Beating the Unbeatable
Did you ever have the experience of being in a great mood after a nice evening, and then suddenly cringe about something you said or did?
Do you ever feel that just as everything is finally going the way you want, you suddenly become anxious? "It can’t last," you say. "Something will go wrong." You become scared of losing something that you barely had a chance to appreciate.
Do you ever go through days of having nothing good to say to yourself, except how inadequate, incompetent, and deficient you are? Intellectually, you know you are all right. You are aware of all your accomplishments. You know you have good friends, and they are your friends for good reasons. And yet there is something in you that is saying to you: "You are no good. Never were, never will be."
What is going on? Why cannot we just enjoy our lives and appreciate each moment as it comes? What is IT?
Every culture knows about IT. Every culture speaks about IT. Every culture has developed techniques to combat IT. But no one knows how to become totally free of IT. Because it’s impossible. The sages of all cultures recognized that IT is indestructible. IT was. IT is. And IT will be for as long as human beings are endowed with free will. We can work at subduing IT in order to run our own lives, or IT subdues us and runs our lives for us.
Through the sacred texts, myths, and images found in the night dreams of various cultures, IT’s many appearances have been identified. But regardless of the form IT takes, IT’s essence is always the same. The essence of IT is the negation of life in every possible form. The essence of IT is the deliberate, consistent, and non-compromising movement away from IS - also known as TRUTH.
The Hindu tradition offers one of the best portrayals of IT. Shiva is one of three main Gods who symbolizes the primal rhythmic energy which animates the universe. Shiva dances and all things come into being and pass away. The three arms of Shiva represent the three aspects of the cosmic process: creation, maintenance, and dissolution. Shiva’s left foot is raised in the movement of the dance, the movement that perpetuates the continuity of life. But for stability Shiva needs strong support from his right foot. Look at Shiva’s right foot. It stands firmly on... not the ground, but a small dwarf. Surprise! With one foot in the air, and needing strong support, why not stand on the ground? Why on the dwarf? Because the dwarf is IT. The dwarf is "Man’s Forgetfulness" of God and his own nature. The dwarf looks meek and helpless under the powerful foot of Shiva. But if the "Lord of Dance" were to relax his vigil, the dwarf could grow strong and dangerous. If the dance of life is to go on, our inclination to forget who we truly are must remain under the firm foot.
Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa exemplify those in whom Shiva was able to tame the dwarf. Adolph Hitler was one of those in whom the dwarf was standing firmly on top of Shiva.
Most of us are locked in a ceaseless struggle with the dwarf. Sometimes we yield to IT’s power--negativity and criticism of the present, attachment to guilt and regret about the past, and the false glitter or anxiety about the future. Other times, quieting the voice of the trickster for a short time, we are allowed glimpses of the bliss and fullness of living in the "is-ness" of the moment.
Why is it so difficult to defeat IT? Because IT resides inside of us. IT is a part of us. IT’s very existence depends on us paying attention to IT’s voice. IT knows us better than anyone in the world does. IT is: "yeitza ho rah," as Hebrew sages called it, the evil inclination of forgetting our relationship with the Creator. And although we also have inside of us: "yeitza ha tov," the inclination of good, the voice of the Serpent is very powerful. Here is one of the major reasons.
In the struggle to gain mastery in life and attain inner and outer balance, each of us must become a "Jack of all trades." That is, one must learn the skills of how to eat, drink, walk, talk, and take care of one’s body. Then, perhaps how to drive, sing, work. How to be a son, a friend, a brother, a sister, a co-worker, a wife, a neighbor, a negotiator, a caretaker, etc. The list is endless. We all learn these skills to one degree or another, but it takes time and energy.
