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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Rebbe Nachman and Pierre Janet: Entering the Delusion

A prince once became mad and thought that he was a turkey. He felt compelled to sit naked under the table, pecking at bones and pieces of bread, like a turkey. All the royal physicians gave up hope of  curing him of this madness. The king grieved tremendously.
A sage arrived and said, “I will undertake to cure him.”
The sage undressed and sat naked under the table, next to the prince, picking crumbs and bones.
“Who are you?” asked the prince. “What are you doing here?”
“And you?” replied the sage. “What are you doing here?”
“I am a turkey,” said the prince.
“I’m also a turkey,” answered the sage.
They sat together like this for some time, until they became good friends. One day, the sage signaled the king’s servants to throw him shirts. He said to the prince, “What makes you think that a turkey can’t wear a shirt? You can wear a shirt and still be a turkey.” With that, the two of them put on shirts.
After a while, the sage again signaled and they threw him pants. As before, he asked, “What makes you think that you can't be a turkey if you wear pants?”
The sage continued in this manner until they were both completely dressed. Then he signaled for regular food, from the table. The sage then asked the prince, “What makes you think that you will stop being a turkey if you eat good food? You can eat whatever you want and still be a turkey!” They both ate the food.
Finally, the sage said, “What makes you think a turkey must sit under the table? Even a turkey can sit at the table.” The sage continued in this manner until the prince was completely cured.
- Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, The Turkey Prince
Another of [Pierre] Janet's first patients in Paris was Justine, a forty-year-old married woman...For several years she had a morbid fear of cholera and would shout repeatedly, "'s taking me!" which would signal a hysterical crises. As a child she already had a morbid fear of death, probably because she sometimes helped her mother who was a nurse and who had to watch dying patients. She also once saw the corpses of two patients who had died of cholera. Janet treated Justine as an out-patient for three years and achieved one of his most celebrated cures with her. Here too psychological analysis could not be separated from the therapeutic process.

Janet began by analyzing the content of the hysterical crises. It was useless trying to talk to Justine during her crises. She did not seem to hear. Janet therefore entered the private drama of her crises and a second actor. When the patient cried, "Cholera! He will take me!" Janet answered, "Yes, he holds you by the right leg!" and the patient withdrew that leg. Janet then asked, "Where is he, your cholera?" to which she would reply, "Here! See him, he's bluish, and he stinks!" Janet could then begin a dialogue with her and was able to carry it on throughout the crises and gradually transform her crisis into an ordinary hypnotic state. Later he could easily elicit hypnosis directly and obtain a full description of her subjective experience during the crises. She saw two corpses standing nearby, one of whom stood closer to her, an ugly naked old man of greenish shade with a stench of putrefaction. Simultaneously she heard bells tolling and shouts of "Cholera, cholera!" Once the crises was over, Justine seemed to  have forgotten everything but the idea of cholera, which remained constant in her mind. Janet elaborated on how hypnosis could be used in such a case. Commands given to the hypnotized patient were of limited usefulness. The breaking down of the hallucinatory picture was more effective but it was a slow procedure and also had limitations. The most effective method proved to be substitution, that is, suggestions of a gradual transformations of the hallucinatory picture. The naked corpse was provided with clothes and identified with a Chinese general whom Justine had been greatly impressed to see at the Universal Exposition. The Chinese general started to walk and act so that instead of being terrifying his picture became comical. The hysterical attack changed in that it now consisted of a few cries followed by fits of laughter. Then the cries disappeared, and the visions of cholera persisted only when she dreamed, until Janet expelled them in turn by suggesting innocuous dreams. This result had required about one year of treatment. But the fixed idea of cholera persisted both on the conscious and subconscious level. Sometimes Justine was observed whispering the word "cholera" while her mind was taken up with some other activity. Attempts with automatic writing produced nothing but endless repetitions of the word "cholera, cholera..." Janet now directed his attack against the word itself, and suggested that Cho-le-ra was the name of the Chinese general. The syllable cho was associated with other terminations until the day arrived when the word "cholera" lost its evil connotations.

-Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry, p. 369

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Time Consciousness and the Mesorah

"Thus a situation has developed which is quite paradoxical in human terms: The barriers of the past have been pushed back as never before; our knowledge of the history of man and the universe has been enlarged on a scale and to a degree not dreamed of by previous generations. At the same time, the sense of identity and continuity with the past, whether our own or history's, has gradually and steadily declined. Previous generations knew much less about the past than we do, but perhaps felt a much greater sense of identity and continuity with it."
Hans Meyerhoff, Time in Literature. Quoted in Zachor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, p 79 by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi
"When I sit down to learn, the giants of the masorah are with me. Our relationship is personal. The Rambam sits to my right, Rabbenu Tam to my left. Rashi sits at the head and explains, Rabbenu Tam asks, the Rambam decides the halakhah, and the Rabad objects. All of them are with me in my small room, sitting around the table…. Learning Torah is the intense experience of uniting many generations together, the joining of spirit to spirit, the connecting of soul to soul. Those who transmit the Torah and those who receive the Torah are invited to meet one another at the same historic juncture."
Rav Soloveitchik, U-vikashtem Mi-Sham, p. 232

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lech Lecha: Go into yourself!

"God did not guide Abraham. He bewildered him; He completely mystified and confounded him. He told him to move on, to go forth "to the land which I will show you." Is the land to be found in the east or the west? No hint was disclosed to Abraham. God willed Abraham to guess, to find out intuitively, to somehow smell the fragrance of the land, to feel the pull that the land exerts, to be attracted to the land spontaneously, so that the heart was Abraham's compass and lodestar. If Abraham had been mistaken in his adventurous selection of the land, everything would have been lost; Abraham would not have been the charismatic chosen leader and patriarch."
R. Soloveitchik, Abraham's Journey, p. 74

"So it is too that in the eyes of the world it is dangerous to venture...and to venture in the highest sense is precisely to become conscious of oneself."
Søren Kierkegaard, Sickness unto Death, p. 52 (Lowrie edition)

 "You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you - no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must", then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse."
 Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, p. 16 (Norton edition)



Monday, October 13, 2014

A Bm'ei ha'daga Production: haunting portraits of the homeless

Music by 8th Day - "Beggar Woman"

Today, she was sitting on the street
Sorrow in her eyes, a tin can at her feet
Holes in her stockings and holes in her shoes
She’s an old beggar woman no stranger to bad news

So I reached in my pocket to give a bill or two
In my heart I was trying to see what I could do
She thanked me for the money, I turned to walk away
But I waited for a moment as she began to say

G-d loves the widow and the orphan and the blind 
The old and the needy who haven’t got a dime 
G-d loves the sickly in his eyes we’re all the same 
And G-d he loves you too in the sunshine and the rain. (You just call upon His name)

I don’t know where she came from, don’t know her at all
But the wrinkles on her face, they kinda tell it all 
So reach in your pocket and give a bill or two 
And you can thank G-d in Heaven that the beggar isn’t you.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Great Divorce - Teshuva as Returning to Self

כששוכחים את מהות הנשמה העצמית, כשמסיחים דעה מלהסתכל בתוכיות החיים הפנימיים של עצמו, הכל נעשה מעורבב ומסופק. והתשובה הראשית, שהיא מאירה את המחשכים מיד, היא שישוב האדם אל עצמו, אל שורש נשמתו, ומיד ישוב אל , האלהים, אל נשמת כל הנשמות, וילך ויצעד הלאה מעלה מעלה בקדושה ובטהרה. ודבר זה נוהג בין באיש יחידי, בין בעם שלם, בין בכל האנושיות, בין בתקון כל ההויה כולה, שקלקולה בא תמיד ממה שהיא שוכחת את עצמה. ואם תאמר שהיא חפצה לשוב אל ד' ואת עצמה היא אינה מכוננת לקבץ את נדחיה, הרי היא תשובה של רמיה, שתשא ע"י זה את שם ד' לשוא. על כן רק באמת הגדולה של התשובה אל עצמו ישוב האדם והעם, העולם וכל העולמים, ההויה כולה, אל קונה, לאור באור החיים. וזהו הרז של אורו של משיח, הופעת נשמת העולם, שבהאירו ישוב העולם לשורש ההויה, ואור ד' עליו יגלה. וממקור התשובה הגדולה הזאת ישאב האדם את חיי הקודש של התשובה באמת
אורות התשובה טו י

The Great Divorce
Chapter Nine:

