Upside Down, Creative thinking, the Jewish Way – Opening thoughts: Unwasted potential
The opening of the book: Upside Down, Creative thinking, the Jewish Way:
"If you can run – run. And if you can't run – walk. And if you can't walk – crawl. But do something. Move ahead…" [i]
Strengthening powers of creativity
Once a year, for over a thousand years, the High Priest would enter the inner, most important chamber in the Temple and send up a short prayer. They were only a few short lines, which he would say quickly so that the crowd waiting outside would not panic and worry that perhaps something had happened. He prayed for a good year, a year of peace and abundant livelihood. He also prayed that they would be blessed with a year in which "no woman would lose the fruit of her womb."
Why did the High Priest offer this specific prayer? Why is this, the prayer repeated year after year? Of course, a miscarriage is a painful event; however, assuming that the High Priest had a limited amount of time, one could think of petitions that would prioritize both personally and nationally. It is not difficult to come up with more painful things or greater needs for either individuals or for all the nation which could have been expressed during this important opportunity; needs such as emotional and physical well-being, security and perhaps even education, and prevention of air pollution, diseases and epidemics.
According to one of the interpretations, the pregnancy may be seen as an allegory; the image of an idea, a flash, a direction, the potential, which has been sown and is just waiting for the opportunity to be born. It is just waiting to emerge into reality. The High Priest is, in a sense, praying there will not be any blessings which do not come to fruition; that there will not be any good which is not realized, or ideas, inventions or movement to improve or help the world and which remain in a constant state of pregnancy.
Just like the High Priest, we too offer up the same prayer year in, year out; that we should not be granted powers of creativity and innovation that we are then unable to bring to light and fulfill. We pray that we will succeed in fulfilling our potential; that the ideas growing within us should land on fertile ground. If we are so lucky as to find ourselves with the seed of an idea, an initiative, a suggestion, the prayer –as we may infer from the well-known Kabbalistic book, the Zohar– is that it should benefit the world and its inhabitants and not serve only to advance the private interests of the idea's owner.
In the Torah, the first mitzvah: "Be fruitful and multiply", can be read like the interpretation of the High Priest's prayer on the Day of Atonement. In its simplest sense, the mitzvah is linked to bringing children into the world.
However, Chassidic masters have interpreted it in the spiritual sense as well. "Be fruitful and multiply" is the commandment to complete that which is lacking in the world. It is an instruction to implement the mind's power to inject more light and vitality into our lives. It directs us to increase the creative forces in the world instead of leaving them unused.
My role in this world
Fulfilling one's potential is, undoubtedly, a beautiful, important idea. However, the question which arose has yet to be answered. Why does this specific prayer hold such an important place in the High Priest's list of priorities?
From the perspective of Jewish spirituality, one of the saddest things that occur in people's lives is when potential remains unfulfilled. Wasted talent. Time not taken advantage of. A manager who could get more out of himself; an innovator who misses opportunities; a promising company which stopped developing; an unfocused student; an athlete who could go further; hours wasted on useless matters; married couples whose relationship collapses for no good reason; a person, whether man or woman, young or old, who can learn, create, change, develop – and instead wastes their time in front of a screen.
In parenting and educational workshops, it is not unusual to encounter parents who are trying to pinpoint what the problem is, if any, with their young son or daughter. They feel uneasy about something but can't put their finger on it. The young man or woman are keeping up with their studies, have a booming social life, carry out the tasks they are given, and are attentive to their parents. One issue quickly becomes clear. The parents are certain that their child is capable of more. They see their potential as significantly greater and that there is simply no effort being made. They are not making the most of their abilities and are settling for mediocrity.
From an internal point of view, when we satisfy our surroundings, whether or not we fulfill what is demanded of us, we do not necessarily fulfill our potential. We can do so when we discover our full spiritual power and remove blockages that stand in the way of revealing those powers.
Why is it so important to fulfill our potential? What does it matter if talent is wasted and some ideas will not be born or implemented?
