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!

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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).

Workshops 2018/19

I will be running workshops in Aylesbury from October:

The Modern-day Kabbalist: Practical Spirituality for Everyday Life

Details can be found on the relevant page of this site. Those of you who have attended my workshops before will be familiar with the format, although I am changing the content from previous years, with the emphasis being on the practical application of Kabbalistic principles for the Modern Age.

The courses will be accessible to beginners but also challenging for those who have experience of the tradition.

If you have any questions, or wish to sign up, please use the contact page above.

I hope to see as many of you as possible.

Grounding the Divine…

Earlier this year I began the process of turning my garden into an allotment. I dug up patches of earth and gradually transformed them into patches of vegetables – runner beans, cauliflowers, lettuce, courgettes. The hot weather has been a challenge and the lack of rain a serious obstacle but I am already enjoying the fruits of my labour, harvesting courgettes and courgette flowers, salad leaves and, now tender young beans that taste sweeter than anything you can buy commercially.

My intention was not simply to grow my own veg. I tend to be a thinker, more than capable of becoming a dreamer, so this was one way of connecting with my physical self, grounding myself in Malkhut. In addition to the obvious rewards, it has helped me to meditate on what it means to be incarnate, to live in a physical body and engage with Assiyah, the World of Action or ‘Doing’, and to ponder Malkhut, the last of the Sefirot, and the one concerned with bringing ideas into manifest reality.

Only when thoughts become actions can they be of use. Poets, artists, musicians need to be sufficiently grounded to express ideas in practice, otherwise they are lost. The process begins in Keter, is inspired and understood at Hokhmah and Binah, crosses Da’at to expand and be given shape by Hesed and Gevurah, personalised at Tiferet, and ultimately given form in the lower Sefirot of Nezah, Hod and Yesod. Only when it is given physical dimensions in Malkhut, is it fully realised and accessible. Moreover, once something has entered physical being, it is hard to retract. Consider the word spoken that you wish had not been, the email or text message that you sent without thinking of the consequences.

Equally important is how we perceive Malkhut, bearing mind that we see through the mediation of Yesod. Look at the media and consider how much of what is presented is concerned primarily with perceptions – physical beauty, celebrity, even wealth, are concepts that exist purely in Yesod. In contrast, Malkhut is entirely objective. What we regard as wealth is merely an accumulation of ‘stuff’ – in fact, in this digital age it does not even need to take a physical form.

The body has its own set of rules and often our actions and choices are driven purely by the body’s desire to maintain, protect or reproduce itself. Hence sexual desire, pain, hunger and thirst, the body’s ways of letting us know it too has needs.

The animal kingdom is likewise entirely objective: the cat hunting a mouse is acting entirely according to natural instincts, contained within the lower face of Yetsirah and manifest as actions in Assiyah. The way it plays with the mouse may seem cruel but this is no more than Yesodic projection. Likewise our assumption that our pet dog’s apparent love and loyalty somehow makes it human. It is not, and indeed most of the behaviour we display has more to do with our animal, than our human, nature. Most human behaviour is entirely natural, even when it is morally reprehensible. It is a shocking thought to consider rape and murder as natural, but it is basically no more than people giving way to their baser instincts. Nature is neither good nor bad. It is our choices we must judge.

This idea will not sit comfortably with those of a Romantic disposition. Indeed much of what we find in modern, pseudo-paganism is just a post-Victorian fantasy of nature as some kind of benevolent goddess. The true Pagan knows that this is a misrepresentation based on a childish desire to return to the protective embrace of the mother.

It is vitally important that we recognise this, for our own well-being as well as our spiritual development, because the aim of all spiritual Work is to transcend (but not deny) nature. The Kabbalist speaks of bringing Keter into Malkhut, in other words to rise above our baser instincts and draw the Divine into this place of physical being.

