Avoiding Brain Washing

by Rabbi Jacob Rupp November 6, 2018
 

 

Cropped shot of a senior man looking thoughtful while sitting outside

I had an internal dialogue before I left on my first trip to Israel to study Judaism in depth.  I was concerned that I would be convinced to follow a lifestyle (Orthodox Judaism) against my better judgment.

“No!” I told myself.  I told myself that I had enough self-confidence not to get sucked into anything.

My reasoning was both faulty and ironic. Ironic because I did in very short order “decide” that I wanted to pursue an orthodox lifestyle.  My faulty reasoning was that I felt I couldn’t be easily compelled or brainwashed.  The truth is we are compelled, brain washed, conditioned (whichever word you’d like) to do things on an hourly basis, and it was silly to assume I was above the fray.

That being said, I not only am glad I embraced the lifestyle I did, but feel compelled to express to others why they too should consider learning more about their Jewish roots in order to fully express their spiritual identity.  Does it make me hypocritical that I am compelling others when I didn’t want to be ‘sold’ or ‘brainwashed?’

There is a basic premise to consider; we are all brain washed.  As King Solomon says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” All of our ideas and lifestyles are recycled from the past. And while we may be exposed to more information and ideas than our ancestors, the perspective through which we accept and embrace one idea at the expense of another certainly isn’t something we picked.  We view life through the lattice of needs and wants that are superimposed on our conscious mind by our past experiences, present needs and wants, or future expectations of what our life should entail.

The first step in learning to think is to accept that you aren’t free to come up with anything really at all that’s truly “yours.”  Imagine how many years of intense therapy we would need to completely be able to free ourselves of the trauma and challenges of our past and present, as well as the anxiety about the future.

The greatest breakthrough comes when you can break down.  Expose yourself to new ideas that jar how you see the world—maybe other people are right? How do we know what we believe is true.  And more than that, be willing to pull yourself out of the realm of the philosophic, and recognize that our reality is highly dictated by our biology, psychology and current life conditions.

Accepting that our minds are highly fickle, subjective vessels is actually a good thing because it allows us not to take ourselves too seriously to change—no matter our past present or future.

Is change a bad thing?  No—because we are not static.  Nothing in the world is.  And as we become less afraid to change we can relax our minds a bit and start to listen to our hearts; i.e. what really resonates.  The duality is inherently human; sure, we can analyze all we want, but deep down we also have a true path or purpose that we are on just like everything else in creation.  Too often we are locked in our heads that we can’t hear our hearts.

Knowing where you are can be much more important than knowing where to go or what to do.  Are you upset? Lost? Feeling the void? Be OK with it. It’s evidence that you are connecting with the essential “you.” And when you are in touch with ‘you,’ you have the ultimate freedom to expand your boundaries and shake off monotony.

Brainwashing isn’t an orthodox Jewish problem as I was told many times as I started learning more about my heritage. It’s a human disease that all of us contract. What I found, however, is that the freedom that comes when studying a Divine system of ideology (the Torah) gives us the capacity to extend beyond our natural brainwashing and clue into what is both true on a macro level and what is real within our own hearts.

Granted, its not easy.  But most things we value take hard work.  Our sense of meaning and worldview should be worth it.

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