From Rabbi Perets Auerbach’s “The Science, Art and Heart of Hitbodedut.” Explantory notes have been omitted from this online version. This work-in-progress may be purchased by contacting the author by email: email@example.com. We thank Rabbi Auerbach for permitting us to present this and other excerpts from his writings here.
The Nature of Thought
The Baal Shem Tov taught, “A person is where his mind is” (Keter Shem Tov 56). The first thing is to be aware. Cease to take the mind and its designs for granted. It shouldn’t be left alone on “automatic.” Monitor everything that goes through the mind. We see how careful people are to keep their doors locked in order to make sure that no one steals, intrudes, or disturbs their home. How much more so should one keep a lock on the mind to prevent its attention from being stolen away to vanity, to keep bad ideas from intruding, to stop negativity from disturbing it.
“Everything begins in thought” (Zohar I, 246b). “They [i.e., the lost ‘holy sparks’ of Divinity] are all elevated in thought” (ibid. II, 254b). Rabbi Nachman states that thought is the tikkun ha-klali (“general remedy”), for everything (Likkutei Moharan I, 29:4). It all depends upon elevating the mind. The mind needs to be awakened from spiritual sleep. Everything we do is basically for the sake of getting out of a constricted state of consciousness (mochin de-katnut) and coming to heightened consciousness (mochin de-gadlut) (see Likkutei Moharan II, 72, end).
Paul McCartney refers to “the face that she keeps in the jar by the door” (“Eleanor Rigby”). There are different head-sets. People unwittingly go into certain mental states and become tied to them. However, just as a person can take off one set of cloths and put on another, so is it possible to “take off” a state of mind and “put on” another – whichever you choose. One of the main ideas of meditation is to reach the simple, indivisible, untrammeled inner essence. From that place one can experience how the self is a pure, simple, unrestricted light. It can don any mentality, any garment.
One can examine thought patterns and ask God to improve them. Request God’s assistance to activate the most productive ways of thinking. Expanding the mind expands reality (Likkutei Moharan II, 61). Heightening one’s consciousness upgrades, renovates, and uplifts the place that you really occupy. Sometimes you may need to move into a different house. Similarly, one might need to move out of an old mind-set and move into a completely new one. Hitbodedut is the way to accomplish this.
“You favor man with knowledge...” (Shemoneh Esreh prayer). Some have problems concentrating. There could be many reasons for this. Just as unworked physical muscles are flabby and need to be exercised, so it is with “mental muscles.” Laziness highly impedes their growth. The cranium needs to “work out.” But there is still something especially challenging about the mind: It requires extra help from heaven. This is the special favor that we request three times a day.
Prayer can affect, improve, and embellish anything (Likkutei Moharan II, 111). One should supplicate for concentration, memory, and all mental faculties – just like petitioning for sustenance, livelihood, and health. Mental necessities are no less important than physical ones.
A step further: “Think good, and it will be good” (Chabad saying, attributed to the “Tzemach Tzedek”). Ask to attain true positive thinking. The results attained through this are not psychosomatic, but quite viable and real. A person is always thinking. Thoughts create realities that endure forever (Likkutei Moharan II, 53). It is fitting to invest considerable effort to refine, purify, and elevate thought. Practice hitbodedut about all of your thought-processes. Ask to remove negative, self-destructive, damaging things from the mind. Request to strengthen, upgrade, and elevate all good things. The faculty of thought is above all others. It reaches to where all other abilities cannot (Sichot HaRan 46). Inner space dwarfs outer space – implode before exploding!
The universe of the mind is infinitely greater than the physical universe. Seek to see, investigate, and conquer its intriguing frontiers. It does not require any technology to explore – only words of prayer, focus, and meditation.