This is the basis of Yoga, in which, by attending to the Body, we attend to the Soul. It is also at the heart of the Christian tradition, though few Christians are aware of it. When I treat my body as a temple in a truly spiritual sense, the Eucharist does indeed become the body of Christ, because through devotion the Christos becomes physically present. The spoken or written word uttered with devotion is the Logos/Word. In the Bible, the dimensions of the Tree of Life form the basis of the Temple in Jerusalem, Noah’s Ark, and ultimately the human body itself.

The Baghavad Gita teaches us to observe Divine Law in the way we perform our Earthly duties. In this way, even digging the garden can be an act of devotion, if performed consciously and with higher intention. The rewards are far greater even than a crop of runner beans and courgette flowers, though they are a wonderful bonus.

 

There is always ‘now’…

I had the pleasure this week of hearing an Indian Swami speak on the Hindu Vedanta tradition. He made the point that we are driven by what he called ‘urges’: the desire for material security, the pursuit of pleasure, and, ultimately, a place in Heaven. These urges are innate, we do not create them for ourselves, because the usual consequence of having such urges is that we cannot always fulfil them. We seek to be happy, but for much of the time are unhappy. We seek security and yet feel insecure, hence the rich person’s constant struggle to increase his/her wealth. We crave immortality, yet know our bodies are mortal; the cosmetics industry is built on this, no one has yet discovered a fount of youth.

It is these urges that drive people toward, and away, from conventional religion. If Jesus died for my sins, perhaps my place in Heaven is secure, so long as I conform to a pre-agreed set of moral and theological imperatives. If I pray three times or five times a day, facing Jerusalem or Mecca, maybe God will favour me and I will be granted eternal life. Perhaps if I join a spiritual school and meditate regularly, I can find peace and happiness by sitting and focusing on my breath. Or the atheist’s view, there is no afterlife, but I still need to be a caring person because it will ensure the greatest happiness. These are all fine points of view, as far as they go, but where do you go from there?

What matters is where we are now and our intention, facing up to our urges so that we are not ruled by them. Avoiding, as far as we can, the habits arising from those urges that have become so established we may not even know they are there. Living consciously and not re-actively.

One of the things that I am learning in my weekly yoga class is to keep my body simultaneously still and pro-active, a seeming contradiction. I have a wonderfully understanding teacher, who adapts patiently every time she says lift your leg in the air and my knees remain stubbornly rooted to the mat. I am encouraged to be conscious of everything my body is doing and experiencing with each new posture, even if it is not quite what everyone else is doing. So if my foot – or leg, or other limb – is not actually ‘doing’ anything, I remain attentive to it, keep it active, don’t let it slacken.

Applying the principle through a physical discipline is helping me to address the really important questions surrounding my spiritual progress. Am I remaining actively attentive to my actions and thoughts? What are my intentions? Where is my focus? Right now it’s on writing a blog that will help me address a spiritual concept, while providing the reader with some food for thought.

If I can achieve for one moment in my yoga practice, or in any practice, routine or otherwise, an insight into my Higher Self, or just experience a momentary encounter with the Inner Worlds, catch a glimpse of eternity, I would know my intention has been fulfilled.

But even if I don’t, by focusing on being attentive, awake to opportunities for spiritual growth, I still know my time has been well spent. Spiritual Work does not have to be about achieving insightful moments, points of destination. The journey itself matters just as much, because to be always concerned with achieving a measurable result – this or that experience – can be to miss the bigger picture. God, Nirvana, Heaven – these are in the little things, and are easily overlooked when we are busily looking for salvation, a place in Heaven, or whatever reward we believe we are due.

The answer is always in the question – if I am subject to thirst (something, says the Swami, that I did not create for myself) then there is water; if I am hungry, there is food. And if I seek redemption? I am already redeemed!

In the Baghavad Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna, In whatever way I am approached, in that way do I respond. All come, by whatever path, to me.¹ So, when I focus my attention on the greatest urge of all, Self-fulfilment and communion with God, I must come to it.

The trick is knowing it is already here. Living ‘now’ is about being in Tiferet (Soul Self) rather than Yesod (ego self) – and recognising that I can direct those urges; maybe not all the time – I am human, after all – but at least for some of the time. My daily bread is in the challenges that arise along the way, prompting me to live as consciously as this day allows and my soul can muster.

