Tool 3: Guard Your Eyes
It is not for nothing that our network is called "Guard Your Eyes". Aside from having the proper attitude in this struggle - as discussed above, the most obvious practical step to conquering lust addiction is learning to guard our eyes. This is the cornerstone of breaking free, and it's obvious why: We can't lust for that which we don't see. When we guard our eyes, it's like we are avoiding the wrestling rink where the mighty Yetzer Hara is waiting to beat us up. If we simply don't enter the rink, he can't touch us!
Conversely, it is impossible to even begin to heal from lust addiction if we continue to be bombarded with triggers at every turn. As lust addicts, our minds have become accustomed to lusting. We can not gaze at stimulating imagery and expect not to be triggered. We cannot have it all within hands reach and expect to be strong enough to stay away. We have grown addicted to the chemical rush in our mind that the lust brings on, much in the same way that an alcoholic craves his bottle. Therefore, if we are to break the addictive cycle, we must first keep lust at a distance to be able to begin our journey to recovery.
And one of the first things that this entails is installing a strong Internet filter.
The GYE website has an entire section with filter options, ranging from "server" or "client" based, free or commercial, Jewish or non-Jewish. There is something there to meet anyone's needs. On our website, we can also learn about how the different types of filters work and what the terms mean, such as "server based", "client based", "white-list", "blacklist" etc...
If you're looking for a free, relatively solid and simple-to-use filter, we recommend K9 (www.k9webprotection.com). However, it is imperative that someone else's e-mail address be used in the installation, so the password cannot be easily requested. On our website, you can find a step by step guide on how to do this correctly and efficiently. GYE has a special “filter-Gabai” who can hold the password for you and make changes to your filter when necessary by using remote-accessing software. This way, we never need to have the password ourselves and can feel truly free! Contact the filter-Gabai at firstname.lastname@example.org. (You may also ask the filter Gabai for advice on how to filter your handheld devices, such as Blackberries and iPhones.)
If we must have completely open Internet access for our work, we can still download accountability software, where e-mail reports are sent to a partner who will see all the questionable pages that we may have browsed. Please see www.webchaver.org or www.eBlaster.com. Even if we have a filter installed, it is important to have accountability software. When lust attacks, an addict can usually find a way around his filter, but if he knows that his partner will see all the sites he is trying to access, it will be a far stronger deterrent.
If our Internet filter does not block all questionable sites, we must carefully consider our motivation for every site we visit. We must begin to recognize the sly voice of our addiction. If it's a news site, we need to consider why we want to read certain articles. If it's because the site or article discusses inappropriate topics (fashion, celebrities, or "news items" relating to immoral behavior), or even if it might discuss them and the Yetzer Hara (read: addiction) wants us to find out for sure, then we must learn to hold back and not click on the links. In general, it is important to limit the number of sites we visit to a small list and question any time we feel the need to visit a site that is not on the list.
In healing from this addiction, we need to learn to be very honest with ourselves. If we find that we can't control our surfing habits, we need to admit it and make stronger fences, such as limiting our time online, making concise lists of sites we allow ourselves to visit, getting better filters/accountability software or setting the current filter's settings to a higher protection level.
We highly suggest getting solid Internet filters that block any questionable sites. The best type of filters are Jewish server-based filters like Jnet, Koshernet, Yeshivanet and Internet Rimon (in Israel). And of course, the best level of protection is "White-list", which means that all sites are blocked except for specific sites that we can ask the company to open for us (or sites that the company has already checked and white-listed). If the "white-list" option is impossible for us to have due to Parnassa requirements, the filter should at least be set to the highest protection setting that we can afford to use, even if that means less entertainment.
It is important to realize though, that the goal of the filter is only to keep it "out of sight and out of mind". It is not going to remove the possibility of accessing indecent material altogether. If a person is determined enough, they will often be able to find ways to bypass filters, and even if not, they will always be able to find many other venues to access inappropriate material. Ultimately, the change must come from within, with a sincere desire to stop lusting. (See Part 2 of this handbook for more on how to achieve this sincerity).
The filter acts mainly as a "heker" (a reminder), similar in a sense to what our Sages tell us about Palti ben Layish (to whom Shaul Hamelech gave over David's wife). Palti was alone every evening with Michal (who Chazal tell us was one of the most beautiful women) and yet he never stumbled because of a sword that he placed between the two of them, saying that whoever bypasses this sword should be run through by it. The filter is like our sword, it is our "heker". But it will not stop us completely unless we want it to. However, since it can take a long time until we learn to genuinely give up our lust to Hashem, we must have a strong filter at all times. For if we don't get it out of reach, we won't be able to stop the vicious cycle of addiction and begin the healing process.
Another great way to make sure we guard our eyes online is to place the computer in a highly visible area of the house, such as the living room, and to also make sure never to use the Internet when alone in the house.
In any event, it is best for us - if possible - to avoid all non-Jewish or secular news and entertainment sites (and the like). See the "Kosher Isle" on our website for lists of Kosher news and entertainment sites that can provide us with more than our ‘daily dosage’ of news and distractions.
