How to Avoid a Spiritual Crash
Rabbi Dov Heller, LMFT
Silvia, 25, was soaring after her discovery of Judaism in Jerusalem a year ago. A new world of exciting possibilities had opened up for her. She had never felt so happy in all her life. She had been searching for something real and authentic, and now she was sure she’d found it!
She loved everything about being an observant. The people were so sincere and genuine. Shabbat gave her a deep sense of peace. Although her life had been rough—including her parents’ divorce and a bout of depression—she had a deep sense that she had finally come home to where she belonged. Judaism was something real and stable.
And then Silvia crashed. She started to feel pressured by people and felt smothered by the religious world she had immersed herself in. The prayers started to feel burdensome, and even Shabbat started to feel limiting and not so enjoyable. She started feeling anxious and depressed, old feelings she was quite familiar with, but tried to escape. What was happening? She had been so high, and now she felt so low.
The reason Sylvia crashed is that she lost touch with her feelings and was not being honest with herself. She was high in her head, but her body was in pain. In the beginning of her spiritual journey, she was swept up in the love of all the good people she met. At the same time, when she visited families for Shabbat and saw the beauty of their marriages and families, she started feeling sad. She remembered the happiness she felt as a child when her family was intact before it all fell apart. And then inner security, and her stability, crumbled.
She tried to push these feelings aside, because she was worried that she would get depressed like she had been as a teenager. Unfortunately, bad feelings never go away on their own; they need to be acknowledged, understood, and processed. After a year of denial, her sadness turned into depression.
Silvia would not have crashed if she had listened to her feelings. If she would have acknowledged her sadness, she could have understood that the intact families she saw reminded her of her own intact home before the divorce. She could have used this experience as an opportunity to come to grips with her childhood losses and mourn them which would have been healing and free her to move on in life. Instead, she tried to move on without resolving these issues—but deep inside she knew the truth. The love she experienced in Jerusalem was only a Band-aid covering up a broken heart.
The goal of spiritual growth is to internalize every good idea and behavior. The Torah teaches this principle saying, “And know this day, and bring it into your heart…” Spiritual growth may begin in our heads, but it must always end internalized in our hearts. Practically, this means facing and integrating our most difficult feelings and emotional struggles. To achieve this, we must be emotionally honest. When we are not honest, and fail to integrate our bodies and our minds, the two will be in conflict. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” A person with unresolved inner conflicts stands a good chance of crashing, like Sylvia did.
The problem with listening to our feelings is that it is extremely uncomfortable. Feelings are messy. We don’t like messes. It is more comfortable and simpler to stay in our heads and ignore our feelings. This is why so many people avoid dealing with their feelings.
If you are struggling with your spiritual growth, it may well be because you are avoiding facing something painful. Sit quietly for a while and listen to your heart. It has some important things to tell you. Ask yourself what am I feeling? What might I be afraid of? Am I running away from some part of myself or some part of my life? Although the process of emotional integration is slow and humbling, it leads to authentic growth and a deep sense of personal satisfaction.