The Talmud tells us, “When Adar Enters, Joy Increases.” The question remains, how do we feel joy? Is joy some objective thing that happens, or is it a subjective feeling? Even if it is an objective reality, if you are not feeling it, what good is it?
I wanted to offer a thought about proactively opening our hearts to joy. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov is quoted as saying, “It is a great mitzvah to always be happy.” This statement is often misunderstood to mean that we should always feel light and giddy. This is not the case. Rebbe Nachman well understood that there are times in life that call for feeling broken hearted (Shivron Lev) and pained (Tza’ar). He was concerned that this temporary brokenheartedness could become a static state of sadness and depression, which comes from a sense that bad feelings will never change. “It is a great mitzvah to always be happy” means cultivating a sense that goodness and connection lay deep in the structure of the universe and inside you and it is always possible to access this reality, no matter how distant you feel.
One of Rebbe Nachman’s key practices for accessing this deeper, joyful reality was seeking and finding the good points in oneself. Here is the practice:
When you are feeling down or worthless, or may have just messed up something – take a few breaths. Search inside yourself for some good. This could be a way you helped someone else, or something beautiful you created, or even an appreciation of just being you. Search until you hit upon the reality of your goodness in such a way that you feel moved. Your goodness is part of a more general, universal goodness that lies, often hidden, behind everything. Indeed, in Breslov tradition, this goodness is God. Feeling moved by finding this point of good in you is evidence that things can change and you are not condemned to always feel what you are feeling. Collecting these points can open your heart to joy and song! You can also do this practice with a partner. Search for the good point while your partner listens. If you get stuck, your partner can help you by sharing a good point they see in you. It is often much easier for our friends to see our good points than for us. But the key is that YOU can see it too.
For more about the good points practice, see Chapter 3 in Changing the World from the Inside Out.
Wishing you a joyous Purim and rest of Adar,
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