Q. I've given up the bad stuff already for a few months, but I still feel far from learning to control my eyes. When we see a beautiful girl, and we really KNOW that it's really nothing, but it affects our senses, how in the world can we deal with that? I mean, it feels like we have to forgo the most beautiful things in this world! I know it's possible, but it's so painful sometimes.
A. Don't let this get you down. Learning to control the eyes properly can take years, even if one has stopped the addictive behaviors. Getting rid of lust from our lives is not easy, and it is probably the biggest sacrifice that a Jew needs to offer Hashem in this world. Perhaps that is hinted to in the Pasuk of the Korbon Tamid, which was brought twice a day in the Beis Hamikdash. The Pasuk says "Zeh Ha'isheh Asher Takrivu La'Hashem - this is the "fire" that you should sacrifice to Hashem. (The word "fire" is the same word as "woman"). But the beauty of it all is, that although it "FEELS" so hard, there is really nothing there at all, like you mentioned. So in essence, we are being given the chance to give Hashem our hearts (and get so much reward) for FREE. (See number 4 below for more on this profound idea).
Also, it is important to know, that even for someone who has learned to guard his eyes already to a high extent, he can easily come to fall again if he should find himself in an area with many tests around him (or if he watches movies, browses magazines, or surfs the internet without a good filter). To retain whatever level of Shmiras Ainayim you have reached, it is very important to avoid people, places or things that trigger you to the best of your ability. And if you must be in such an area or around such a person/people, get away from there as soon as you can. The longer you stay there, the more chances there are that you'll fall in Shmiras Ainayim, even if you thought you already had good control.
Here are some important perspectives to keep in mind that can help you learn to control your eyes and deal with the pain you feel when turning away.
1) Remember that no matter how painful it feels NOT to look, it will be MORE PAINFUL to look. Why? Because when you look, there are two acute pains you will feel.
a) You feel suddenly far from Hashem and far from your goal (getting rid of lust).
b) You know you can't have it anyway, and when you look - you desire it and you can't have it, so it HURTS.
So essentially, the pain you feel when not looking is MUCH BETTER than the pain of looking. Sometimes it takes years for a person to finally feel that the spiritual / emotional pain of "looking" exceeds the pain of "not looking". But as soon as one has this realization, Shmiras Ainayim becomes MUCH easier.
2) The pain you feel when not looking is HEALING pain, like the pain from an important surgery. The pain is healing you. On the other hand, the spiritual pain of looking is the pain of the disease getting worse. Which pain do you choose?
3) The pain you feel when not looking is not really your pain at all. It is the pain of the Yetzer Hara in his "death throws". He is screaming that you are hitting him hard. So enjoy the pain! You are feeling the pain of your enemy as he dies!
4) The whole desire is a blown up bubble of hot-air, built around what we see and imagine in the mind. Experience has shown us all, that as soon as we get what we thought we wanted -- what we thought was going to be absolutely incredible (according to what we saw and fantasized), as soon as it's done, the bubble pops and all that's left is "hot air". And we are left shaking our head and not believing that for this we are selling our very souls.
So in essence, the fact that we struggle so much with shmiras ainayim and all these powerful fantasies, and the fact that it feels like it takes such effort give our hearts over to Hashem - this all is really Hashem's greatest gift to us. This sounds a little strange, so let me explain what I'm trying to say:
If we would just be like the goyim and just give in and get all that we desired in these areas, we would have NOTHING at the end. Do they have joy from this? Did you ever see a non-Jew who walks around happy all day because he gets whatever he wants? The minute it's over, they are left disillusioned and seeking other pleasures to fill the void they feel. So think about it. Hashem has chosen us and uplifted us from the filth of the world, and given us the opportunity to make all these "valiant" struggles every time we turn away from looking at something the Yetzer Hara wants us to look at - just so he can hug us and reward us with eternal divine light. But what is the alternative, if we would give in? Nothing! Emptiness and disillusionment! The Yetzer Hara promises so much, but he delivers nothing! So this whole blown up desire that we have, and all these difficult struggles not to look, etc... it's all really a "game" that Hashem is playing with us. He makes us feel as if we are "ripping out our hearts" for him - and he indeed rewards us AS IF we have sacrificed our hearts, and he allows us to come closer to him than any non-Jew could dream of coming, and yet, it's all a game. Because if one would be able to see in advance the way he would feel after he would give in, he wouldn't even have a struggle!!
That is perhaps what Chaza"l meant when they said that one day the Tzadikim will weep with joy that they were able to overcome the mountain of the Yetzer Hara, and Resha'im will weep that they couldn't overcome this little string of the Yetzer Hara. One may ask, how could the Yetzer Hara be both things? Which is the truth? Well, based on what we just wrote above, it could be that the Tzadikim are talking about the "mountain" that the Yetzer Hara "FELT LIKE" – when they DIDN'T give in. But the Resha'im are seeing the little "nothing" that the Yetzer Hara really was when they actually gave in.
So it's really all a game of Hashem's chesed and love for us. Hashem is only asking of us to over come a "small string", but he makes it LOOK like a mountain so that we can be worthy of coming close to him and receive the tremendous reward he wants to give us!
Remember this important idea and you will stay be able to stay strong even in what "feels like" the most difficult moments!
5) Know that every time you look away is priceless and you are building up strength for the long term. It's kind of like a bank. Each time you feel it's hard but turn away, another coin is added to your bank. When the amount reaches a certain point, you will finally have the strength to be able to guard your eyes consistently. The Sefer HaChinuch writes: "If you master your yetzer hora and close your eyes just once from seeing improper images, it will become progressively easier for you to control your eyes and thoughts."
Spiritual levels ascend progressively. The merit of closing our eyes even one time will create a propensity and empower us to reach successive levels of holiness. So never say "what's the use, I know I'll fall later anyway". Later falls do not remove previous acheivements. Each time you succeeded is saved for you in the "bank" until you will have enough there to merit divine help in consistently guarding your eyes.
6) [For this one, it might help to look in the mirror and lift up your eye lids]. Tell yourself, t