Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Is the Negative Voice the Evil Inclination?

negative III was listening to one of my favourite podcasts today - Jonathan Roche's No Excuses Weight Loss on Blog Talk Radio. It isn't really about weight loss, although that may well be a welcome side effect of listening to Jonathan in the long term. It's really about the Lizard Brain, the Imposter Police, or what Jonathan calls the Negative Voice. Jonathan encourages listeners to exercise, eat well, but most importantly, to learn to silence that voice that tells them that they aren't worthy of all those loving efforts.

So why am I blogging about this now? I've been listening to Jonathan for years. I enjoy his direct approach, his gentle humour, and his uncanny ability to put his finger on the real issues his callers are struggling with. But today he spoke with a long-time listener from Israel, a guy named Steve. That was interesting enough in itself as the overwhelming majority of Jonathan's callers are female, although Jonathan handles male callers with the same ease and aplomb, with no hint of awkwardness. Steve has been dealing with some major health issues, but he's been doing well recently - swimming, walking and becoming more fit. That's all good, but then Steve said something I found quite fascinating. Jonathan commented on his positive attitude in the face of his health challenges, and Steve said that the Negative Voice was "what we call in Hebrew the yetzer ha'ra  - the Evil Inclination."

According to Jewish tradition, children are born with the Evil Inclination, but start to develop the Good Inclination (the yetzer hatov) after they become Bar or Bat Mitzvah (13 or 12 years of age for boys and girls, respectively). The Good Inclination's job is to control the Evil Inclination, to make a child who is only interested in pleasure into a responsible adult who is an asset to the community. It is a long struggle.

But the rabbis did not see the Evil Inclination as a demon to be exorcised - it is considered the source of many good things in life. If the Evil Inclination were banished, there would be no marriage or procreation, no one would bother to work or invent anything, ambition would be gone. The Evil Inclination drives people to desire.

How can this powerful force for creation be the Negative Voice or the Lizard Brain? The Evil Inclination is not fearful. It doesn't call us names - on the contrary, it flatters us into action we may regret. Maybe it convinces us to eat cake we don't need, but I imagine that the desire to increase health and energy comes from the same source. The Good Inclination doesn't lead to the kind of fierce joy we get from being strong. If anything, it is more likely to put us in our place - maybe the Negative Voice is more related to the Good Inclination? How confusing.

It seems that the traditional Jewish concepts of Evil and Good Inclinations don't map easily onto the idea of a Negative Voice or Lizard Brain or Resistance that is trying to keep everything status quo, keep your head down and don't rock the boat. If anything, that much-lauded Good Inclination would play the bad guy role, as it takes the Evil Inclination's wild energy and bops it on the head and pushes it into socially acceptable directions. Yet, anyone who does not learn how to function in society, at least minimally, is going to be seriously distracted from their creativity and art by the difficulties of everyday life. Wheels within wheels and layers within layers!
This has turned out to be a somewhat abstruse blog post, but I really love combining different parts of my life in this way. I hope you like thinking about these things, too.

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