01/10/13

Harder to change your mind or have a change of heart? Word 14.

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heavy כבד

What’s harder-  change of heart or change of mind? 

And how exactly are they different? 

There’s mental resistance to change and emotional drives that propel our behavior and somehow  both converge  too often to stop  many of us from making healthy changes that will improve our lives and those of others. 

I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot in the past weeks. Something’s gotta give in my personal discipline and routine and I’m struggling with the shift from talk to walk and how free will (aka ye urges) gets in the way of long term commitments to productivity and well being. 
Yeah, that. My heart is heavy with the realization that old dogs and tricks ain’t easy. But I am not quite giving up yet. Just to be on the safe side I made no new resolutions for 2013.

I’m not the only one. At a fabulous Storahtelling B mitzvah This last Saturday in NYC the crowd of 200 including many teens  were asked – how many of you made new year resolutions? only 15 raised their hands. Why commit to something when you know you won’t come through? Someone explained and many nodded. 

I somewhat share the jaded outlook towards the potential for change but I refuse to buy it. Gotta change. But how?

Whether the reason for resistance  is in my heart or mind or both (and more?) – changing habits or decisions is a real struggle – maybe the most important inner one a person can deal with. There’s the big ones like obsessions and addictions or why Assad refuses to give up power in Syria, and there’s the ‘smaller’ vices that we’re used to and find hard to shake. We lug around some modes of living like heavy luggage, and refuse to let go.  We pay extra for the overweight. 


And that’s exactly what’s  going on in this week’s Torah tale, Va’Era. The King of Egypt is the Corporate CEO who does not want to change the system even though it’s clearly not what many of the cogs in the wheels want and the refusal to change may destroy the kingdom and himself.  Even threats like polluted rivers, amphibian takeover, extreme weather and contagious diseases that annihilate crops and livestock do not dissuade him. That is – he does make gestures towards change but keeps changing his mind – and heart- refusing the inevitable. One word keeps repeating in this narrative – ‘Heavy’. 

Over and over again he refuses to relent – right after a strike is over:  “But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, his heart grew heavy, and he did not listen to them.” 

The heavy heart as symbolic of the refusal to change resonates. 
it’s interesting that in Biblical Hebrew the word ‘Lev’ means ‘mind’ while in modern Hebrew the same word means ‘heart’. 

By the time the king says yes to the freedom after the tenth strike that will come next week – he has already lost so much. 

(Never mind right now the complex theological issue here – it is God who makes the king’s heart heavy, leaving him no room for growth and transformation. So much for free will. The only way I can read this is as psycho-mystical layer – that God represents a voice within us that is deeper and higher than our ordinary consciousness and is challenging us to overcome our greatest fears to truly release what we need towards the greatest freedom.)

Can we learn from the Pharaoh’s bad example how to heed the call for healthy and difficult changes a little early on and avoid as much of the ten strikes as possible? Maybe that’s why the Exodus story is so core to our culture – it’s the master story about how to really change. 

So now I have a new year’s resolution. Writing this has helped clarify a simple goal for a small step  by step change that I will try to do daily, combination of mind and heart for a great new year. We’ll see what happens..

 

Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org