So the three parts we need to work on and fix are called:
1) The nefesh - which corresponds to the life-force that animates our physical bodies;
2) The ruach - which corresponds to our emotions; and
3) The neshama - which corresponds to that holiest part of us, our Divine soul and ratzon, or will to do and be good.
Over the course of our lifetimes, we're meant to start at the bottom, fix the nefesh, and then work our way up through the other two levels. But as with everything in our topsy-turvy world, it's not exactly working that way these days.
Rav Ofer Erez explains that our 'ruach' - our emotions - are the connective material that join our 'nefesh' to our 'neshama'. On the negative side of things, our emotions are usually underneath our desire to eat like pigs, treat others like dirt, and live a life of gross materiality and physical indulgence. On the positive side of things, the feelings of joy, happiness, achdut and love that we're all innately capable of experiencing can catapult us into the highest spiritual realms.
It's a very narrow bridge, and every second we have to make a conscious effort to direct our emotions more towards our neshamas, and G-d, and more away from our animalistic 'nefesh'.
That by itself is pretty hard work. But that's not even the biggest problem these days, no siree. The biggest problem facing so many of us today is that the connective material between our neshamas and our nefesh - our emotions - are being blocked, suppressed, or drugged away, either consciously or unconsciously.
Of course, it's understandable why that's occurring. So many of us are walking around with such big emotional scars and wounds, we're overwhelmed by the pain of it all. We'd rather try to numb the problem than have to keep hurting. BUT - this has massive consequences for our soul, and also for our physical health.
When our 'ruach' goes AWOL - it's been prozac-ed into oblivion, or shoved into some big mental box, or whiskey-ed away, or whatever people do to avoid having to acknowledge their true, uncomfortable feelings - the connection between how we act (NEFESH) and how we think (NESHAMA) gets broken.
I know this is pretty complicated stuff, so let's try and make it as simple and clear as possible:
When we aren't in touch with, aware of, and responding to, our true emotions, the link between how we think and how we act gets broken. When that happens, someone can 'think' they're a huge tzaddik, or saint, or kind, holy person, when in practise they often act like a horrible, selfish, arrogant pig.
When the ruach goes missing, we become emotionally-illiterate. As well as not registering our own emotional responses, we also lose the ability to recognise other people's feelings, too. We completely miss, or misinterpret, their emotional cues and responses to us and our behaviour, and we can be completely ignorant of the huge amount of hurt and damage we're causing to others, simply because we've lost the ability to feel.
I hate to say it, but we only have to look around to see this scenario playing out all around us. It's happening in our families, in our schools, in our neighbourhoods, in our communities - in short, it's happening everywhere. And it's not just a 'secular' problem.
The ruach has also gone missing in even the most frum communities today. Wherever you turn, you see people 'acting' or 'thinking' - and precious few of us are feeling anything.
Why does this matter? How can this contribute to us developing serious mental and physical illnesses? And most importantly of all, what can we actually do to fix the problem?
Stay tuned, and I'll address all of these questions in the next couple of posts.