- Rabbi Mordecai Finley Ph.D.
The B Side
Reflections on the Daily Spiritual Practice #2
Last week on Shabbat morning I went into some detail in the 9:00 AM session on the basic daily practice, called "hitbonenut" (introspection). In this practice, we rise above the ego self and examine the contents of consciousness. It is not as mystical as it may sound, but it is difficult for a beginner. In these words, and tomorrow morning, I'll take us into step two.
Folks, this changes your life. Over and over again when people maintain the daily practice, things start to shift. You observe what is happening down in the ego-self consciousness. You can see the patterns that get you in trouble - anger or fear, despair or unresolved grief. Being aggressive or defensive. Being bossy or passive aggressive. Once you enter into the Higher Self ("Da'at" in Hebrew - Knowledge), and look within, those patterns can run but they can't hide. You can identify them, because they are the ones always rationalizing and blaming.
One crucial practice that I teach once you can look within is "talking to sub-personalities." Think of the person trying to figure out how to live life well - that is you, your "A" self. Every now and then some other voice pops up, takes over the conversation, creates havoc and mayhem, and then recedes. When some counselee tells me the woeful narrative of the last conversation gone awry, and I think they are ready, I say, "Who was that talking?"
"I was talking," he mistakenly informs me (in this case, a husband). "No, you are talking to me now. Who was talking to your wife then?" He thinks hard. I offer a clue. "You said things that you know aren't right and that you don't really believe, yes?"
Said person starts to remember the litany of the 4 C's - criticizing, complaining, condemning (including insults) and escalating conflict. Now, my man starts to rationalize, make excuses, blame others for his words, but inevitably, if I am working with a person without a disorder, he'll take responsibility. Then he remembers his promising me to fulfill the duty of not expressing anger (you can have it, just don't hose other people down with it), and not engaging in the 4 C's mentioned above. He is bewildered.
Here it is: Right alongside your A self, (the one reading these words), is a B self, waiting for the right time to assert himself (in the case of a guy). I ask my person to fully sink into the voice of the B self. Don't edit, don't censor, don't defend him - just let him talk. What happens next is astonishing. Once my person gets the hang of it, the B self spews.
"My wife is a phony. Stingy, obsessed with appearances. No real person in there. Never loved me because she doesn't know how to love." On and on. Whoa.
The fellow in front of me is stricken as he hears what his B self is saying. I ask him to ask the B self what it wants. (The B self loves to talk when given the chance) "I don't want to be married," the B self avers. "I am sick of carrying the load around here. No one is grateful. He (referring to the person in front me), is too much of a coward to admit any of this, so now and then I have to take over and defend him."
"What does the B self ultimately want?" I ask my man. B self answers without the intermediary: "I just want to go and lie on the beach somewhere and not be bothered."
"Nihilism with a suntan", I call it. I have heard virtually those same words more than once.
My good man in front of me says, "But I don't really believe those things! What am I, schizophrenic?" First, he doesn't mean "schizophrenic", he means "multiple personality disorder" and second, "No." You don't have a disorder. You have what every honest and insightful human admits to having: a B self (and a C and D) that would destroy everything if he/she got their way. The B self is not a haphazard cacophony. The B self is an organized intelligence, with a past, present and future. Your B self lives with purpose. Your B self does not like you. You think your B self is getting in your way? That's exactly what he thinks.
Your B self might be addicted to fear, envy or destructive desire. You, the A self, are busy keeping the B self tied down. Sometimes he gets out and actually begins to run things. The A self is shunted aside as your life comes apart. I've seen it.
Here is what you do: talk to your B self (and later, the C and D), hear his story, what it wants and why. Get a sense of the ego states that he produces - every B self has its favorite phrases and postures.
And now you say, "You can talk to me, not to them. You can never, ever speak to the wife or kids, or anyone else that way. From this moment on, you only talk to me."
Here is one practice of forming resilience: you talk to your B self every day (using the case of a husband), debate your B self, listen to him, counsel him. He is the guy against whom you need to be resilient. You can't let him run things. He talks to you, but never, ever talks to them.
Your talking to him calms him down. You know what he is up to before he gets out of his cage. You might even ask him what he wants, and try to get some version of that for him. For example, you might even take him to the beach now and then.