Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Depression, Joy and Dancing


In one of the places where I pray on a fairly regular basis, dancing during the service happens about once a week. This normally happens at a specific part of the prayer service and in the past I've had difficulty joining in as I find just getting up and leaping on the dance floor (so to speak) is not something that comes easily.


Anyway, whilst re-reading a part of “Meditation and Kabbalah” by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (pp.226) on the writings from the Ari – I came across the following quote about depression:
“...(These are the qualities that a person must cultivate in order to attain enlightenment.)
When a person prays, studies Torah, or observes a Commandment, he must be happy and joyful, He must have more pleasure than if he had reaped a great profit or had found a thousand gold coins...
The trait of sadness is a very bad quality, especially for one who wishes to attain Ruach HaKodesh. There is nothing that can prevent enlightenment more than depression, even for those who are worthy. We find evidence for this from the verse: 'And now bring a minstrel, and when the minstrel played, the hand of God came upon him' (2 Kings 3:15). [The music was needed to dispel his sadness]. The same is true of anger, which can prevent enlightenment completely...
The sages thus teach, 'If a person becomes angry, if he is a prophet, his prophecy is taken away'...”
Reading that left me with the question: what happens if I'm not in the mood to be joyful? How do I deal with such a situation? I know that anger can often be countered by feelings of pity, however what is useful to turn sadness in to joy?

I found the answer to these questions in "Strife of the Spirit" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
“The festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles) is referred to by a number of names in the Jewish sources, but no epithet seems to reflect its essence as much as the that given in the prayerbook: 'The time of our rejoicing'... How can a specific date in the calendar be set aside for rejoicing? How can one obey an injunction to rejoice on a certain day, irrespective of one's mood or condition?...
The commandment to rejoice on Sukkot is in fact just one of a number of obligations that concern one's mood. The Jewish calendar designates days of contemplation, of mourning, and of joy...
The ability to rejoice on a preassigned day derives from self-discipline, which is an integral part of the religious life and an essential characteristic of the religious Jew... “
Rabbi Steinsaltz goes in to more detail about internalization of values and demands, that a person cannot rely on being spontaneous and finishes with the following:
“...Many Jewish sages have noted that the two Hebrew words emunah (faith) and emun (training) are derived from the same root, and they have interpreted this as showing that the soul must train itself in order to be capable of achieving meaningful religious experience. This need for training, however, does not mean that there is no place for spontaneous religious experience, but rather that such spontaneous experience by itself cannot server as the basis for religious life...”
In short, as Rufus Opus posted recently the main this is to practice again and again. "It takes practice to get good at it."

Besides, I figure that dancing involves physical exercise which I've found is always good for lifting my mood. So the simple way that I plan to practice feeling joy in the coming weeks (in preparation for Sukkot) is to dance once a week during prayers.