CARE is a psycho-spiritual program that aims to make us God conscious instead of self-conscious – but this isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. If we could just push a button and be magically relieved of all the really unhelpful noise in our heads most of us would have done that by now. Personally I've never met anybody who could escape from all of this internal chatter including myself.
Before the sin of Adam and Eve they didn't worry and ruminate. They didn't judge themselves or each other. They lived in such perfect harmony with G-d that they didn't even notice their lack of clothing. How could that be? The simple reason was that they weren't thinking about themselves, they were thinking about G-d, and therefore they were living in perfect harmony with Him. I like Rabbi Shais Taub's terms for this. He calls it a G-d consciousness as opposed to self-consciousness.
You know the story. After the sin, they both quickly grabbed some "clothes" and G-d asked them: "What's with the new outfits? Why are you wearing those things?" To which they answered: "Because we're naked." To which G-d replied, "Naked?", "Who told you you were naked?"
You see, when Adam and Eve started worrying about what they looked like (without clothes), this was the beginning of painful, self-conscious ruminative thinking. This historic event is why we humans suffer the crippling effects of overly critical and overly judgmental thoughts and emotions, and run-away thoughts and fantasies that attack us and intrude into our minds. It's important to say that none of this is our faults. We can thank Adam and Eve for bequeathing to us this insidious process of self-obsession which takes up so much room in our minds and weakens our G-d connection. Actually the most healthful approach is for us to forgive the first man and woman since everything is ultimately from G-d and somehow for our best.
The truth is that all of my life I've been trying to escape from this internal spider's web of intrusive, overly critical, overly judgmental thoughts and the crippling effects that they've had on me - I was never able to - neither have most people. In fact the more I tried to wiggle out of the spiders nest in my head the more stuck I got. It reminds me of the Chinese finger trap gag that we used to play as kids. It was a thin tube made of woven bamboo into which the unsuspecting "victim" was told to put one finger in each side of the tube and try, just try to pull them out! But the harder they tried, the more the tube would tighten around their fingers.
There is a way way out, of the Chinese Finger Trap, that is for those who are ready to admit the defeat of their self-will and give themselves over to something counter-intuitive. Instead of pulling harder to get out, the real way out is to first go in. You must push the fingers inward which expands the tube. Then brace the edges with your thumbs and I promise you'll be free!
I am blessed to be a part of a growing community of people. We're called Project Care. All of us have been struggling with too much awareness of self and not enough awareness of G-d. We also have in common a hunger for a closer connection to G-d. And so we are finding ways to help each other to finally, finally become disentangled from that insidious spiders nest, which the poet Shelly aptly refers to as the dark idolatry of self. What is the idolatry of self? Some people call it the EGO (short for erasing G-d out).
How do we extricate ourselves from EGO? We do this not so much by "treating" our swollen egos, but rather by admitting to ourselves, to each other and to G-d Above, that the obsessive crazy eight patterns running rampant in our minds have licked us, and that we are ready for a new and much more real relationship with the only One who can save us from ourselves. And miracles of miracles, through surrendering our self-will and praying to live in alignment with our beloved Creator, we are seeing His willingness to channel His Power and Love into our lives like we've never felt it before.
I was discussing this problem of run away crazy eight brain patterns yesterday with a 20 year old yeshiva student who has been diagnosed with ADHD. As I spoke, I drew the crazy eight on a white board. I pointed to it and said, "You see, this is our problem!" Suddenly the young man started laughing: "Excuse me, but Dr. Ballen must be kidding." "What do you mean?", I asked. He answered: "Excuse me, Dr. Ballen, but would it be okay if I draw something on the board?" "Of course", I said. He then explained to me that he considered one eight that I drew to be a joke, and proceeded to draw his own visual depiction of how his overly judgmental mind is spinning him all over the place (even on heavy medication).
If you can't read what's written in this inter-connected web of crazy eight patterns, this is what he told me about what he wrote:
1. Why do [other students] ask such stupid questions in class? 2. What's with these idiots [other kids in yeshiva] who are wearing scarves in the summer? 3. Why are certain kids getting caught up in learning [the Talmud] so deeply (the implication was that they were trying to be big shots) 4. Why are they so slow in the shower? 5. Why does it take them forever to do their laundry? 6. Why do they drink alcohol? 7. How come they don't doven (pray) shacharis (morning prayers) on time with the yeshiva (but go elsewhere to pray) 8. Why are they learning mishnayos (a form of Torah learning) during night seder (the evening study period. The implication was that they should be learning Talmud at that time 9. Why do they take so long to eat breakfast, and so long to speak and walk? 10. And he even opened up about his prejudice towards students from the UK whose "accents" grate on his nerves.
Keep in mind that all of this is going on pretty much all day long taking up room rent-free on the most valuable prime real estate that he owns - his mind! And, that none of these tyrannical inner dictates represent his true values (adding more pain). Thank G-d he's had enough of this and is ready to try another way.