Dealing with Fantasies
There are no words to thank you for the tremendous help and support you provide. I have worked on many of the tools, but I think I need the most help in one area. How to properly deal with "sticky thoughts." Fantasies and triggers will often sneak in. I am compulsive by nature and I know that I need to learn how to live with discomfort instead of trying to relieve and passify every itch. (Just because I'm itchy doesn't mean I should scratch). I've been raising the penalties and it definitely is a deterrent, but being compulsive can lead me to irrational decisions even at the risk of a lot of money lost. I've read #11 in the attitudes section, I think it's good but too brief and I still struggle. I'm familiar with the concept of "mindfulness" and was wondering if there's are mindfulness exercises geared specifically for dealing with lustful sticky thoughts. I feel like I need a rehaul in my thinking patterns. Do you have more literature or other ideas on how to deal or not deal with triggers and compulsive sticky grabbing thoughts that take over me? Please help. Thanks again for everything.
Rabbi Simcha Feuerman:
The problem is that you are fighting. A good driver needs guard rails only in an emergency. To drive while constantly bumping against the guardrails is a problem. There is truth to the idea of milchemes hayetzer but warfare is not a natural or healthy state to be involved in continuously.
Something has to change where you feel and think differently. Until then, it still cannot be a constant war.
There is much more to say on this but time does not permit.
Thank you for letting me respond to this important question. I want to first say that I'm sharing and suggesting these things even though I'm a sober addict and your question is not about recovery from addiction per se. I also prefer to assume that you're not an addict and your description of your journey so far doesn't sound anything like addiction to me - which I think is a great thing.
A few things for you to consider that may differ from the conventional wisdom:
1- There is no natural barrier to obsession. It can appear in good habits, as well as bad ones. You may discover that you are simply obsessing about having clean thoughts at all times. And obsession, regardless of the subject, is not helpful for many reasons. So I will suggest to you that it may be time to accept the fact that people have these 'sticky' thoughts you describe, and they are nevertheless great people, including kedoshim and tehorim among us. Obviously, our Rabbis and gedolim cannot get completely explicit regarding the exact nature of their own inner, hidden struggles. But they are, no doubt, similar to yours. No one dies or loses their madreigo from having sticky thoughts, alone. Consider getting used to being a real, beautiful, and imperfect human being sooner than later.
2- Along those lines, we all know that having thoughts alone is no sin, at all. The only real spiritual or religious problem happens when one 1- acts on them or 2- holds onto them unnecessarily. (See this great 5 min clip from Rabbi YY Jacobson)
I would like to suggest that by trying to fight them and deny that they are part of your normal landscape, you are much more likely to be holding on to them. We know the Kotzker said that wrestling with a dirty man only makes you dirtier and dirtier. Addicts in 12 step recovery use a term called 'surrender', referring to moving on without something instead of fighting it. They come to see that the main reason they were fighting their obsessions and desires before, was because the struggling itself allowed them to hold on to them and deal with them virtually forever. When an addict misguidedly connects 'kedushas hamo'ach' and 'tikkun habris,' they basically sign their death certificate and condemn themselves to never letting go of it. In a strange but real way, "not letting go" is a comfort to somebody who sees that it's wrong to have these thoughts but never really wants to let them go.
3- The famous 'Tzet'l Kotton' of the Rebbe R' Meilech #13 refers to your problem and suggests "Go to your spiritual adviser or even just a faithful friend and reveal to them on a regular and ongoing basis all your troubling thoughts and desires without holding anything back due to shame. And you will find that this breaks their power over you and that you will succeed with G-d's help." Would you consider doing that? The email you sent Is a very early start at doing that, but lacks two essential elements that he was obviously taking for granted: 1- it is best done in person, and 2- the exact nature of the thoughts and desires must be clearly and unambiguously expressed. By opening up in this fashion to another very real and present person, one can gain true self-honesty. (Actually, I believe it is often the only way to gain it.)
And the very fact that every person balks to some degree at carrying out this suggestion is the exact reason that what the tzaddik says, works. By opening up to another party in this way, we are setting up a new and very real Behavior Pattern of self-honesty, which leads me to my final suggestion...
4- 'Sticky' thoughts that just won't go away, as you described, are affected tremendously by a thing that is not thought at all: Behavior. There are many behaviors we can all do that will change the inner workings of our brains by the alterations they produce in the playing field. Our behaviors change our priorities, as the s'forim tell us. But they need to be: 1- Actions, not just ideas, 2- They need to be at least a bit out of our comfort zones, and 3- they need to be performed on a more or less regular and ongoing basis.
You have gained so much from using the tools of GYE so far! But even the most wonderful tools have limitations. Some tools have built-in limitations. Be'H, my 4 suggestions may help you on the path to outgrow the limitations of the tools you have been using so far. Hatzlocha!