The Story of Jonah: A Journey of the Soul – Part One

This week sees the Jewish Holy Day of Yom Kippur, literally the Day of Atonement. It concludes a ten day period at the start of the Jewish year, known as the Days of Penitence (Aseret Yemei Teshuva) and during this time it is customary to read the story of Jonah, a seemingly  minor prophet in the Bible whose story describes, at one level the power of repentance, at another the journey facing each of us at the very level of the soul.

Jonah’s story can be summed up simply. He is called upon by God to visit the great city of Nineveh and warn them that they must repent their wickedness, or be destroyed. Instead Jonah boards a ship bound in the opposite direction. A storm hits and Jonah explains it is God’s judgement on him. Reluctantly the passengers and crew cast him overboard and Jonah is swallowed by a large fish. In the fish’s belly he prays for redemption, before being spewed back on shore where he started. He goes to Nineveh, preaches and the people of the city repent and are saved. Furious that he has gone all this way, seemingly for nothing, he sits outside the city in the beating sun. To give him comfort The Holy One designates a gourd to grow and provide shade, but overnight it dies and Jonah grieves for it. “You took pity on the gourd,” says The Holy One, “for which you did not labour; how much more then should I take pity on Nineveh, a great city with more than a 120,000 souls and many animals as well?”

This story can be understood on many levels and  I would recommend reading the full account in the Bible. Meanwhile, let’s consider the implications.

At a literal level, it is a tale about a man who runs away from his destiny, only to find that it catches up with him.

Jonah has as much to learn in this story as the people of Nineveh. We all have our job to do and running from it brings storms and suffering. He might have learnt compassion from fellow passengers on the boat, who pray to their gods for redemption and are reluctant to throw him overboard even knowing their lives depend on it. They are good people, not spiritual – they pray to their gods, not to Godbut humane, sympathetic and caring.

Arriving in Nineveh, Jonah preaches. No easy task, people behaving wickedly, usually don’t like being preached at, but he is successful. The king of Nineveh calls upon his people to repent according to their ability. The text says “Let he who knows how repent”. Another compassionate act; the king expects them to give only what they are capable of giving.

Their repentance is accepted and they are forgiven. But Jonah is displeased, he lacks the ability to forgive, the compassion that he sought for himself in the fish’s belly. Thus the story concludes with Jonah’s lesson, that surely mercy and compassion are  better than anger.

Psychologically this rings true. Jonah is in denial through much of the story, because he lacks the compassion for himself that he should feel for others. His self-destructive mind leads him to run away from the truth; to submit to seemingly certain death when he asks to be thrown overboard; and near the end of the story we are told “he asked for his soul to die”.

“Better is my death than my life,” he says. The Hebrew word used here for soul is “nefesh”, which refers specifically to the animal, or vital soul (not the immortal, or human soul, neshamah.) Again Jonah acts, not from his highest Self, but from an instinctive level. The word nefesh implies a baser level of seeing, one who has knowledge of something greater than himself, but is ruled by personal will, not Divine Will.

One of the most compassionate aspects of the story of Jonah is the recognition that few of us are saints! Jonah is a prophet, who has a direct communication with God. His reluctance to carry out his mission may be foolish, but it is understandable. Few prophets are met with open arms and kind words, and he succumbs to his fears at going to Nineveh. Let’s face up to it: how often when faced with a difficult reality, do we resist and find ourselves running in the opposite direction?

With the exception of the king of Nineveh, the people he preaches to are like most of us, very ordinary. Their wrongdoing comes from lack of knowledge, perhaps karmic immaturity. One hundred and twenty thousand people, we are told, who “don’t know their right hand from their left, and many animals as well.”

I particularly love the humour of this ending. Why should we be told about their “many animals”, other than that these poor folk are really not much brighter than their donkeys and cattle! In truth, when it comes to the work of the soul few of us are! But, like all humanity – and all of nature – we are beloved of God. Compassion is the most Divine of emotions, and, as St Paul points out, without it we are nothing!

In Part 2, the esoteric meaning of the story…

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Living Deliberately: Part three – My part in Brexit and how I’m (not) going to change the world…

First an apology to those of you fed up reading about Brexit – I promise this is not a political rant. But let’s be honest, we’re all thinking about it, or trying not to. So how do I look at the shenanigans of the political class as a Kabbalist without losing my mind?

One way is to look at the Soul Triad and the principles involved, in particular the balance of Hesed and Gevurah. Politics functions at the lower face of Yezirah and I am affected by the collective only to the degree that my decisions are ruled by Yesod. The Soul sits above this, looking on.

To observe politics with detachment requires discrimination, which means identifying what is real and life-enhancing, and accepting where my responsibility begins and ends. It’s about knowing when to act and when not to. Recognising boundaries and allowing myself to be contained and grow within them.

