C.R. writes: I’ve been reading a lot of 12-Step literature (and for the past several years, doing a crash-course with Richard and a couple of people in recovery from addiction and mental illness). The reason? We want to take our book on addiction, the one we told you about a few years ago, to the next level.
What I’ve found (and this isn’t exactly news, though it might have been to me), is that 12-Step wisdom, especially the old-school AA variety, is consonant with Jewish teachings, especially Jewish mysticism. So is recovery.
And, it could all begin with an inner song.
An 18th century Jewish mystic told his students that one of the biggest problems people had was that they didn’t believe in themselves. He predicted that the problem wouldn’t go away for generations. The mystic’s name was Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and though his lessons were mostly heard by a tiny minority within a tiny minority (far less than .2 percent of the world’s population), many of his teachings have slipped into the Universal subconscious. After all, the Rebbe’s teachings rest, in part, on the wisdom of Kabbalah, and are rooted in its ancient context.
The Rebbe wanted his teachings to help people reach their own personal best, but his idea of personal best was a bit different than the one we generally think of.
Rebbe Nachman wasn’t talking about patting yourself on the back for accomplishing a difficult goal in school or work; getting an award or a raise or a deal; winning American Idol or an election; or even just getting the girl. While it’s true that you should be proud of your measurable achievements, there can be a downside.
Sometimes, for some people, externally-directed achievements can provoke feelings of entitlement, arrogance, even anxiety or worry. Sometimes they provoke feelings of emptiness and a concern that said achievements are specious.
Rebbe Nachman was talking about a different kind of belief in oneself, one based on internal movement towards “goodness” as well as the development of a sense that there is deep good inside, a sense that it just “is in there” and needs to be tapped. He urged people to actively look for and connect to this good point (or points).
This kind of good doesn’t really need any external validation. You don’t get an award, a trophy or a prize for not hurting someone, doing good deeds for others in secret or growing spiritually. It’s the kind of good that is definitely not a product of (or dependent on), competition.
Believing you’re alive and connected with something good at the Source is key. Because you can find this good point inside yourself, you can identify it in others (it is so important to seek good in others). Cultivate (even push) that kindness, gentleness, a willingness to help yourself and others, even if its buried deep. Once you’ve found your good point, it will begin to vibrate with a profound desire to grow to the next level. That level involves strengthening your faith in yourself and as soon as you’re able, helping others find their good points (when safe and appropriate).
But it all starts with finding the good within yourself. This is admittedly challenging, perhaps more so for those with mental illness and/or addiction. Sometimes pain can be a motivating force, but often, it can just shut you down. What’s important is to go slow, and, at least for now, be selfish. Treat yourself as if you recognize the goodness inside, even if you feel removed from it.
Peer counseling basically works this way and so does the sponsor-system of 12-step programs. Connecting with peers who’ve been there helps people stay on track. It helps them hold onto the good inside themselves (and yes, it doesn’t neglect to remind them what can happen if they reject that positive focus.)
And the end result of finding this good inside? Well, it never really ends, but perhaps we could say that one result is: Happiness. It’s a gentle, perhaps not “I won the lottery” delirious happiness, but it is quietly authentic. The kind of happiness that is independent of externals, the kind of happiness that occurs because you have faith in yourself and good relationships with others, and the kind that comes from accepting responsibility for your own life direction.
The people we’ve been talking to who’ve have some kind of peer counselor (or are peer counselors,themselves) also seem to have a kind of hopefulness that is contagious, even if you don’t have an addiction or mental illness.
The Rebbe said often: It’s a great “mitzvah,” (a great, good deed), to be happy. To love life. To find joy in touching the world and having it touch you. To find goodness in yourself and lift yourself up with it, and to use that goodness to connect to others and lift them up. A peer can help you achieve this faith in yourself.
The name of this teaching is Azamra, which means, I will sing myself.
Image Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Curtin University/R. Soria et al., Optical: NASA/STScI/ Middlebury College/F. Winkler et al.