grasp the idea on his own.

The transition from concentrated thought to the revelation of the inner essence of the person must come through the means of quieting the thoughts. We will try to explain it by means of the perceptible world that we know. Each person finds in himself many kinds of thoughts. He knows of a light thought, which is calm because it is light. A person who looks right and left in order to traverse a crosswalk will just quickly take a look and cross, unless he has some sort of nervousness about an accident. He will look and decide, but the thought will be superficial, light, and quick. On the other hand, we know of thoughts that are analytical and deep. A person might be involved in something complicated, whether it relates to his studies or to a practical problem, and he will try to focus all his mental energy on finding a solution. For example, if reviewing financial information, and something doesn't match up, one will try to focus in order to see which number is missing. This is exerted thought. After a person has exerted himself in this way, he could get a headache. Just as feet hurt when one walks too much, so it is with the thoughts. If a person strains his brain beyond its norm, it will get weary.

We mentioned that a person should think analytical and deep thoughts. This process, on one hand, will cause a departure from action and speech to the interior of the person, but will also cause an inner commotion, not the kind that comes from tractors and bulldozers, but because such thought is itself constant activity in the mind. If a person lives naturally, without getting into deep analytical thought, his thought will be not be very active. Most people, who don't engage in analysis, have light and fleeting thoughts. Relatively, such a mind is calm. Even if it works all day, like secretaries who answer three calls at the same time, the thoughts are generally light, unless there is some complication.

In general, as long as a person has not worked to uncover analytical ability in his mind, his thoughts will be light and fleeting and therefore, more calm. Once he has uncovered this ability, on one hand, he will enter a deeper level of himself, and on the other hand, his mind will become more active and the next stage of quieting the mind will become more difficult. If we would work on quieting the mind before a person would exert himself to activate his mental abilities, the transition between activity of the mind and its serenity would be easier. But as we have presented the process of developing a structure of thought first, and only after, developing serenity, the transition between them will be more difficult.

Since the mind is used to thinking a lot, and deeply, the process of quieting will need to affect both the quantity and the depth of the thought. Both will need to be quieted. As to the quantity, once one has activated his mind properly, he must learn how to interrupt his thinking. For example, if someone has a problem in algebra or the like, he will tend to think without interruption until he finds a solution. But the deeper way is to think and stop, think and stop. At first, this would seem counterproductive, because if you interrupt something, you lower its intensity. For example, if when someone driving a car, he keeps taking his foot off the accelerator, the car will never go very fast. One must keep pushing down until the proper speed is reached. Likewise, it would seem that one should incessantly think forcefully until a problem is solved.

Why is this not so? The power of thought comes from a deeper source. A solution to a problem just falls into the mind. From where does it fall? If the solution came from the thinking, it should come directly through the thought process. But often, the solution comes when one interrupts the thought. Why? Because the answer doesn't come from the thought itself, but from a deeper place. It comes from the essence of the neshamah, not from the thought. Thought draws energy from the inner point, after one has exhausted his mind. For example, a person who works all day and is exhausted at the end goes to sleep and wakes up the next morning refreshed. This happens because he returns his life to its source, and from there, receives new vitality. As it says (Eichah 3:23), "New each morning, Your trustworthiness is great." So, too, one must think and stop.

This will have a practical benefit, as well. One will learn to think better this way. But for our purposes, it will help keep the thought properly balanced. By interrupting the thought, he will attain serenity. If one is only accustomed to exert thought until finding a solution, he has no habit of quieting the thoughts. He builds a strong structure of thought, but has no inner serenity.

To build this serenity of thought, one must work gradually. First of all, he must think and stop, think and stop. As to the quality of the thoughts, there is the avodah of thinking simple thoughts. A person does need to attain analytical thought, but after that, there is the avodah of thinking about well-known and simple things. A person can take a very well-known concept and review it quietly, again and again. Torah study, for example, is built on the process of review. So too, to develop the thought properly, one should become accustomed to thinking repeatedly about simple things.

