March 24, 2010
The inner dimensions of Passover and spiritual liberation
(Page 2 - Previous Page)
These are things I would like to talk about all night.
“We were slaves and now we are free,” we are told, as a response to our questioning. Perhaps the questioning can help untangle inner conflicts and set us free from bad habits of thought and feeling. “Spiritual slavery” is not a metaphor, and spiritual liberation is not just a high-sounding phrase. We clergy are witness to a good deal of suffering, and we know: Some suffering is inevitable — such as in response to a loss, or when hurting from illness or a wound to our being. But much of the suffering we see is unnecessary. In those cases, we can all attempt to liberate ourselves spiritually by asking ourselves some hard questions and then taking the paths that open up.
Here is a specific example:
I see that you are oppressed by destructive guilt, an unreasonable sense of obligation to another person that burdens the soul. I try to help you break that habit, through the contemplative skill that I teach and practice. We have to ask questions that will pierce the veil of the feelings that burden us. For a person suffering from guilt, for example, I encourage the person to define precisely the nature of the obligation to another. Usually, the answer is very general: to make another person happy (or less angry or less sad). We push a little deeper: How much success have you and others had at making this person less sad or angry? And how much of a toll on you and others is taken in protecting another person from hurt feelings?
We go deeper: How did this obligation fall upon you? And how will you know when it has been fulfilled? We know that someone is demanding something from you, but is it a reasonable demand? What is your motivation for giving in? The need for the approval of others? The need for inner approval, that you gain a sense of inner worth by sacrificing for others? The need to avoid conflict?
One thing I often see with those who operate from guilt: They do what is asked of them, but they make sure to resent it. Not only are time and resources spent, but shackles are placed on our emotions. Resentment is a fool’s way of getting back at others.
Sitting quietly and taking the time to ask a series of hard questions can liberate us from the confusion that leads to spoiling the well-being of our inner lives. When people ask themselves hard questions, they sometimes realize that they are frittering away time, resources and energy working on a problem, but never working through it. They know they have to stop. Guilt, for example, resists rational thought. It does not go away quickly. What do you do? Ask guilt hard questions. Don’t let it order you around. Don’t let it become your inner Pharaoh.
Another example from the haggadah:
After the Four Questions, about the culinary curiosities and recumbent positions, we have a second set of questions, usually called the Four Sons. Interestingly, the answer to these questions is different from that of the first set. After the first four questions, the answer was, “We were slaves,” and we were told to talk about our movement from slavery to freedom in unbounded time — all night long. After the second set of questions, the answer is, “We were idolaters,” and then we see a text that limits the time. After the questions about the Four Sons, the haggadah asks (and this is my paraphrasing):
“Can we tell the haggadah any time from the beginning of month?” No, we are told, only on this day.
“So maybe we can tell the haggadah any time during this day?” No, we are told, only when the symbols are actually set before you.