Sunday, June 24, 2007

Psychology for the Jewish Wedding Season

The wedding season is upon us and with it a renewed interest in this most fascinating ceremony of Jewish life - marriage.
During the last wedding I attended, the mother of the groom mentioned the well known phrase from Genesis, chapter 2, verse 24: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh."
This is a most beautiful verse. I've heard it before and it always struck me as profound in some way, but this time it really got me thinking – what does it mean to leave the parents? Has this been addressed in the past? Is the intent merely physical or also spiritual, and if so, in what manner?
If you are interested in food for thought while you're standing around waiting for the ceremony to begin (average delay: 1 hour, Israeli time), as well an idea or two for a wedding present, here's my two bits:

The Halacha Interpretation
Well, I am definitely no Halacha expert, but I do have a copy of the popular Da'at Mikra and from it I learn that Rashi took this verse to mean a physical separation so as to prevent incest. The writers of Da'at Mikra also says that the meaning is physical, intended to reduce the fighting that may occur for instance, between the bride and her mother in law. In any case, they say, this is not actually a mitzvah but rather just the natural order of things. An internet search for this phrase in Hebrew or English yields an astoundingly small number of results, none of which were actually relevant to my question. I would be glad to hear of any other Halacha-acceptable interpretations from my readers but until then, I will try to give my own interpretation which will be, as usual, from the inside:

The Parent As a Psychological Function
It is possible to interpret this verse from a psychological viewpoint if we understand the parent as representing not only a physical presence but also a psychological function. This function has been described by Transaction Analysis:

The Parent:

This is our ingrained voice of authority, absorbed conditioning, learning and attitudes from when we were young. We were conditioned by our real parents, teachers, older people, next door neighbors, aunts and uncles, Father Christmas and Jack Frost. Our Parent is made up of a huge number of hidden and overt recorded playbacks. Typically embodied by phrases and attitudes starting with 'how to', 'under no circumstances', 'always' and 'never forget', 'don't lie, cheat, steal', etc, etc. Our parent is formed by external events and influences upon us as we grow through early childhood. We can change it, but this is easier said than done."
In short the Parent, with a capital "P" is our code of behavior, some of it conscious most of it not. It is behind many of our quick involuntary social reactions, our likes and dislikes and our prejudices. It is everything we received, for better and for worse from the authority figures in our lives, and also-everything we did not receive- meaning any gaps in our information about the world. Such gaps may vary from sexual misinformation to spiritual neglect.
Transactional analysis was invented by Eric Berne, a psychologist who became disillusioned with Freudian practice and thought he could a formulate a more accurate and more easily understood psychology (needless to say, he was ostracized by the psychological community). The most popular presentation of his theory was written by his colleague Thomas Harris in the bestselling "I'm O.K you're O.K."

In any case – we now have our psychological Parent, and we can now rephrase the original verse thus: Therefore shall a man leave his Parent, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh."
If this is true, why is it so important to leave the Parent before marriage? What happens if you don't? Is this the man's duty alone? Should the man leave his Parent and the women retain hers?
The answer to these questions lie, I believe in the second part of the verse, which defines the goal of the marriage: "to be one flesh"

"To Be One Flesh"
This can be taken to mean a simple physical union, creating a newborn child which unites the married couple in "one flesh" as Rashi comments. Da'at Mikra says that they shall treat one another as if they were one flesh, meaning they will complete each other – spiritually - until they feel they are as one.
But if the bible is talking about a psychological union between two people then we must ask how can this be possible? In other words, how can two people retain their unique individuality, and yet, at the same time be as one? I see two possibilities.

The Symbiotic Union
In this marriage the couple unite unconsciously. Most of what they think and feel about each other and themselves remains unknown to them. They react to each intuitively, for better or for worse. They are driven by inner forces, including the Parent, to love or hate each other, to remain committed, or to divorce, to talk about the difficulties, or ignore them, or blame each other in an endless, hopeless cycle of unconscious irresponsibility.
Most marriages assume this state of affairs rather quickly. Sometimes the couple are satisfied with it and remain married for years, but increasingly often, this does not suffice. Marriage holds a great promise of "becoming one flesh" and many more people than ever before are unwilling to settle for less, which is why divorce rates are skyrocketing.
But there is another possibility waiting for every new couple to realize.

The Conscious Marriage
In this marriage the couple make a conscious effort to understand themselves. All the unconscious parts of the psyche are brought to light in a long and painful but exciting and hopeful process.
A major component of this process is checking each and every component of the Parent: every judgmental remark or attitude, whether positive or not must be brought into the light and it's contents examined. For example, the husband may be bothered by the incessant chattering of his wife (which he found delightful before they got married) while his wife may be depressed by her husbands long silences (which she found intriguing and full of promise before they got married). Such feelings and thoughts are brought into the open and examined.
Only when the Parent has been banished from the psyche, can a true spiritual union between two independent individuals become a feasible possibility.
When this happens it will become clear that the partners do indeed compliment each other beautifully. Traits that the man has been missing are possessed by his wife and vice-versa. The husband will understand why he does not talk, and his wife will know why it scares her so much, and they both will learn the opposite – the man will start talking, and love it, and the wife will cherish her new-found ability to enjoy silence, her own and others.
In this manner both become complete, whole individuals. The relationship becomes one of independence not dependence. If a man can cook for himself, iron his shirts, and clean the house he is not dependent on his wife to do so. He can love her for what she is, not for the services he needs to receive from her. When a woman is financially independent, she will be freer to be honest about her feelings towards her husband and decide if she loves him for what he is, or she is sticking around because she was taught that women aren't supposed to work

Conclusion: Married Couples Must Choose Between God or Their Parents
In researching this article I came across what seems to be a well-known commentary:

Rabbi Joshua ben Korha said that man at first was called Adam to indicate his natural constitution--flesh and blood (dam). But when woman was created, the two were referred to as fiery (esh)--living, dynamic beings. God insinuated Himself into the marriage, then added two letters of his own name, Y and H, to the names of man and woman. He inserted the Y into man's name, turning esh (fire) into i-Y-sh (ish, man); and H into woman's name, making i-sha-H (ishah, woman). The Chronicles of Yerahmeel (6:16) comment on this: "If they walk in My ways and observe My commandments, behold My name will abide with them and deliver them from all trouble. But if not, I will take the letters of My name from them, so that they will revert to esh and esh, fire consuming fire." Hence with God as a partner, marriage is a blessing, ish and ishah.

The whole article is about Jewish marriage and very interesting. You can read it here.
What this means is what I have been trying to say all along: every couple has a choice between living with God, or enduring the presence of their Parent. As experience tells us, when the Parent is present in the marriage, there is no place for God. The fires of the unconscious will consume the marriage and devour the initial spark of love.
So, to all the couples getting married this season: I hope that you indeed manage to leave your Parent and I wish you a happily conscious marriage.

Here are some books to get you started on the right foot:

Further Reading For Married Couples
I'm OK--You're OK– an excellent, most useful simplification of the psychology behind our everyday interactions and thoughts.
Toxic In-Laws: Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage – another gem from the author of the incredibly insightful Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life
Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples – The ultimate guidance book for couples who want to save their marriage from the Parent. A step-by-step indispensable self-help book for couples. Useful even before the marriage.
A previous article on God as Self, for those of you who, like Freud, confuse God with the Parent.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Ten Minutes A Day For Tikkun Olam With "The Five Tibetans"

Repairing the world is an extremely difficult undertaking. After all, so much around us is so messed up that it may be difficult to figure out where to start. As explained previously, the natural starting point for Tikkun Olam is the individual, but even given this, it is not easy to start. Spiritual exercises often seem frightening to the inexperienced and in any case, any attempt to become more conscious of yourself, your motivations, desires and wounds - is bound to be painful and fraught with difficulties. Fortunately there are other, perhaps easier starting points available, one of which I want to discuss here.

Mind and Body

Is the spirit separate from the body? Does it reside in a specific part of the body or completely outside of it? Perhaps the idea of a spirit is false altogether? To this day we don't really know. For starters I will adopt the stance that I once heard renowned philosopher Isiah Leibovitch expound: as long as we don't know for sure, we can assume that the two exist and are somehow connected. If this is true then we can start our Tikkun with our bodies. For some people this may be easier. If there is a connection then whatever we do with our bodies will affect our spirit, and if we repair our bodies in any way, than we are also repairing our spirits. This is the thinking behind yoga and the martial arts, and as a long-time practitioner I, personally, have no doubt that the connection exists and it works both ways – what we do with our bodies affects our soul, and what we do with our soul affects our bodies. I will go even further and say that the one is impossible to complete without the other. You can only get so far with doing physical or spiritual exercises alone.
However, not everybody has the time nor the ability to do martial arts or to practice yoga for hours each day.

Fortunately there is an excellent solution for people who do not have a lot of time but still want to do their best to take care of themselves and be part of the Tikkun Olam Movement (which I have just invented). This solution demands ten minutes of your time each day and it is so effective that it will make you feel better and stronger and more self-confident in no time.

