Thursday, February 14, 2008

Another 40 Days - Reopening The Notebook - Part 2

Continued from Part 1 here:

Since implementing the preventative countermeasure, I never again had to pay a fine to tzedaka. I seemingly was making great strides in my battle against my anger.

A few days later, both my wife and I came down with the flu which kept us laying in bed for days. I chose to view this illness as a nisayon that indicated that I had indeed made it to another level with its commensurate greater the level of difficulty.

Just as my health started to return, my wife's health started to deteriorate. I returned home after my first day back to work and found my wife asleep sitting up in one of the kid's rooms. Toys were strewn all over the floor and the kids were busy wildly jumping like leap frogs from a rocking chair to their bean bag "lily pads". It was just the type of chaos that normally would have set me off but somehow that evening I was able to maintain my composure and keep my anger in check.

That night I came to the realization that a fundamental prerequisite to applying Azamra to my kids was that I could never allow myself to think of my kids as ungrateful little monsters even at the time that they misbehaved the most; I must utterly banish such thoughts just as one attempts to banish outside thoughts during davening. I understood that once I allowed my mind to place a temporarily negative label on one of my children I would be more prone to react out of anger.

In his posting on finding good points, Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum wrote,

"When you're burning with anger against someone in a situation in the home, at work or anywhere else, take a moment to disconnect yourself from your emotion and your immediate perception of that person and instead try to connect yourself to the goodness that you believe must lie within them."

I attempted to translate this sentence into its practical application in my home. At times when I found myself becoming angry, I forced myself to mentally recount the misbehaving child's good points....kind hearted, thoughtful of others, helpful, etc. While this did not preclude me from having to be firm and discipline the misbehaving child at times, it did help me keep my emotions in check when I did so.

On day 38, my oldest daughter repeatedly attempted to drag everyone in the family down with her foul mood and misbehavior; apparently this was my final exam. I did not yell at her, put her in her room, or even act out of anger. I was able to let my actions be guided by a practical insight that I saw in Derech Mitzvosecha the day before. In Ma'amar Mitzvas Gid Hanasheh, the Tzemach Tzedek explained that anger is mochin d'katnus (constricted consciousness) and patience is mochin d'gadlus (expanded consciousness). Repeating the words "mochin d'gadlus" almost inaudibly, I forced myself to cut through any of my clouded thinking and remember that I needed to let my actions be guided by intellect and not impulse. Indeed, just saying these simple words proved to be an effective "segula" and helped me easily recall the tachlis of what I was trying to accomplish.

Before Pesach two years ago, I wrote, "I am also going to make a renewed effort to rid all traces of this anger in my heart." Looking back now I realize now that this goal was way too grandiose and unrealistic. Indeed, Rabbi Shalom Arush taught that it was impossible not to get angry,

"Since a person comes to this earth for the purpose of soul correction, it's virtually impossible to avoid situations that stimulate feelings of anger. Hashem puts us against all types of people and events that are not to our liking; with emuna, we realize that everything is from Hashem and for the best. Without emuna, we're dangerously susceptible to anger."

Understanding that an attempt to achive absolute perfection in this area is a recipe for insanity and utter frustration, I have now set a more realistic long-term goal of simply trying to keep my anger under control on a day-to-day basis. I can honestly say that these 40 days have been days of tremendous growth for me towards this goal. Despite my previous misconceived notions about the effectiveness of using a notebook to help me in this area, I can unequivocally say that it really works. A person using this technique can certainly elevate himself to higher levels and make great strides in achieving his goals.

Although my 40 days came to an end on the 29th of Shevat, I continue to daven each day that I will be successful to take the lessons I learned from following the Rebbe's advice with me always.


At February 14, 2008 at 11:30:00 PM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Your commitment to working on certain middos in amazing and an inspiration. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. Notebooks can be very helpful.

CHOVOS HA L'VAVOS (Duties of the Heart) says in the Gate of Chesbon HaNefesh (Spiritual Accounting) that "The days of our life are like notebooks; write in them that which you wish to be remembered of you."

At February 15, 2008 at 4:40:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

That is a beautiful thought from Chovos HaLevavos! Thank you for sharing it with me.

At February 15, 2008 at 8:43:00 AM EST, Blogger Alice said...

Transition times with a toddler are tough- like times when I'm trying to direct the flow in the door or out the door. I reach a point where I just say "Enough!" and then I'm really pissed off. I'm working hard on being proactive to let off some of the pressure. And I've noticed lowering my voice more and more is having the same effect as raising it more and more. Weird.

When I was a teacher they always emphasized how transitions even for older kids are tough so you always need a plan for them.

It's very interesting reading about your project.


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