A practical benefit of this is that once one gets used to this, he will find depth in things that he thought were simple. The Chazon Ish said that he does not know of any simple things in life. How could that be? The answer is that every simple thing contains depth inside it. Because we have become used to thinking in a certain way about things we consider simple, we have blocked the thought off from other ways of seeing them. A person's avodah is to get used to thinking about simple matters. Take a simple thought, and review it again and again. A person can take a certain fact, and review it mentally with an inner quiet. As a result, he will find that he discovers a depth within that simplicity. But this is not the only purpose of this exercise. The purpose is also to calm the mind through constantly pondering simple facts.

These should be very simple concepts. For example, a person has certain axioms that form the basis of his life, each person according to his own axioms and ways of thinking, and he takes a particular principle and reviews it again and again. At a certain stage, he will uncover a depth in the principle that he had never noticed before. Although he surely knew it, he never sensed the depth of the significance of the matter. This is like taking a $100,000 check and giving it to a seven year-old child. He cannot appreciate what is in his hand. The principles that we know are more valuable than $100,000. But we have accustomed ourselves to relating to them as if they are worth only ten agurot (a small coin). If a person will get used to reviewing the simple, well-known ideas again and again, he will uncover a depth beyond a depth that will be totally new.

After a person has worked with these two processes, interrupted thought and simple thought (not superficial, but simple, thinking about a meaningful principle, not a trivial one), he will find in himself a faculty of serene thought. This is a profound gift.

I understand that this seems difficult. But the Talmud (Niddah 31b) says that when a woman gives birth, she swears that she will never do it again, and yet, the regret is short-lived. Here, too, there is an initial difficulty, but we must go through this process. If we want only the easy steps, without going deeper, it will be like going from Jerusalem toward Tel Aviv, and stopping at the entrance of the city without entering it.

Everything we have said until now is only a means toward the inner point. The inner point is deep and generally hidden from a person. Therefore, although these ideas seem so distant, if a person will follow this process, he will become closer and closer, and if he follows the advice in this talk, he will be the happiest kind of person in the world. He will uncover an unparalleled light and delight.

We will rerun to what we were saying: Once a person gets used to interrupted thought, as well as simple thought that is calmly reviewed, he will begin to uncover a new world of serene thought. The thoughts we know now are either superficial or analytical. But a deep serene simple thought is almost unknown to most people. Superficial thoughts do not need much mental energy. Analytical thoughts do exert the mind a great deal. But there is a third kind of thought: the simple, but very deep thought, which comes from an inner revelation of the person. More correctly stated, this is not thought; this is a grasp, an experience. If you ask a person, "Do you exist?" he will say, "Yes." How does he know? Is it just because he thinks so? That is only an incorrect, superficial answer. Rather, a person experiences himself from within himself. It is an inner knowledge of the self. Yet that only lets us know that we exist, but we do not experience the existence itself. Once a person attains serene thought, he discovers quieter and even quieter thoughts, until he senses his true self. This is a departure from thought to experience. It is existence, not merely thought.

I realize that some people will consider this discussion as some kind of mysterious code, and some will be bored by it, but some will say, "I have felt this for years!" Each person reacts according to his location "on the map." One who has experienced such feelings at some stage in life, whether for periods of time or for brief moments, but doesn't know how to revive it, or had attained it through impure means (the ways of the nations, i.e. Eastern religions, but not by way of the Holy Torah), needs to return to it through Torah and mitzvot. Some people have not attained this but have heard about it from others who are there and trust them, and yearn to reach there. Others are not sure it exists, but want to try it out, just in case.

