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Monday
Apr092018

PERSONAL GROWTH OR G-DLY GROWTH?

Shluchos: Chani Abraham (the Eitan method) and Rocheli Tzemach (the Tzemach method) offer a system of empowerment and tell us what ideal growth consists of and how to plant it within the soul. * The goal: to zoom out or, as the Rebbe put it, getting out of our inner exile where we are captive.

By Mussy Jerufi

In a time when workshops for personal empowerment are multiplying like mushrooms after a rain and the storesshelves contain countless books that market answers to life questions and agendas for change and personal growth with the emphasis onpersonal,” people avidly take it in and feel that they are discovering themselves, growing and developing. But is this ideal growth?

This question, which intrigues me a lot, took a significant turn after I spoke with Mrs. Chani Abraham, developer of the Eitan method, and Mrs. Rocheli Tzemach, developer of the Tzemach method, two therapeutic methodologies that are based on Tanya and Chassidus. They have impressive records in the field and have numerous success stories that emerge daily at workshops, courses and individual therapy.

STUCK OR STRIKING ROOTS

“The idea of personal growth can be understood in a way that doesn’t fit at all with Tanya,” says Chani. “The Alter Rebbe’s goal is to help a Jew get out of his animal soul, to work through the intellectual soul, and end up at the G-dly soul which is all about bittul.

“So when talking about personal growth, it is very important to clarify to ourselves what we mean. We are innately shortsighted, and what we interpret as growth is not always ideal, G-dly growth. It is important that we know that we exist within a limited world and our conceptual model only fits what we are familiar with.

“We need to approach the concept of personal growth carefully, and take into consideration that the One who decides what proper growth should be is Hashem. The Eitan method directs us toward the ability to forgo the concept of ‘personal’ and start thinking big, to synchronize our reality with G-d, with the truth.

“Oftentimes, people feel stuck in life. Things don’t move. But it’s in these periods that a person is striking roots; he is working on traits that need improvement; his eyes are opened in areas that he didn’t know existed. He rethinks the missions and priorities in his life; it’s a time for cheshbon ha’nefesh. From his perspective, he is stuck; from Hashem’s perspective, he is working and growing.”

Rocheli affirms what Chani says and adds, “Many times, we are locked into a certain mindset which says, ‘This is me.’ This feeling or experience controls us and we can’t free ourselves and grow. Sometimes, this aspect of awareness of the power of choice jolts us into discovering that we can undergo change, think and feel differently; the awareness that we can choose where to be.”

In the Tzemach method there are various forms of therapy with the most important one being the exercises, the practical part that leads one to discover the strengths and abilities that every person has to grow. “I refer to it more as the ability to choose and less as exercise,” says Rocheli. “We are so impressed by the manifestations of the animal soul and feel held captive by them that we cannot undergo real change. It’s only when we discover, in a very specific way, that we have the ability to choose, that we start using it.”

Chani: “The Alter Rebbe describes in Tanya ‘cleaving to G-d,’ the need to understand that we are in a black pit where we can barely discern G-dliness. Our goal is to learn Torah in order to understand the reality outside the pit. The more we do mitzvos with more focus, intention, and feeling, the faster and more powerfully we will get out of the pit.

“So the first outlook that the Alter Rebbe instills in us is that we have an animal soul with four negative elements within which the G-dly soul is enveloped. ‘Boiling mud that scatters all over’ (mud consists of earth and water, boiling is the fire, and the wind scatters it). In order to get out of the pit, we need to clear away as much mud as possible, make the effort, and only then can we see the true light; only then, do we grow.”

EMOTIONAL AWARENESS AND CHANGING MY OUTLOOK

How do your methods help the process along?

Chani: “The Eitan method introduces a sort of 3D glasses and helps us see that reality is comprised of three dimensions: the G-dly soul, the animal soul, and the reality that the two can be synchronized since they are both G-dliness. The problem begins in the middle dimension, with the animal soul – all the negative emotions prevent us from seeing the G-dliness in everyday life. Every time things don’t go as we would wish, we start feeling negative emotions. They offer us a form of protection and turn into defense mechanisms against the suffering that life brings us.

“The Eitan method helps us see the various dimensions through the assessment of the negative emotions. By breaking down in detail the emotions that we feel, we can identify the ‘terrorists.’ The moment it is clear to me, in a situation, what is happening from the emotional angle, it is easy for me to move negative emotions aside, to pick myself up, and discover the truth without blaming anything around me. These are negative feelings that seek to control me and prevent me from growing and bringing out the positive strengths and feelings that exist in the G-dly soul. The more we use them, the stronger they get, like muscle exercises.”

Rocheli: “We can identify the main focal points of hardship, the tests that run through our lives like a thread, which are all the same test just in different forms. In the end, we all suffer from the same things – lack of confidence, fear of the crowd, and a general constraint in experiencing life – but it manifests differently for each person. My job is to learn the specific story of this person, how he experiences events in his life from various angles, and grasp his outlook on his life, his outlook on himself.

“From this I learn how he creates his own focal points of hardship. We are captive within our perception of self, and that is how we develop blockages without realizing it. We don’t know ourselves any other way and so we do not bring out the strengths we are capable of. Our system of perception is locked in because of the experiences we have had.

