Avraham ben Yaakov
UNDER THE TABLE
& How to get up

Jewish Pathways of Spiritual Growth

“Who Are You and What are You Doing Here?”

“What?” * Meditation * Hisbodidus: Time for Yourself * The Power of Words * Talking to Your Self * Prayer * Out Loud * Hisbodidus in Practice * How long? * How often? * When? * Where? * Posture * Procedure * What do you do in Hisbodidus? * Sitting, Breathing and Awareness * Getting in Touch * Confession * Surface Patterns, Deeper Causes * Your Goals * How can you attain what you want? * Praying to God and Talking to Yourself * Your Pen is Your Friend * The Process of Hisbodidus * Getting Started & Keeping Going *”I'm a Turkey !” * When Things Are Going Against You * The Honest Truth * The Truth Need Not Hurt

The Prince asked the Wise Man, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” the Wise Man replied, “And what are you doing here?” “I am a turkey,” said the Prince. “Well I'm also a turkey,” said the Wise Man. The two of them sat there together like this for some time, until they were used to one another.

“One should ask people `What?' People don't think about their purpose in life. What? After all the frustrations and distractions, after all the complaining and all the empty excuses you give for being far from God, when everything is over, what is going to be left of you? What are you going to do in the end? What will you answer the One who sent you? What are you if not a visitor on this earth? Life is vanity and emptiness, a passing shadow, a vanishing cloud. You know this. What do you say?”

Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #286

The Wise Man is under the table. The Prince is sitting there looking at him. Eventually the Prince breaks the silence and asks the first question that comes to mind when two people meet for the first time: “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

But the Wise man doesn't answer. He doesn't just tell the Prince who he is, or that he's a Turkey. The Wise Man has no intention of getting drawn into conversational pleasantries. Instead, he turns the Prince's question back on him. He wants the Prince to ask himself this very question. “Who are you? What are you doing here?” This is the most important question you have to ask yourself in life. Who are you really? What is life about, and what are you doing with it?

“What?”

There are times when life itself forces you to ask these questions. Perhaps a difficult situation puts you with your back to the wall, or events cause you to wake up with a start. These challenges are sent to prompt you to search for the answers and look for God. Thus the Hebrew word KaShYA, a difficulty or question, consists of the initial letters of the words Sh'ma HaShem (YKVK) Koli Ekra (Psalms 27:7): “God, hear my voice – I call.” The difficulty is sent to make you call out to God.

Only when you are willing to confront these questions will you become free. Instead of indiscriminately accepting the answers you have absorbed and inherited from your family, friends and the surrounding culture, you decide what you want to do with your life. Many people assume they are free because they do whatever they feel like, but actually they are prisoners of their own hearts, compulsively pursuing goals dictated to them by parents, educators, opinion-leaders, entertainers, the demands of fashion, and the like.

Freedom is the ability to choose your own goals with wisdom, and then act decisively to pursue them, without being shackled by the dictates of others or your own weaknesses. The first step to freedom is to confront yourself frankly and honestly and become aware of who you really are.

What are you doing with your life? Where does your time go? What are the thoughts that pass through your mind all day? What are your typical behavior-patterns, attitudes and reactions? What do you want to achieve in this life? What are your ultimate goals and values? Is your daily routine taking you closer to your goals? Or do you often act indecisively, ineffectively, or even at cross-purposes with yourself? How can you release yourself from the compulsions that imprison you? What will you have to do in order to reach your goals?

Meditation

In order to take responsibility for your life and become free, you must make a serious effort to confront these questions. The work involved in answering them takes time. You have to make that time. The only way to advance is by fixing special meditation times for yourself in which you settle your mind, think calmly about your life and goals, and work out how to attain them. This is Hisbodidus, the most important, practicable and relevant form of Jewish meditation in our time. “Hisbodidus is the highest level. It is greater than everything” (Likutey Moharan II:25).

The word “meditation” is problematic, because different people attribute different meanings to it. Some still use it in the classic sense of serious and sustained reflection or contemplation, especially on religious truth. Others, however, use the term to refer to a technique of calming the mind that may have no spiritual significance. For many people today, “meditation” is no more than a synonym for deep relaxation.

In the sense of spiritual devotion, meditation was and is an integral part of Jewish mysticism. Among the different methods discussed in the Kabbalah are elaborate meditations involving Hebrew letters in complex combinations, Yichudim relating to Holy Names, Sefirot and Partzufim, and so on. These meditations can be meaningfully practiced only by people who are deeply steeped in Torah life and thoroughly conversant with Biblical and Rabbinic teaching, and who have spent years not only studying Kabbalah but subjecting themselves to the rigorous personal discipline it demands. For deeply pious and learned Jews who have reached advanced levels of knowledge and spiritual development, these meditations are an integral part of the devotional life of prayer, Torah study and mitzvah-observance.

For most of us, however, the central spiritual issue is how to practice the very basics of Judaism amidst the daily challenges of life in the contemporary world. As we seek God through the fundamental patterns of Torah life – Tallit and Tefilin, the daily blessings and prayers, Shabbat and the festivals, Kashrut, family purity, charity, personal integrity and so on – we often face powerful inner barriers, not to speak of the external obstacles created by the people around us and the prevailing society and culture. The way to overcome them is with hisbodidus.

Hisbodidus: Time for Your Self

The word hisbodidus (pronounced hitbodidut in Ivrit) derives from the Hebrew root bod, meaning separate or alone. Hisbodidus is the reflexive form, signifying “making oneself alone”: you separate yourself from other people and activities for a period of time in order to direct your focus inwards. A good way of translating hisbodidus might be “private time, ”or “time for your self.” The idea is not to become a hermit, but to take regular breaks from the pressures of life in order to come back and face them from a position of far greater strength – through clarifying your goals, and working out how you can pursue them more effectively.

The goal of hisbodidus is more than mere relaxation – although those who practice it regularly may certainly feel more relaxed and confident about life. A calm, clear mind is the most desirable state in which to practice hisbodidus, and part of the time of hisbodidus may be spent on preparing and settling the mind. However hisbodidus is far more than a method of passive relaxation-meditation. It takes more than deep relaxation or contemplation of a simple word or phrase to attain connection with God and personal transformation.

Hisbodidus would be classified as an inner-directed, unstructured, active meditation.

The Power of Words

Right under your very nose is your most powerful tool for spiritual growth – your mouth! The Prince's innocent question – “Who are you and what are you doing here?”– was a normal everyday conversational ploy. He was using language the way the majority of people use it most of the time: to talk to another human being. But the Wise Man turned the question back on the Prince. “Who are you?” He wanted him to ask himself the question. The Wise Man was teaching the Prince a different way of using language: to speak to our selves, to search for our selves and grow.

Hisbodidus is private time for working on yourself. The most important way of actually doing the work is through talking. You speak to yourself and to God in your own words. The idea is to express and articulate different facets of yourself out loud: who are you, what are your deepest yearnings, what are you striving toward, what is it that is holding you back, and how can you overcome the obstacles and attain what you want? Through the spoken word you turn the potential into the actual, making distant, barely-articulated dreams, hopes, wishes and intentions into concrete ideas leading you to practical action and achievement.

Some of the time, you need to speak directly to yourself in hisbodidus, talking out what is on your mind and in your heart, telling yourself what you want of yourself, encouraging yourself and gearing yourself for action. At other times, you must call out beyond yourself to the very source of the self, to God, crying and praying for help.

Obviously talking is not the only thing you should do in hisbodidus. There is no need to chatter like a parrot from the beginning to the end of every session. There are times when you may need to just sit, relax, breathe, and settle your mind. You must observe yourself, and think about your general behavior and activities. This is the way to get in touch with your thoughts and feelings, and come to know yourself. Hisbodidus time may thus be used for many kinds of spiritual work, from deep thinking and contemplation to singing, dancing, laughing... But the essential tool for search, development and change is language.