IT’s full attention is devoted to getting to know one person only: you. IT’s entire energy is spent on mastering only one area of expertise: convincing you to listen to IT’s voice. That is why I have named IT the Debater. When we feel weak and scared the Debater yells at us and threatens us. When we feel strong and confident the Debater lures our attention with admiration and the glitter of future victories, then inadvertently drops a phrase or two that creates doubt. One way or another, sooner or later, as long as we allow ourselves to become engaged in an interchange with the Debater we lose. Before we know it, we are living with what if, I had to, I never will, I always should, if only I would, maybe, why didn’t I, how could I, what I said was stupid, this is impossible for me to do, it will not work, I am ugly, this is too small, that is too big, there is not enough, there is too much...
The Debater seduces us into judging life rather than being within the experience of life itself. Without realizing when it starts, we are criticizing ourselves or others, consumed with guilt or regret about the past, frightened by or making up stories about the future. We are cut off from fully experiencing the present with its unlimited possibilities for growth and change.
It is easy for the Debater to command our attention. Most of the time we are not aware of how we slip into IT’s clever, inviting, and sticky traps of blame, anger, resentment, envy, judgment, guilt, fear, doubt, self-battery, megalomania. My good friend, and brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. Vivian Lind, says, "You have no control over going." Indeed, we only notice what is happening when we are already in the experience. "We do have control," she continues "over coming back." That is, once we become aware of being engaged with the Debater, it is our responsibility to take control. But how does one take control over something so all knowing, so skillful, so powerful?
Taming the Debater
The Debater has an Achilles Heel. There is one thing that the Debater absolutely needs in order to use IT’s skill of debating, in order to take control over us. It is TIME. No matter how quick, slick, and convincing the Debater may be, no matter how suggestible and vulnerable we are, TIME, at least a short period of time, is necessary for the debate to occur. It only takes a moment for us to be sucked in ever and ever again into the logical and seemingly reasonable net of arguments.
Here is the way out. Do not give the Debater time! With no time IT has no power. I have developed the following simple, quick, yet extremely effective technique. When used consistently, this combination of awareness, will, and imagination can subdue the Debater.
STEP 1: Give IT a name. Preferably, the name should be no more than one syllable.
STEP 2: Close your eyes, say the name out loud and see if any image comes to your mind. You might see the face of your Debater. Some of my students find that once IT appears in a certain form, IT always appears the same way. Others find that the Debater appears each time in a different form. And yet another group reports seeing no image at all.
STEP 3: Any time you find yourself being critical or negative in the present, regretful or guilt-ridden about the past, fearful of or in the fantasy world about the future, recognize the experience as being the voice of the Debater.
STEP 4: At that very moment, say in your mind, "Oh, it's you, (name of the Debater)."
STEP 5*: See the face of IT (if you can). Then see yourself pulling the string (like the ones on old-fashioned toilets) and flushing the Debater with an avalanche of water down into the Earth.
STEP 6: Go right back to whatever you are doing in the present moment.
*Some students find it possible to omit this step and go right to Step 6.
The whole process must take no more then five seconds. Two seconds is the best. No talk. That is crucial. Some of my students who were habitual "self-underminers" found themselves in the beginning doing the technique four to five hundred times a day! That’s not too bad if the rest of the time you can live in peace and balance. After all, five hundred times at five seconds per time is less than 42 minutes. Is it such a big price to pay?
Here I want to repeat something I said in the beginning of this essay; but it is an essential element of this work. Please, do not trust me, trust your experience. The only way you will know if this technique works is if you try it out. Test it for one week only, but with an absolute commitment. Even if you get tired after a few hours or days, stay with the technique. If you stay with it, you might find that with time, not only will the Debater bother you less and less, but you will also be able to become aware of IT’s presence and IT’s intentions more and more quickly. And one day, just as you find yourself about to grant attention to the voice of the Debater, you will know at once who is bidding for your life, and you will smile. And, as you do, the Debater will disappear into thin air.
Beating the unbeatable.
