Thousands of years ago, the sages of Kabbalah understood the unique challenges and opportunities the calendar presents for each of us. We are entering the month of Cancer which is a month where the energy supports deeply felt emotions. Our emotions can push us toward our purpose, give us the motivation to accept risk as the price for great rewards and act as signposts warning us of dangers or pushing us toward blessings. Sounds wonderful, right?
Yes and no. For every emotion there is a positive side and a negative side. Too often we act or say things in our emotional state, things that in retrospect we realize we shouldn’t have said or done. The challenge of this month is to take control of our emotions and use them for growth. Taking control of our emotions and not being controlled by them is how we ultimately gain the joy and fulfillment for which we came to this world. Even positive emotions can turn negative— curiosity becomes obsession, sadness turns into depression, love can turn to co-dependence.
When we lose control of our emotions we can fall into negative thoughts and self-judgments. Everyone makes mistakes, in fact, everyone MUST make mistakes. It’s the only way that we transform and grow closer to the Creator. In fact, taking an honest account of our faults and misdeeds is an imperative step on any spiritual path. When we see our faults we can set a new course for our lives, with greater resolve to act in accordance with our truest self. When you know better, you do better.
And I’d like to share with you a story from a great kabbalist, The Apte Rebbe Rabbi Abram Yehoshua Reshil. Very often people went to kabbalists for assistance, advice and blessings. A man travelled from another town to ask The Apte Rebbe for a blessing. The kabbalists have the ability to look at a person and see who they really are, what their essence truly is, and as the Apte Rebbe looked at the man he realized that he’s probably one of the worst people alive at his time. There wasn’t a negative act that this person had not done.
The Apte Rebbe raised his voice and said, “How dare you come, you evil one, how dare you come into my presence? Go out, I don’t want to look at a person as evil as you.” So the man of course was shaken by his words, by this great kabbalist screaming at him. The man asked the kabbalist “Is there any way for me to still correct my soul? Can I be cleansed?” The Apte Rebbe’s words had awakened this man to want to make changes. For the first time in his life, he realized all the negative actions that he’d done, all the truly negative things that he had accomplished in his life. The Apte Rebbe said, “I can’t help you now. All I can tell you to do is go away for a year. Don’t do anything negative for this year. And find your own way that you think you can correct yourself because right now, as you are, I do not see a way that I can help you. I do not see a way for you to correct yourself. I do not see a way for you to perfect yourself, to cleanse yourself of all the negativity that you have done, all the negativity that you have created.” The man heard all of this and departed from the Apte Rebbe’s presence.
That Saturday, after the great kabbalist met with this man, his children and family became ill. When The Apte Rebbe saw this he knew it was a consequence of having broken a great negativity, a great source of darkness. By awakening that man, he had broken and removed the tremendous level of darkness from our world. Therefore, that negativity was bringing illness to the Apte Rebbe’s family in retaliation. The Apte Rebbe knew that this was a possibility and it is important to note that true kabbalists will help another person even if it can bring him harm. It’s very easy to try to help somebody else when it doesn’t influence me, when there’s nothing negative that can come to me from it.
After that first week, The Apte Rebbe calls back the man and says, “Go home, and there as I said, do whatever you think you can to work on yourself, and after one year, come back to me.” The man went back to his town and he worked diligently for the whole year. He studied and committed himself to doing as much good as he could. But he does this not just for one year, but for seven complete years. After seven years, he went back to The Apte Rebbe hoping that his work of seven years had created an opening so that the kabbalist could truly help him change. When he walked into the room after seven years the Apte Rebbe stood up to greet him, saying, “I see upon you the Light of the Creator. Who are you? You must be a great man!”
The man starts crying. And he says, “Don’t you recognize me anymore? I am that same evil person that you saw seven years ago. I had done everything negative possible to do in my life.” The Apte Rebbe started crying with him and looked at his image, at the image of God that surrounded him now. He saw that he achieved a tremendous level of connection to the Light of the Creator and that the Light of the Creator literally surrounded him. The Apte Rebbe hugged him, and he kissed him. He said, “You no longer need anybody like me to help you perfect yourself because your soul is completely corrected. You don’t need any more assistance, any more correction. Not only had you perfected your soul, but you have perfected your body.
We are talking about perfecting ourselves through the use of regret. This man was able to perfect himself in seven years from a starting place of total negativity. Are we constantly pushing ourselves and looking back and asking, ‘How can I become as perfect as that negative person?’ We have to look back with regret at everything negative that we have done and find ways to make it better.
The danger lies in turning our laser sharp judgments inward and becoming paralyzed by the enormity of what we have done. Feelings of regret can be so crushing that they chip away at our feelings of self-worth. Feelings of regret that lead us to make resolutions of change are positive. Negative regret occurs when there is no action, only a crushing sense of guilt and helplessness.
We’ve all done things that we have regretted, and often (at the time) our actions were for the right reasons! We’ve all done things that have hurt ourselves and others. Kabbalists teach that regret is an important emotion as long as we don’t look back at things that we’ve done and become upset or depressed about them to the extent that we do nothing. This is negative regret and serves no purpose. It is purely harmful.
Positive regret occurs when we look back at our actions and they become the impetus to do things differently, to change and grow. When we experience the pain of regret we first have to ask ourselves where it’s coming from. Is it positive or negative? The simple way to determine this is by noting your behavior. Are you stuck? Sad? If so, dispel it by instead assigning yourself an action of how you will respond differently next time around. Once you’ve done this it is time to release the regret. There is no further purpose for it. Holding onto regret once you’ve learned the lesson that was intended from the error is like donating your right shoe but keeping the left. It’s useless baggage, dead weight on your soul. Our consciousness should be of perfecting ourselves through the use of that emotion. Commit yourself to using your emotions for positive growth. Although this takes unwavering effort, what motivates me to do the work is that I would rather experience the pain of discipline than the pain of regret.
Feelings of regret can be very difficult to dispel. Remember that we all have a spark of the Light of the Creator. We can’t walk a spiritual path if we are depressed and judging ourselves. We can only walk a spiritual path if we respect and love ourselves. When we embrace and love our own Light it becomes infinitely easier to love and embrace others.
We need to be more tolerant and compassionate towards our own faults. As Karen Berg says, “Intolerance is the opposite of love, since it is judgmental and rejecting, which love is not.”THOUGHT INTO ACTION Exercise compassion and acceptance of yourself. If you do something wrong, instead of a confirmation of failure, practice self-tolerance. See it as an opportunity for growth.