In previous posts, I’ve written of the cognitive and emotional benefits of assuming a positive attitude about G-d’s Presence and Goodness. Doing so helps us accept what’s happening at the moment in peace, even gratitude, regardless of whether it otherwise seems “positive” or “negative.”
Rabbi Bachya ibn Paquda (“The Duties of the Heart”) likewise states explicitly that one of the worldly benefits of faith is deep personal peace, even in the midst of trying circumstances.
It should be simple and easy to do. Of course, it’s not. Why is that?
Within ourselves, accepting a situation as it is conflicts with our outrage that the situation isn’t what we think it should be.
After all, why should we accept it? Are we supposed to accept every insult peacefully? Are we supposed to accept every failure without frustration? Are we supposed to accept every accident smilingly?
The “what is” part of us constantly argues with the “what should be” part.
To accept G-d’s Will for the Good can at first require us to go through a process of deliberation within ourselves. Does G-d exist at all? Where’s G-d when bad things happen? For that matter, where’s G-d at any time? Does G-d care what happens to us? Why is G-d doing all these things? Can there be anything other than Goodness? And so on.
The process can be a short one or a long one, depending on who we are.
It also depends to no small degree on which teacher(s), if any, we learn from. A teacher who has internalized this process him/her-self will exude a sense of confidence in Divine Goodness that teaches us far more than his/her words themselves. We’ll find ourselves wanting to be around that person as much as possible, imbibing their peace and stability.
This is an unavoidable first step, of course. Good as it feels, its effects can only be temporary until we begin to be able to make changes inside ourselves BY ourselves.
The crux of faith is accepting G-d’s Goodness. In the early stages of developing faith, we need to recognize that this is a Goodness we can “know,” but can’t always “see.” When we internalize this sufficiently, we stop trying to “see” G-d’s Goodness at all. We “know” it, not just in our minds as a theological axiom, but as an unchanging emotional attitude in our hearts, as well.
Then, we can “let go” and experience true freedom.
As we progress, we don’t need to spend as much time deliberating. The attitude takes root. Neural pathways are built and extended. Our response, our positive “knowing,” becomes more habitual, more ingrained.
But — what about our painful memories — the hurts we experienced long before we began to consider a spiritual view of what happens in our lives?
What about the breakup of a romantic relationship 30 years ago that still hurts when we think about it? What about the mistake we made in a financial decision that cost us dearly? And so on.
While these things might have happened at a different chronological time, they’re in our minds and hearts now. It’s our thoughts that we’re changing (or: “exchanging”). Thus, when it comes to applying an attitude of faith, it makes no difference when the event happened. It’s our current thought of it that we’re deliberating with ourselves about — swapping negative thoughts for positive ones.
If we’re willing to allow ourselves to view the “past” situation — bad as it may have seemed at the time — as an expression of G-d’s Goodness that we don’t have to understand or “see,” we can have peace about it now.
It can also be true that the more we practice seeing things this way in the present, the more we might find ourselves spontaneously re-interpreting events that happened to us earlier in our lives. Formerly negative views can often become replaced without any direct effort on our part at all.
This is “The Shema Attitude” that I wrote about. The Talmud calls it “kabbalat ole malchut ha-shamayim” — accepting (on oneself) the “yoke” of the Kingdom of Heaven. Lofty language aside, it means not attributing anything that happens to any other (ultimate) source than G-d, and not attributing any other quality to it than Goodness (which isn’t necessarily observable in the appearance of the thing or event). On a higher level, it even means not attributing reality to the actual existence of anything other than G-d. The Zohar calls it “Yichudah d’l’eelah” — “Higher Unity”; Tanya refers to this, too, also connecting it with the meaning and purpose of the “Shema.”
But it’s all words, or thoughts, until our hearts are moved by it to see things differently than we’ve been seeing them, and in an incomparably more positive way.
Even for things that happened long ago in our lives.