Monday, September 22, 2008


Returning to God Through Expanded and Constricted Consciousness

by Reb Moshe Newman at Mystical Paths

In light of chodesh Elul—the month especially powerful for tshuvah, I would like to discuss a famous teaching by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov: that there are two types of tshuvahbaki b’ratzo, baki b’shov—literally, expert in running and expert in returning. For our purposes, I would like to interpret this as the type of tshuvah we do from expanded consciousness and the type we do from constricted consciousness.

The Lifetime Process of Tshuvah
Tshuvah is usually translated as repentance. However, as is known, its root is shuv—return. In our most pure point of Truth, we are one with God, as it were. Before we come into a physical body, our pure souls are totally present with Truth. This consciousness is our natural state. However, due to Hashem’s Desire that we be His partners to raise up the darkness (as discussed in previous articles), He orchestrates our birth into this physical world and we become alienated from our souls’ knowledge of Him. We are forced into constricted consciousness. As infants and children, we are totally egocentric. As teenagers, we begin to have awareness of something beyond self and throughout adulthood (hopefully) we become more and more aware of the Unity of Hashem. Thus, our whole life is a process of tshuvah.

In Rebbe Nachman’s magnum opus, Likutei Moharan, Torah 6, we are taught that the only way to tshuvah shlaymah—complete return [to the soul consciousness of Truth]—is by being a “baki b’halachah—an expert in halachah.” Rebbe Nachman teaches that there are two expertises in halachah—baki b’ratzo,baki b’shov—expertise in running and returning—going up and going down.

Expertise in "Going"
Halachah has two meanings: As a noun, the body of Jewish law and as a gerund (a verb in a noun form), walking (going). The body of Jewish law is called halachah because it delineates a Jew’s proper behavior in accordance with God’s Will as expressed in the Torah. The Torah is the “owner’s manual”, the instruction booklet, as it were, for the “hi-tech” piece of equipment called the neshamah. The neshamah’s job is to channel the vital energy called kedushah into the world. The ability for anyone, Israel or Gentile, to recognize Hashem’s Unity is dependent upon the flow of kedushah. And so, being complete in one’s return to Hashem mandates an expertise in halachah.

"Tuning" the Neshamah
The neshamah is a very refined and delicate, yet very strong instrument. The difference between a finely tuned and poorly tuned Stradivarius violin is that the instrument can produce the most lovely musical tones, but if the strings are not tuned properly, the music will not sound beautiful. One must be an expert in music in order to fully understand the owner’s manual explaining how to properly tune a Stradivarius. So too the neshamah. An “untuned” neshamah indeed channels kedushah, but not nearly as powerfully as a “tuned” neshamah. The Torah tells us how to “tune” the neshamah, but we need to be or to consult an expert in the Torah in order to properly tune it. Halachah is the expert’s explanation to the layman of how-to keep Torah, i.e. how to tune the neshamah.

Walking as a Model for the Life Process in This World
Now as we said, halachah also means walking. What is being an “expert in walking—baki b’halachah?” Walking is the basic mode of human transportation. It is the way Hashem desired for humans to go from one place to the next. The ultimate going from one place to the next is going from this world to the next world, Olam HaBa—the World to Come. Hashem could have created humans as gliders or floaters or rollers, but he created us as walkers. Walking is the model for how we experience this world.

Walking is an oscillation between stability and instability, between order and chaos. While we are taking a step, we are on one leg and unstable. In between steps, both legs are planted and we are stable. Hashem created the world out of chaos because He Desired that Light should come out of darkness. So the way we go through life is a back and forth between instability/stability, chaos/order, darkness/Light, constricted consciousness/expanded consciousness. Every moment our consciousness fluctuates. This is the nature of the physical world—oscillation, rhythm, waves, cycles, digital on/off (1/0). This is why Yakov keeps both names—Yakov represents constricted consciousness, Yisrael represents expanded consciousness.

Hashem Desires Sin?!?!
As mentioned in “Baruch P’tarani” the most constricted consciousness is called ruach shtus—a spirit of foolishness. This, the sages teach, is a person’s state when he sins, God forbid. From the side of expanded consciousness we know that every thought, feeling, word and action is entirely Hashem’s orchestration. Therefore, even though it is His Desire for us to take responsibility for our actions, there is a place to say that when a person falls into sin, it is because Hashem desired that sin and so, gave the person a ruach shtus.

As Rebbe Nachman teaches, the reason Hashem desires a sin is that when the person falls and then does tshuvah, he causes the transformation of the dark place he fell which was devoid of Hashem, as it were, into true Light. This is what King David is referring to in Psalms, “…if I reach She’ol—hell, You are here.” This is being baki b’shov—an expert in going down.

Waiting in order to Manifest the Love of the Chen of the Sin

The gemara teaches, “One who wishes to purify himself (to do tshuvah) is helped [by Heavenly agents]…they tell him ‘wait.’” How in the world does it help someone to wait and remain in his fallen state? He is embarrassed by his misdeed and wants to repent. But the gemara says “they help him…they say ‘wait’.” Because if the only reaction is regretting the sin/fall, promising never to do it again (which is certainly a good reaction), one has missed a very important component of tshuvah and the ultimate reason Hashem caused the fall. Hashem wants the revelation of His Light in that dark place. True, the sinner’s repentance raises up the holy sparks from the place he fell, but it is incomplete. For, from the Divine Providence side of the paradox, Hashem orchestrated the constricted consciousness that led to the sin, He created the sin itself and the very feeling of embarrassment that the person experiences after realizing he has fallen. Thus, Rebbe Nachman teaches that one cannot do complete tshuvah unless he can be totally present and quiet with the feeling of embarrassment. Only then can he say, “Wow, Hashem, You created this feeling and this place of the darkness of my sin. You are an Awesome Creator!” This, as we’ve pointed out previously, is an aspect of fixing the sin of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil—loving the chen in the sin, as it were.

