A meaningful insight came from one of the women in my spiritual development group. We had been discussing the meaning of tolerance as accepting the other as a whole, realizing that person is much more than his or her faults or flaws. Our central text is Alei Shur, a book based on the Jewish tradition of musar (a method of self-instruction) for self-examination. The book had brought an image of tolerance as feeling like you’re carrying a heavy weight and not putting it down but continuing to walk around with it and be the person’s friend despite the heaviness. Since everyone is different, there’s always going to be something heavy to carry, something that’s not to your liking. Taking this attitude changes your whole attitude about carrying it.
Then we got to the section on having tolerance for one’s self. There the book said you can’t expect too much of yourself. If you aim too high you’ll fail and get frustrated and depressed. But it also said not too expect too little of yourself either. Stretch yourself a little bit. Reach for something a little higher than where you are right now. Don’t think it’s impossible to be different. As we were learning this we were wondering why the author didn’t use the same imagery of carrying the heavy weight in the part about tolerance for self as in tolerance for others. This bothered us. Don’t we also need to accept those things we don’t like in ourselves and say, “As a whole, I am much more than this shortcoming. This does not define who I am?”
Here’s where the insight came. The groundwork in the book was laid very carefully. The next section after that was about family. It said that you can’t expect your partner to change. That’s how people are. They usually continue the habits they’ve grown up doing.
So one of the women said, “Aha! This is an answer to what bothered us before. If I accept myself as I am, and I say that this is my nature, this is just the way I am, there’s no way I’ll be able to change because I’ll think I can’t possibly do it. Therefore the attitude towards the other has to be: Don’t think you will change him (or change her) and the attitude towards myself has to be: I can change. I don’t have to sit with all my old habits forever.”
And how do we do this? A human being at the core is a human soul, and with this soul we can transcend our nature because it supersedes nature.
This deeply rooted concept in Jewish thought is at the core of the therapeutic process of logotherapy. Frankl said that the spiritual dimension is always healthy. Self-transcendence, or rising above our circumstances or our fears, doubts or anything else that ties us to whatever our fixed nature dictates comes about by accessing the deepest dimension of our humanity. Examples of this are the defiant power of the human spirit that says a strong “No” or “Yes” to an internal or external reality or the ability to discern what’s good and true about something and what is false – even about the very same situation.
It is for this reason that Frankl referred to logotherapy as “height psychology” as opposed to the Freudian expression of “depth psychology.” Instead of bringing insight to the natural processes within you, accessing the soul takes you higher, above and beyond what those natural processes dictate.
We are familiar with the concept of human transformation from the perspective of behavior modification or insight. But have we grasped the perspective of accessing the inner soul that knows what is true and good? We are familiar with the concept of reframing but are we aware of the power within us to see through the eyes of our soul?