It was a long time ago.
The American Civil War had come to an end, and a mystical giant entered the world. His name was HaRav Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), a name not known well outside of historical circles. Yet, when you read his writing on change, it could be written today.
And, you don't have to be religious to benefit.
Mysticism & Change:
Imagine that you're hurting.
You want to lose weight, stop bulimic behavior, curb anger, handle a relationship better, give up an addiction, or change any habit, consider Kook’s words. We don’t change because we simply want to; we begin to change when we learn how to do it.
Abraham Isaac Kook - Orot HaTshuva
The focus of tshuva (often translated as repentance) must always be directed toward improving the future. One should not begin by making the mending of the past an indispensable prerequisite. If one should immediately begin by mending the past he will encounter many obstacles, and the ways of tshuva and the nearness of God will seem too hard for him. But if he concentrates truly on improving his future behavior, it is certain that divine help will also be granted him to mend the past.
In order to understand Kook you first need to understand the term, Tshuva.
In the non Hebrew speaking world, tshuva means repentance. We all know that if you do something wrong, you may feel ashamed or angry at yourself. Repentance is a method to strip away, expose the guilt and get close to your God.
Your True Self:
But, this is a mis-translation. Tshuvah does not really mean repentance. It literally means returning to yourself. The understanding is that if you do wrong, or have a destructive habit, to repent is really to come back to yourself. And, once back to who you really are, there is only closeness to your Maker.
It’s an enabling concept, because it suggests that healing is already within.
The Past is a Burden:
You may be surprised by this teaching because it tells you not to get weighed down by guilt or past failures, because “the nearness of God will seem too hard…”
Think about it...organized religion often focuses on guilt or shame. Change will only come if you feel truly badly about what has happened.
Kook asks us to change because our better self is calling.
It is a truly modern teaching.
Whether the treatment is behavioral modification, cognitive behavioral therapy, a twelve step program or insight oriented psychotherapy, the effort is to change what one does, not dwell incessantly on what one failed to do.
Kook seems to turn religion on its head, by claiming that guilt and ruminations interfere with true development.
The Past is the Present – But Need Not Be the Future:
“The past is the present, isn't it? It's the future, too.”
These are the words of the great American playwright, Eugene O’Neill, in Long Day’s Journey into Night. And, indeed, if you are saddled by your guilt and the legacy of your past, there may be no way to come out from under.
HaRav Kook asks us to first make changes in our behavior, and let go of feeling overwhelmed, guilty or sorry for ourselves. Then, he tells us, something liberating - and mystical - can happen.
The Future Can Change the Past:
After asking us to pursue change, while holding guilt or regrets in abeyance, Kook adds something that carries the mark of a mystic. “…if he concentrates truly on improving his future behavior, it is certain that divine help will also be granted him to mend the past.”
What does this mean?
If you start to behave better, lose weight, treat your spouse better, go into recovery from an addiction, or simply commit to better life choices, you will find that there's a virtuous feedback loop enabling you to do more. This is good for your mind and body, but also will help you feel more centered, adult and more truly you.
It is tshuva.
And, when you are in better control of yourself, you can go back and forgive those who hurt you…and forgive yourself. Plus, you can make amends with those you hurt or neglected, because there will be less need to avoid and hide.
If you don’t accept mysticism, that’s fine because Kook’s premise has validity from a psychological point of view as well.
Sometimes Happiness is a Choice:
“The focus of tshuva must always be directed toward improving the future.”
Next time you feel immobilized by your guilt or by so many missed opportunities, remember HaRav Abraham Isaac Kook, who was born just after the American Civil War. Decide that it’s time to make changes. Perhaps, you need a therapist or a coach. Maybe you’re overwhelmed by depression or anxiety. Deal what’s in front of you, and let the past take care of itself…at least for now.
Happiness starts with creating the right momentum.
* * * * * * * * * *
Many thanks to Rabbi Arye Ben David of Ayeka for introducing me to this wonderful text.
For more from Dr. Banschick:
The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Your Children (Kindle)
The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Your Children (Amazon)
The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Yourself (Kindle)
The Intelligent Divorce- Taking Care of Yourself (Amazon)
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