About Rabbi Elazar Bloom, LMFT
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Entries by Rabbi Elazar Bloom, LMFT
I had just finished an emotional session with an amazing young couple. Both of them, brave souls with trauma filled backgrounds. I went on a long run to reflect and release and then I saw this guy (pictured above). A thought occurred. That beautiful shell is the pain and the need to protect. The little head popping out, is the courageous willingness to risk for the possibility of deep vulnerable love and connection. The pain never disappears, but with time and deliberate effort, the pain becomes part of the larger experience of what it means to be human. But only part of that wonderful experience.
“If we fear change, we are blind to the abundance of life”
– M. Nepo
What aspect of life’s abundance has this dramatic change brought you into contact with?
If that abundance is hard to see, that may be because we have become so accustomed to looking in narrow, confined spaces for it. Funny enough, those narrow, confined spaces may be “out there” in the ever expanding world of our next moment’s want.
Perhaps this change, this challenge can bring us into contact with the abundance within. Discovering that the small space of my own soul is home to the only true place of infinite expansiveness.
Working with couples, the most significant shift I get the privilege of witnessing is when husband and wife turn to one another and share intimate emotional space. She may share her loneliness and how her angry attack is really a fearful, fear laden attempt to try and find him. He may share his fear of failing and disappointing her (again) and how withdrawing is his way of protecting himself and not making things even worse. There is a special warmth and softness that pervades these moments and I often find my eyes watery with tears.
Unfortunately, for most couples these moments are too few and far between. Rarely do they face each other.
When the Torah describes the Cherubs (keruvim) that were perched above the cover of the holy ark (aron kodesh); it describes angelic child like carvings, one male and the other female, that were “opposite one another”. The meeting place of heaven and earth, the most intense divine revelation was the space between these two images. And yet, there is a detail in the verse that is often ignored. The verse states that while their positioning was set opposite one another, their faces were both directed downward toward the opening of the ark itself. The verse that follows describes what was inside the ark: the tablets, the luchot, the divine mission. The commentaries (see Rashi) wonder why the contents of the ark are mentioned again when a few verses earlier we were already told what it contained?
There is a beautiful message hidden here. A marriage, the most important relationship a human being can create is two equals, set opposite one another. In order for them to continue to be positioned in this open, intimate way there needs to be safety. There needs to be the safety and security that they are both, together, devoted to a purpose bigger, more wondrous and divine than either of them. This inhibits and softens the often destructive reactive patterns that enter a relationship when each individual becomes entrenched in the fearful need to defend one’s subjective experience.
When they both have their faces, their inner dimension focused on their mission, the return to one another, the repair is more accessible. The question of what does the beautiful divine edifice we are creating together need from me right now is the most powerful motivation to leave a stance of sadness, anger and disconnection and again seek intimate peace.
We all want to share safe intimate space with our life partner. In order for that to happen more easily and more often, we would be wise to focus on the grand project that we are lovingly embedded in together.
These small plants commonly found along the Eastern seaboard can hurt. But if you carefully cut the nettle at its stem, it’s insides serve as the perfect remedy. Pain is always best sweetened at its source. If you can slowly, gently enter and listen, it will share with you its secret of what is truly important.
A mother gets angry at her four year old son Josh for not listening…again. She yells. She doesn’t like yelling. It seems like something important is going on here. What is happening beneath the surface? Mom describes a normal childhood but is familiar with the pain of being ignored. Her physical needs were met, but emotionally, she felt invisible. She decides that with her son, she will do different. “I will be there for him, always.” She works hard at it. There are times she is so happy, so pleased with how she shows up for him differently. And there are other times. During those times, Josh just seems to ignore and defy her every word and something frightening happens. It happens fast, and at the end of it she is grabbing him by the arm with force. She hates herself in this moment. How did she get here?
If we slow it down enough, in that crucial moment of defiance we see that Josh, in all of his 4 years, becomes a grave threat to his mommy. He threatens the image of herself that she so valiantly and bravely seeks to create. Remember, she was going to do different, she was going to be more, and in that desire there is the vulnerability of getting it wrong. So, when Josh defies, before the anger, there is sadness, helplessness and pain. The pain and fear of failure. Anger is her movement away from the sadness and shame of to try and DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS! It his her attempt toward control and a solution. And the addictive thing about it is that is seems to work. He listens. And yet…it doesn’t. Josh begins to feel less safe and trusts her less; she feels increasingly worse about herself and her parenting abilities.