Talking to Your Self

People think talking to yourself is mad, but in fact it's the best way to make the Prince sane.

The Torah tells us that when God created man, He breathed life into him, “...and the man was a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). Onkelos, the Aramaic translator of the Bible, renders the words “living soul” as “speaking spirit,” teaching us that language is the defining feature of man.

The use of language for communicating with one another is something we are all familiar with. We talk to one another in any number of ways, from the most simple and direct to the most subtle and sophisticated, telling one another what we want, giving orders, making requests, sharing or asking for information, expressing our thoughts and feelings, and so on and so forth. But the use of language to communicate with ourselves, our souls and with God is largely unexplored in contemporary culture. Yet the fact is that our hearing apparatus is arranged in such a way that not only do we hear what others say; we also hear what we ourselves are saying. We are set up to talk to ourselves!

Most small children talk to themselves aloud quite naturally, expressing whatever they feel, simply and directly. Often, they successively play out all kinds of different roles, reflecting various patterns of adult behavior as they see them in the world around them. Dialoguing with themselves is an important part of childhood growth and learning, and one of the principle ways in which children develop their sense of self.

However the growing child soon learns that in the adult world, talking to oneself out loud is suspect. It is associated with madmen and eccentrics. Only on stage do heroes soliloquize. For the majority of “normal” people, the natural dialogue within the self becomes silenced some time during childhood. The dialogue continues in our minds as thought follows thought, but usually in ways we are barely aware of.

Still, people do talk to themselves – possibly more than most would be willing to admit. It is fairly common to hear people muttering audibly to themselves as they go about their business. Some people are constantly telling themselves what they want to do or not do. Sometimes people reprimand themselves. Another common phenomenon is giving vent to strong feelings under one's breath or in private, especially when unable to display them openly to the people who actually arouse them, such as parents, spouses, rivals, bullies, the boss, etc.

When people feel that their lives and development are being excessively restricted by those around them or by social convention in general, they may go to a therapist to talk out their problems. Having someone there to hear them is important, and the feedback of the therapist may be very valuable. Most important of all, however, is the process of actually talking things out. By expressing our inner problems and feelings, we gain deeper insight and begin finding solutions.

Today there is a growing interest in the use of language as a means of working on oneself. There is the salesman who stands in front of the mirror each morning and gives himself a pep talk. People who want to quit smoking, lose weight or change themselves in other ways are learning the value of repeating affirmations to themselves. And so we are on the way to rediscovering something that religion has taught for thousands of years: prayer.

Prayer

Prayer is a grossly misunderstood activity. The primary connotation of the English word “pray” is to request, and this has led to a widespread image of prayer as being centered around asking for things – health, wealth, success, and so on. Prayer is often thought of as a form of quasi-magic resorted to by the primitive and ignorant in an effort to overcome their helplessness in the face of overwhelming natural forces. For many people religious prayer rituals are meaningless, antiquated, formal ceremonies conducted in a language they do not understand, and having nothing to do with their inner selves and personal issues.

It is largely forgotten that up until our great-grandparents' generation many people found it quite natural to talk directly and spontaneously to God in their own native language, discussing all their needs and pouring out their hearts. For the majority of people today, the very idea of talking directly to God in your own words is mystifying, awkward, and unreal. God is so awesome and far away. How are you supposed to talk to Him? How could God be interested in all our petty needs and problems? In any case, if God knows everything, including our thoughts, why is it necessary to talk to Him? Besides, what kind of conversation is it? When you talk to a person, you see their reactions, and hear what they have to say. How does God answer?

But “it is not in the Heavens... The word is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it” (Deuteronomy 30:12-14). Prayer does not have to mean speaking to God “out there.” It can be as direct and intimate as talking to your own heart. If you look at the actual content of many of the Psalms and prayers of the Siddur, although prayers of request and petition, especially for spiritual illumination, have a prominent place, they are only one aspect of prayer. There are also many descriptions of God's works and activities in nature and history – praises, thanks and acknowledgement – because recognizing God's active presence in our lives and the world around us is one of the most important ways of experiencing our connection with Him.

In addition to prayers to God or statements about Him, the Psalms in particular give intimate voice to the innermost thoughts and feelings of the spiritual seeker in every phase of the search – introspection and self-judgment; happiness about the good in oneself, regret about the bad; the struggle with evil instincts; fears, doubts and questions; the joy of devotion; reverence, love, awe and yearning for God, and so on. Another important part of prayer is affirmation: we repeatedly remind ourselves of our faith, hope and trust in God; we exhort ourselves against fear, demoralization and despair; and we set our minds on the qualities of justice and righteousness, kindness and mercy that we want to cultivate in our lives.

God's first words to Avraham, founder of the Jewish People, were: “Lech lecha – go to yourself(Genesis 12:1). The essence of the spiritual journey is to go deep into ourselves in order to discover and draw out the Princely higher self from where it is buried amongst our Turkey identities, thoughts and feelings – to draw it out, express it and bring it to perfection. We accomplish this through prayer – talking directly to the heart and soul, that is to say, the self, in our own words.

Ultimately prayer and self-communion must meet, because the self – the soul – derives from God: the soul is “a part of God above” (Job 31:2). Thus the more we discover and develop our spiritual side, the more the Divine Presence manifests itself in us, and we begin to experience just how intimately we are bound up with God in our essence, and how close at hand He is in our thoughts and feelings and consciousness.

In the works of Rebbe Nachman, our main source of teaching about hisbodidus, the practice is often called sichah beino le-vein kono – conversation between oneself and one's Owner. (See Likutey Moharan II:25, etc.) One might say that the conversation is always somewhere in between ourselves and God – sometimes more with ourselves, sometimes more with God.

Thus in one discussion, Rebbe Nachman characterizes our relationship with God during hisbodidus as that of “a child pleading with his father... complaining and pestering him. How good it is when you can awaken your heart and plead until tears stream from your eyes and you stand like a little child crying before its Father” Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #7). Elsewhere, Rebbe Nachman suggests that we should talk to God “like a person speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11, see Likutey Moharan II:99) – discussing things frankly and earnestly, heart to heart, in order to work everything out. In another lesson, Rebbe Nachman tells us to try talking directly to ourselves, literally addressing the different parts of ourselves and even the limbs of the physical body, guiding and training ourselves to do what we want and live as we should (Tzaddik #442).

Out Loud

One of the essential problems we all face is a multitude of conflicting voices. The whole world confronts us with a clamor of cries and messages demanding our attention – from the people around us to the ringing telephones, beepers, adverts, signs, slogans... “Hey there! Stop! Go! Come here! Do this! Don't do that!” One may try to close out the external distractions by going to a quiet location. But as soon as one looks inside one's private inner world, there is an endless parade of thoughts, images, sensations, impulses, needs, desires, anxieties, fears, strategies, plans, etc.

The Prince in us sends one set of messages, but the Turkey vies for our attention with a constant stream of urgent messages of its own. One wants to study... but suddenly one has an irresistible urge to eat, sleep, or read the papers, etc. One wants to pray and meditate calmly... but all kinds of things need attending to, so one has to rush. One wants to be kind and patient with others... but somehow there seem to be so many good reasons for getting irritated and angry. The most insidious inner talk the Turkey feeds us is endless negative commentary about our life experiences, the people we encounter and the things they do, or, worst of all, about our very selves.