Guarding our eyes outside
As addicts to lust, we must be extra careful about where we go. It is best to refrain from frequenting malls and other such public places where we know that we will have difficulty guarding our eyes. If we must be in such places, we can try to spend as little time there as possible, and perhaps even remove our glasses if we have bad eye-sight. Otherwise, we can try wearing sunglasses covered inside with non-see through lamination, or color the inside of a special pair of glasses with a black magic marker, leaving only a small hole to peer through (the Steipler Gaon gave someone this idea). For those who need to take public transportation to work, bringing a sefer along or an MP3 player with shiurim to listen to while keeping one’s eyes closed has been known to help. Even weddings, Simchos and family gatherings can be problematic for us, and we can try to prepare ourselves mentally beforehand. We can resolve to remain in the non-mixed areas as much as possible, or try to find a seat facing in a direction opposite from any possible triggers.
If we will have to be in an area where we know there will be a struggle, we can try to offer a short prayer before leaving the house: "Please Hashem, help me not to take any second looks". And if we find that we do stumble and take a second look, we can quickly offer another short prayer and say, "Hashem, I surrender my lust to you! Please take it away from me".
Guarding our eyes off-line
If we are serious about breaking free of lust addiction, we need to try to refrain from watching TV, movies and reading secular magazines and newspapers as much as possible, since all of them are full of promiscuity. Even the most innocent-sounding children's movies today are filled with imagery which can be very triggering for a lust addict and we must therefore try to avoid them as much as we can.
Let's talk about movies, for example. Movies are one of the biggest stumbling blocks to a proper healing from lust addiction, because often we find them very hard to give up. They serve as a source of entertainment for millions of people around the world, and they are often a welcome distraction from the difficult realities of life. But movies are filled to the brim with triggers to lust. And even if one is successful to find a movie with absolutely no provocatively dressed women or kissing scenes in them (almost impossible today), will there still not even be any attractive female actors in the movie at all? If we are trying to guard our eyes in the street - and we must be; how can we allow ourselves to stare at attractive women in a movie for about 2 hours straight? As lust addicts, most of us simply cannot look at attractive women - even modestly dressed - and not think or feel any undercurrent of lust. The nature of the addiction has taken this ability away from us. And we must admit this truth to ourselves; as long as we are lusting - we are still feeding the addiction.
Therefore in the GYE community, we know that if we are truly serious about breaking free from the poison of lust, we must let this be our sacrifice for Hashem's glory and give up non-Jewish movies for good. And surely this will be considered a most precious sacrifice in Hashem's eyes, a sacrifice brought on the altar of our hearts!
It is important to realize that guarding the eyes is not just "Tool 3", but rather it's the cornerstone of all the tools. Without guarding our eyes, we continue to lust and feed the addiction, and no matter what other steps we may take, we are still acting like an alcoholic who takes small sips of whiskey to get his high. We have to learn to let go of lust and not allow ourselves to have that "first drink". There is no "drinking like a gentleman" for an alcoholic, and neither is there for us. Once we taste it a little, we are easily drawn back in and will often lose control.
Although we present this tool in the very beginning, guarding our eyes applies throughout all the tools. Even those who are more seriously addicted and are working already with the advanced tools of this Handbook will still need to guard their eyes. True "lust addicts" do not have control in this area. No matter how many years they manage to stay clean and no matter what steps they may have taken, if they are faced head-on with lust, they will feel powerless. We have an “allergy” to lust, and as the saying goes: "Once an addict, always an addict". As scary as this may seem, it really is not so bad. People who have a deficiency of iron in their body, even if it's a chronic condition, can still lead perfectly normal lives as long as they take their daily iron pill.
With the 12 Steps (Tool 15-16 below) we learn how to admit powerlessness and surrender our lust to Hashem. By following the steps of this Handbook, we can learn to keep the addiction completely in check, and lead happy and fulfilling lives. But we must never let our guard down. The number one symptom of this disease is that when we are faced head-on with lust, we cannot help lusting. And that is why the very first practical tool in recovering from lust addiction is to guard our eyes and avoid lust as much as possible.
It's a Process
As we discussed, guarding our eyes is the starting point, middle point, and the final frontier of this struggle. Even when we have already learned to control the more seriously damaging addictive behaviors, we may still find that it takes us yet another few years to learn how to fully surrender our lusting to Hashem and gain complete control over our eyes. So don't get discouraged if you break free of the inappropriate behaviors but still find it difficult to guard your eyes on the street. It is a process. But if we stay determined to get our lives and priorities back on track, we will see progress in this area, slowly but surely. And we must progress. Staying in the same place keeps us vulnerable to relapse, and if we don't try to move forward a little every day in learning how to guard our eyes, we will remain susceptible to being drawn back into the harmful addictive behaviors as well.