The reason for this is that the wasted potential of each and every one of us is not only relevant to those who, for whatever reasons, have neglected to use their hidden powers of creativity. It is a general matter which is relevant to the comprehensive purpose of creation. A person who does not invest time and energy in creative thought, in development, in discovering the sum of their creative talents is living a life in which something is lacking. This lack leaves us in a reality and a world in which that lack exists. It could be that the idea which was missed out on was one that the world required. "The world" in this case could be not only the overall community of people and ideas but perhaps even one single person – a friend or family member – who could have been helped by these hidden creative powers. This person, this friend, family member, or whoever Judaism considers being an entire universe.
A person's mission in life is to discover the sum of their powers. The purpose here is not only vis-à-vis the visible powers, but also those which are hidden, those which a person themselves may be unaware of, not know about, or believe they possess.
It is important to note that the point of discovering these powers is not that a person should be harder-working. Working hard is a positive characteristic, but it is not the issue here. Every person needs to discover the powers which are particular to them.
In other words, a person can be active, successful, make money, and still waste their life, or live it without fulfilling their purpose. They may be active in a highly desirable field and still not fulfill themselves. When a person does not fulfill themselves, this leads them to wander the world with a permanent lack.
This is because each person is given talents that are theirs alone and which are meant to complete what is required of them, and that is the reason for which they are in the world. The person may be capable of doing all sorts of things, but not every person can do what they need. If "his purpose is to pick daisies or polish jewels and instead he is busy baking bread – it will be considered a sin"; as Chassidic philosophy explains it.
Now it is clear why the High Priest offered a prayer asking that no woman lose her womb's fruit. The prayer asks that no idea or talent be wasted. The renewal and birth of ideas and talents are part of fulfilling the purpose of creating and fulfilling his role in the world.
Thus far, the position described deals with one of the central principles incumbent upon us during our lives, one which refuses to allow us to settle for mediocrity. It will not allow us to give up on locating our particular powers. If a person is blessed with talents, abilities, and possibilities, it is not enough for him to say I could have done, I could have fulfilled, have been active and successful, and settle for whatever he did. The positive powers granted to him are intended to bring things from the idea stage to implementation.
This principle does not allow people to rest on the laurels of comfort and economic welfare or, on the other hand, to give up in the face of difficulties and to surrender to the current situation. It forces each and every person to enter into a process of discovering their potential in reality.
Renewal and selfhood
How is potential fulfilled? How will we know when we are on the right path to discovering our unique inner powers? Are these fulfillments limited to career, studies, sports, business thought, or science? What about other fields which are no less important in our lives – couplehood, family, and social relations?
Upside down seeks to point to creative thinking as the central component in fulfilling potential. Creative thinking tightens and focuses all the powers of the soul. It prevents a loss of power and encourages the discovery of potential and its realization.
The link between realizing one's potential and creative thinking can be found in common examples.
Imagine you've had an idea; a brilliant one, you think. You are convinced of success and get started on it. You've raised the necessary funds, rented a location, found the right employees. You've developed the product and are waiting for the big break, but sales are slow. You try pushing. You invest in marketing, advertising, sales. You run to meetings. You awaken each morning with a new understanding. And yet, nothing is moving. The despair begins to take over slowly. You are ready to settle for a lot less than the vision you set out with. Slowly, the understanding sinks in that you will have to make a decision; abandon the idea, let workers go and deal with the lost investment, or continue to insist and try to figure out where the obstacle lies; to develop new paths and believe that you will find the right formula for success and that the desired change will occur. How will you choose?
Dilemmas that involve dangers and chances may take other forms.
You work somewhere, which is steady and comfortable. The salary is reasonable, but you feel dead inside. The work is grey, and its dullness is coloring your life. You want to get the most out of yourself, and you wonder. Should you take a chance, quit your comfortable job, and take a leap to try and develop in the field you dream of, or is the risk too high, too frightening, and too threatening? You weigh whether to delay the chance for an opportunity to give you more and which might appear during your lifetime. What is the right move, and how do you decide?
The general tendency is to decide these issues based on external factors, chances of success, risk levels, and interests. Jewish spirituality seeks to change these criteria according to which we examine things and make our decisions. It emphasizes the internal dimension. It encourages us to think of crossroads in our lives in a different way.
