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Principles of the Soul: #4 - A View of the Universe

May 8, 2009 | by Rabbi Chaim Levine

The ego says that external circumstances define how you should feel. The soul says that the controls are all internal. What do you think?

Living according to your ego is like seeing the world through the glass of a fishbowl with dirty water. Seeing life through the lens of the soul is like looking at the clear view from the top of a mountain, with a telescope available whenever you need it.

The ego is driven by all things external. All the complexes that land you in a therapist's office come from ego thinking -- fear of failure, fear of rejection, identity crisis, etc. All these fears are expressions of the ego as it tries to trick you into believing that you are defined by something outside yourself.

Pay attention to the thoughts your ego feeds you and you'll probably hear something like this:

"You are what you make."
"If I fail I am less than worthless."
"The guy with the most toys wins."
"I'm fat and everybody knows it."
"S/he forgot to call, and it means s/he doesn't love me."

If you think this is bad, wait till you hear this. The ego also does something that is more subversive, more sinister, more corrupting, and ultimately, more painful: It tries to convince you that your well-being and happiness are completely dependent on your surroundings. It tells you things like: "He made me angry!'" or "My job is getting me depressed." These statements make it seem as though your circumstances are in complete control of how you feel, and results in your being constantly bounced from feeling to feeling -- from stressed to relaxed to depressed to happy -- depending on what is happening around you.

The next time you lose a sale, blow an exam, or miss an opportunity, and you start to entertain thoughts of depression and failure, ask yourself, "Are my circumstances causing me to feel this way, or is it how I am thinking about my circumstances?"

Ask yourself: "Are my circumstances or my thoughts causing me to feel the way I feel?"

If you think your circumstances are causing you to feel depressed, ask yourself why it is that other people who are in the same boat as you are, seem to shrug off failures like water off a duck's back. How is it that some people -- no matter what misfortune comes their way or no matter what negative comments others make to them –- always keep their well-being and happiness intact?

If, God forbid, you became a paraplegic, it would be reasonable to suppose that you would become seriously depressed. It seems that such an experience is objectively depressing. Yet, there are paraplegics who go through life happy. Although they cannot walk or perform the simplest physical functions on their own -– eating, getting dressed, washing, or sometimes even breathing –- they are truly happy.

Can you really say then that your happiness depends on your circumstances? Your ego would have you think so.


The soul understands that the only thing that determines your happiness is what goes on inside your head. If you fail a test, the soul tells you there will be many more tests to pass and many more opportunities. When you fall, the soul softly whispers that if you dust yourself off, and get right back up you will grow nothing but stronger.

(We learn this from King Solomon in the Proverbs (24:16): "A righteous person can fall seven times and rise..." A righteous person is actually defined by the fact that he keeps getting up.)

If your ego is constantly looking outside for confirmation that you are good enough or successful enough, the soul sees through this illusion and understands that the way you think about your circumstances determines your well being.

Toddlers and small children know that they have the ability to be happy no matter where they are.

Anyone who spends time with toddlers and small children knows that they have the ability to be happy no matter where they are. What is the secret of their self-esteem? They are more often than not living their natural essence –- living via the soul.

Small children don't go around asking questions like: "Gee, I wonder if I'm tall enough?" or "If I can't figure out how to use this potty, I'll never be successful." Children walk around happy and buoyant simply because that is their natural state of being.

Remember: you yourself were once a small child and you walked around in this natural state. You still have the ability to walk around smiling and you can even do it without drooling. Focus on becoming aware of the ego's attempts to define you according to your circumstances.

You might be asking the question, "Wait a minute, are you telling me that all circumstances are neutral and it's only how we think about it? What about a person who gets cancer, or a person that loses a loved one? What kind of feel-good, fluffy garbage is this?"

Of course there are circumstances that are objectively difficult, but when you allow your soul's wisdom to deal with the issue, you go through the experience with understanding and perspective.

For example, with the loss of a loved one, instead of feeling guilt, anger and blame, the pain of loss can be accompanied with deep feelings of gratitude and understanding of the cycle of life.

The Jewish custom of "sitting shiva" (a seven day period of mourning observed after the burial) is designed to help one go through the mourning process from the perspective of the soul. For seven days people dissasociate themselves from the material and focus on appreciating the gifts the person they lost gave to those around them.

Understanding that the ego's skewed view of the world will only leave us as happy as our last success or as depressed as our last failure will leave us sitting on top of a mountain.


Want to catch the ego at its illusionary game? Try these exercises:

1. Notice how many times you blame your circumstances for how you are feeling. See that, although this looks like what is happening, it is simply impossible. What you are thinking in your head at the moment is what defines your experience.

2. Notice how often people around you are doing the same thing. (It will probably seem like everybody is doing it.)

3. Write down three things in your life that are bothering you. Then think of the people in your life and ask yourself if everyone you know would have exactly the same reaction. Ask yourself why that is.


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