Positive Vision - Day 55
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger
Our weekly excerpt from the book "Positive Vision"
Day 55 - The Balancing Act - Thinking About Not Thinking
Let’s see if you can follow instructions:
Do not think about a green elephant wearing a bright yellow cap. Are you listening? Do not imagine a huge green elephant sitting upon a small stool wearing a yellow cap puffing a Cuban cigar. Are you following instructions?
I didn’t think so.
This little game crystallizes one of the challenges of maintaining shmiras einayim. On the one hand, we have been speaking about how preparation is the key to preserving kedushah. Without reminding oneself about kedushah before taking the subway to work, one is liable to fail.
On the other hand, the commentators note that hesech hadaas, distraction, is one of the primary means of guarding one’s kedushah.
As the Steipler Gaon writes, “Generally, the most effective means [of avoiding tumah] is distraction.”
And even more explicitly writes the Chovas HaTalmidim (Ch. 13):
Do not think, “I may not look there.” Such thoughts are not effective. In general, one’s mind should not be occupied about looking altogether. Rise above them. Just bear in mind that you are a Jew.
Yet, how does one think about not thinking?
The trick must be that before exposure to a possible breach of kedushah, one should put himself into a distracted, “lost in thought” mode. Ideally, one should occupy his mind with Torah, but it could really be with anything. Be realistic. If thinking in learning is not going to hold your attention, then find something kosher that will, be it a nice tune, business, anything that you will find interesting.
Chovas HaTalmidim continues that one can arrive at a point where this distraction becomes natural, that one simply won’t see that which he should not. He stresses that he is not referring to some special siyata d’Shmaya but rather to a natural phenomenon that is built into our psychological makeup.
For instance, he writes, if a fly lands on your arm while you are reading a book, you will subconsciously brush it off without even really being aware that it is there in the first place. You will do so even while sleeping, when your conscious mind is in “sleep mode.”
Such subconscious reactions can even be learned, he adds. For instance, a small child will often move around while sleeping and roll off his bed. Yet, after a short while, the subconscious mind learns where the bed ends. Adults don’t fall off their beds.
So, too, one can train himself to automatically turn away from that which he should not see. It can become second nature. He adds, however, that this works only if one takes caution not to unnecessarily expose oneself to places where such improper sights are common.
He concludes with a challenge to his readers: “If you doubt this [that shemiras einayim becomes second nature over time], ask the Elders, the Chachmei HaTorah, and they will tell you it is so. But why even ask? Test the theory yourself and you will see for yourself the power of this idea.”