Gevurah, literally ‘strength’, sits in opposing balance to Hesed (compassion, or mercy). Gevurah is discipline, fear of God, judgement, the warrior principle. Astrologically it is Mars and in Beriah (the transpersonal World) it is Samael, or Cosmic Evil, the archetype of destruction and constraint.

These principles sound cheerless, but they provide the boundaries needed to maintain order and equilibrium. Discrimination and justice are necessary prerequisites for Self-fulfilment and Self-realisation. Through them we deepen our role in the unfolding of creation.

To understand this Spiritually, we can observe the world of Politics, putting aside our political bias in order to take a transpersonal view. Seen this way, Politics is really no more than a passing show, a prism through which we witness Universal Law in operation. The effects of the choices our politicians make will effect us only in terms of our individual karma.

Like many I’ve been watching the news, as Boris Johnson takes his place as the UK’s Prime Minister. One might regard him as a man without boundaries: he can be quite cavalier in the comments he makes, he has left one marriage to move into a relationship with a new partner, and in general he is known for his bluster and, according to some, buffoonery.

Yet, politically he also demonstrates Gevurah. His approach to Brexit has been to establish his boundaries early on: he has said there will be no backstop, that Britain must leave the EU, and he will accept a ‘no deal’ Brexit if necessary. Nor is he afraid to ruffle feathers. Like it or not, he occupies his place at Tiferet, even if he sometimes allows Yesod a little too much leeway.

Seen this way, Mr Johnson is an animal man, functioning from the animal triad (Tiferet-Hod-Nezah) with access to Gevurah and Hesed, if he chooses to step fully into his own power. Like all animal people, he seeks worldly power and status, but he exercises control only insofar as his own karma, and the karma of the nation, allows him to. He has become Prime Minister because of his karma and because he has a lesson to learn. Likewise his future will be determined by the choices he is now making, as well as the choices he has made so far.

The relationship of Britain with its European neighbours has a long, essentially tribal, history. Karmically, the British decision to leave the European Union was determined long before the 2016 referendum. Thus whatever happens will simply be Universal Law at work. This is what is currently being played out on the public stage. The role of Samael and Zadkiel, the balancing archangel at Hesed, is to maintain Cosmic balance, and they are both way bigger than Mr Johnson and his government.

The question for the spiritual pilgrim is “what is my part in this?” or even “what is this to me?”

In a way the answer is simple, even if the practicalities are not. Its meaning for each of us lies in whatever challenges, if any, it throws our way. Maybe (like Mr Johnson) our lot will be to participate actively and manage the outcome; maybe we just need to observe, bear (true) witness to the playground mentality of the political world. Gevurah is knowing what belongs to me and what does not; where my job begins, and ends. Always balanced by care and concern for my fellow human beings caught up in the round of everyday living.

We have a tendency (and I certainly speak for myself here!) to externalise our fears and expectations. The whole of Christianity is built on the premise that Jesus Christ died for our sins, that He took on the sins of the world so that we all might be saved. But suppose for a moment, Jesus did not die for your sins. Suppose He died to clear His Own karma, doing so publicly in order to demonstrate what is possible if we face up to reality and take personal responsibility?

It’s a big idea. It means our politicians will answer for their actions. If Boris Johnson messes up Brexit (whatever that means!) he will have to answer for it, before parliament, the people, and above all (literally) before God. That is the price of his ambition.

It is equally true for each and every one of us. However Brexit turns out, we will receive what is ours, our daily bread, in whatever form we need it. To blame the government, or religion, parents or neighbours, or even God, for our personal circumstance is to miss the point entirely.

Spiritual work is about taking individual responsibility for our karma, allowing that we sometimes get it wrong and that those things that afflict us in the here and now are the consequences of our own actions. That is living deliberately, consciously facing the world square on, and allowing ourselves to achieve the ultimate goal: to transcend the passing show that is this world (and its politics!) and to engage with our deepest, Divine Self. So that at the end, like Jesus, we too can say: “it is done.”

 

Understanding Social Media

To understand this world, you must understand the underlying principles that govern it. Kabbalists call this Divine Law, and everything that exists does so according to Law. Social media is a good example. We post our thoughts and these are communicated to others who read them; in Kabbalah this is associated with Hod on the Tree of Life¹.

In understanding Hod, we can perceive more clearly the nature of social media. Like a game of tennis, Hod bats to and fro thoughts, ideas and messages. Even the exchange of money or goods is an expression of Hod. In the context of social media, be it Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, or any other, Hod is concerned with storage and transference of data. I type my blog, press publish and it is there for anyone to read.

So what is Hod not concerned with? Hod does not make moral judgements. It does not distinguish between ideas that are positive and constructive, and those that are negative and potentially dangerous. It is not from Hod that we make responsible decisions. This requires input from Tiferet, Gevurah and Hesed. Just as Hod is not concerned with judgement, Gevurah is not concerned with tradition or law. These require input from Binah. When the whole left-hand pillar is activated, Hod can act according to accepted, social morals. The right-hand pillar makes possible inspired and considerate action. Without these others, Hod publishes without discernment or discrimination.