The way to overcome the Turkey voice is by raising your own voice – the voice you really want to hear and follow. By repeating out loud the things you know to be true – what you want most deeply in life, how important your goals are to you, and how you plan to achieve them – you strengthen the very aspects of your personality that you want to cultivate, and lead yourself to where you need to go. “Hakol me'orer et ha-kavanah – the voice arouses attention” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 6:1). When you raise your voice, your attention follows: the words you say aloud become the focus of your thoughts.

At times you may need to find your true voice, because your true self, the self you are searching for, may be buried behind years of repression, shyness, embarrassment, poor self-esteem, negativity, self-neglect and the like. You have to fan the flames of your nascent self, learning to express new, tender, unfamiliar feelings. Sometimes you may have to dredge out voices from way back in your past, or experiment with new voices. One of the most important voices to search for is the voice of song – your own song of joy, love and devotion to God.

When you speak out loud, it is not only the talking that's important, but also hearing what you say. If you only think your thoughts, they may fly through your mind so quickly that they remain vague and incoherent and eventually just disappear. When you say them out loud, the very act of articulating them forces you to clarify them. You hear what you have said and it makes an impact. Sometimes when you hear what you are saying, you realize it isn't quite right. You have to develop the idea further, express yourself more clearly. You redefine what you want to say and examine it again, until you are saying exactly what you want to say. This is the way you learn to think and talk more clearly and effectively.

In mystical literature, speech is called malchut – rule and power. Not only can you use words to tell others what you want them to do. You can also use them to direct and program yourself. When you want to think about a given issue, formulate a question and say it over to yourself, as the Wise Man had the Prince ask himself, “Who are you?” This is a method of concentrating on the issue you want to think about. As you work out which aspects of yourself you most want to develop or change, express what you want to achieve in simple formulas and use them to direct yourself toward your goal. For example, when you want to relax your body, you can shine the torch of your consciousness to each of your muscle groups in turn and gently whisper “Relax.” If you want to change your eating habits, develop affirmations that you repeat to yourself in the kitchen or at the table, and so on.

Use your voice to create the atmosphere you want to live in. Even when you find yourself surrounded by negativity, you can whisper positive messages to yourself: “Peace, calm, kindness...”When you want to elevate your spiritual awareness and heighten your consciousness of God, simply say “God,” “HaShem” or “Ribono shel Olam” etc. out loud to yourself again and again. Hum your favorite melodies of joy and devotion. Listen to the melody as you sing: let it fill your entire consciousness, and lift you to a higher plane.

Hisbodidus in Practice

Wherever you go, your mouth goes with you. Talking to your soul and to God is something you can do practically any time of the day or night. At any juncture, you can use words, laughs, cries, songs and other vocal means any way you choose, to influence your moods, focus your attention and lead yourself to deeper spiritual fulfillment.

But for steady personal growth and spiritual development, hisbodidus should be practiced for set periods of time on a regular basis. Hisbodidus then becomes the center of your spiritual discipline, the time when you experiment and develop ways of talking that are most effective for you. Ideally you should fix special times to go somewhere that will give you privacy and the freedom to express yourself uninhibitedly. The more regular and persistent you are with hisbodidus, the more progress you will make.

How long?

If possible, the length of your regular hisbodidus sessions should be what in Hebrew is called a sha'ah. How long is that? The word sha'ah is translated as “an hour,” but that does not have to mean an hour of exactly sixty minutes. In Torah literature we find that the length of a sha'ah is flexible: for example, although the length of day- and night-time varies according to the seasons, for halachic purposes the day and night are always divided into twelve sha'ot each. This means that in the summer the daytime hours are long and the night-time hours are short, while in the winter the reverse is the case.

So the “hour” of hisbodidus need not necessarily be one clock-hour: it may be more and it may be less. What really matters is that you should allocate sufficient time for your hisbodidus sessions to settle and focus your mind and do serious spiritual work. If you had important business to discuss with your doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc. you would want enough time to explain all the relevant details calmly and fully, and work out with them exactly what steps you need to take next. This is the approach you should take with your hisbodidus sessions. In Hebrew, sha'ah is also a verb having the connotation of “turn to, pay attention to”(as in Genesis 4:4). Make your sha'ah of hisbodidus long enough to be able to turn to God and give your full attention to the all-important work of spiritual growth.

Sixty minutes of hisbodidus is a long time. Some people will find they can benefit from daily sessions of this length and fill each one with useful work. Others may feel this is too much for them. They may find they run out of things to say, or feel they simply cannot invest the time. If a full clock-hour is excessive for you, this does not mean you should not practice hisbodidus at all. Even shorter periods of hisbodidus are very valuable. You can accomplish a great deal in as little as ten or fifteen minutes – and it is certainly better to settle for shorter periods and do it than to promise yourself a full hour and never get around to it.

There has to be an upper limit to hisbodidus as well, or else it becomes counter-productive. Chassidic literature contains accounts of exceptionally pious people who would spend hours and hours, and even days, in secluded prayer and devotion. Some beginners who have time on their hands become so enthusiastic that they think they can do the same. This is a mistake. Without years of preparation and practice, excessively lengthy hisbodidus sessions on a regular basis are likely to become obsessive and result in self-absorption and depression. (Likutey Moharan II:96 and Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #41.)

There are times when it may be appropriate to make a somewhat longer hisbodidus session – for example in the month of Elul, in preparation for the High Holidays, or when confronting a serious personal problem, an important decision, etc. At such times, you might want to take extra time to go to a park or country area and work intensively either for one long period or a number of shorter periods separated by interludes for relaxation. For those who are able to take a few days' retreat away from the pressures of life, this can be very conducive to spiritual regeneration.

However the purpose of hisbodidus is not to escape from life but to take a temporary break from other business and afterwards return and live more fully and effectively. It often happens when people start hisbodidus and begin to understand its power, that they realize how much of a backlog of personal work they have after years of neglect. They imagine that extended sessions will help them clear this backlog more quickly. That is an illusion. More important than the length of one's sessions is the work one does to integrate the insights they bring into practical day-to-day living.

How often?

To make continuous progress with hisbodidus, it is best to practice every day. The daily hisbodidus session is comparable to the daily meeting between the director and staff of an organization. Its health and success depend on the care with which they monitor its activities and progress and work out what each department has to do in order to achieve the overall goal. They need to conduct their business thoroughly but briskly, and then, as soon as the meeting is over, get back to work with new direction and energy.

If you feel you are presently unable to invest in a full-length session of hisbodidus each day, start with shorter sessions. Could you manage fifteen to twenty minutes a day, or at least a few times a week? On days when you cannot allocate a substantial block of time, try to find even as little as five minutes just to sit down, close your eyes for a short while, say a few words to God, and affirm your desire to practice hisbodidus regularly. This will help you maintain the continuity of your spiritual work.

When?

If you understand the value and importance of hisbodidus and seriously want to make it a regular part of your life, take some time to consider how you can fit a hisbodidus session into your daily schedule. Try to find a convenient time when you are not too tired. Hisbodidus is a serious project: to make the most progress you need to give it your full attention.

Everybody has his own schedule, and each day is different. Be realistic. What parts of your schedule are fixed and unchangeable, and where is there room for flexibility? Are you utilizing all of your time wisely? Are there ways you could rearrange some of your existing activities? Are some of the things you are doing now less important than hisbodidus?

If your schedule varies unpredictably from day to day, there may be no alternative but to snatch time for hisbodidus whenever you can. Could you consider getting up twenty minutes earlier in the morning? If you are not too tired, could you consider taking a few minutes last thing at night before going to sleep? People with more flexibility might consider two twenty-minute sessions a day, one in the morning and one late at night. This can be a very good way to start the day on a good footing and then round it off by making a reckoning and getting back in touch with yourself.