There is no single correct answer to every situation. Each situation has its own appropriate response. Each one requires particular attention to the variables such as the case's characteristics, the person's abilities, and their emotional, financial, and family state. Also, two internal movements need to be located and which must be awakened in each circumstance. These movements are those which are meant to influence the decision-making process. The two movements are renewal and selfhood. With each choice we are faced with, we need to ask ourselves; whether the option we choose will contribute to reinforcing these movements or hinder them.
Renewal is the ability to perceive reality as it changes moment to moment; the cycle of life, routine, habits, the financial race- all these hide the world's renewal from us. Reality is not static. It renews itself endlessly. Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, and Chassidism encourage us to identify this renewal within the creation and respond to it. It encourages people to renew themselves along with it.
Renewal is a consciousness essential for everyone; business people, startup entrepreneurs, and security services agents. But it is equally crucial for those who learn Torah, for parents, teachers, and couples. Awareness of the renewal in every moment is also an awareness of the potential for renewal in the present. A person who discovers this renewal will never be bored. He will constantly seek and find new angles in the matters he is involved in. A new view of the issues which concern him will give him a new sense of excitement from the innovation.
It is this lack of awareness of renewal that leads the "world" to subdue the man. His senses are dulled, and he avoids exhilaration.
Renewal is not a natural movement. It requires an active effort to remove all those factors which conceal it. At the same time, it cannot be described as a forced, artificial action. According to Chasidic philosophy, man must renew himself because the entire world, and he within it, is continually renewing itself.
The second movement, which seems contrary to awareness of renewal, is the consciousness of selfhood. Selfhood refers to the inner connection, which makes a person's will non-reliant upon the external reality. It has the force, security, and awareness of a mission that drives the person. They have an obvious sense of why they do things and are not subject to the grip of changing fashions. They drive continuously towards the fulfillment of their goals. Selfhood is a movement of the spirit through which people can overcome difficulties and obstacles standing in their way.
Chasidic philosophy takes it one step further in its assessment of the importance of these two movements. As we will see later in the book, the blend of renewal and selfhood forms the basis for creative thinking and is the engine for its realization. When we awaken these two actions, when we take care to develop an awareness of renewal and its ties to selfhood, no matter which choices we make or which areas we work in, we will discover that we are, in fact, fulfilling ourselves. According to Judaism, implementing the principles of creative thinking leads to fulfilling personal potential and realizing the purpose of human existence.
According to Jewish thought in general and Kabbalah and Chassidic Philosophy in particular, this book looks extensively at what creative thinking is. Why it is advisable to adopt and employ creative thinking in our lives, how do we encourage and develop this sort of thinking, and how simple it is, unfortunately, to quickly extinguish it.
On a personal note, I will mention that Upside Down was not born in a vacuum. My last two books dealt with the world of emotions according to Jewish psychology. Winning Every Moment (Yediot Books, 2015) presented the method of one of the greatest Chassidic masters, the Ba'al HaTanya, according to whom there lies within each person a raging struggle between two souls which are also two identities. Our life's work is to win the fight in the present moment. The victories' discourse refers to the ability to handle emotional difficulties such as stress, anger, nerves, self-accusation, emotional blockages, and allowing our thoughts to control us.
The Art of Elevation – A guide to parenting and education based on Jewish wisdom (Yediot Books, 2017), born out of Winning Every Moment, offers an organized, comprehensive method to assist parents and educators in teaching children handle unwanted emotions and to awaken healthy, repaired feelings.
Upside Down deals with realizing the mind's potential and with creative thinking. It invites the readers to learn the intellectual process, the principles, emotional actions, and training methods required for creative thinking and to get the most out of our intellect. Moreover, with its multiple powers, layers, and coverings, the soul is a single, whole entity whose inherent powers affect one another. Thus, Upside Down may stand on its own and not require any prior reading; however, it also forms a significant part of the bigger picture; one which, along with Winning Every Moment and The Art of Elevation, offers a comprehensive look at the powers of the soul, the challenges it faces and the way to withstand those challenges while living life to the fullest.