As a person who has lived with shyness from an early age, the subject of self-expression has always been important to me.
Rebbe Nachman (a preeminent Jewish Chasidic leader) tells a story about a prince who sits under the royal table pecking at crumbs, thinking he is a turkey instead of a prince. Many people try their hand at persuading the prince to sit at the table and fail. Only the wise man, though his humility and faith succeeds. He convinces the prince that he can be a turkey and still eat at the table. The message of the story is that we all have a “turkey” (self-sabotage, irresponsible, etc.) self and a “prince” self.
Avraham Greenbaum’s book called Under the Table and How to Get Up: Jewish Pathways of Spiritual Growth fleshes out Rebbe Nachman’s story in a way readers can find useful as a guide for personal growth, although one should keep in mind it is written from a Jewish perspective.
One of the major themes in Rebbe Nachmans story is the meaning of speech. He encourages his followers to practice hitbodedut (or hisbodidus, depending on one’s accent). This refers to taking time to be alone every day and talk to God. No intermediaries. No rules. Just talk to God in whatever language you want, about whatever you want.
In the course of elaborating on Rebbe Nachmans story, Under the Table discusses the many benefits of verbal expression.
The author says that when a person’s yearnings remain unexpressed he is not actualized as a person. A person emerges when he articulates his deepest yearnings.
We can’t always hear our own deepest yearnings. A cacophony of voices and messages drown out our true voice. Some of these messages come from the world. Others come from inside our own head in the form of images, sensations, anxieties, fears, impulses and plans. Sometimes our true voice has been repressed and shut down by low self-esteem, negativity, shyness and embarrassment.
Saying something out loud and verbalizing our intention brings clarity and determination. It quiets all of the other voices and messages that demand our attention. Raising our own voice strengthens that voice.
By putting into words and expressing out loud what we think and believe we can find our voice again.
The author writes: For those interested in their personal growth and development the possibilities range from cultivating particular aptitudes or resolving specific problems – fears, lack of confidence, addictions of various kinds, etc. – to the most far-reaching self-analysis and transformation. People working on personal issues in conjunction with a counselor or therapist may use hisbodidus for follow-up work. This can help when seeking to apply the insights gained in joint sessions to practical life, and, even more importantly, to develop the ability to cope with the challenges of life independently and maturely. (p. 123) Furthermore this time alone with God is an opportunity for spiritual exploration and development. A person can lift himself higher in devotion to God. It is also a time to get in touch with past mistakes and admit them.
The point about using hitbodedut to reflect on what happened in therapy especially caught my eye and got me contemplating the difference between talking to God and talking to another person.
Bearing yesterday’s post in mind I’d like to suggest you make a paradigm shift. Forget about reading this post as a definitive statement as in “I’m an authority and I know…” or even as a definitive opinion of mine but simply as my initial reflections and “wonderings.”
I want to invite you to become a collective mind in exploring this. Rather than comment along the lines of: “Here are my two cents…” I’m inviting you to pick up the strand of a thought and run with it.
Here are some of my thoughts about talking to God vs talking to a person:
Sometimes when we pour out our heart to a friend all we want is to be heard and for someone to care about what’s happening to us. When someone joins us in our experience we feel a little less alone. In this case we don’t need an answer or superhuman help. We need another person to share in our experience. We want someone we can touch and look in the eye.
When we talk to God the same feeling of caring and listening can apply. The only thing is that it’s hard to feel that God is right here with us, because we don’t see or touch God so it’s hard to feel that God is listening the way we feel a person is there listening to us.
On the other hand there is a tremendous variability in the degree that we come away from a conversation with a friend or therapist feeling truly heard and understood. There is always something the person missed, didn’t get quite right, didn’t affirm us one hundred percent or isn’t capable of helping if help is what we need.
God is a good address because God is always listening and nothing is too hard for God to do (if we believe this to be true, that is). To the extent that we don’t sense that God is with us in our experience we will feel like we’re just talking to ourselves and in that case articulating it won’t bring us to a better place.
I’m interested in exploring the difference it makes articulating thoughts and feelings to God vs. articulating to another person regarding things like: hearing and getting in touch with one’s own thoughts and feelings, getting answers, feeling heard and affirmed, expectation of receiving assistance, coming to a paradigm shift, etc.
What is your experience of this? I really want to know.