Rebbe Nachman says the ideal time for hisbodidus is after midnight! (Likutey Moharan I:52). Even today there are Breslover Chassidim who go to bed soon after night-fall, sleep for five or six hours, and then get up at two or three in the morning for hisbodidus. The workaday grind is at a halt and most of the world is asleep. In these sweet, hushed moments it is possible to attain complete calm and detachment from the stresses and tensions of daily life and focus clearly on the ultimate goal of life.

For many people, hisbodidus at such a time may seem an unattainable goal, but don't dismiss the idea out of hand. You may be able to get up an hour or so before dawn once in a while, and even if you can't, it's worth trying to imagine the calm and quiet of those night-time moments in order to understand the ideal of hisbodidus. Even by day, when you sit relaxing and preparing for hisbodidus, you can close your eyes and envisage yourself sitting in complete quiet in the hush of night. This in itself might help you to attain a degree of calm.

Where?

The best place to practice hisbodidus is in a place where you will not be disturbed and where no-one will hear you if you talk, call out or cry out loud. This way you will not feel inhibited, or worried that others will get to know the details of your inner life.

Rebbe Nachman tells us that the ideal place for hisbodidus is somewhere isolated that people do not go to (op.cit.) or in the woods and meadows (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #98). If there is a safe place of this kind within easy reach of you, it is the most conducive for giving vent to your true feelings, experimenting with shouts and cries, and drawing out and developing deeply buried parts of the self. Even if there is nowhere like this that you can go to regularly, could you make a special journey to somewhere suitable in the countryside, at least from time to time – perhaps in the company of a friend?

Rebbe Nachman also recommends practicing hisbodidus in a private room (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #274) and this is where the majority of people are likely to practice hisbodidus most of the time. If you have an option, choose the room you feel most at ease in. Try to minimize potential distractions in the room itself: put away newspapers, magazines and anything else that might tempt you to interrupt your hisbodidus. Arrange with others in the house not to disturb you during your session. If possible, have someone else answer the telephone, or switch on your answering machine if you have one. If you feel apprehensive about what others might think if they hear you talking out loud, you might consider explaining to them what you are doing.

Even if you do not have access to somewhere private, you can still practice hisbodidus. Can you find a corner of the house where no-one will disturb you for a while? Do you have a yard or garden? Rebbe Nachman suggests that by draping a Tallit over your eyes you can create your own room and converse with God as you desire! You can talk with God in bed under the covers, as King David did (“Each night I converse in my bed...”Psalms 6:7), or whisper to God while sitting in front of an open book. Let others think you are studying! Surprisingly, public places where nobody knows you can sometimes give privacy of a kind. With a little imagination you should be able to find many places where you can practice hisbodidus.

Generally speaking it is preferable to hold your regular hisbodidus sessions in the same place: this helps to give your work continuity. At times, however, going somewhere different for a change – to a park, the woods, a quiet synagogue etc. – may provide a new stimulus. It is interesting to try casual hisbodidus wherever you happen to be – in the car, the office, the supermarket, and so on. It can give you a powerful sense of the presence of God and lead to deeper self-understanding, increased confidence and greater freedom.

Posture

Most people associate meditation with special postures such as the lotus position or the erect seated posture discussed above (Chapter 4). However there is no specific posture for hisbodidus. Whatever postures you personally find most conducive to your own yishuv ha-da'at are the ones you should use in your hisbodidus.

In the Sh'ma, we say: “You should speak on these things when you sit in your house, and when you go on your way, and when you lie down and when you rise up(Deuteronomy 6:7). Sitting, walking, reclining and standing up are all suitable postures for hisbodidus.

Sitting: We have seen above (Chapter 4) that sitting is directly associated with yishuv ha-da'at, and the majority of people are likely to find this posture the most conducive to the calm and concentration desirable for hisbodidus. If you wish to practice sitting relaxation and breathing as a preparation for hisbodidus, you can then move directly into hisbodidus without having to change your position. Many people associate meditation with physical stillness, but this is not necessary for hisbodidus. Sit however you feel most comfortable, and move about as and when you want to. The important thing is to be able to think clearly and express yourself. For some people in some phases of hisbodidus, sitting still in the relaxation posture can be very helpful. Others may find the steady, gentle swaying often associated with Jewish prayer conducive to concentration and devotion.

Walking: Some people find walking about an aid to concentration, others find it a distraction. This is an individual matter. If you find that walking around in a park or the woods, or even pacing up and down in your room, helps you to think and express yourself, then do it!

Reclining: Lying on one's back is not an appropriate posture for spiritual work (see above p. 65) but lying on one's side is quite in order, and as mentioned above, King David himself practiced hisbodidus in bed at night. Speak to God last thing at night, before you drift off to sleep. Your whispered prayers and affirmations to yourself about your goals in general and what you want to do tomorrow are powerful instruments of growth and change.

Standing: If you are able to posture yourself comfortably so that you are relaxed and clear-headed, standing before God is one of the noblest and most appropriate positions for hisbodidus.

Procedure

Hisbodidus is by definition an activity that you practice by yourself. Prayer and meditation groups of two or three or more can be very powerful, and when practicing hisbodidus in the woods etc. it can be very helpful and supportive for friends to go out together. However the essential work of hisbodidus – introspection, talk and prayer – is something each one can only do by him- or herself, and when you practice hisbodidus you are most likely to be alone.

Working by yourself takes a certain amount of self discipline. Hisbodidus has its up's and down's (see below pp. 137-9) and when the going starts to become a little difficult there is no-one to stop you from getting up and abandoning your session. It can help to have a watch in front of you, decide how long your session is going to be, and tell yourself: “For the next x amount of time I am in hisbodidus.” Promise yourself that you will not get up before that time expires, no matter what happens in the hisbodidus – even if nothing happens, or you get drowsy and fall asleep, etc.

As you begin a session of hisbodidus, it is very helpful to give charity Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 249:14, and see Likutey Moharan II:4,2). Keep a charity box where you have your sessions and give a small coin each time you start – later on you can donate the money to any cause you choose. As you give the money, pray to God to open the gates to your prayers and meditation.

Mark the start of your hisbodidus with an affirmation that you want to make a new beginning and come close to God: “Ribono shel Olam, Master of the World, I want to come close to You and serve You. I want to start now! Please help me.”

Closing one's eyes during hisbodidus can be a great aid to focusing and concentration. One turns away from the external visual world and its many deceptive images – the world of “Under the Table”– in order to focus on the inner world and search for the light of truth. Keep your eyes closed only if you feel comfortable doing so – it is helpful but not essential. If you are not accustomed to keeping your eyes closed for extended periods of meditation, you could try to do so for short periods. Don't feel discouraged if you open your eyes from time to time!

What do you do in hisbodidus?

What you actually do in your hisbodidus sessions is up to you. In its very nature, hisbodidus is an individual practice. Hisbodidus is private time for your self. It is your time to work on yourself, your life and your growth. What you do may vary with your individual needs and interests at different periods in your life and development, and even from day to day. The possibilities are endless. A single session may be used for several different kinds of work, one after the other.

For some people, the most important aspect of hisbodidus may be the opportunity it gives them to simply relax and free themselves from their everyday tensions in order to calmly survey their various activities and involvements and get a better perspective on their lives.

Hisbodidus can also be used for creative work. Someone wanting to develop a new project (whether private, business, community, academic, literary, artistic or of some other kind) might wish to devote one or more sessions to “brainstorming”– exploring different ideas and approaches and developing plans. Another application of hisbodidus would be to think and pray intensively about specific problems one faces – whether personal, social, financial, business, career, health, etc.