Facebook, to take one example, has faced considerable criticism for facilitating all sorts of undesirable activity. Put this on the Tree and we can see why. Its founders were idealists, concerned with inventing a way to allow people to communicate quickly and widely using the internet as a medium, but without restriction. No great moral judgements were made, other than the ideals of bringing people together through the internet. Because the internet is so new, there were no immediate historical traditions that could guide its development. Nick Clegg, the UK politician and former UK Deputy Prime Minister, made exactly this observation only recently, suggesting that Facebook needs external authority (governments) to provide the rules by which it must function. The same is true of any social medium, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram etc…

There are rules and regulations for other forms of publishing, but even these have their limits. Newspaper journalism, especially, is not good at self-regulation. It is ruled by Hod (communication), functioning at the level of Yesod (ego, reflecting back today’s “news”) and requires a responsible individual, ideally an editor, functioning at Tiferet, to apply appropriate moral guidance. The lack of a traditional basis in law means that social media, which is so new and so exploratory, cannot regulate itself any more than a small child still acquiring boundaries.

The difference is that, now, having become so influential and powerful, Facebook must face the critical judgements of those who want it to take responsibility. But power is a dangerous thing, especially where there are no moral and legal controls to limit and regulate. Think of a child growing to adolescence, physically strong and keen to experiment with his/her newfound strength, the drives that come from Nezah, but without the boundaries of adult self-awareness. That’s where social media is right now.

There is an added problem, and that’s us. We buy into social media on an habitual basis, and most of what happens as a result of habit is governed by Yesod – ego and the ordinary mind – which rarely exercises discernment without external pressure. How easy is it to type a Tweet and press send without properly considering the implications of what we are typing? Donald Trump’s Tweets are a case in point, though I suspect he is far more aware of what he is doing than people give him credit for.

Hod bats ideas back and forth – I tweet, you reply; I click like, you click a happy emoti; we communicate in ways that have never before been possible. In so many ways it is wonderful, opening new opportunities and potential. But every word we speak, publish, or even think, has a consequence. Divine Law and Karma are not put on hold because we pressed enter before we meant to.

So far we have looked at the Hod of Yezirah, the psychological World of Forms, but now let’s shift this up a level, and consider how this resonates in the upper/inner Worlds.

Social Media has a global impact. The Hod of Beriah sits behind the Binah of Yezirah, which is concerned with Law and Tradition. Without Law, there is nothing to contain its growth or regulate its impact, and the result is potentially toxic, like a virus that destroys the body it inhabits. The flow of Spirit is blocked, and society becomes dysfunctional. What was once a wonderful idea, opening up worlds (and Worlds!) becomes a source of instability and suffering.

However social media, like most human inventions, is in itself neither good nor bad. How we use it determines its value. I am no politician, nor am I especially interested in politics. Living in a Democracy, I can vote in elections, but my real power as an individual and a teacher is how I use words. We each of us have a responsibility to regulate our actions, considering our words with care. When we Tweet or text or email, put a post on Facebook, or even a blog on wordpress, at a distance from our audience that might incline us to forget there is someone out there reading what we say, we have as much responsibility as when that person is standing in front of us. Our Karma for our actions is no less real, stored away in the side triads of Yezirah.

At the Hod of Beriah, the airy World of Spirit, is the Archangel Raphael, God’s Healer. The health of this world relies on the clean flow of Spirit at the transpersonal level. While day-to-day use of social media is very personal – sometimes too personal, consider the effect of online bullying on our children – the Hod of Beriah affects the collective. Raphael impersonally sweeps away that which is unhealthy. Divine Law is always at work, and we do well to remember that the Holy One observes our actions with interest!

 

¹See my page entitled “Introduction to Kabbalah” for an overview of the relationship between sefirot, and the bibliography page for further reading.

In Search of God: Part Two – A Life of Meaning!

The search for God is, ultimately, the search for Self. I am that I am, and all else, even the concept of an individual soul, is merely passing show in the eye of the Holy ONE.

I wrote last time of my trip to Spain, and concluded the first part in Seville, where I caught a glimpse of Christ-Consciousness. My journey continued with a visit to the city of Cordoba, at one time a major Jewish centre of learning. Here there is an unusual cathedral, built in the middle of what was previously a mosque.

I had not been in good health, and, entering the building, I had a coughing fit that left me quite shaken. Walking through the mosque area, I experienced a sudden wave of emotion. It was a strange feeling, strange even now as I type this, but I wanted to kneel and pray! As if this was the most natural thing in the world to do…in a Cathedral full of tourists, I felt as if I were being called to prayer!

