Reviewed by Devorah Talia Gordon
In Ride the Wave: Journey from the Inside Out, licensed social worker and life coach Aviva Barnett invites readers to take a close look at something most people don’t consider: how their mind works.
Barnett’s friendly tone draws the reader into her book, which begins with her own journey from “living in annoyance and irritation” to a sense of inner peace and connection. She explains that everyone has innate mental health; just as we say each morning, “G-d, the soul you placed within me is pure,” this health can never be damaged or diminished in any way. Further, access to it is always available, just like the sun. “I may look up at the sky and see only clouds, but the sun didn’t go anywhere. As soon as the clouds pass, the sun is there again.”
If everyone possesses psychological health, what makes people feel stressed, anxious or depressed? Barnett says that our experience of life comes via our thinking. Thoughts then lead to feelings, which in turn affect the experience of whatever circumstance is in front of us. That, in turn, shapes behavior. Therefore, life is happening from the inside-out.
This idea runs contrary to what we have been trained by society, Barnett writes. Mainstream society’s “outside-in” approach assumes our circumstances shape our experiences of life. Expressions such as, “You are making me crazy!” and “It’s your fault!” illustrate this way of thinking, which make a person, in essence, the victim of his circumstances.
Barnett guides the reader step-by-step through profound ideas in a way that is simple to grasp. Using the metaphor of ocean waves, she describes the nature of thought: just as waves rise and fall, so too our thoughts. Barnett analyzes the nature of thought (not what we think, but the ability to think) as a flowing river. “Left to its own devices, thought will continue to flow unless something, like my attention, tries to block the flow.” Further, Barnett says it is not about controlling thinking. “Do you control your breathing? Your heartbeat? It’s just energy flowing through us, like breath.”
Habits of thought, Barnett explains, can trip people up, such as expectations (i.e. “My kids should get good grades.”), anxiety, stress, living in the past, and addictive thinking. Not only are we not responsible for our thinking, we are not our thinking. We are something much bigger, and if our mind is less busy, we open ourselves up to the Source of all thought, Hashem. “We each have this big, deep vessel – our mind – that has the potential to hold all the wisdom we need to live our lives.”
In exploring the thought-feeling continuum, Barnett includes a helpful section on the issue of sleep, which plagues many people. Here, she posits that, “What if our goal wasn’t to feel good… We want to be able to feel anything, but we also want to know when we are feeling reality versus feeling the illusions we make up about reality.” Barnett takes time to explain the way thoughts impact the way we feel physically. Our biofeedback system is “a GPS to let us know the quality of our thinking in the moment.” If one pays attention to his physical sensations, he will have awareness as to the quality of his thinking.
Pesach, the “Time of our Freedom,” is the perfect time to learn about Barnett’s vision of true freedom from the “innocent imprisonment of our own minds.” Barnett says, “I create the illusion that I can’t do something, I create the illusion that there is something wrong. One might think I am not loveable, I can’t function…what holds people back are themselves. Thinking is not a problem, and it will pass like the wind. Can I get a glimpse of the fact that just because it’s coming through my brain it doesn’t have to have hold on me?”