But if we gently investigate that anger and feel the sadness and pain that lie beneath, it begins to make so much sense. When something matters to someone they will do whatever they can to attain it. If mom could touch it, feel it and allow the pain to speak to her it might tell her: “You so want to be the mother Josh needs; it’s so important to you and it hurts when it seems that you are getting it wrong. You don’t want to get it wrong. Go to him, tell him how much you care, how much you want to be a good mother for him and how hard you are on yourself. How you see the hurt you caused him by yelling and how you don’t like it; even when you have to correct him, you want to express yourself with love. Take full ownership of your beautiful insides and see how he responds.
Sweeten the sting by entering the pain by its source. Listen closely and allow its wisdom to direct you.
“What’s wrong with you?” “Why are you so lazy?” “Look at how much better and more successful he is than you.” If these judgments were lodged at a child, we would be up in arms in defense of his dignity and her sense of self. And yet, we routinely file these evaluations and many others….against ourselves. If you are not familiar with the inner judge that I describe, good on you, stop reading now. But, if this voice resonates and you don’t want it to be as prominent and forceful as it is now, I hope these lines can help.
Before getting to how to silence or at least muffle this voice, we will first explore how it became useful to us and therefore so popular in our mind stream. This inner judge first developed as we were pushed out of connection with those that we needed to keep us safe and loved. It was early on, you don’t remember it. With the ever present threat of disconnection and loneliness, the inner critic became a vehicle to help us assert control over our environment and relationships. It’s message of “be better and you will stop feeling so bad” gives us a sense of inner control. A brilliant (and automatic) psychological mechanism, unfortunately, it ends up creating more trouble than it solves. Seduced by the positive attention of others when you perform well, you begin to trust this voice as the vehicle to get back to the garden. But, it never gets you there as the applause fades and the impermanence of the experience sends a renewed threat signal. This, in turn, revives the compulsive attention seeking and self-judgment, time and again. So, while well meaning, it just doesn’t do the job and the fearful voice of self-attack grows louder, stronger and more insidious.
What to do? First, we can acknowledge that this part of you is well intentioned. He really wants you to feel good again and is using the positive feelings that you have experienced via others’ approval as a possible way to get there. That is why it is so hard to give him a rest. We fear that if we ignore him, we will lose the motivation to ever get out of this state of uncertainty. So, while we appreciate his good intentions, his methods are not working. He does not create more safety, stability and connection but rather, an increase of anxiety and loneliness.
In order to quiet him down, we need to offer him an alternative. The alternative is based on a verse of in chapter 27 of Psalms where the sweet singer Israel announces:
“While my father and mother have abandoned me, God has gathered me in.”
As the compassionate connection we sought in our parents was less accessible, we became stuck. We entered into a pit of shame and self-doubt (“it must be me..”) and hoped that high performance, maybe even perfection could alleviate the suffering. We did not yet have access to the awareness that there is a divine part of us, an essential consciousness that cannot be added to or taken away. Yes, God, the Ein Sof, the Infinite, our True Reality, gathers us in. From that place we accept ourselves as fundamentally divine and just as important, fundamentally flawed. We begin to see life as a journey of constantly reaching out from our palace of imperfection to share with others and the world our unique music. From this open space of self-compassion we in turn, create room for others to be gathered in, to come home to their divine humanity. We form the authentic loving relationships we have always longed for.
So, tell your inner critic that you appreciate him. You know he is looking out for you and trying to keep you moving in the right direction. And yet, let him know that he can relax. He can still be part of the music as his sharp eye is helpful when every once in a while there is a true threat. I think that he will appreciate knowing his place because this whole thing is just plain exhausting.
And G-d called to Moses from the mountain saying: ‘This is what you shall tell the house of Jacob and relate to the Children of Israel’. (Exodus 19:3)
The ‘house of Jacob’ refers to the Jewish women. (Rashi)
The offer to receive the Torah and become G-d’s nation went to the women first. Why? Because a mother is the conduit for a child’s identity and essence. Identity is the context for all learning and spiritual growth (Torah). Therefore, it was crucial for the women to first accept this divine responsibility, only they could ensure its perpetuation for generations to come.
Aaron cast down his rod in the presence of Pharaoh….and it turned into a serpent… and the Egyptian magicians, in turn, did the same with their spells. (Exodus 7:10-11)
Aaron was given the divine ability to turn his staff into a snake. The Egyptian sorcerers appeared to do the same with theirs. This is a great analogy for 2 parenting styles that seem to get the same results: Take a child aside, gently speak to him and show him the correct way to clear his plate or to express his frustration; he will listen, and he will learn. Scream, threaten and punish; he will also listen and submit to your demands. Same results? Like the sorcerers’ “snakes”, submission to a scary parent is an illusion as nothing has really changed.
But education is the staff of Aaron, it has the capacity to transform. Aaron’s staff swallowed the magicians’ snakes because education eats intimidation for breakfast.