Guest Posting By Neil Harris - Bottled Up Inside
Recently while attempting to process the translation of Da Es Atzmecha I've reach bumpy territory. In Chapter 3 - "Finding the Alone", Rav Schwartz writes about the importance of removing negative feelings that we have for others:
When a person is with other people, and he senses negative feelings toward them for whatever reason, he must bring forth the power of the soul through which one can live with himself, and disengage from what is occurring around him. Even if an opponent has caused him distress and harm, and he does not feel he is participating in sinat chinam (baseless hatred), but "required hatred," he must nonetheless find in himself the world called "alone."
I am not an angry person in general, but certain situations and actions of others do bring up feelings of frustration, resentment, and seem to hijack my attempts of Ahavas Yisrael. Initially, I had approached this exercise in by letting my negative feelings for the actions of others sort of bounce off of me, starting around Shavuos time. When a situation would come up, I would attempt to "turn off" my feelings, and focus on the innate goodness within myself, my neshama, and it's connection to Hashem. I thought that things were going pretty good. I remained calm during what could have been stressful confrontations and gave the external impression of not letting things bother me.
As it turned out, this approach didn't work as well as planned. Someone close to me mentioned that I seemed uptight and that I had a lot on my mind lately. I then realized that I was only sweeping up my negative feelings and hiding them in the closet. I wasn't really dealing with them. One of the things that I've found amazing about Da Es Atzmecha is that the author starts off with the premise that we do have struggles with ourselves and what he teaches are not lofty goals to aspire to, but practical ways of thinking, feeling, and growing. It was foolish, on my part, to believe that I could easily take on this approach of retreating to the place called "alone". I decide to adapt my approach.
For me, part of going to a state of "alone" has required me to analyze these situations and confront them on a private level. If somene does something that upsets me and I begin to have negative thoughts creep up, I tell myself, "Stop". I try to identify the problem and the cause of the problem. For example if an adult chooses to use child-like behavior directed at me, I think to myself: This person is making the choice to behave this way. Why, most probably because this person doesn't know any other way to react or communicate a message to me. How this person is acting is really no reflection on me or is an indication of a lacking on my part. It does not have any connection to my neshama or my innate goodness that Hashem has infused me with.
For me, the approach to negativity, as taught in Da Es Atzmecha, goes beyond dealing with people. I have also found that feelings of discouragement or "not feeling that I'm ready to do something" falls under the category of "negative feelings". When confronted with a situation that I might look at from a negative standpoint, I utilize the same technique of finding the true cause of the problem and realizing that my negative outlook really is based on things that have no connection to my neshama.
By taking time to reflect on the situation in a detached way, I feel that I am closer to reaching that level of "alone" that Rav Schwartz writes about. Of course, as the author writes, making time to be alone and focus on developing your soul is key and requires a consistent allocation of time.
Neil Harris's blog Modern Uberdox can be seen here.