Remembering it is always ‘now’.

 

¹The Baghavad Gita, according to Paramahansa Yogananda, Edited by Swami Kriyananda [Crystal Clarity Publishers, 2008]

 

 

 

 

Facing the Realities of Life, Faith and Doubt …

Faith does not mean being right, it means adhering to something higher than yourself. Real faith allows for doubt, and anyone seriously in The Work is going to have those moments when all seems futile, or just plain wrong, even though all past experience tells you otherwise. Faith is not fainthearted. Nor is it science. Empirical evidence is of little help when things are going badly. Only that still, small Voice that holds true and speaks to us in those dark moments.

Life is a process, not an end in itself. We are born with potential and limitations, the product of previous incarnations. It is interesting to consider what life might have been like the first time we were born, without good or bad karma, but also without experience of what it feels like to inhabit a physical body.

Presumably we were wholly reliant on our animal instincts, in our animal bodies, with an animal soul (Nefesh) and an ego at Yesod. These mortal parts of ourselves were needed to guide us through everyday survival, while our human soul (Neshamah) was getting used to the separation from the Upper Worlds. Right and wrong would be mere abstractions in a seemingly hostile world, where the need to survive physically is all-encompassing.

Newly-born, in each life we experience a similar situation, as our ego-Yesod forms anew. The difference is that we bring with us the karma of previous lives, from recent incarnations, and perhaps unfinished business from lifetimes longer ago.

It is said that by the age of two we have lost most of the memory of our discarnate state, and by the age of seven the ego for this life is established. Hence the old Jesuitical saying, give me a child to the age of seven and I will give you the man. This separation can be traumatic, especially if the karma we bring with us means resolving difficult issues from past lives.

Knowing we can at any time reconnect to our Higher Selves might seem, therefore, an impossible dream. Consider the victim of war, rape, assault, persecution; the experience, of humiliation or abandonment; even the silly, minor frustrations of everyday life.

How do we make this re-connection and engage with our Spiritual side when all we see are things going wrong?

Anyone reading this will probably have been through trials in their lives, times when all seems hopeless and when conventional faith has been lost. This feeling is almost certainly not just a product of one lifetime. We have felt it before. We have been both victim and persecutor. We also know, inwardly at least, that our Soul has survived both, else we would not be here now.

Talking of faith in times of crisis might seem futile. The usual platitudes simply don’t carry weight. Nor should they. The promise of a reward in Heaven simply isn’t good enough. But understanding that there is such a thing as Divine Law might help to put troubles into context. Faith is not about believing everything will be alright in the end as long as we act according to prescribed rules. Rather it is about taking responsibility and listening to what, intuitively, we know and feel is True. Listening to that Inner Voice.

This is Faith of a different order. It is not apologetic, conciliatory, or passive; it is not simply acceptance, or resignation, to fate, or God, or karmic inevitability. It is ownership of our own Path. Salvation does not come from messiahs or gurus. And, though it does ultimately come from The Eternal One, most importantly it comes from within ourselves.

It’s worth considering this next time the car breaks down, or the fridge leaks, or the economy takes a downturn and your job is at risk, or our politicians make yet more questionable choices. Consider the possibility that the victim of assault or abuse, however terrible, has paid his/her karmic debt, and that the perpetrator will eventually have to do the same. Honour the disabled person, whose Soul has had the courage in this life to experience such hardship. Honour yourself in dealing with whatever crisis, big or small, comes your way.

And allow for doubt, the right to question: why me, why now, why this?

We all bring our karma with us to this life. We know deep within us that what we have brought in, this life’s experience, belongs to us and us aloneFacing this reality requires the deepest Faith. In our ability to fulfil this life’s purpose, whatever it may be.

Ultimately Truth and Cosmic Order need to be seen, understood – and known. These are the qualities of Hokhmah, Binah and Da’at. These make us Human and both faith and doubt exist to support us in finding our role in the greater process of unfolding creation. It is not a science, but it is a reality.