For those interested in their personal growth and development, the possibilities range from cultivating particular aptitudes or resolving specific problems – fears, lack of confidence, addictions of various kinds, etc. – to the most far-reaching self-analysis and transformation. People working on personal issues in conjunction with a counselor or therapist may wish to use hisbodidus for follow-up work. This can help when seeking to apply the insights gained in joint sessions to practical life, and, even more importantly, to develop the ability to cope with the challenges of life independently and maturely.

Above all, hisbodidus is the time for spiritual exploration and development. The literature of Mussar and Chassidut offers many different pathways of devotion, whether through looking outwards and contemplating the surrounding wonders of the Creation and their Source, or by turning inwards – “from my flesh I will see God” (Job 19:26). It is in hisbodidus that one can experiment and endeavor to follow these pathways in practice, exploiting the awesome power of words, cries, sighs, prayers and songs to elevate one's consciousness and lift oneself closer to God. Hisbodidus can bring one to the highest levels of love, awe and Godly devotion.

Sitting, Breathing and Awareness

Unless you have a clear idea of exactly what you want to do in a particular session, one of the best ways to begin a hisbodidus session is by sitting down and going into deep relaxation. Especially if you are tense or have been preoccupied with mundane thoughts and activities, relaxation will help to still and open your mind and enable you to see yourself and your life in a far broader perspective.

As you become more relaxed, you may wish to practice long, deep breathing for a while in order to clear your mind of heaviness, fuzziness and interference. Softly humming an appropriate melody of devotion can also help put you into the right frame of mind for hisbodidus.

Then, as you sit quietly, simply be aware of what is going on in your mind, without as yet trying to direct your thoughts in any way. Many different kinds of thoughts and feelings are likely to come into your mind in a jumble – some profound and highly significant, some trivial and meaningless, some having no apparent relevance at all. Instead of trying to define and analyze your thoughts and feelings, simply observe them. What is going on?

Getting in Touch

Because of the pressures of day-to-day living, we tend to suppress the Princely higher self from our normal consciousness. We are often so busy doing all the things we have to do each day that we do not have the time to listen to what our conscience is saying. Moreover, there is a significant part of us that often does not want to listen.

On one level, we may feel regretful about, wounded by, or otherwise sensitive to things we or others have been doing, but we may be so involved in the practical business of living that we are not able to deal with these thoughts and feelings, or even admit them into consciousness, and they go underground. Hisbodidus is the time to allow them to surface, to explore and work through them.

When we study Torah and yearn to follow its high ideals in every detail of our lives, we may often feel that we have failed the test of actually applying them in real situations. The higher self wants to do the right thing – to study and pray well, eat correctly, do business honestly, talk and behave properly, etc. However, outside pressures and the inner Turkey push us into doing things we know to be wrong. One of the most characteristic responses of the Turkey is to evade and deny the sense of guilt and wrong-doing and push it out of consciousness. But the wound remains, and the Prince feels it.

Confession

Hisbodidus is the time to admit our guilt about the things we have done wrong and to work through it. It is no good living with regrets: we need to be positive, not negative. But the only way to free ourselves of regrets is to confront them openly. Until we face up to them, they will always continue to nag at us one way or another.

Get into the habit of admitting the things you did wrong. You will find it will give you a great sense of relief. Cast your mind over your various involvements and activities. If you are conscious of having done something contrary to what you know to be right, or neglected something you know you should have done, admit it honestly. Have the courage to accept responsibility for what you do. Remember the details of what you did, and say or whisper out loud: “I did (or failed to do) such and such, and I know it was wrong – it goes against what I know to be right. I regret what I did, and I fully intend not to do this again.”

Our suppressed feelings are often more subtle and complex than simple regret. As you sit in hisbodidus, listen carefully to your inner voices, and try to draw them to the surface. Express out loud what you are feeling inside. Even if you think some of your private thoughts and emotions are unacceptable, admit them honestly before God. If they are offensive, ask God to cleanse you and help you let go of them. If you feel stifled cries and screams inside you, let them come out: cry and shout out loud. Who is it calling out? What are you trying to say?

Surface Patterns, Deeper Causes

Confessing – admitting to the things you do wrong, things that go against your own goals and standards – is only the first step. In order to make meaningful changes in your life, you need to ask why you do things that violate your own standards: what impels you?

Don't simply think about specific things you have done in a piecemeal fashion, or express your inner thoughts and feelings as if they are disconnected. Try to develop a more general picture of your personality by observing patterns in the various areas of your life. Don't just say, “I ate so much last night, I was too sleepy to learn,” but “I tend to over-eat in the evenings – what makes me do that? Under what circumstances do I reach out for unnecessary food? What are the characteristic thoughts and feelings I have as I do so?” Don't just say, “I had a furious argument with x today,” but “I tend to get angry in the following kinds of situations. What do they have in common? How does my anger develop? At what point do I tend to lose control? What really is it that makes me so mad?”

In Hebrew this is called cheshbon ha-nefesh – the balance-sheet of the soul, or spiritual accounting. It means deepening your understanding of your life and activities, and evaluating them against the yardstick of Torah. This is obviously not a project that you can complete in a single session of hisbodidus. You will need weeks and months at the very least in order to build a clear, honest picture of yourself. For some people, sorting through and understanding their different sides can be one of the major tasks of hisbodidus. It is a task greatly complicated by the fact that some aspects may be in conflict with others, while the on-going process of growth and change itself keeps our personalities in a state of constant flux.

Something that may help you in your self-exploration is to take a pen and paper and make a kind of “map” of yourself. List the different areas of your life – e.g. physical functions: eating, sleeping, etc.; personal relationships: with family, friends, others; work; money matters; spiritual pursuits: study, prayer, meditation etc.; leisure-time activities, and so on.

 Now consider each of the different areas in turn and ask how you function in each. What, if any, are your goals in this area? To what extent do you live up to them? Do you sometimes do things that are in conflict with your avowed goals? Why? Note particular issues that come up for you in any given area.

Take a general look at yourself. What kind of a person are you? What images do you have of yourself? Are they positive or negative? How would you define what your life is about? What motivates you? When do you feel good, and when do you feel bad? What are your better qualities? What are your main faults? What messages do you give yourself? Do you encourage or discourage yourself? How do you react to problematic situations? Are you easily thrown off course, or do you persist and keep going? How do you relate to other people? Easily, or with difficulty? What are the main problems in your life and what are you doing about them? What are you afraid of? What has made you the way you are?

Briefly note down your answers using key words and phrases, and think about how your various character traits relate to one another. Keep this map of yourself so that you can refer back to it in successive hisbodidus sessions, redefining, expanding and developing it as your self-understanding grows.

Your Goals

Ask yourself about your purpose in life. Think about your various activities and involvements and ask yourself what you are trying to achieve. Do you do the things you do because you want to, or because they have been imposed on you by others. What are your obligations to others? What are your obligations to yourself? What are your obligations to God?

If you don't know the purpose of your life, admit it. Tell God frankly and openly that you do not understand why you were created, and ask Him to help you know what He wants of you.

Make it a regular part of your hisbodidus to define and clarify your goals. Keep a detailed list, starting with a definition of your overall purpose in life. Note down the things you think you ought to aim for, those you would like to aim for, and the goals that your current activities and involvements are in fact geared to. To what extent is your present life-style in harmony with the goals that are most important to you? Are your various goals in harmony with each other, or do some of them conflict with others? To what extent are your goals practicable? How will you be able to realize them?

How can you attain what you want?

It is impossible to work on everything at once. There may be many things you want to change in your life, and much that you want to accomplish. However if you try to achieve too much at once, it can be counter-productive. Follow the example of the Wise Man (see above, Chapter 3). To cure the Prince, he went project by project, step by step.

