It's a funny thing, that you get to your thirties, and then all of a sudden, all of the things you thought you'd 'dealt with' from your life up until that point, and particularly your childhood, start bubbling up inside you, like an effervescent spring.
I read somewhere that a person's personality only starts to really settle down and solidify in your thirties. Up until that point, things sort of float around, forgotten about and 'unfixed'; but once your character solidifies, boy, can things get interesting.
Person A will start to have 'inexplicable' panic attacks; person B will 'suddenly' develop a skin disorder, or asthmatic symptoms; person C will have a nervous breakdown, and just won't be able to function any more; person D's eyes will go funny, and they'll find it harder and harder to tolerate light or stressful situations; person E will 'suddenly' get severely depressed, and have dark fantasies of 'leaving it all behind'.
But none of these things are really 'sudden'; they've all been brewing and festering for ages, waiting for us to grab the bull by the horns, and deal with the emotional issues and hurts that have been disabling us and limiting us for years.
It's an amazing thing that in 2013, when we live in the most technically 'advanced' society that there's ever been, that so many of us - including medical professionals - still haven't made the link between our spiritual and emotional health.
When a person is depressed, to use one very common example, it's a clear sign that the soul is in someway starved, or damaged.
It could be, for example, that the depressed person never experienced unconditional love as a child, and was severely and continually criticised; or that something else occurred, spiritually, to cut them off from G-d's light. Whatever occurred to cause the problem, at least initially, the soul is 'darkened'; and that person feels down and depressed. In the more severe cases, they literally can't get out of bed, or move, or eat. They function like zombies, and they even develop a (not so secret) death wish.
Depression is a cue for us to go back, and deal with the problem at its spiritual root. Maybe we need to completely change our lives around, and re-prioritize? Maybe, I need to spend far more time with my family, and much less time in the office? Maybe I need to exercise more, and eat better? Maybe I need to make torah observance far more of a priority in my life? Maybe I need to stop hanging out with all those people who are sucking me dry?
If we take that cue, and we ask the tough questions and we make the required changes, our lives change dramatically for the better. But if we don't? All those spiritual wounds don't just go away, or heal up by themselves. They get worse.
I recently saw a story from an interesting book entitled 'Empowered to Heal': Ronny was a teacher in a secular Jewish school. He was devoted to his students, and went above and beyond the call of duty, to try and help them with whatever problems they had, academic or otherwise. Ronny was religious, and he was constantly talking to his students about Hashem, and the Torah. He was so enthusiastic about Judaism, that some of the boys started pressuring their parents to keep Shabbat. These parents got together to sign a petition to have Ronny removed from his teaching post, on the grounds that he was 'brainwashing' their kids.
Ronny found another job, but the hurt was unbearable. A few months later, Ronny was diagnosed with bone cancer. To cut a long story short, Ronny did one of the visualisation exercises in the book, to find out what was 'causing' his cancer: it was all the resentment he felt about how he'd been treated. Once Ronny understood how his deep-seated feelings of resentment and hatred were literally killing him, he started actively trying to uproot those feelings from his heart, with a lot of help from G-d.
There were other stories too; one woman was suffering from all the repressed guilt of an abortion she'd performed and then tried to forget about, when she was much younger; another woman, Esther, had lingering feelings of resentment and anger from her childhood, which had apparently manifested themselves in uterine cancer. When she started trying to improve her Divine service, and to deal with her spiritual issues at their root, the cancer disappeared…
We aren't animals, or robots, who happen to 'malfunction' from time to time. When we get physically sick, it's because our souls are pining for G-d. Our sages teach us that G-d can't rest His presence on a sad person; that's why the prophets of ancient Israel used to call for musicians when they wanted to experience a state of prophesy, because they had to be in a good mood, for G-d to come calling.
What does all this have to do with us? Isn't that obvious?
How many horrible stories have you heard, recently, of yet more people being diagnosed with 'the big C'; or dropping dead from heart-attacks or strokes? How many people do you know on Prozac? How many overweight, depressed kids - and parents - are living in your neighbourhood?
Today, we are all so miserable! We are all of us walking around with a fake smile on our faces, while our bitterness and heartache are approaching world-record levels. But it doesn't have to be this way. If we take our courage in our hands, if we start to talk to G-d about all the stuff we've been shoving under our emotional carpets for years, we could start to feel spiritually and physically better than we have done for years - maybe, ever!
The first step is to acknowledge that illnesses are not random. It's not just a matter of a 'bug going around'; or 'mould spores'; or 'feeling run-down and stressed' - if we're physically sick, we're spiritually sick. Small illnesses are small spiritual issues, and so on and so forth, all the way up to the big nasties out there.
A little while ago, I was sent (yet another) text to pray for (yet another) woman who had been diagnosed with (yet another) serious tumor. Apparently, she had been depressed for a couple of years beforehand. She went to her doctor, and was prescribed anti-depressants. Problem solved. Except now she's got Stage 3 cancer.
I'm sure some of you will disagree that there's any link between her depression and her illness. You're allowed, it's a free world. But just remember that the Jewish view is that the body is inextricably intertwined with the soul; illnesses are NOT random, or decided by genetics and statistics. They are sent to us, for a reason, by G-d.
The best - and really, only - way to stay healthy is to be happy; to talk to G-d for an hour a day to get everything 'off your chest'; and to deal with issues, instead of running away from them into work, pleasure, or chemical substances.
May Hashem bless us all with a complete healing of our bodies and souls, amen.
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Check out Rivka Levy's new book The Happy Workshopbased on the teachings of Rabbi Shalom Arush