Pop Up Blockers and Me

Note: This post is based on a causal email exchange I had right before Sukkos with a friend/sometimes blog reader..

Thought pop into my head way to often. Mostly during davening. I find that it’s a challenge for me to keep my kavannah from being hijacked. For sure this was a problem prior to Sukkos. I’ve tried hisbodedus before davening. I’ve told myself, “Focus on davening” between the time I’ve left home and arrived at shul, as well. It never really seems to work for me in the long run. Usually any attempt has been the proverbial band-aid.

Then, for some reason, I thought about the miracle of the ‘pop-up blocker’. These little programs are amazing. The allow us to jump from website to website for hours on end without having to deal with those annoying pop-up windows. Why couldn’t I use this technology for my davening? I tried it during the first days of Sukkos. As I got ready to daven Sukkos morning I imagined that just the simple action of open my siddur turned on my ‘pop-up blocker’ that would help filter out all of those thought that seem to enter my mind during daving. You know the ones that really set you off course, like, “I really should have had two cups of coffee in my sukkah” or “I wonder if everyone here bentched lulav and esrog before coming to shul?”

I was actually impressed. This simple mental trip seemed to help my kavannah. It isn’t full proof, but it’s a start. In truth, this idea has been around for a while. A classic example would be the use of tzitzis or wearing of a yarmulka (although tzitzis is totally rooted in halacha).

I decided to extend my use of ‘pop-up blockers’ in regard to anger (more on this in the upcoming post titled “Habits”, coming soon to blog near you). I had a situation over Sukkos that not only tested my patience but I allowed it to eat away at me to the point of getting really upset. Finally I turned on my ‘pop-up blocker’ to stop myself from reaching the point of anger over a situation that really wasn’t in my control. When the same situation came up again, my ‘pop-up blocker’ stared flashing in my head and I was reminded that getting upset wasn’t worth the trouble.

I guess it’s really an issue of control. Do I want to be in control of my thoughts, or will my thoughts be in control of me (this makes me think of the old song by the band X, titled “I must not think bad thoughts”). I’m reminded of a classic Kelm story of about Rav Eliyahu Lopian z’tl.

While waiting for a bus in Yerushalyim with one of his talmidim, Rav Lopian was learning. At some point he picked his head out of the sefer he had and looked up to see if the bus was coming. Right after he did this, he turned to his student and said something like, “Had I been in Kelm and did this, I would have gotten an hour mussar shmooze.” The idea being two fold:
a) Looking to see if the bus was coming doesn’t make the bus come any faster
b) It’s a bus. Is a bus so important that you are willing to give up even a second of your seder in learning. Who is in control? You or the bus?

For another great post on dealing with anger, I strongly suggest this by A Simple Jew.

4 thoughts on “Pop Up Blockers and Me

  1. shoshana (bershad)

    When my daughter was little, if she had a bad dream, I told her that she could “change the channel” and think of something else to dream about. I think that metaphor helped her feel in control; dreams didn’t happen TO her, and she wasn’t helpless when she was uncomfortable.

    Funny how these concrete symbols work for us!

  2. Neil Harris

    Good question, Rafi.
    For me, a band-aid approach is sort of like auto-pilot. You come up with a quick fix and move on, forgetting about both the problem and the solution (which really doesn’t change anything from either an exteral or an internal point of view.

    I’m using my pop-up blocker method on two very specific circumstanes. With focused kavannah during daving, it’s a pretty controlled environment. Daving is for an allocated amount of time, and one is focusing on something physical (a siddur).
    How often does someone watch a program on TV or something downloaded on their computer monitor? We have no trouble being focused for that, right?
    Think about listening to laining? It’s a pretty focused activity and actually is devided into time segments, as well (pretty genius, for keeping ones’ attention).

    With patience/anger it’s more tricky. Isolating the cause is key. Again, more on this in my post coming up about “Habits”. I realized what was bothering me and turned on my pop up blocker for that specific issue that bothered me.

  3. Bob Miller

    Great idea, Neil!

    If this is like the rest of our ongoing “spy-vs-spy” war with the yetzer hara, you’ll also need to react later to the yetzer’s countermeasures.


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