I experienced the powerful realisation that I had been here before, probably around the turn of the 11th Century and, for me unexpectedly, that I had been Muslim, not Jewish.

When I wrote part one of the story, I thought this would be the focal point of part two. It is not the first past life experience I have had and I work on the principle that one can only live one life at a time. So whether I actually had been there before or not, this prompted me to consider what lesson I had come here to learn. It became not the conclusion of the journey but a starting point.

The search for one’s Divine Self, one’s relationship with Godhead, Christ-consciousness, call it what you like, requires a map – mine is the Tree – and the events of life appear as signposts along the way. The Shemah, says “You shall bind them [the words I command you this day] as a sign upon your hand and as frontlets [in Hebrew, Totafot] between your eyes”. This day means THIS day, today, now: the Holy One communicates Divine Will in every moment. Every experience is a sign to be viewed with open eyes, hence the Totafot, in order to understand their meanings.

I am, of course, avoiding explaining what it meant for me! Truth is, I don’t fully know yet; map reading for Kabbalists is a fine art! However, a couple of things have emerged since to help decipher the message.

The first was watching the movie, Ben Hur, again! It reminded me that we are touched by God in our darkest hours. I was suffering from quite a horrible chest infection; not quite being sold in slavery like Ben Hur, I know, but it was certainly getting me down. I was being reminded that nothing happens for nothing, even a nasty cough.

Secondly, far more interesting, was an article in the newspaper. A couple, whose baby son was saved by a serious heart operation, were able to repay the debt to the surgeon by treating his dog. They were vets and heard that said pet was also unwell. It turned out the dog was suffering from exactly the same heart condition as their son, and they were able to operate and save it.

What are the chances of that happening? Here was an extraordinary synchronicity, a karmic co-incidence. Apologies to all dog lovers, but nothing can repay saving the life of a child, not even saving a treasured pet, so this was by its very nature a Karmic sign.

One can only speculate but here are some possible scenarios:

  1. In a past life, the parents had done a similar thing for the surgeon – saved his life, or the life of a dear loved one. Saving the dog signalled, perhaps, that a Karmic debt had been repaid.
  2. Perhaps the man, the surgeon in this life, in a previous incarnation had taken the life of someone’s child and was putting things right in this life. Saving the dog is the parents way of acknowledging, albeit at the level of the soul, that the debt is clear.
  3.  Perhaps these souls have encountered each other over many lives and their relationship has been one of ongoing reciprocal help and support, hence you did this for us (this time round) and we’re doing this for you.
  4. On the basis that the life of a dog is not on the same level as the life of a child, perhaps this Karmic payment is to allow the souls symbolically to move on, so that they DO NOT need to meet again in a future reincarnation with that debt  hanging over them.
  5. Over to you…any thoughts?

One can continue exploring possibilities and I am not suggesting that any of these is the case. It may be just as it appears to be. Two lives saved, a child and a dog. People doing their work in this life, with devotion and care.

Yet events that seem random, rarely are.

The search for meaning is ultimately the search for God, for the Divine within ourselves. In this life I am Jewish-born, British, a Kabbalist. A thousand years ago, it seems I was a Moor, Muslim, perhaps a Sufi. Then as now at a cross roads in history, I too had my place, my work to complete.

In all things, we give meaning to our lives in how we live our lives. We find God in the meaning.

The final part of my holiday was in Granada. I visited the Alhambra and had a couple of wonderful meals with a dear friend with whom I had been travelling, including my first authentic paella! The gratification of the senses also has its meaning. The Holy One experiences creation through our experience in each life, even the small or trivial.

May you always find meaning in your lives, for where there is meaning, there is the Divine!

In Search of My God: Part One – A Life of Toil and Trade-Offs!

I recently went on holiday to Andalucía in southern Spain, for a thousand years a major Kabbalistic centre. Jews, Christians and Muslims would meet, often secretly, to discuss spiritual matters, and many important texts were written that survive to this day. Like previous trips abroad, this one proved to be a seven-day journey up the central column of the Tree. As Kabbalists, we can learn from everything, if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear.

It begins, of course, at Malkhut, at an airport, a fascinating place of transition, where all sorts of people can be observed outside their comfort zone. Travelling overseas is a useful metaphor. The visions of prophets usually begin by crossing water and, of course, the Israelites must cross the Red Sea.

Arriving at my destination just outside Malaga, the  day culminated in a visit to the city of Mijas, high in the hills. Here I had to do some shopping, having lost my toothbrush, a typical element of Malkhut activity, dealing with the material world. There was a fascinating art gallery, with some fine ceramics by Picasso and Salvador Dali. I was especially struck by a pebble, a little more than an inch across, on which Picasso had engraved a picture of a bullfighter. There was something primal and basic about this small work of art, like a prehistoric engraving. It made me wonder about my earliest incarnations and a particular experience I had some years ago at Stonehenge.  These thoughts about possible past lives, as well as the bullfight image, became most significant later on.