Think about what your most important priorities should be at the present juncture, and come to a decision about what you should concentrate on for the time being. Affirm that this is your decision. Say out loud: “I have decided to work on x, y, and z.” Next, decide which project you need to work on first.

Now concentrate your thoughts on this project as intensely as you can. Focus every faculty of your mind on your goal, spelling out in detail each of the different steps you will need to take in order to achieve it. What will you have to do in the external world? And which changes will you have to make in yourself? What about the things you can do nothing about? Can you learn to live with them and even turn them into advantages? Work out all the different things you will have to do in the fullest detail. In what order will you have to do them? What is the very first step you will have to take? When and how are you going to do so?

“For example,” says Rebbe Nachman, “you can concentrate on the fact that you want to study all four sections of the Shulchan Aruch in their entirety. You can calculate that if you study five pages a day, you will finish all four sections in a single year. Picture in your mind exactly how you will go about this course of study. Concentrate so strongly that you are literally obsessed with the thought. If your desire is strong and your concentration intense enough, your plans will be fulfilled” (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #62).

The methods Rebbe Nachman suggests – working out the steps that have to be taken, visualizing yourself taking them, and concentrating intensely on your desire to do so – can be applied to accomplish anything in life.

Praying to God and Talking to Yourself

We are taught that God controls the entire universe, yet at the same time, man has free will. If God is in complete control, this would seem to mean that we should depend on God for everything. In that case, why do we have to work and make an effort to achieve our goals? Why do we even have to pray? On the other hand, if man has free will, this would appear to indicate that anything we attain is up to us. In that case, what sense does it make to pray for God's help when everything is in fact in our hands?

How can it be that God controls everything, yet man has free will? Rebbe Nachman teaches that this is a paradox that is simply impossible for us to resolve or even comprehend in this life. Indeed it is our very inability to grasp this enigma that gives us our free will. Rather than making fruitless efforts to fathom the unfathomable, Rebbe Nachman tells us that we must have faith that things are in our hands and that at the same time, God is in control of everything. (See Restore My Soul pp. 73-9 for a fuller discussion.)

Whatever you want to achieve in life, you must have faith that only God can bring it about, but at the same time you must know that it is entirely up to you to make every effort and take all the necessary steps in order to attain it. This basic principle of faith affects the way you should pray in hisbodidus when working out how to achieve your goals. As you concentrate on the details of what you want to accomplish, list every step in turn and ask God to help you with each one.

But while praying to God, you must also act as if everything is up to you. You must therefore also talk to yourself in hisbodidus, gearing yourself for action. Affirm your goals and explain to yourself exactly what you want to accomplish. Encourage yourself. Remind yourself how important your goal is, and talk yourself into working toward it wholeheartedly. Take yourself step by step through your project, telling yourself what you will do in each progressive stage.

However, if you feel that something is beyond your power to achieve for whatever reason, do not conclude that it is pointless to try, and that you should not ask God to help you. You may have distant hopes and ambitions that seem unreachable at present, or indeed ever. You may feel locked in situations which seem unchangeable. But God is all-powerful. Tell God of your yearnings. Plead with Him again and again to help you. Never lose faith in God's power to work miracles!

Maybe you are attracted by the exalted levels of spiritual service described in Chassidut, but dismiss them as being way beyond your capability in this lifetime. Perhaps they are – right now. But it does no harm to heave a sigh and tell God how you wish you could achieve such levels, and how greatly you value and yearn for them. Who knows? For God, everything is possible. Some of the most amazing accomplishments in the spiritual history of mankind started off as mere pipedreams – only the people who dreamed them were bold enough to pray for them. Be daring! (See Rabbi Nachman's Stories #9 “The Sophisticate and the Simpleton.”)

Your Pen is Your Friend

“Get yourself a friend” (Avot 1:6). The Hebrew, k'neh lecha chaver, can also be translated as: “Your pen is your friend.”

Unless you have a spiritual teacher or a very good friend in whom you can confide about your hisbodidus, most of the time you will have no-one to guide you directly or keep track of your work and progress. One of the best aids for hisbodidus, and spiritual growth in general, is paper and something to write with.

At the start of your hisbodidus session, make a brief agenda of the various topics you want to work on. You might want to note down a number of general headings (e.g. livelihood, health, family, spiritual pursuits, people to pray for, and so on) listing specific items under each one (e.g. livelihood: ways of increasing income, improvement of performance at work, job-change, charity donations, etc.)

In the course of the session, when you are trying to work out complex issues, it may help you to note down ideas as you think and talk, though be careful not to turn your hisbodidus into a diary-writing session. The essence of hisbodidus is the spoken word: the purpose of writing is to aid your thinking and praying.

To give continuity to your spiritual work, conclude your hisbodidus sessions by looking back over what came up, and making brief notes about particular insights you may have gained, issues and questions you want to go into in greater detail another time, etc. If you are praying to God for answers to specific questions, keep a record of your questions and then, in the days and weeks ahead, note down all the relevant ideas that come to you. You should begin to see how your questions are being answered.

Keep your list of your goals and refer to it frequently so that you can check your progress. Get into the habit of listing the various things you have to attend to. What do you plan to do today? This week? This month? Over the course of the coming year? List what you have to do in order of priority. Organize your papers in a special file and look over them regularly.

The Process of Hisbodidus

“Acknowledge God for what is past and cry out about the future.”

Berachot 54a

The present is where the past and the future meet. As you sit in hisbodidus, you are at the interface. The questions the Wise Man turned back on the Prince – “Who are you and what are you doing here?” – point to both the past and the future. The past – because who you are, and what you are doing in your life right now, are bound up with all that has happened with you until now. And the future, because “Who are you?” also means, Who are you potentially? Who is the real you, your authentic higher self – your future self? And “What are you doing here?” can mean, What is the purpose of your life, and what should you be doing with your life?

These questions, pointing as they do to both your past and your future, are the guiding questions of the growth process, and thus of hisbodidus. You have to ask and define who you want to be and what you want to attain. This is how to define your goals and work out how to move toward them. But you must also gain a deeper understanding of who you are already – your present behavior-patterns and what lies behind them. Only by acknowledging yourself as you really are can you begin to work out what you must do in practical terms to change yourself and become what you want to be.

Paradoxically, to go freely into the future you must first go into your past. This is why hisbodidus begins with confession and acknowledgement of what you are. “Who are you?”– “I'm a turkey – I've done this and this...”The effects of the mistakes we make in life remain with us and exert an influence over us whether we like it or not. Only when we confront our mistakes frankly and regret them can we free ourselves of the hold of the past.

“Acknowledge God for the past and cry out about the future.” The Talmud's directive about prayer is the key to hisbodidus. What is now – the present – is the result of the past. The first thing is to “acknowledge it”– to be frank and honest about who we are and what we have made ourselves into, and to try to understand what lies behind our existing patterns of behavior. Where we are unaware of this, we must dig down beneath our defenses to uncover factors we may be denying. Then, with an understanding of what we are and what we have to change, we have to “cry out” about the future – to use words and cries to our souls and to God in order to bring the potential self into being.

Your efforts to develop your self-understanding through hisbodidus will obviously increase your self-awareness as you go through your life day by day. And this awareness will in turn feed into your hisbodidus. Similarly, the more you think about and clarify your goals in hisbodidus, the more effective you will be in pursuing them. As time goes on, you will need to spend much less time trying to understand your basic make-up and long-term goals. The main work will then be “fine-tuning” yourself to pursue your chosen goals more effectively, so that you can steadily bring more and more of yourself into the service of God, until you love God “with all your heart and all your soul and all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Getting Started & Keeping Going

Imagine the scene under the table as the Prince and the Wise Man first started getting to know one another. Before the ice began to thaw, things were probably very slow and stilted. Perhaps the Prince strutted around a bit and gave a few of his best turkey yelps just for show, until curiosity began to get the better of him. Should he speak? Shouldn't he speak? Do Turkeys speak? Finally he put his question: “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

“And who are you?” asked the Wise Man. “Me? I am a turkey.” “Are you really?” said the Wise Man. “What a coincidence! So am I! I'm also a turkey.” The Prince may have found his new companion somewhat peculiar, but their frank mutual confession did provide a good basis for a relationship.

