We are not our bodies, we are not our thoughts…
We began our discussion in Part I of this series by exploring the paradigm of exerting influence versus taking control as relates unwanted aspects of life. Then, in Part II we discussed the different outcomes that occur when breaking free of a dysfunctional dependency and being freed from an addiction. In part III we looked at the impact of shame as a maladaptive cycle, and the productive uses of healthy guilt. Lastly we discussed differentiating factors between compulsive patterns of behavior and full scale addiction. Before moving on to a discussion of practical measures we can take to address unwanted habit patterns, we need to explore the interrelationship between the different parts of our selves.
We, as humans, often think, feel and desire things we don’t agree with or want. In a moment we may feel one way, and in the next moment we might feel the opposite. We may even, in that very same moment, have an impulse to act in a way that is contrary to both of those. We can feel and desire the same thing, yet think differently and vice versa. The outcome is a sense of internal dissonance, an internal conflict that leaves us confused. What are we to do?
There are many schools of thought, Jewish and secular alike, that reflect some sort of framework which separates the human psyche into categories. We will try and simplify these ideas to reflect our current understanding of the consensus. The most considerable influence within Torah thought, in this presentation, is gleaned from the first section of the classic Torah text Tanya .
In Tanya, the author describes the conscious human self as composed of four parts. The body, representing the instinctual and habit-oriented part of the brain, which drives impulse, and controls our limbs and organs. The brain, representing the part of the brain associated with cognizant thought. The “heart”, the part of the brain we associate with feelings. Lastly, the self, which is our mind and or spirit.
When these parts interact with one another, what emerges are attitudes, perspectives and behaviors and our general sense of consciousness is influenced by each of these parts. This compound composition often leads us to fall into the trap of confusing them as one whole. When this occurs we unconsciously misassociate our truest “self” with our thoughts, feelings, and instinctual impulses. The problem, as we described above, is they are not always on the same page. We feel with our “hearts”, think with our brains, instinctually react with our bodies and experience life with our spirit, but which one is the “real” us?
When viewing life through a spiritual lens we see our “self” as the spirit/mind part. This is the part that is most reflective of our truth and conviction. In this outlook our thoughts, feelings and instincts are no doubt invaluable resources through which the “self” engages the world, but they are not the “self”. In this spiritual approach, we seek to attune the three areas of thoughts, feelings and instincts, in to line with the conviction of our spirit. Though these three areas are crucial to forming perspectives and ideas, they are not the driver. We are not our thoughts, we are not our feelings and we are not our instincts.
From this vantage point, developing mastery over our behavior and our lives becomes more possible because we are operating from an association of our selves that meets reality. Whether it is taking control or exerting influence in the areas we can, or accepting those we can’t, nothing can happen till we know who WE are, and let our true “self” drive the bus.
As we cultivate this sort of perspective, we can be less thrown off when we think things we don’t agree with, feel things that don’t seem right, or desire things that don’t meet our ideals. These instances become more manageable with the recognition that these thoughts, feelings and desires are not reflective of our truest self. We can respond by seeking to realign our outlook and our behavior, with our conviction, what we most understand to be right. This means making effort to take ownership and develop mastery. By mastery we don’t mean control, as completely controlling our feelings, thoughts and instincts is nearly impossible. Rather, it means gaining mastery over the way in which these influence us and our behavior. This entails empowering our minds to differentiate between thoughts that we agree with and those we don’t, learning to tolerate intense feelings resisting the urge the react, and lastly, recognizing instincts and impulses that drive us to misbehave.
This is the essence of taking ownership of our lives. We do so by taking measures to manage our behavior in the moment and by taking steps to influence the development of good habits which feel right, are sensible and most importantly meet our conviction. As these patterns develop, acting rightly and justly becomes less of a battle and more second nature. Our Mind, our brains, our hearts, and our bodies sense that they are not at odds with one another, and that the most fulfilling and enriching outcomes will come, in the long run, by following the direction of our highest self. With this in place, our intellect can be a powerful tool of deduction and analysis, our hearts a precise instrument of a gut sense of reality, and our bodies, a well oiled machine for carrying out our ends. This sort of equanimity brings about a peace and serenity within, and authenticity in our outward actions.
The methodology we will discuss in the coming articles is one that seeks to activate our mind and spirit, while bringing to the surface a recognition of our thoughts, feelings and instincts about any given situation. This will mean coming into contact with our convictions, facing the reality of our mistakes and setbacks, and bringing into our consciousness an awareness of our thoughts, feelings and instincts. This effort will help to foster the equanimity we just mentioned and activate a spiritual power that can heal, energize and channel the power of our spirit.
 Tanya, published by Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), known as the Alter (elder) Rebbe pf Chabad, is the most comprehensive presentation of the philosophy and life outlook of the Chassidic movement.