On Day Two I was aware of moving up to the feeling triad, Yesod-Hod-Nezach. We arrived at the city of Ronda, the birthplace of bullfighting, with its medieval bridge that traverses a deep gorge and connects the old and new town. The sites I visited, the bullring and the church of Santa Maria de Mayor, represented two sides of everyday life, the sacred and secular. Coming from a Jewish background, I have always had misgivings about Spanish Catholicism with its ostentatious churches and Cathedrals. Although in some ways beautiful and magnificent in scale, I was aware that this church said more about the need to show off than to worship. The bullring made me think of the Roman colloseum and the bloodlust of ordinary humanity. Bullfighting has never appealed to me, but I can appreciate the intensity of combat with these powerful and potentially deadly animals. When I shifted levels, however, I sensed not violence or cruelty, but ordinary people seeking power and release, another primal feeling, and an important aspect of our humanity that we ignore at our peril.

From Ronda we travelled to Seville, where we spent two days that represented the next two triads as you ascend the Tree. The first, representing the animal triad (Hod-Nezach-Tiferet) included a tour of the city (“a panoramic tour”, as our tour manager insisted on calling it!) that took us to the sites of two expositions held in the city, in 1929 and 1992 respectively. This set in motion my observation of the animal level. The purpose of the expositions was primarily material, to increase trade and make money, the realm of animal man. The pavilions from 1929, actually rather beautiful buildings, survived and are still in use, whereas the legacy of the 1992 “Expo” is a lot of derelict pavilions, some now demolished, others left to decay. It reminded me of the plagues of hailstones (symbolically karma bursting the bubble of arrogance) and of locusts, which eat up our vain hopes of self-inflation. The irony of 1929 is that it was immediately followed by the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression, so in both cases the intention was thwarted by external circumstances, an important insight into the life of toil and trade-offs that is the passing show of this lower face of the Tree.

This was equally evident in the Cathedral in Seville, a vast structure claiming to be the largest in the world, three times the size of Notre-Dame. For the Catholic rulers of Spain, the Cathedrals of Andalucía, were symbolic of power and conquest, the overthrow of the Moors and the building of a “Christian” empire. At one level ornate and magnificent, I found it overbearing and oppressive, reminiscent of the passing show symbolised by the two expositions. After all, the great Spanish empire is now a thing of the past.

Yet I had the first of two profound insights into the Holy Spirit that guides human activity, if only we remain attentive. I felt a strong urge to walk down to the rear of the Cathedral, even though my two companions were keen to leave. What I saw filled me with wonder. Looking up, above the rear wall of the Choir,  I witnessed the crucifix illuminated, with the vaulted ceiling behind it, bathed in Beriatic light. Above was a window, through which shone sunlight from beyond this manmade edifice of stone. Seeing this, I realised, that while Azilut may be out of reach, it is always visible, if only we look up above the ground level of show and ornament.

Next time: The upper face of the Tree, as I experienced it in the Alacazar of Seville, Cordoba and Granada.

 

 

Lent

A while back I published a blog about the Autumn harvest and Divine prosperity. Emerging out of the winter, the days grow longer and we enter, paradoxically, a time that was in the past a period of hunger and austerity. The provisions of the autumn harvest had dwindled, and the fruits of early summer were yet to come.

It was during this time that the Lent tradition of fasting and prayer emerged, a practical, spiritual response to an annual period of thrift and hardship. Sacrificing something for Lent, combined with prayer and charitable giving, became a call to penance before the ultimate salvation of the Easter Passion.

It lasts 40 days, a significant number in many Biblical stories. Jesus spends 40 days in the desert being tempted by Satan, before his ministry begins; Moses spends 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai where he receives the Torah; Elijah spends 40 days walking to Mount Horeb where he hears the Voice of God; and Jonah gives the people of Nineveh 40 days to repent.

In each of these stories, those 40 days represent a period of transition and preparation, a change from one state of being to another, purer form. The Israelites spend 40 years in the desert, during which all but two of those who left Egypt with Moses pass away. A whole new generation enters the Holy Land, led by the most reliable of those who made the Exodus. This symbolises the transformation of the soul away from slavery to worldly things, in which everything but the best of ourselves needs to be shed. We enter the ‘Holy Land’ in a more enlightened state of readiness to fulfil our purpose in Creation. The purpose of Lent therefore is to make oneself ready spiritually for The Easter Passion, the ultimate letting go.

We find the concept of sacrifice throughout scripture, so it is worth bearing in mind what the English word means. It comes from Latin sacrificium, meaning to make (facere) Holy (sacer). It’s not an idea that has found popularity in modern culture. Nowadays it tends to imply depriving ourselves of something we would really rather keep. To give up too has negative connotations. But consider giving up as lifting to a more enlightened state of being and the connotation changes. What we make holy enriches us at a much higher level, and the rewards, whether earthly or heavenly become worth the effort.

