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A student, with whom I have had no previous personal interactions, approached me after class the other day and asked me for my advice. Oy.
Giving advice is such a delicate matter. The more I work on myself, the more effort I put into my spiritual path, the less advice I want to give. It is a tremendous responsibility that can have a terrible outcome if it is not the right advice. Not to mention, it won’t turn out well for the one asking if he or she is not accountable for having taken the advice in the first place.
"Giving advice is such a delicate matter."
Problems arise when we choose to follow advice blindly – no matter from whom we are receiving that guidance or counsel. To willingly surrender the ability to think for ourselves is one fast-track way to not take responsibility for our lives and the choices we make therein. This is an act of victim consciousness, one that is just waiting for chaos to show up – and boy, will it!
Have you ever noticed how often we ask for advice when what we are really seeking is agreement? When a person looks for agreement, he or she is not receptive to hearing anything else. So, when the advice is given, it is either ignored, or we simply hear what we want to hear.
I once witnessed a woman approach my teacher, Karen Berg, who is the founder of the Centre as we know it today. This woman was seeking Karen’s advice on whether or not she should marry the man she was dating at the time. She asked Karen, “Are we a good match? Should we get married?” To which Karen replied that the man in question was a very good man who needed time to build up his business. When this woman heard Karen’s comment, she burst with happiness and thanked Karen profusely.
I was puzzled by the interchange. I said, “Karen, you didn’t answer her question.” To which Karen replied, “I know.” It was then clear to me that this woman had no desire for advice or she would have noticed that her question was not answered. She heard what she wanted to hear.
Another tactic some of us like to use when we are seeking agreement is to ask our peers for advice. Why? Because our peers are walking around with the same filters and perspectives we are. There is a very good chance that we will hear what we want to hear.
Imagine an advice column where the people asking their questions would receive advice from their friends of the same age group. It would probably read something like this:
"Often we ask for advice when what we are really seeking is agreement."
Question from Kelly, age 23: I met a man who I have been seeing for a while. He invited me over to his place tonight. I think that he is hinting that he wants to get physical. What should I do?
Kelly’s Peer, age 23: Is he handsome? Is he fun? If so, go for it!
Kelly, age 33: I met a man who I have been seeing for a while. He invited me over to his place tonight. I think that he is hinting that he wants to get physical. What should I do?
Kelly’s Peer, age 33: How long have you known him? Has he demonstrated that he is interested in a long-term, committed relationship with you? Do you really know anything about him? Did you do a ‘background check’ on him? Did you meet his family and friends? Your biological clock is ticking away. Does he make a good living? Has he been ‘earning’ your time and affection? Do you want to marry him? Has he made it clear that he wants to marry you? Have you thoroughly thought about the outcome before you answer him?
Kelly, age 83: I met a man who I have been seeing for a while. He invited me over to his place tonight. I think that he is hinting that he wants to get physical. What should I do?
Kelly’s Peer, age 83: Is he breathing on his own? If so, go for it!
"Jethro’s heart was open to hearing others."
Speaking of advisors, Jethro, who has a Bible portion named after him, was an advisor first to Pharaoh in Egypt, then Moses in the desert.
The Kabbalistic Bible asks how could a person like Jethro, who started as an extremely negative individual, transform himself so completely that he had the merit to be sought out for advice by Moses. What was different and unique about Jethro? What can we learn from him?
When Jethro was a priest of Midian, he was never complacent, never satisfied. He continuously looked for a higher truth. Jethro was open to hearing, to listening, and most importantly to learning from everyone. It reminds me of a quote from Rav Berg, “A wise man is he who learns from everyone.” Indeed, the only thing the Creator wants from us is to be open.
Often, we ask something of the Light of the Creator and then complain we do not get an answer, when the truth is that we are not open to hearing the Light’s reply. We are only receptive to listening if it is the answer we want to hear. Being open to the Light begins with being open to other people. We don’t have to defend ourselves, we don’t have to argue every point, and we most certainly do not have to take the advice.
Jethro heard the Light within, because Jethro’s heart was open to hearing others. We can all merit the connection that Jethro had, simply by awakening our desire to be open to listening to the Light, which can be perceived as the voice of our true self, aka our soul. Ultimately, we have all the answers we need. If we want the Light’s advice, all we need to do is open our hearts and ears to hear the voice of our soul, the true voice within.
Just to be clear, I am not telling you what to do. I’m just saying…
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