The answer is love. The answer is you. The answer is underneath and inside. The answer is something beyond your analytical-thinking mind, and it has more to do with your essence than your present experience. The answer is something we often avoid because we are so stuck in our questions.
The ancient Aramaic etymology of the word “question,” kashia, shares the same root as the word for straw, kash. Straw is the stalk that grains grow upon. The function of straw is to nourish the grain. However, straw has little to no nutritional value of its own. Imagine eating straw all your life instead of warm, nourishing bread. When we are stuck in questions, we lose the vital energy we need to fully embrace and appreciate life. If it helps you remember, think of it as getting stuck in the stalk. I want to address the question without getting stuck in the question. It is about seeing the answer.
TRADE IN THE QUESTION OF PAIN FOR THE ANSWER OF LOVE.
Underlying our mutual emotional struggles is the question of why: Why is this happening to me? Why aren’t you listening to me? Why did that happen to him or her? Why aren’t you being fair? Why weren’t they honest with me? Why did I get a traffic ticket? Behind these questions, there is judgment about a life situation, which creates a negative charge or resistance. We assume none of these things should be happening. Is this normal? Yes.
We all have the propensity for these negative judgements. We are born and raised to judge, assess, and evaluate situations. This is how the mind works. It’s a very good thing too. We need the ability to assess situations in order to make good decisions. Without this ability we wouldn’t stop at a red light, choose to eat healthy, or walk away from a toxic relationship. However, problems begin to arise the moment we turn our assessment into a story that creates pain—or in other words, dramatize our life situation. Instead of living in the moment, we mentally (and sometimes verbally) write a dramatic narrative that creates, surrounds, and concretizes our pain and perpetuates the unrest we experience.
This pain is negative energy or negativity that moves you further away from happiness. Further away from Truth. Further away from Love. Further away from God. In this sense, we are all born as equals. We are the same in our innate human challenge, which is our inability to see things as they are behind the veil of appearance.
The same negativity starts every war, from the small argument with a brother, sister, or friend to the genocides and holocausts throughout history. All negativity comes from the same place. The same source.
What is the source of negativity? What is the source of life’s dramas?
The drama in our lives is created through the way we experience whatever happens to us: the way we judge what people say to us, the judgments we make about ourselves, and the way we perceive all the situations and conditions we find ourselves in. It’s not the situation that creates the person, or the feeling within the person, but rather the way we view life that creates our sense of the situations we encounter.
HOW YOU SEE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT YOU SEE.
This may bring up the question about objective good and negative situations. Later in this book, we will discuss the difference between good and bad. However, in the meantime I ask that you suspend your thoughts about the question of good and evil and instead come with me on a journey to discover whether there is another way of looking at things.
The answer begins with Hishtavus. The answer is now.
What does Hishtavus mean, and why is it important?
Hishtavus is related to the word Shaveh, which literally means “the same.” Thus, meaning “sameness,” “Oneness,” or “equanimity,” Hishtavus is a state of nonjudgmental awareness. You are able to totally accept reality as it is without labeling things as essentially better or worse. It is the beginning of what it means to live in the presence of God. It is the secret of life.
The Baal Shem Tov, known as the founder of Chassidus, describes this sameness as being the fundamental principle upon which all of spiritual development rests. The twelfth-century Spanish philosopher Bahya ibn Paquda writes, in his famous work Duties of the Heart, that Hishtavus is the most important spiritual practice and quality one can attain.
You can live in harmony with all of life and enter into conscious alignment with a higher order. This state of allowing and surrender opens a space inside of you that engenders renewed creativity, connection, and the experience of love to expand. Seeing life through this lens of Oneness lets you see the good and the love laced within creation. There are seven life-changing qualities related to sameness. Harmony, alignment with a higher order, love recognition, allowing, surrender, space, and a lens of Oneness. Let me explain.
Hishtavus means to live in perfect harmony with all of life. Life is happening. It stops for no one. It has been said that life is God in action. When Moshe (Moses) asked God, “Who shall I tell the people is setting them free from Egyptian bondage?” God responded with the words, “Ekyeh Asher Ekyeh,” “I am that I am” or “I will be Who I will be.” Things are as they are. They will be as they will be. To live in the denial of this truth is to deny the presence of God. To live in harmony with this truth is to live in the presence of God.