During the royal mealtimes, the Prince and the Wise Man probably did little talking: with crumbs and bones plopping down on all sides, the Prince had plenty to do. But then the king and all the other diners would leave the table. The royal butlers would clear away the plates and cutlery, and the royal sweepers would clean up all around, pretending not to notice the two of them under the table. Finally the lights would be turned down for the night, and the Prince and the Wise Man would be left to themselves.

It was probably during the long hushed nights that the Prince and the Wise Man achieved the intimacy and trust that became the foundation of the Prince's cure. The Prince will have learned that he really could confide in this father figure-cum-friend and talk about his deepest problems. He will have been able to tell him things he had never told anyone else – about what it was actually like to be a Turkey, how those irresistible urges really felt, how much pain and anguish lay beneath them, the terrible frustrations of Turkey life, his secret fears and gnawing despair... How the Prince must have cried... and then laughed in relief... and talked more... and more...

People trying hisbodidus for the first time sometimes find it hard to start talking. How do you begin? The key to talking to God is to say exactly what you think and feel. Shortly before Rebbe Nachman passed away in 1810, he was seriously ill. His four-year-old grandson, Yisrael, came into him. The Rebbe said: “Pray to God that I should become well again.” The little boy went aside and said: “God! God! Let my zeida be well!” The adults in the room started smiling, but Rebbe Nachman said: “This is how we have to ask things of God. What other way is there to pray?” The essence of prayer is total simplicity: to speak to God like a child talking to his father, or the way a person talks with a friend Tzaddik #439).

Let's assume you have gone somewhere alone with no-one to disturb you. You have made the time; you have nowhere to run to. How do you begin?

Sit comfortably. Relax and take a few breaths. Some people are well aware of their problems and the issues they want to work on, but if you don't know how to begin, try the following:

Say out loud: “Who am I and what am I doing here?” Simply say the words.

Do you feel funny about talking out loud? Some people find it strange hearing themselves talk to themselves for the first time – though it isn't very different from looking at yourself in a mirror!

What do you feel? Say out loud what you feel. If you feel this is crazy or funny, say so. Laugh! Then ask yourself again: “Who am I and what am I doing here?”

Speak to God. “God. Why did You create me? What is my purpose in this world? What do You want of me?”

Think carefully. What answers come to mind? Try and formulate an answer. Say it out loud. Listen to yourself saying it. If you see that what you said is not really the answer, rephrase it.

“God, what do I want to do in my hisbodidus? What are the things I want to talk about? Help me to order my thoughts and speak about what I want to speak about, subject by subject...”

If you find it hard to address God, try to visualize yourself talking on the telephone to someone you have never seen – someone very wise and understanding who can help you face up to the major issues in your life. Or visualize yourself talking to a wise counselor or a very good friend that you really trust.

You cannot expect to hear direct answers from God, but keep your questions in mind over the coming days and weeks. If you are sincere and really want to find answers, you will probably find that in the course of your thinking, studying, conversations with various people and other experiences, answers will begin to dawn in your mind.

Someone once complained to Rebbe Nachman that he found it hard to talk in hisbodidus. The Rebbe replied: “You are like a warrior who girds his loins to overcome a mighty wall. When you come to the gate you find it blocked with a spider's web. Can you imagine anything more foolish than returning in defeat because of a spider's web blocking your path?

“You can meditate in thought, but the most important thing is to express it in words. You may find it difficult to speak with God, but it's really laziness and shyness. Be daring. You are ready to use your speech to overcome the great battle against the evil within you. You are on the verge of victory and are about to break down walls with your words. The gates are ready to fly open. Should you then not speak because of mere shyness? Should you hold back because of a minor barrier like this? You are about to break down a wall. Will you be discouraged by a spider's web?” Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #232).

“I'm a Turkey!”

People beginning hisbodidus frequently experience a tremendous sense of liberation and insight the first few times, but as soon as they start trying to practice on a regular basis, they suddenly find themselves facing all kinds of obstacles both from the outside world and from within themselves.

You may make careful plans to schedule your sessions, only to find the most unexpected things suddenly cropping up out of the blue to prevent you carrying them out – a sudden flood of work, things going wrong in the house, urgent problems, etc. etc. Everything seems to be conspiring to make you put off your hisbodidus for a day, two days, a week, a month and even longer. Suddenly it seems to be the hardest thing in the world to snatch just a few minutes to sit calmly by oneself.

Even more insidious are the resistances from within. There is a full fifty per cent of you that does not want to practice hisbodidus, certainly not in a way that could bring you to wake up spiritually and fight the Turkey inside you. One part of you may want to sit calmly in hisbodidus, but another side is struggling to break away – to get up and eat something, browse through the papers, make a telephone call, go out somewhere, do something... anything but meditate!

Here you are trying to become calm and clear, and suddenly it seems as though you've never been so tense! You feel uncomfortable, restless, moody, impatient; your mind darts from one thing to another; you are plagued with a succession of bodily desires; all of a sudden you feel unbelievably heavy and drowsy. All you want to do is to go to sleep... You try relaxing, breathing, talking, praying. Nothing seems to work. You may well start thinking you were far better off before you started hisbodidus.

This kind of reaction can erupt in the middle of a session as well, just as things seemed to have been going very well and you were feeling calm, clear, joyous and connected. Eternity was just around the corner... and then, suddenly, it all breaks down and you feel cast into the mud, your mind is in turmoil and everything is out of control.

This can happen after practicing hisbodidus regularly for months and even years. You may have had great success and feel that at last you have succeeded in making hisbodidus an integral part of your life, only to find yourself suddenly in a dry patch where you feel you are getting nowhere. You find your hisbodidus boring and fruitless, you start missing sessions, and before you know it you have stopped.

The reason for all this is that hisbodidus is about fighting the Turkey. Things may have seemed calmer before starting hisbodidus. This is because the Turkey was well entrenched and felt no need to fight for survival. The moment you begin to question your Turkey habits and try to stir the Prince or Princess in you, the Turkey digs in and prepares for battle. As soon as the Wise Man raises the question of identity – “Who are you?” – the Turkey replies with a resounding No! “I'm not a Prince, I'm a Turkey! Always have been and always will be. Turkey! Turkey! Turkey! No way am I going to change!”

The Turkey side of us resists facing the very issues that are at the center of hisbodidus: What is the truth of our condition in this world? What should we be doing with our precious time? How can we wean ourselves from the crumbs and bones of this world and follow the Torah and mitzvot with all our hearts? One of the hardest things to face up to in life is regret, because we know life is short, and it is painful to recognize how much of it we have wasted. The Turkey runs to the crumbs and bones in order to escape from the truth.

Rebbe Nachman said: “A pot of water may seem perfectly clear, but when it is placed on a fire and begins to boil, all its impurities are brought to the surface. One must stand by and constantly remove these impurities. The original purity was actually an illusion. With a little heat the impurity surfaces. But when these impurities are finally removed, the water is truly pure and clear.

“The same is true of a person. Before he begins serving God, the good and bad in him are all mixed together. The impurities are so closely united with the good that they cannot be recognized. But when this person begins to burn with passion for God, he is touched with the heat of purification and all the evil and impurities come to the surface. Here again one must stand by and constantly remove the dirt and impurities as they appear. In the end the person is truly pure and clear” (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #79).