‘What troubles ye, son? asked my Teacher.
‘I am troubled, Sir,’ said I, ‘because that unhappy creature doesn’t seem to me to be the sort of soul that ought to be even in danger of damnation. She isn’t wicked: she’s only a silly, garrulous old woman who has got into a habit of grumbling, and feels that a little kindness, and rest, and change would due her all right.’
‘That is what she once was. That is maybe what she still is. If so, she certainly will be cured. But the whole question is whether she is now a grumbler.’
‘I should have thought there was no doubt about that!’
‘Aye, but ye misunderstand me. The question is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble. If there is a real woman- even the least trace of one – still inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again. If there’s one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear. But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever. They must be swept up.’
‘But how can there be a grumble without a grumbler?’
‘…But ye’ll have had experiences…it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent of it and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no YOU left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine…

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Great Divorce - Retrospective Power of Teshuva

אמר ריש לקיש גדולה תשובה שזדונות נעשות לו כשגגות שנאמר (הושע יד, ב) שובה ישראל עד ה' אלהיך כי כשלת בעונך הא עון מזיד הוא וקא קרי ליה מכשול איני והאמר ריש לקיש גדולה תשובה שזדונות נעשות לו כזכיות שנאמר (יחזקאל לג, יט) ובשוב רשע מרשעתו ועשה משפט וצדקה עליהם (חיה) יחיה לא קשיא כאן מאהבה כאן מיראה
יומא פו ב

ר"ש בן יוחי אומר אפילו צדיק גמור כל ימיו ומרד באחרונה איבד את הראשונות שנאמר(יחזקאל לג, יב) צדקת הצדיק לא תצילנו ביום פשעו ואפילו רשע גמור כל ימיו ועשה תשובה באחרונה אין מזכירים לו שוב רשעו שנאמר (יחזקאל לג, יב) ורשעת הרשע לא יכשל בה ביום שובו מרשעו וניהוי כמחצה עונות ומחצה זכיות אמר ריש לקיש בתוהא על הראשונות

קידושין מ ב

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis:

BLAKE WROTE the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. If I have written of their Divorce, this is not because I think myself a fit antagonist for so great a genius, nor even because I feel at all sure that I know what he meant. But in some sense or other the attempt to make that marriage is perennial. The attempt is based on the belief that reality never presents us with an absolutely unavoidable "either-or"; that, granted skill and patience and (above all) time enough, some way of embracing both alternatives can always be found; that mere development or adjustment or refinement will somehow turn evil into good without our being called on for a final and total rejection of anything we should like to retain. This belief I take to be a disastrous error. You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind. We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on the biological level life is not like a pool but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.

I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A wrong sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot "develop" into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, "with backward mutters of dissevering power"-or else not. It is still "either-or." If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell. I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches Heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) was precisely nothing: that the kernel of what he was really seeking even in his most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in "the High Countries." 
In that sense it will be true for those who have completed the journey (and for no others) to say that good is everything and Heaven everywhere. But we, at this end of the road, must not try to anticipate that retrospective vision. If we do, we are likely to embrace the false and disastrous converse and fancy that everything is good and everywhere is Heaven.


"But I don't understand. Is judgment not final? Is there really a way out of Hell into Heaven?"

"It depends on the way you're using the words. If they leave that grey town behind it will not have been Hell. To any that leaves it, it is Purgatory. And perhaps ye had better not call this country Heaven. Not Deep Heaven, ye understand." (Here he smiled at me). "Ye can call it the Valley of the Shadow of Life. And yet to those who stay here it will have been Heaven from the first. And ye can call those sad streets in the town yonder the Valley of the Shadow of Death: but to those who remain there they will have been Hell even from the beginning."
I suppose he saw that I looked puzzled, for presently he spoke again.
"Son," he said, "ye cannot in your present state understand eternity: when Anodos looked through the door of the Timeless, he brought no message back. But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all this earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, 'No future bliss can make up for it,' not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say 'Let me but have this and I'll take the consequences': little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man's past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say, 'We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,' and the Lost, 'We were always in Hell.' 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Conscience as the Voice of God


לְךָ אָמַר לִבִּי בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָי אֶת פָּנֶיךָ ה אֲבַקֵּשׁ
On your behalf my heart says: 'Seek My presence'; Your face, Lord, I will seek. (Tehillim 27:8; see Rashi) 

Painting by Rivka Cyprys