Often it is fear of deprivation that makes the austerity of sacrifice seem frightening. The alternative is non-attachment to worldly things, in the knowledge that we will always have what we need.

This is the theme of Psalm 23, “God is my Shepherd, I shall not lack”. Jesus too observes, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”¹ Both are about trust. Not a blind faith but an inner knowing that we are not alone and that “my cup overflows”. The word Shepherd in the original Hebrew also means ‘Beloved’. Consider: “God is my Beloved, I shall not lack”. Faith too is an act of love.

Lent represents our time in the wilderness, the dark night of the soul, when we feel as though we are indeed walking in “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” (more literally in Hebrew “the morbid valley”). But what is death, if not transformation? God restores my nefesh, my animal soul, enabling me thereby to complete the tasks of life; or provides a new nefesh so that the work may continue with renewed vigour in another life. Jesus accepts Crucifixion, so that Resurrection is inevitable and immutable.

When I read the newspapers in the morning, everything seems to be in such a state of chaos that it is hard to find hope. (I’m thinking of giving up newspapers for Lent!) Brexit, economic austerity, Mr Trump’s twittering, Isis, Syrian refugee camps etc… These are the trials of the modern world. Read scripture, indeed look at any history book, you will find the same stories re-enacted over and again. The sacrifices of Lent are a reminder that, in the face of adversity, giving up those things we fear to lose can transform into giving up fear itself.

“Raise up your heads, O gates, and be uplifted…so that the King of Glory may enter”² – the ultimate harvest is here and now!

 

 

¹Matthew 6:26. Having no Greek, I’ve borrowed the New International Version. The translations from Psalm 23 are from the Stone Edition, and follows a traditional Jewish reading. The King James Version is more familiar and poetic, The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want, but not as close to the original text.

²Psalm 24 – the sequence of Psalms is wonderful, I am restored in Psalm 23 ready to ascend the Holy Mountain in Psalm 24!

The Needs of the Many…

..outweigh the needs of the few. Star Trek fans will all know that…yes I am one, don’t judge me…especially because one can actually place the characters, and many of the scenarios, on the Tree of Life. Spock, McCoy, and Kirk, respectively are Gevurah, Hesed, and Tiferet. The Enterprise is Malkhut; Scotty is (perhaps) Yesod (“Ya canna change the laws of Physics” – Yesod is to an extent bound by physical laws, but with the help of Divine inspiration can push them to their limits.) The Federation of Planets might be seen as Keter, the ruling principle that seeks to know itself through Hokhmah, the mission to travel to “strange, new worlds, to seek out new life…etc”, limited (or contained) by the guiding rule, known as The Prime Directive, Binah.

Art, whether High Art or popular culture, serves a Divine purpose in presenting us with a reflection of the world, whether it be through a cathartic, or humorous representation of everyday life that we can immediately recognise (EastEnders? Friends?) or a more profound exploration, such as we find in the works of Shakespeare or Tolstoy. As a schoolteacher I recognise immediately the Harry Potter world of Hogwarts – the Weasley twins (my favourite characters) always end up in my class! Here are children looking to their teachers for safety, comfort and sometimes consolation – the nice teacher, the nasty teacher, even the interfering government inspector…if O.W.L.s aren’t O’ levels (Ordinary Wizarding Levels? Rowling giving her age away, today it’s GCSEs!) then I’m a house elf!

At the heart of spiritual tradition is scripture, so it is sad to find that the Bible has such low currency in modern life. Why is clear, we have moved away from religion because so much of the interpretation of scripture seems aimed at pinning us down to a particular, unbending way of living. However, the characters are no less human than, say Harry Potter, or even Mr Spock, who for all his logic is in many ways the most humane character of all, willing to die for the good of the many, and placing the greater good above personal, sentimental desire.

Of course, the logical characters, the ones who cannot, it seems, move beyond the sensible and explainable, are usually required to modify their ideas, while the emotive, feeling-driven characters are often not. So let’s have a look at logic and consider its Kabbalistic significance.

Logic is to do first and foremost with mathematical and scientific reasoning – the scientist will have us believe that everything can be explained scientifically, logically. What science cannot explain is either nonsense, or has yet to be understood intellectually. But science is rooted in the physical, the World of Assiyah (Action). It used to be referred to as Natural Science, to distinguish it from the Theological and Supernatural. It is concerned with the material world, not spirituality.

When we move up a world to Yetsirah, we are dealing with processes that have no immediate physical basis. For example, we can try to analyse love in terms of hormonal or electrical impulses, but we somehow know this does not really explain what love is. Psychologically it makes more sense, because then we are concerned with the watery world of feeling and emotion, hard to pin down but aware of direct experience. But psychology, analysis of the human mind, is also not concerned with spirituality.

