The Other Four Questions
Re-hijacking Your Thoughts
I had a few different posts in my head this week. One of them was going to be on some recent developments in my professional work. Tldr: I recently became a certified Crossfit coach and am really excited to figure out ways to integrate my work in the physical realms with my work in the spiritual/soulful realms.
The other post was going to be about one of the more traumatic moments in the Torah: the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. I was going to offer up a few different interpretations through which the commentators attempted to understand a vague and challenging story. It is ripe for unpacking.
Then, as so often happens, I came across something in my reading that stopped me in my tracks that I wanted to share. In her 1986 piece, “The Work of Byron Katie,” the eponymous author and speaker detailed a framework for processing through painful and challenging thoughts.
When you notice the thoughts come, ask yourself the following four questions:
Is it true?
Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
How do you react when you believe that thought?
Who would you be without that thought?
Of course, this process is aspirational, like so many. We can’t expect it to work all the time. What it does, when practiced, is it allows each of us to move more mindfully through the way we think and through the stories we tell ourselves.
For me, the idea that a thought I may be having is not absolutely true can remind me that the dread or suffering I feel may not be a total certainty. The last question allows each of us to know we are not exactly what our thoughts make us out to be. We are always in control of more than we believe.
Aaron needed this reminder in this week’s portion. When he is told in Leviticus 9:2
“Take for yourself a calf of the herd for a sin offering,”
That “for yourself” is not coincidental.
According to medieval commentator, Rabbeinu Bachya, it was said:
to remind him that whereas on account of the golden calf he had almost lost his claim to the position of the High Priesthood, he now would re-establish his claim to it by offering a calf as sin-offering.
In other words, we are not defined by our worst deeds and thoughts. Even when our brains tell us otherwise, it is not absolutely true. Aaron needed this divine reminder channeled through Moses. Who might he be without always beating himself up over the golden calf?
We can learn to cultivate this practice within ourselves. Even though they’re not those four questions, these could be just as valuable. Ask yourself them the next time that thought comes. The truth is not always so clear in our heads.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend