Day 16: Take One Day at a Time
"The keys to control" are exactly what I need! What do routine and experience have to do with controlling my eyes?
"Routine and experience are the keys to control in every matter."
(Ohr Yisrael, Letter Four)
Rabbi Salanter used the word "routine" quite intentionally, for self-improvement does not happen overnight. Character refinement is a process that takes time. Develop a routine practice of guarding your eyes. By making it a habit, you will eventually train your eyes to avoid looking at improper images.
The slowness of your progress may frustrate you. Remember that just as you cannot detect the movement of the hour hand on a clock unless you look at it intermittently, it's hard to detect character transformation as it is taking place.
Let's review the well-known story of Rabbi Akiva, who began studying Torah at age forty, and felt little progress. One day, he sat down near a spring and noticed a rock with a hole that had been made by the dripping water. He saw a wonderful message in this occurrence: "If water, which is soft, can carve a rock, which is hard - then surely the Torah, which is so strong, can penetrate my heart which is only flesh and blood." (Avot D'Rebbi Natan, chapter 6)
This insight - that there is undetectable, but certain change - inspired Rabbi Akiva to rededicate himself to Torah. He understood that every word he learned infused him with spiritual health, life, and holiness. This awareness propelled him to become one of the greatest of our Sages.
The other key is experience. In your battle to overcome the curiosity of your eyes, there will be slip-ups and mistakes along the way. Unexpected images or challenging situations may catch you off-guard.
Even if you have the strongest dedication to self-improvement, it's critical to accept the fact that mistakes are part of the learning process. We need to learn the pitfalls in order to avoid them. The Talmud expresses this truth: "A person can only learn after he has erred." (Gittin 43a)
The realization that mastery over your eyes takes time and experience is very important for two reasons: first, to avoid the unrealistic expectation of instant change; and secondly, to understand that without occasional mistakes, we cannot really grasp the lesson.
Considering the tendency of human nature to be attracted to improper images, it is virtually impossible for a person to gain instant control of his eyes. If you react with guilt and despair every time you fall short, you will never learn from your error. But if you can identify the exact mistake, you will eventually learn not to repeat it.
Today: Be patient with yourself! Take a look at the mistakes you've made, so you will be alert to these specific challenges in the future.