As we move beyond Yetsirah and engage with the transpersonal, putting our feelings aside, we find a whole new dimension of logic. The World of Beriah can feel very cold and distant, because it is not concerned with your feelings or mine, but the collective patterns, cycles and functions of the universe. In the broad movements of the cosmos, the individual seems puny and insignificant – “as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods”, says Shakespeare in King Lear. But Gloucester in that speech has just experienced terrible cruelty, one might say seriously negative karma, so his view of the universe is inevitably gloomy and, arguably, rooted in Yetsirah. By contrast, when we experience pleasure, the world is our oyster (another line from Shakespeare!¹) and no less an illusion.

When we reach the transpersonal, however, we encounter a more profound form of logic, one in which the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few and self-sacrifice for the greater good is possible without counting the cost. This is the message conveyed by The Passion of the Christ; Jesus dies for the sins of humanity in the sense that he accepts his karma willingly and presents a model for all. Equally, Moses accepts his death willingly, looking toward the land to which he has led the Israelites but which he may not enter, his karma for striking the rock instead of speaking to it². Both these men have dedicated their lives to others, at the cost of personal gratification.

Their joy is in Divine consciousness, because they have learnt, or simply know, that which the rest of us seek to find – that the good of the many is inseparable from the needs of the one, or the few. When the whole tribe of Israel is delayed, waiting for Miriam who has been stricken with leprosy, it is for the good of all, not just to please Moses and Aaron³. The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many, because in Atsilut, the Divine World, there can be no separation of the one from the many.

We live in a world in which we are daily faced with choices, what will bring us the greater good? Brexit negotiations, international conflicts (consider America and Iran) and even day to day decisions often come down to a “them and us” choice. Only when we recognise that our own needs and the needs of others are one and the same will we truly reach a land flowing with milk and honey. The Eternal One is God and we are all in and of God. In Divine Conscious, we all have our place, and all truly is One.

 

WORKSHOPS 2018/19: the next workshop, “From Creation to The Passion: The Kabbalist’s Journey to Freedom”, will be held on 15th December, and will look more closely at how scripture can be applied practically to everyday life. Places are still available. See the relevant page for further information.

¹Shakespeare The Merry Wives of Windsor: Why then the world’s mine oyster, / Which I with sword will open.
²Numbers 20: 8-12
³Numbers, 12: 1-16

Hello All, It’s Halloween…!

First of all, apologies for the title, I couldn’t resist. And for publishing this ahead of time, but there’s no time like now. Hallowe’en, All Hallow’s Eve, Samhain, call it what you like, has become a very lighthearted affair and, having just done my weekend shop, I feel it’s on top of me already. I shall no doubt be on duty with a bucket of sweets for the local children dressed up in scary costumes (them not me!); I probably won’t go and see the new Halloween movie.

I used to be a little po-faced about trick or treating – an American import that really has little basis in British tradition, but if it makes a few people happier, who am I to complain in these troubled days. We surely need something to cheer us up as the winter draws in.

But in saying “Hello All” I’m not being entirely whimsical, because this is a very inclusive tradition. It has its roots in paganism, was adopted by Christianity, and, in the form of trick or treating, is open to anyone who wants to participate.

It also involves both the living and the dead! It is for Christians a night to pray for the recently deceased, when the saints and martyrs are honoured. According to some, the veil between worlds is at its thinnest, hence the idea of ghosts wandering. Less charming, it is a night when the dead might reek revenge on their enemies still living –  hence the masks worn by the living to disguise their identities.

In pre-Christian times, Samhain heralded in the winter. The flocks were brought in from their summer pastures and, it was believed, the nature spirits (Aos sí) could more easily enter into our world, so offerings of food and drink were left outside for them for good luck. Dead relatives were invited to feast and a place was laid for them at table.

As a Kabbalist, I am very conscious of the different Worlds we inhabit. The physical world is constantly in a state of flux and, as human beings, we shift between states of being all the time. Most obviously in dreams, when you are no longer subject to the limitations of physical laws, time itself loses meaning and one can experience whole lifetimes in a fraction of a second. Actually, most of us spend most of our time in our heads, projecting our own feelings onto others. If I’m in a good mood then everyone is smiling at me, if I’m in a grumpy mood, naturally everyone’s got it in for me!

An old Talmudic saying is that we rarely see the world as it is but as we are. This is because of the power of Yesod, whose home is in the psychological World of Yetsirah. The veil between Worlds is indeed very thin, and not only on Halloween! Equally, our discarnate companions, spirit guides, guardian angels, call them what you like, are constantly available to us, if only we choose to shift levels and engage with them. (Even as I type, I can hear mine laughing, or perhaps groaning: “so why do we see so little of you?” I know, I know!!!)

As an exercise, observe people in the street, or driving their cars, lost in their own worlds. The veil between worlds is thin and we spend surprisingly little time consciously awake down here.