The Five Tibetans
My acupuncturist taught me these exercises but later I saw that there is a book dedicated to them: The Five Tibetans by Christopher S. Kilham. The booklet explains the theory behind the exercises and also explains how to do them, with pictures. You are supposed to do them each day, each exercise for 21 times. That takes about ten minutes and the benefits must be seen to be believed.
In my experience the exercises change the muscle tone and balance it. This means that the muscles gradually tighten up or loosen up, whatever is necessary, and align them in a physically correct manner. The result is that the bulk of the weight of gravity is being carried by the skeleton and not by our muscles, as nature intended. The relief, I can tell you, is simply enormous. With time the whole body learns to work a lot more efficiently and effortlessly and balance improves greatly. In terms of the energy flow, the exercises open up the meridians (energy channels) and enable a stronger and freer flow of energy throughout the whole body. Whichever way you look at it – the results are great. If you are used to yoga than you will easily understand how to do the exercises without any further guidance. For others there may be questions. I would be glad to answer any such questions, and if you are a regular reader of this blog, you are welcome to drop by my house and receive a free demonstration. Otherwise, you must find someone to teach you in your area. I'm sure there is no lack of such people – it just takes 5-10 minutes to teach so it's not a big deal.

Strengthen your body, Steel Your Soul
Taking proper care of our bodies is no less important in my view than taking care of our souls. One of my primary quibbles with traditional Judaism is the criminal neglect of the body – there can be no healthy soul if the body is neglected.
Another reason to strengthen your body is because a weak body has trouble defending itself and therefore is much more liable to be abused by others. In fact, one of the first things abusive parents do, as well as our society as a whole, is to alienate their children from their bodies, the better to control them.
A strong, balanced body is a body that can deal successfully and gracefully with life's ordeals. Your posture will be better, your eyes alert and focused on what is going on around you, here and now. Such a body will raise your level of confidence and energy to the point where you will be able to start dealing with more complex spiritual problems.
With just ten minutes a day, you could be well on your way to doing your part for Tikkun Olam.
So, what are you waiting for?

The book has a few more meditation exercises which are explained very well and are pretty easy to do. I think they are also very beneficial. I did not mention them cause they do take a lot more time, but if you are interested in the book you should know that there is more to it than just the five tibetans.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Relationships: The Core Message of Every Interaction

Relationships are a very important part of our lives. We spend most of our waking hours in relationships with different people - at work, with friends, and most importantly, with our families. And, yet, despite spending so much time with other people, most of us have a very vague idea of what a relationship should look like. We can feel if something is not right in our relationships, but many times we find it difficult to put into words what exactly is wrong , and therefore we often fail to correct them, or to get what we really need. If you feel this way too, then maybe the following passage will help you. A clear and concise definition of a healthy relationship, if I ever saw one:

The Core Message
Regardless of anything else the parent wants to accomplish with his child, there is one purpose that transcends all others. The parent wants to deliver, and have his child hear, this core message: You're okay. You have permission to be who you are, to be fully alive and express your aliveness, and to experience connection with others and to that which is greater than yourself. Everything the conscious parent does in words, through body language, and in action backs up this central message of okayness…This core message lets the child know in many different ways that he is honored and valued as a separate person and that his basic needs will be met. This is the ulterior motive the parent has every time he talks with his child.
(Giving the Love That Heals – A Guide For Parents, p. 105)

This seems to be a very good working definition, and Imago theory makes clear that this applies to everybody, no matter what the age. We all have a need to be affirmed, to feel safe and okay, because that is a basic human need. If we accept this premise than we have an excellent benchmark for all our relationships – with our parents, our lover, and children. Friends and co-workers too. The question we must ask ourselves if we truly care about these people and about ourselves is this: are we getting the feeling that we are okay, just as we are? Are we permitted to be and feel alive in these interactions? And also, we must question our own behavior – are the people we care about receiving such a message of affirmness from us? Do we even want to give them such a message, are we trying to?
Feeling okay in a relationship means , for instance, not feeling afraid. Fear and okayness are two opposites. If you are afraid of your parents, or your spouse then that is a sure sign that the relationship is not healthy, at this point, for either one of you. The same goes for intimidation – we may feel intimated by authority figures, especially at work (many therapists enjoy intimidating their patients too). This is not a healthy place to be, psychologically. Such relationships ruin our self-confidence, and without that we have nothing on which to build upon.
If you are a parent and your child fears you, then you may want to revise the way you interact with your children. Raising a child in fear is probably the worst crime that a man can commit without being punished for it by society. Hopefully one day this will change and we will become aware of the disastrous affects of emotional abuse, but until then it is up to each one of us to take responsibility for our interactions with the people we care for. This is doubly true when it concerns the defenseless children who have no choice but to accept whatever is given them, be it love or abuse.
We can start Repairing the world right now, just by doing this exercise – checking to see if we feel okay in our relationships with others, and if we are giving others that feeling. Just focusing on that can change a lot, but if you wish for a more systematic way to improve your relationships than I recommend, once again, the series of Imago books written by Dr. Hendrix, each one containing a review of the theory along with many exercises that you can do on your own:
For singles: Keeping The Love You Find – A Guide For Singles

For couples: Getting The Love You Want : A Guide For Couples

For parents: Giving The Love That Heals – A Guide For Parents

You can also check out some of my own explanations of the theory here.
Whatever you do - I wish you good luck on your journey. Feedback is welcome, and so are questions and revelations .

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