It has now (2010) been ten years since I first wrote about the debater. Since then, I have received a lot of positive feedback about the effectiveness of this technique that helps to beat the inner saboteur. And yet, again and again a question arose within my own mind and from my students: “Why would it be necessary for God (nature, ultimate reality, unified field of consciousness) to create something with an inherent self-destructive mechanism? Everything else in nature is geared only toward growth and construction. Every cell supports the lives of other cells, and every neuron fires at the right time in the right place. Every blade of grass thrives to grow, even breaking through the cracks in the cement pavement. The little bird eats from between the teeth of the alligator at the same time serving as a dental hygienist to the big fellow. And even a fallen leaf decomposes, only to become food for the tree that grows the leaf.
Then I remembered the Bible. At the end of each of the five days of creation God saw “It was good,” and at the end of the sixth day, after creating men, God saw “It was very good.” That which was very good (a human being) was born with something inside which was not good at all. This seems to be a major production flaw, something that constantly undermined the very existence of that which was very good. It just did not make sense.
I kept looking for an answer until I came across the following Talmudic statement: “Do as Satan does, not as Satan says.” Interesting…“Do as Satan does…” Isn’t that a call for Satan worshiping, for evil deeds? Of course not. The explanation followed in a typical Hebraic way--through a story.
Once there was a king who, as he advanced in age, wanted to know if his son, the prince, was worthy to be a king. So, he called his most beautiful, most devoted, and most trustworthy concubine and shared with her his concerns. He asked her to go the prince and do everything she could to sexually seduce him. He then called his son and told him, “My son, the following month I give you the reigns over the kingdom. You can do anything you wish except one thing: You can not have sex.” The discourse goes; when the concubine tries to seduce the prince, does that mean that she hates the king or the prince? Of course not, she is a devoted servant of the king. She wants the prince to prove worthy of being a king, she wants the king to be reassured and happy, and that is why she will do her best trying to seduce the prince while hoping that he passes the test.
The same is true for Satan. Satan does not doubt God, but doubts the integrity and devotion of men and will do everything to test them, to lure them into following their personal will rather than the will of God.
So, “Do as Satan does, not as Satan says…” means, Do as Satan does: be a devoted servant of God, Not as Satan says: do not listen to his stories, they are there just to test you.
The wisdom of this story brought me to understanding that the Debater is not an evil impulse within us that seeks our destruction; rather, it is a part of us that propels us to grow by creating obstacles and detours along the way. Having the opportunity to choose life, peace, and connectedness with God or that which is opposite to life, joy, peace, and happiness allows humans the freedom of self-creation making us God-like.
I also found an analogy to the Debater (the opposing power) in nature. Every living cell has a positive and a negative charge. If both poles become positive or both become negative, the cell dies.
We need the Debater to keep going and growing. It is not a part of us that is evil. It is a part of us that challenges us to make the right choices. All you have to do to beat the Debater is not to try to beat it, not to resent it, and not to argue with it. Remember the Debater’s one weakness, the one thing that the Debater absolutely needs in order to use IT’s skill of debating: TIME. With your increased awareness of the reason for the Debater inside you and its role in your growth, as soon as you notice any negativity, any judgment of yourself or others, any anger, or any thoughts that are not life-enhancing, simply say to yourself, “Oh, thanks for the reminder.” Of course, that means “Thank you, Debater, for the reminder that right now I am privileged to be tested. I understand that my negative thoughts are damaging to me and have no value. They appear only to challenge my commitment to following the Will of G-d. Therefore, I choose not to waste my life energy on fighting the evil; I choose to strengthen the good, by refusing to fight with negativity and by saying yes to life.” But this is a long statement. It takes time, which you do not want to give away. Just be aware of what it means when you say a short version of it “Oh, Thanks for the reminder.” After having made this statement, simply go right back to whatever IS, knowing that you always are the best you can be. If the outcome of your best is not what feels right, simply make another choice. There are no failures, only experiences.
If you adapt this attitude, the Debater has no power over you. You are free to live in the NOW. The Debater succeeded in testing you and you succeeded in passing the test.