Removing the Possibility for Depression
The process of baki b’ratzo/baki b’shov removes the possibility for depression. Depression worsens the sin, reinforcing the constricted consciousness. Rather, we become happy which is the necessary prerequisite for re-expanding our consciousness. This is tshuvah from constricted consciousness—baki b’shov. Baki b’shov is about feeling true joy and love towards Hashem as the Amazing Creator and Orchestrator of the spirit of foolishness, the sin, the feeling of embarrassment and the place called She’ol. Rebbi Nachman teaches that when a person stays silent with his feelings of embarrassment, recognizing Hashem there, it automatically flips everything up to the highest level—Kesser. Thus the teaching, “They help him…they say, ‘wait.’”

Paradoxically, baki b’ratzo,an expert in running [up]—entails choosing to feel the pain of having sinned and taking full responsibility for the damage which was done from the place of Kesser. This is tshuvah from expanded consciousness. For in that state, we achieve a greater state of recognition of the unity of all things, that our actions do indeed affect the whole world and the extent of the damage from our sin. So, even though from the side of Divine Providence, we were Hashem’s puppets in the fall, nevertheless, we choose to take responsibility, feeling and regretting the pain we’ve caused in the world by what we’ve done. This taking responsibility is in accordance with Divine Will and further rectifies the Tree.

Another way of saying this is that in order to do complete tshuvah—to return to neshamah consciousness and the ability to most effectively channel kedushah into the world, we cannot be in a state of low self-esteem. We must come to the joy of knowing that Hashem runs every detail of our lives perfectly and that we are perfect manifestations of His Will in each moment. Only once we have the proper perspective of humble, healthy self-esteem can we actually go ahead and take responsibility, feeling the embarrassment as a part of our regret and commitment never to fall again.

Permission to Feel Essential Embarrassment
Recalling our discussion in “Psychosomatic Torah,” a physiological state of defense which blocks higher consciousness/heart-centeredness is caused by a subconscious perception that a certain feeling is wrong. One of the most insidious [appropriate use of word] beliefs which has infiltrated the Nation of Israel is that to feel embarrassed is wrong. The whole world—Western and Eastern cultures—is terrified of embarrassment. This perspective has been embedded in us from our earliest moments of self-awareness. Indeed, the Torah proscribes embarrassing someone else as akin to murder. Nevertheless, the feeling of embarrassment itself, as Torah 6 teaches, is essential for tshuvah shlaymah.

Paradox Consciousness allows for being present and at peace with the emotion of embarrassment—and any other uncomfortable feeling. Through the paradoxical experience of feeling embarrassed and, at the same time, joyful knowing that Hashem created this feeling for Good, we illuminate the GodLight in that feeling. Once we have this as our guiding perspective, then even if we fall numerous times, God forbid, we will never come to depression. Rather, we will avail ourselves of the opportunity to break open our hearts and cry from the depths of our pain which raises us to infinitely higher perceptions of joy and bliss. This is called being “Adam yoshev al ha’kisae—Man sitting on [Hashem’s] throne.” May we merit such awareness and come to the state of tshuvah shlaymah.


moshe said...

Reb Newman: I enjoy very much what you write, thank you. You mentioned last time that you plan to teach us some practical excercises that you use. I would very much want to learn them, could you detail them soon?
Also, is it possible to contact you directly with more specific questions?

Anonymous said...

You write; "Paradox Consciousness allows for being present and at peace with the emotion of embarrassment—"

Your recommendation to achieve "Paradox Consciousness" is like a psychiatrist recommending his patient becoming a "satisfied schizophrenic." There is an obvious alternative that you are not considering. That is, to have a healthy, knowing mind. A paradox is not a contradiction. It is an apparent contradiction. Once the paradox is rectified by gaining proper understanding there is no longer a paradox.

As an example; The first person says, "That is a sweater." While the second person says; "That is wool." These are not contradictions. They are addressing different perspectives of the same thing.

Knowing that G-d sends all (as He is the Infinite Doer) does not contradict man's freewill. The statement "G-d sends all" is addressing the broad, overall perspective, while the statement that "man has free will" addresses the individual, narrow perspective. Are my hands typing these words or am I typing these words? This is not a contradiction but two perspectives of the same act and actor.

Embarrassment over our actions should not be a peaceful experience. The behavior that brought the just embarrassment is to be heartily rejected and turned from. Then we move on. We are not to be peaceful over our sins and the embarrassment that they bring.

Obviously to dwell on our past evil deeds is counterproductive, but to be embarrassed is a healthy reaction. There is a difference between sadness and depression. While depression is fruitless and in fact harmful, sadness is constructive. We should experience bitterness or sadness over our failures as this helps us to improve our behavior. Whereas sadness is a healthy reaction depression is a disease.


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