One who has already been there does not need my words to convince him. He wants to return there, because he knows that there is where he can find himself. He just wants to find the way, and we have tried to assist with this. If one has not experienced it but believes in it, he can also follow this path. But if someone isn't convinced, and just wants to try it out in case he will find something, he has a low chance of success with entering inward. Any time a person wants to succeed, he must trust in the tools he is using. A lack of inner trust harms the effort by tainting it with doubt. So as to succeed, one must trust, not me, by our Sages, of blessed memory, who have taught based on the Torah that a person has a holy neshamah within, and it is connected to the source of delight, because "a person is created only to delight and enjoy the radiance of the Divine Presence" (Mesillat Yesharim, ch. 1). When he believes in Chazal, he will believe that his neshamah is the most precious treasure in life, and that it is our obligation and privilege to uncover it.

In the beginning of this series, we stated that we have come here because of an inner mission. We mentioned that there is an enchanting world filled with delight and inner happiness, and that we want to share it and try to bring people to that inner state. The words stated here have certainly revealed some information, but the "map" has not been completed. A person must come to better recognize himself and his abilities, so as to work with his inner self. If Hashem agrees, we will continue with another workshop devoted to developing a person's capabilities. But through the ideas stated up to this point, I have given of my own soul to you, not just as an investment of time and effort, but by sharing my recognition of life as I know it from inside myself. I have tried to present a completed puzzle, a map, of the life existing within, and to try to present a pathway and method to bring a person to the inner point.

In this world, Hashem has given each of us free choice. We can live here and destroy ourselves. This does not require suicide; it is bad enough if one lives superficially, finally dying on the level at which he was born, and chas veshalom, even worse than that. On the other hand, we have the choice to uncover the Divine, spiritual depth within us. This is our obligation on this earth, and it is our privilege. Every person can reach inward into his self, to find the depth of the creation and to find the depth contained deep inside a person.

No one can describe what is experienced there, because it is there that the very "I" is experienced. A person is only able to give another person money, advice, and honor, but the very self cannot be given away to another, and so it is with that inner experience. Life is in our hands. It is spread out before us, and we can choose to enter inward. There is no true reason to escape outward; there is a true reason to entire inward. I sincerely hope that the ideas stated here have benefited the listeners, and I thank all of you for your attention, and for the questions that helped to develop the ideas, and I wish that we will all have the privilege to enter deep inside ourselves to find the treasure within and to find Hashem, Who is found within us.

Basic points that emerged from the question and answer period

  • 1) How does one do this quiet meditation? He should take a principle of his life and work with it. For example, if one's principle is that life is for giving to others, he should calmly review this phrase in his mind: "Life is for giving." He should do this calmly for a few minutes, until he feels that it is forced, then rest for five minutes, and then repeat the process. He will uncover new depth, not of new ways to give, but of a new meaning to the concept. A person's values that he should work with must come from inside. They cannot just be ideas in his head that he has picked up from the outside.
  • 2) This entire series is an introduction to work with emunah (faith). Once one has succeeded in this process, it will be very easy to work with emunah.
  • 3) The average person must reach this serene thought only after developing analytical thought, but there are exceptions - people who can find this serene thought in other ways, such as those who are involved in art or music.
  • 4) With men, the analytical thoughts should generally be related to Torah thoughts. A woman should focus on matters of hashkafah (Torah values). It should be noted that men and women were created for the same purpose, but they have different means of attaining that purpose. Before one clarifies his purpose as a man or woman, he/she must clarify the purpose of life in general.
  • 5) Just as a healthy person knows how much he needs to eat, so must one have a sense of what stage he occupies in his spiritual work. But one should not be overly distrusting of himself. One should be willing to take calculated risks in life, and be willing to suffer setbacks.

We intentionally focused on hamtakah (sweetening, i.e. connecting to others) before fully developing the concept of aloneness, because if one is too focused on aloneness, he can disconnect from others to an improper extent. If one follows the proper order, the inner contemplation should not destroy the ability to relate to others. One should develop the sense of self along with a desire to mix with others properly. When one mingles with others, he should focus on their inner purity, and this will diminish the sense of difference between people.

 
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