So my exercise this Halloween will be to watch the veil between worlds – not ghost-hunting or anything extreme like that, just being aware that as a human being I have access to more. Perhaps in doing so, I might take a step beyond both the physical and psychological Worlds, into the World of Spirit, the transpersonal realm where all Creation meets in its most perfect manifestation, and where the Malkhut of Atsilut – The Hem of the Robe of God – lies within reach of all, if only we choose, consciously and with intention, to reach out and touch it.

Then, as my first teacher used to say, there is no turning back, and we might fully encounter the Divine Presence, here and now.

The Eternal One is God, And All is One.

 

Autumn Harvest; Divine Prosperity.

This week is the Autumn equinox, the time of year when Earth’s northern hemisphere prepares to move into the inward looking months of Winter, longer, darker nights, and a period of slowing down. Historically Autumn was that period of plenty, when the fruits of Spring and Summer filled our store cupboards, and we began to hunker down ready for colder, shorter days. Perhaps for that reason, it was the time chosen for the Jewish (and Islamic) New Year. A season of plenty when we might reflect on how we have used our time; whether the outer stores of meat, grain and other food for winter are reflected by inner stores.

In the Christian tradition, Jesus is born during the darkest point of winter. Having conceived in the early part of Spring, Mary’s pregnancy progresses through the cycle of seasons, concluding, not with darkness, but a symbol of great light. Right now She is visibly heavy with child, Her aura no doubt radiating in the way that pregnant woman do; in Mary’s case perhaps more so, given whom She was carrying!

This is also a good time for clearing away the baggage of the past and looking ahead to a brighter future. I especially value the Jewish tradition known as Tashlikh, which literally means “cast off”. This is a ritual performed next to flowing water, where one symbolically casts off one’s sins into the water to be carried away. I like to broaden the meaning to include not only sins but any psychological baggage that is holding me back.

In the Gospels, Jesus heals a man saying, “Take up your bed and walk … and sin no more”¹. This is often interpreted in a limited way – the word “sin” obviously has a negative association – but we know that to facilitate change in our lives we need to change the way we live. “Sin no more” can mean do not continue in those kinds of behaviour, both physical and emotional, that have held you back. So my prayer in casting off the baggage of the past year is something like,” Help me, YHVH Elohim, to move forward in my ways, to end the patterns of behaviour holding me back and lead me toward paths that nourish and bring me closer to You.”

Following soon after Yom Kippur, the festival of Succot (literally ‘booths’, we’d probably say ‘Yurts’ these days!) celebrates the harvest, while reminding us of the Israelites’ sojourn in the desert. They lived a nomadic existence, in temporary homes that could be assembled and disassembled quickly. This is a wonderful analogy for the spiritual life. No one in ‘The Work’ can afford to rest in one place too long – I don’t mean that literally, but rather psychologically and spiritually. I have seen too many people, even among those who regularly attend schools of the soul, stuck in the belief that outward practice, or even intellectual understanding, is enough. The message of Succot is to recognise that the journey requires us to look within and step out of our comfort zones, awake to whatever challenges confront us along the way.

The reward for such endeavour is symbolised by the festival of Simchat Torah (“rejoicing in the Torah/Law”) that follows immediately after Succot. It represents the point at which the Israelites received the Aseret Ha’Dibrot (Ten Commandments, literally “Ten Statements”) and became the Am Yisroel (“People of Israel”²). Accepting Divine Law opens the way to spiritual growth. Just as the harvests of Autumn provide nourishment for the body, the harvest of Divine Law provides a basis for spiritual growth; it nourishes the soul. Conventional religion recognises this through reading and studying scripture, both of which are central to Jewish and Christian practice. But it is equally important for any Spiritual Pilgrim.

This does not mean you have to sit down and read the Bible every day, though you might find it to be a powerful form of meditation. It means awakening to how Divine Law functions in our everyday life. This is both a challenge and a blessing. Without it we merely go through the motions of daily routine; with it we embrace the subtlety and wisdom contained within the very cycles of life. Appreciating this symbolism is a pathway to the understanding of Self, a light shining in the wilderness.

Shana tova u’metukah. G’mar Chatima Tovah. (May you have a good and sweet year. May you be inscribed for good in the Book of Life.)

 

¹In the gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus simply says “Pick up your bed and walk”. However, according to John, Jesus meets the man later and tells him to leave his sinful ways, lest he suffer worse.

²Bear in mind that Israel (Yisroel) means “One who struggles with God” – in other words, one who commits deep within her/himself to a life dedicated to spiritual awakening. That the Israelites become the Am Yisroel at this point is a personal reading, so not everyone will agree with me. I would suggest that when one truly accepts the Torah, i.e. one opts to live one’s life according to Divine Law, one ceases to be a child and joins the ‘Am Yisroel’ (People of Israel) rather than the ‘Bnei Yisroel’ (children of Israel).