Wednesday, 25 January 2012

I Don't "Work On Myself"

by Dov (See all authors)

Whatever I have in terms of a relationship with Hashem is "home-grown", meaning: born naturally out of living sober, rather than anything I specifically or consciously "worked on". And my tools are using the steps in a chevra of others using them, to bumble through Life with G-d's help. His credentials are quite good so I ask Him for help frequently through the day, remember that I can't hide anything from Him, and accept that He has nothing more important to do than to help me - or He wouldn't have made me at all! He certainly wasn't forced to make me!

In fact, "working on myself" is not really in my lexicon any more. Good living brings these things out and seems to cause automatic growth in every single department of my life and in every relationship. Bad living (that is, strictly for myself and in myself) makes me so miserable that I get the heck out of it whenever I start living poorly! Self-focused living is like a vacuum cleaner - it sucks.

It seems to me that ego deflation is a big part of it... maybe the biggest part. In other words, the old way of "working on myself" - and always looking back to see if tzidkus, tahara, middos tovos... were catching up on me yet, simply doesn't work for me at all. In fact, it's poisonous for me. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that consciously working on one's self in a measured fashion is a valid derech of yiddishkeit and was probably used successfully in one style or another by bazzillions of our forebears for hundreds of years in Europe and elsewhere. It's not the flavor I get from medrashim and s'forim about earlier generations though, but what do I know?

Well, what I do know is, that as an addict, it screws me up when I try to use that derech. It puts me at the center, not Hashem. It quite possibly helped to create this addict in the first place.

Though the 12-step program seems like a self-centered way to work on yourself, it's not. It's a way to allow G-d to work on me. It gets me out of His way, that's all. Those folks who work the steps like another "self-help program" are no surprise to me. They are doing self-help - but the Program is G-d-help! It's about starting to do His Will for His sake rather than for s'char/not getting punished/being happy/whatever, and it's about being useful to people. And while my motivation may be my own survival, I don't consider the basic survival instinct selfish... sorry.

I am, of course, 'all for' the yeshiva experience, mussar, and us Jewish people working on ourselves. But I feel that for an addict that may need to be tweaked quite a bit by slowly but surely shifting the entire motivation to G-d and for helping other people. Anything but my personal desires of kin'ah, ta'ava, or kavod, basically. And no, there may be no way to know which kids are getting screwed up by the self-centeredness of the whole thing, vs. who's thriving. Perhaps the really smart people need to get together and talk this one over. It's way over my head. [But I would put a stop to those silly mirrors for "checking tefilin" (take a peek and watch if the bochur checks his face out too!) and to the GQ-ish business of dressing nuveau-yeshivish. Maybe I'm just a judgmental old fool (I am!), but to me, those shinanigans may easily replace our bochur's fledgling concern for pnimius with the quite natural (stupid) teenage motivation for chitzonius. Yakity yak-yak...]