Some Guard Your Eyes Tips
There is a saying: “The first look is on G-d, the second one is on us". In other words, we can't help if we saw something triggering in the street unintentionally. But if we take a second look, we are feeding our addiction. Here are some GYE training tips that might help us get started in learning to guard our eyes on the street.
1) Make it Hurt: We can try to accept upon ourselves (not forever, just for "x" amount of days or weeks, at first) that every time we take that second look at something triggering, we will (either):
- give ourselves a pinch that hurts,
- wear a rubber-band and snap it against our skin,
- give 25 cents to tzedaka,
- give our eyes a "time out" by closing them for 6 seconds.
2) The "Three-Second Rule”: If we see something inappropriate, we can implement the "three-second rule." Doing so involves three steps: alert, avert, and affirm. The first step is to realize that we're seeing something inappropriate. That's the "alert" stage, and it may take a second or two. The second step is to close our eyes or look away. That's the "avert" stage. These two steps should take place within [about] three seconds. The third step is to give yourself a mental "pat on the back" thinking something like, "I saw that by mistake, and I quickly looked away. I'm still clean and, G-d willing, I'm going to build on that, one day at a time." That's the "affirm" stage.
This is crucial, because as addicts, it's often the first slip that does us in ("just as an alcoholic needs to avoid that first sip, a lust addict needs to avoid the first slip").
Many times we feel, "I looked away, but maybe I waited a drop longer than I had to". Then the Yetzer Hara makes us feel guilty when we’ve done nothing wrong at all, and that can lead to further slips and falls. The "three-second rule" recognizes that it may take a second or two to realize that something is amiss, and only then are we expected to look away.
3) Small Goals: Make very small goals at first. For example, we can accept upon ourselves that for the walk from home to shul and back, no matter what, we will absolutely not look anywhere besides at the ground. It may be difficult at first, but after a few times of doing this we will hopefully be able to increase our goals.
4) Developing the Proper Attitude towards Shemiras Ainayim:
a) We need to tell ourselves that no matter how painful it feels not to look, it will always be even more painful to look. Because when we look, there are two acute pains we feel:
· We feel suddenly far from Hashem and from our goals.
· We know we can't have it anyway, and when we look - we desire it and it HURTS.
So essentially, the pain we feel when not looking is much better than the pain of looking! And as they say in the 12-Step literature, “No situation can be bad enough that a little lusting won’t make it worse”.
b) The pain we feel when not looking is HEALING pain, like the pain from surgery. The pain is healing us. On the other hand, the spiritual pain of looking is the pain of the disease getting worse. Which pain do we choose?
c) The pain we feel when not looking is not really our pain at all. It is the pain of the Yetzer Hara in his "death throes". He is screaming that we are hitting him hard. So we can actually enjoy the pain! We are feeling the pain of our enemy as he gets weaker!
d) The whole desire is a blown up bubble of hot-air, built around what we see and imagine in our minds. Experience has shown us all, that as soon as we get what we thought we wanted -- what we thought was going to be absolutely incredible (according to what we saw and fantasized), the bubble pops and all that's left is "hot air". We are left shaking our head and not believing that for this we sell our very souls.
e) Let us also reflect for a moment. If we were blind, chas veshalom, we wouldn't struggle with lust. If we didn't have this amazing gift of sight that Hashem gave us, would we be able to lust through our eyes? Scientists tell us that the human mind makes billions of calculations per second when processing information from the countless nerve endings that connect our eyes to our brains. How can we take this amazing gift and use it against Hashem's will?
5) Letting Go of Lust: The world is full of temptations. If we want to hold on to lust, we will have endless opportunities to continue lusting at every turn. We will be fighting a losing battle of Shemiras Ainayim by constantly trying not to look at things that we do want to look at so badly. Instead, the real trick to success is to learn how to let go of the lusting altogether. Instead of fighting it head-on, we need to simply let go of it.
As someone who is working the 12 Steps once wrote:
"Today, the fight is much easier for me. When I have urges, I admit powerlessness, acknowledge that Hashem is the only One that can - and will - help me, and I ask Hashem to remove the lust from me. I am frankly surprised by how much better this works than fighting the urges head on".
Another important step in letting go of lust, is learning how to deal with obsessive lustful thoughts and fantasies. See principle #11 of Part 2 below, for some great tips and techniques on how to let go of lust and fantasies in our minds.
6) Get daily chizuk on "Guarding Our Eyes": To receive daily chizuk on Shmiras Ainayim, sign up to the Shmiras Ainayim Chizuk e-mail list on our website.
The eyes are the windows to our souls and must be guarded diligently if we are to make real spiritual progress. We can download a free e-Book called "Windows of the Soul" by the Salant foundation from our website. This book, which can be purchased in hard copy as well, provides a 30-day Chizuk program to help us learn how to guard our eyes properly.
The GYE network also has a daily phone conference on Shmiras Ainayim (for non-addicts as well) where we can join together with a group of other Yidden by phone to get Chizuk and learn techniques on how to guard our eyes in today’s difficult environment.