When Things Are Going Against You

1. Know that all the different obstacles, internal and external, are coming up just because your hisbodidus is so important. They are being sent to challenge you and goad you into marshalling all your inner resources to overcome them and win mastery of yourself. You can succeed. Remember that in your essence you really are the Prince or Princess: the higher self is your innate heritage. You should know that the resistances are at their strongest when you are on the verge of a spiritual advance.

2. Look on the obstacles you encounter as a reminder to call out to God for help with your hisbodidus. Remember that hisbodidus is the key to your spiritual growth and fulfillment. Every day, offer a short prayer to God to bring you to practice hisbodidus regularly. Ask God to help you make time for hisbodidus today!

3. Don't say you tried hisbodidus and it didn't work. Give yourself positive messages. Tell yourself you are going to make hisbodidus a regular part of your life. Even if you dropped your hisbodidus for a day, a few days, a week, two weeks, a month or even years, don't feel you can't do it any more. The past is dead and gone. This present moment is the beginning of the rest of your life. Start afresh.

4. It is often better to find ways around problems than to try to confront them head on. Use your intelligence to anticipate external obstacles to your hisbodidus sessions and work out ways of circumventing them. Don't assume that if you cannot practice hisbodidus exactly the way you feel it ought to be practiced, it means you must not practice it at all. If you can't manage a full session, try a shorter one – fifteen minutes, ten minutes, even five. If you can't become calm, try saying a few words of prayer anyway. Even if all you do is repeat a single word, that's also good! “Ribono shel Olam, Master of the World!” If you can't talk, try breathing. If you can't breathe, just sit!

5. Turn your very problems into the subject of your conversation with God. Explain to God that you cannot talk to Him, and ask Him to help you open your mouth.

6. They say that half the art of anything is showing up! There may be times when the mere thought of sitting down to face your tired, old problems all over again is very upsetting. Don't even try! Picking away at them is not going to help. For today's hisbodidus just sit yourself down for a few minutes without trying to do anything. Sitting is the simplest thing. Just relax and enjoy. Often the very insight you've been waiting for will pop straight into your mind.

7. Don't expect your hisbodidus to produce amazing spiritual experiences and dramatic breakthroughs in personal growth, only to be disappointed when it doesn't. If you are hoping for mystical experiences, you must understand that by definition, such experiences are mystical: they steal over us when we least expect them. You cannot force them. There are times when spiritual growth is very rapid, but real gains are usually gradual, and you may only notice them when you look back and see how far you've come. Have you ever watched a plant and seen it grow in front of your eyes? Come back in a few weeks and take another look!

The Honest Truth

At times you may feel imprisoned by your Turkey self. You may have made genuine efforts to work on your baser impulses and bad habits, only to find that they are as strong and persistent as ever. You may come to think that you will never change, and it is hopeless even to try.

The way to escape from this prison is through the truth. Encountering the bad side of yourself is in fact one of the most important elements in getting to know yourself. Many people go around with all kinds of illusions about themselves. In actual fact they do many things they would be the first to criticize if they saw others doing them, but a certain blind-spot prevents them from seeing these faults in themselves.

Don't deceive yourself in life. Have the humility to admit that you are less than perfect. To the best of your ability, be honest with yourself about what you are and the way you actually behave. Try to look at yourself the way others might see you. As far as you can, examine yourself as an unbiased observer, and call your traits and actions by their proper name. If indeed you are a compulsive Turkey it is a major achievement if you know it. Don't be one of the people “who call bad good and good bad” (Isaiah 5:20).

Take responsibility for what you do. Don't deceive yourself about why you are the way you are or do the things you do. Don't blame your parents, wife, husband, family, teachers, boss, society or the rest of the world for everything. It's no good to constantly make excuses. Other factors may play a part, but beware of using them as a rationalization to avoid changing parts of yourself that you can in fact change. Confronting your problems honestly is the first step towards solving them.

God tells us, “I planted you as a seedling that is all the seed of truth” (Jeremiah 2:21). Deep down in all of us is a part that is not at all deceived by our illusions and self-evasion, but knows the truth and yearns for it to be revealed within us. This is the Princely Soul, the child of God. Truth indeed is the seal of God Himself (Shabbat 55a, Yoma 69b). By being truthful you will find your way to the Prince in you, your higher self, and to God.

As you look at yourself in hisbodidus and sift through your life, pour out your whole heart to God. Tell Him exactly what you feel – your impulses and desires, your fears and worries, your frustrations, your pain and your grief. You can tell God things you would never dream of saying to other people, down to your most private shame and pain.

“When you succeed in turning to God with truth, genuine honesty and sincerity, you will be able to express yourself with words of deep reverence and love springing from the depths of a heart truly aroused. Then your radiant words will break through all the barriers. When you come to the truth, it is as if God's own light is clothed in you, because truth is God's seal” (Likutey Moharan I:112, and see Tsohar, passim).

The Truth Need Not Hurt

Even if you see bad in yourself, don't look on yourself as being worse than you really are. That's not the truth either. The truth does not have to be harsh. Examining yourself truthfully does not mean that you must indulge in merciless self-criticism and condemnation.

Although the Prince in our story had gone crazy, he still had enough of the Prince in him to be honest. When the Wise Man asked him who he was, he admitted his craziness quite candidly. “I'm a turkey.”

How did the Wise Man reply? “I'm also a turkey!” At first sight you may take the Wise Man's reply at face value: “I'm a Turkey just like you are – all Turkey and nothing more.” But there is another way of interpreting the Wise Man's words, “I'm also a Turkey”: “I'm a Turkey in addition to whatever else I am.

The Wise Man is teaching us a lesson about truthfulness. Even if we look at ourselves and see a lot of Turkey, we should know and have faith that we are also turkeys – turkeys and something else besides. Buried within us is the good point that is our inalienable heritage. Even the wisest, saintliest people have their Turkey side. We are all human beings. When the Wise Man examines himself, he sees darkness. But he knows that this is not all there is. There is a good side too, even if it is deeply buried. The way to retrieve it is through the truth.

Being truthful means looking for the good within you and all around you. When you examine yourself, don't only concentrate on the bad. Look for your good points. Look at the good all around you, and thank God for it. When you “acknowledge God for what is past,” thank Him for all the blessings and miracles you have enjoyed from the moment you were born until today – your health, your vision, your hearing, breathing, co-ordination, digestion... your parents, family, teachers, friends... your food, clothes, house, livelihood, and so on.

God is present all around you. Even when confronted by obstacles, try to think why God is putting these barriers across your path. What positive aspects can you find in them? God Himself is present in all of them, and His only reason for sending them to you is to prompt you to call out to Him for help. If you have a KaShYA, a difficulty, remember that it is a prompt to you to call out: Sh'ma HaShem (YKVK) Koli Ekra “Hear, God, my voice – I call” (Psalms 27:7). The truth is that God can do anything. God can help you. All you have to do is open your mouth and talk to Him.

“A person who wants to turn away from evil but sees that there is no truth in the world should make himself like a madman” (The Aleph-Bet Book, Truth 31). People who talk to themselves are normally thought to be crazy, but in fact, talking to your self, your soul and to God is the sanest thing you can do.

“Even if many days and years pass and it seems that you have accomplished nothing with your words, do not abandon it. Every single word makes an impression. `Water wears away stone' (Job 14:10). It may seem impossible that mere water dripping on a stone could make an impression. Still, after many years, it can actually make a hole in the stone, as we know. Your heart may be like stone. It may seem that your words of prayer make no impression on it at all. Still, as the days and years pass, your heart of stone will also be penetrated” (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #234).

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