Hishtavus is to enter into conscious alignment with a higher order. There is a deeper intention behind everything that occurs. Nothing ends with what we see on the surface. There is always more behind the scenes. The Creator, Sustainer, and Director of life, as it unfolds, has intentions of the highest good and love. We only see a small fraction of reality. Being open to this spiritual guidance allows for openness in all our experiences, with the people we meet and the places we go. Living with equanimity, you will find a hidden harmony, a sacredness, a higher order in which the knowing, the known, and the knower are one. It is the fertile ground for wisdom and freedom and a space for compassion and love. True sameness produces radiance and warmth of being. There is an ease within that comes when we see a bigger picture. It is being able to hold space for unlimited potential and infinite possibility—an inner knowing that all things lead in the right direction, whether or not it unfolds according to how we think it should.
Hishtavus is recognizing the love that exists everywhere. It is the awareness that the energy of all things and events are flooded with a loving presence of the Creator, despite their outer appearance. It is possible to literally feel the connection between you and all other creations, all part of the love story being told by God. You are totally conscious of the miracle of life and see how love is the epicenter of creation.
Hishtavus is a state of allowing. To allow things to happen with inner resistance is not weakness. It is strength. Non-resistance doesn’t mean letting people walk all over you or allowing your house to burn down. Whatever is happening, instead of wishing it were different, you allow it to be exactly as it is, then take action from that place of allowing.
Hishtavus is a state of surrender. Although we associate the word surrender with a negative charge or loss, surrender is a powerful door opener for peace, love, and harmony. We seem to constantly be in a fight with reality. There’s never enough time, not enough money, and we’re always doing the things we wish we weren’t doing. But to surrender means to let go of how you think things should be and accept them as how they are.
Hishtavus is a space inside us that allows creativity, connection, and love to expand. Connection and flow happen within the space of sameness. It is not a form of doing. It is a space, an inner stillness that allows for and fosters authentic connection. It is the silence out of which a song is born, the quiet from which breakthroughs and epiphanies emerge.
Hishtavus is seeing life through the lens of Oneness. According to Kabbalah, there are five levels of consciousness, the highest being yechida – Oneness. Instead of seeing division, we see unity. Instead of separation, we see togetherness. Instead of difference, sameness. It is an all-inclusive way of viewing the world.
It does not mean repressing our emotions. It can be easy to confuse sameness with denial, but it is not about denying a particular situation. Rather, it is about accepting each situation for what it is and dropping all resistance. Denial means looking into the face of reality and covering it up with a label that says something to the effect that, “Everything is okay. Don’t get angry.” Denial leads to more pain, while Hishtavus leads the way to freedom.
It doesn’t mean you always feel amazing. It might seem that if we’re at peace with everything that happens, we will always feel fantastic, but this isn’t the promise of sameness. On the outer layer of reality, i.e., life as we know it, things are always changing. Nothing stays the same, nothing lasts forever, and nothing is everything it seems. Because of the nature of life, there are things we experience that make us very happy and things that make us sad. This is how it’s supposed to be. The only difference is that with sameness, these remain on the surface, while behind them you rest in a deep sense of peace, presence, and love that is unshakable.
I deeply appreciate the way Rav Doniel Katz defines equanimity as “the capacity to maintain an open, connected state, free from emotional turbulence, no matter what daily chaos and challenges you face.” Dr. Judith Orloff describes this in two words in her book’s title, Emotional Freedom.
LIFE IS GOD IN ACTION.
BEING IN HARMONY WITH LIFE ALLOWS YOU TO SEE LOVE AND
What you will find is that equanimity allows you to remain centered in the middle of whatever is happening. It gives you balance, strength, and stability. This stillness is a deep presence of inner calm, well-being, confidence, vitality, and integrity. It keeps us upright in the same way a ballast keeps a ship upright in strong winds. This is an invitation of freedom sowing its seeds. Water it and allow it to grow.
All is equal.
It is all the same.
All is one.
All is good.
And all is love.
There is no difference. There is no separation.
Something to ask yourself is whether or not these seven qualities resonate within you as something you have personally experienced. If you have, what was the catalyst? If you have not, can you imagine what might be holding you back? Are there times when you feel rooted in something so strong that you stay firmly planted when the winds of the world blow? The most important book to study is the journal of your heart.
 Rav Moshe Iserles begins his editorial notes of the Shulchan Aruch with the Psalm “I place God before me always” and says that this is the fundamental principle of Torah and the essential quality of what makes the righteous, righteous. The Hebrew word for I place is Shivisi, which shares the same etymological root as Shaveh, which means equal or the same. Thus the fundamental ideal in living a spiritual life is sameness. It is noteworthy that the famous Kabbalists the Arizal and Rav Moshe Dovid Volle all understood this verse the same way.