Addressed by Life Through Text

I want to share a bit of a reconstruction of some of the dialogue I had yesterday around the text I was learning with my friend Rivkah, which prompted my reformulation of Logotherapeutic Torah Dialogue (as it appeared in yesterday’s post)

Alei Shur: There are two kinds of thought processes: analytical and expressive (speech). The analytical is the deeper one. Of course, when expression comes from analytical thought this is part of analysis. Most of the time our expression is just expression without analysis behind it. When we talk to people in everyday life we say what comes into our minds. We’re all familiar with how difficult it is to study with 100% focus. Usually we’re focused 70% or 80% and the rest is imagination getting mixed into it.

Batya: What would the learning that you and I do be called – analytical or expressive?

Rivkah: When I walk the dog and don’t listen to music or a Torah class at that time but just allow my thoughts to flow, then some of the time I might be thinking about what I’m making for supper but some of the time I will get to good insights. We need the freedom and space to think things over. If you let yourself leave the page you’ll find yourself back on the page only in a deeper way.

Batya: It’s amazing how every time we learn it is so relevant to what’s going on in our lives. I’ve been thinking about Logotherapeutic Torah Dialogue and this is helping me clarify what I’m interested in doing. It’s important to me that you say that about leaving the page allowing us to come back in a deeper way.

Yet I still need to know. Am I involved in “expressive” thought when I’m doing that? I don’t want the text to be used as an excuse for going off into my own thoughts. I believe the text has something important to say and I want to understand it.

Rivkah: When we talk about life we’re talking in an analytical way as well. We’re doing what he refers to when he says there is the kind of expression that comes out of analysis. We’re seeking to understand the text by seeing how it works in real life.

He sets up “imagination” in contrast to “analytical.” “Analytical” means trying to understand something whether you like it or not. If you’re doing that you see it as it is. When we hear someone say something we want to jump in with our opinion or what we imagine it means without really grasping what it means.

Batya: How do we know we’ve grasped it fully? Is it a two-step process, where we have to grasp it objectively first and then in the next stage we see how it relates to life or is it a back and forth kind of thing?

Rivkah: It’s not clear cut like that – first one and then the other. If you try to make it clear cut it will come out fuzzy.

Batya: Interesting. I would think it comes out fuzzy if it’s text and life together but you’re right. Life is helping us understand text. It doesn’t make sense to be totally focused on text first when life is what’s helping us understand the text.

Alei Shur: Know that this thinking should not be effortful but easy and pleasant feeling. Thinking is not like dragging beams of wood around. It’s like playing a violin.

Rivkah: Playing the violin is not easy.

Batya: What he’s saying is you enjoy it because you’re focused. You’re not trying very hard to hold on to every thought or every note. What he said about the 100% focus is very important. My struggle with music is my thinking that once I have mastery I can enjoy myself. But the truth is the focus, at whatever level I’m at is what makes it enjoyable. The great masters were only able to get there because they were focused every step along the way.

Rivkah: It takes discipline to be in that focused place. I’ve been having trouble getting my to find something he’ll like to take to school to eat. One day he came home and said he ate his lunch because I had told him if he does he’ll get computer time. I didn’t want him to do it for that but because I want him to be free to be able to enjoy a wider range of foods to eat and to get the nutrition he needs. We think of the word discipline as punishment but discipline is really closely related to pleasure. Discipline and disciple come from the same root. There is joy in being a disciple!

Batya: It’s not about rigid control but about being in control.

So what are we doing here? How can I get people to do what we do naturally?

Rivkah: First we want to know what Torah is teaching us. In addition we want to find our own base line, that is where we are now in this quality and what is our goal. What are our challenges and how do we want to approach those challenges?

In so far as Torah is teaching us about what we can be, we’re inspired to grow.

We can’t confuse “analytical” with “expressive” and mix imagination into it. At the same time we have the ability to connect the root of Torah with the soul’s root because the root of both is the same. It’s a two-pronged process. Rav Wolbe says you must learn musar first and then do the work of musar.

Batya: I feel it’s hard for people to get what I’m doing because it’s analytical in a way that brings the person in but it’s not as if the text is irrelevant and they can read whatever they feel like reading into it.

Rivkah: The question is what does “analysis” mean? The analytical itself includes talking about life. If you’re reading a book do you say: “First I saw a line and then there was a line with a squiggle on top?” Do you just see letters on the page or do you want to understand the idea, and we strive to understand the idea by comparing and contrasting it to other things, to what we recognize from life! What’s leading? Is imagination in service of analysis or is analysis getting lost in imagination?

Thanks to the presenting problem they seek help, even though the presenting problem itself may be masking other things that the text will bring out. We say: “Let’s see if this text can help you decide who you are and what you care about.”

Batya: I’ll hear the issue/presenting problem and then I’ll suggest a text and okay it with them.

Then we’ll do an analysis on the text that provides a framework for the work that needs to be done.

Rivkah: The text includes weaving one’s life midrash (parable, story). Turn derishot (demands) into a midrash to build each person’s interpretation. This will set them free, empower them.

You know, it’s not enough that women feel they’re not doing enough for their kids and not working hard enough in the house and not balancing home and outside work but they’re also not learning enough Torah? Here they’re spending a big chunk of time – three hours on this exploration. They need to know it’s not a Torah class but it’s all learning and analysis. It’s not pshat (plain meaning of the text). It’s midrashic limud (study that creates parables). But it’s all limud Torah (Torah study).

It’s about creating a midrash in your life. It infuses life into Torah. It brings Torah into your world and into the world you’re building

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