“The goal of my method is to take the initial experiences which shaped the person’s mistaken view of himself, even if they seem to have proven themselves correct, and to reopen the situations that define the blockage and see them in a different light. If the situation would have been different, he would think differently of himself. The outlook is a mistaken one, because grounding the perception reveals that every person contains all the soul powers and all the abilities and strengths. These may manifest in different forms, but the good is there within us and we need to reveal it in a way that pertains to us.

“When you see yourself differently, you can emerge from the very deep experience in which you find yourself, just as the Rebbe views us differently. Thanks to this we become different. He sees the strengths, the abilities, and what is truly within us. This makes us into people who are capable. It opens entire worlds to people. The amazing thing is that as Jews and Lubavitcher Chassidim, we don’t always understand the real level of choice that we have.”

ROT: THE START OF OUR GROWTH

A tree needs a supportive environment in order to grow and develop. A person needs certain starting points to influence his personal growth and development. What are the points needed to start the process?

Rocheli: “The first thing is the ability to choose, believing in ourselves, believing that our abilities can lead to change. Another thing is the power of will, the will to change, the will to work and make the effort, to work with the tools we were given, because ultimately it depends on us. Nobody will do the work for us. Sometimes, courage is needed when it’s a matter of changing our nature.”

Chani: “It’s an extended process and there are constant waves of growth. The fact that a person feels that he has hit bottom, proves that he is striking roots for the next tree. The process of growth begins with rotting. A seed rots and falls apart and then begins to sprout. The places of rot and lack of success are the starting points of growth. For example, chaos between spouses is the rot which shows that their bond was not deep enough. The crisis reveals to them a new depth in their relationship.

“People who have had breakthroughs first experienced hard times. None of them had it easy. You see this throughout the history of our ancestors in the stories of Tanach from Adam, then Kayin and Hevel, continuing with the sale of Yosef, and so on. Although the stories don’t always paint a pretty picture, the Torah doesn’t hide them. It is an essential component of reality.

“The Rebbe Rashab says that a descent is for the purpose of an ascent, and he adds that even an ascent is for the purpose of a descent. The understanding that in spirituality the movements are always of ratzo (rush-ascent) and shuv (return-descent) enables the flexibility and readiness to flow along with the G-dly will, and not to get into negative emotions, not in the ups and not in the downs.”

THE KING STILL DOESN’T HAVE A HOME!

The entire topic of personal growth is built on the involvement of the ego. Doesn’t this contradict the bittul we are meant to feel according to Tanya?

Rocheli: “Seemingly, yes, but this involvement is necessary. The G-dly soul is covered with klipa, the four elements of the animal soul, that play the role of the defense mechanisms. Our job is to remove the extraneous actions on their part and thus, naturally, the G-dly soul is revealed. Usually, in situations in which we don’t know what to do, we feel helpless. Then the animal soul works overtime, the defense mechanisms are hard at work, and this leads to negative feelings.

“People don’t always understand the root cause of these feelings and don’t connect it to the fact that they feel threatened. So they need the help and the tools to reduce their defenses, and to recognize how the system works, in order to reveal the positive strengths hidden within.”

Chani: “We need to change the whole outlook on the concept of growth. You are meant to grow the G-dly project. You are here to help Hashem build a home and not for self-actualization, which is a bonus along the way but not the main goal. At a wedding, the chassan breaks the glass to remember the churban. On the day of his rejoicing, on the day that he is building a home, he remembers that the King still doesn’t have a home. When you know that you came to the world as part of a cosmic project, you will obviously invest in personal things, a home, business, children, but remember not to invest only in your own growth, but in G-dly growth.”

CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM?

“Love criticism because it will place you on the truly lofty level” – is there a place for criticism in one’s personal growth process?

Chani: “No way! It’s not my job to criticize. We are talking only about emotions, and when we remove the negative emotions, the positive ones will rise to the surface on their own. A person knows himself and his weak points. He talks about them; I don’t need to add anything. One of our firmest rules at Eitan is that we don’t give advice! The only one who can criticize is the Rebbe, or a mashpia who is the Rebbe’s shliach in this area.”

Rocheli, agreeing with Chani about how careful one must be as far as criticizing when offering guidance, adds that this is only appropriate as far as challenging oneself: “The Rebbe Rayatz says that a Jew needs to have a clear critique of self. On the one hand, the ultimate goal is to reveal the good within us, the beauty, the abilities and talents that we have. But at the same time, without self-critique we cannot move forward and achieve real change. It’s an inseparable part of the process.”

ZOOM OUT

What message do you want to convey to our readers?

Rocheli: “The Rebbe’s cry, ‘Do all that you can,’ includes getting out of our inner galus, freeing ourselves of negative feelings that interfere with our Avodas Hashem.”

Chani: “Changing the very outlook on the whole concept of growth means understanding that personal growth is not necessarily the ideal growth. One needs to check to see what is G-dly growth, to expand one’s range of vision, to zoom out and see oneself as part of a G-dly project, as part of the Jewish nation, and not narrow it down to one’s own little world. I am part of a huge puzzle, and when a piece of the puzzle which is not aesthetically symmetrical fits nicely and is in sync with the pieces around it, that’s real growth.”

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