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Posts Tagged ‘creation’

self-consciousness, you could say, is the purpose of the universe. we, our lives, are the second phase of that experiment. the first was consciousness itself, awareness. our current stage is consciousness of the physical self, the self contained in form. the next is the experiment’s fruition, the payoff; it is true self-consciousness, consciousness of the true self. the true self is not confined by form, but expressed through it. this “greater self” is the self shared by, connecting and interpenetrating all form—the identity of the universe. you can call it god, emptiness or being, christ, allah or great creator. it has no true name. it is lived, not spoken; known, but not understood. it is only when we are not separate from it—in mind, body and spirit—that we taste it. and in becoming one with it, we have no fingers left to point, save inwards.

peaceful sabbath,

jonathan

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[Hi folks. I’ve been at a conference all week, jam packed busy. So I offer something brief here. Hopefully we can build on it over time.]

יהיויהי

The world is a giant mirror. Society, the earth, our own individual lives…everything in existence is simply a facet of this great reflection.

The exact nature of the mirror itself, who it is that’s actually doing the looking, cannot be put into words.

As long as we sit and wait for someone else to complete, redeem or save the world, the image we see in the mirror will continue to sit, to wait.

It is only when we get up to move that the image in the mirror, whatever Name we give it, too will move.

Peaceful Sabbath,

Jonathan

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In the practice of Mussar, a Jewish system of gradual self-transformation, the greatest barrier to self-realization is often identified as busyness. Distractions, errands, entertainment, talking, running, work, driving, rushing…all make the task of self-awareness and growth more difficult. We occupy ourselves with physical reality—moving things, including ourselves, about in space—and forget about spirit, the underlying force that sustains that space and everything in it.

The essence of Sabbath is the undoing of this tendency, the interruption of our one-thing-after-another lifestyles that absorb so much of our time and attention. It’s about redirecting our awareness from doing to being.

The story of Kain and Abel is a perfect illustration of the distinction between being and doing and their consequences. As you recall (see “bizarre bazaar” from two weeks ago), both brothers offered sacrifices before God, yet only Abel’s was accepted. The only difference the Torah records between their two offerings, besides the purely physical details that Kain, the agriculturalist, brought from the fruits of his field while Abel, the shepherd, brought animals from his flock, is that Abel brought the “best” or “choicest”. This distinction is emphasized by the word “and”, as in, “and from the choicest,” indicating that Kain’s offering was not from the best of his fruits.

How did Abel know to bring the best while Kain did not? Let’s consider their two lifestyles: Kain was a farmer. He cleared his fields of stones, tilled the soil, erected fences to protect the plants, gathered seeds, planted, weeded, watered and, finally, harvested. By the time his crop was ready, Kain had put in quite a bit of labor. It’s easy to understand how he could look out at his land, burgeoning with fruits and vegetables, and think, ‘I did this.’

Abel on the other hand, was a shepherd. All he really had to do was protect his flock from predators. He didn’t tell the sheep and goats to mate and multiply, produce milk and grow wool. They did that all by themselves. He just watched.

When the time came to make their offerings, it’s easy to see how Kain would have gotten confused. He lost sight of the nature of the sacrificial transaction. Thinking he had produced his crop through his own hard labor, we can forgive him that he found it acceptable to keep the best for himself and offer some still very nice fruits to God. Abel, by contrast, could see that he had done nothing. He was still intimately aware that everything he had—the sheep, the goats, the pasture—came from God, and that in truth he could offer nothing that wasn’t already God’s to begin with. Give the best? Of course. He wasn’t actually giving anything. Abel could see that he was and would always be only a receiver.

Our world of doing is based on Kain’s error. The constancy of our busyness is founded, in part, on the misperception that we are actually doing something, that there’s something we need to accomplish that isn’t already here, that there’s something we need to get that we don’t already have. This is the terrible paradox of the spiritual journey: There’s nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to accomplish; there’s nothing we need to become that we are not already. We are still dwelling in Eden, enlightened from the beginning; we haven’t actually gone anywhere, moved a single inch. There is nowhere else to go. The tragedy is only that we cover up this reality with mental noise, projections and constant, frenetic movement. We distract ourselves from the truth that pervades every moment of our lives. The challenge is that our minds, our identities caught up in doing, can never figure this out, never accept it.

The remedy is not about doing, it’s about undoing, about shifting from doing to being. How? See if you can stand in Abel’s sandals and recognize that everything you see, touch, taste and smell comes from a deeper source—that in reality, despite all our busyness, we are actually doing nothing at all. The only thing we are here to accomplish is to actually be here, to see the world as it is, to actually experience life. We have taken form only so that God, the universe, consciousness, can know and experience itself. Awakening to that truth, living it, is the fulfillment of all that we are and the ultimate end to all suffering and destruction.

The challenge we face is that from where we stand this seems like the most difficult thing we could possibly accomplish. From the “other” side it seems the most natural thing in the world.

Peaceful Sabbath,

Jonathan

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“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Is this true? Was FDR simply affecting rhetorical flourish, seeking a bon mot, or is there real wisdom in this phrase?

The first thing that Adam said to God after eating from the tree that got us cast out from Eden was, ‘I heard your voice in the garden, and I am afraid.’ This was not Adam relating some passing emotional episode; he was expressing the new nature of human existence.

As one teacher of mine put it, “fear is the glue that binds the ego together.” Eckart Tolle too, in both the Power of Now and A New Earth, points to fear as the underlying emotional impulse of the ego identity.

Let’s look at one more, long quote:

…a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.

Sound familiar? Possibly Barack Obama? This quote too, as with ‘fear itself’, comes from Roosevelt’s first inaugural address in 1933. FDR closed his address by saying, “…in our progress toward a resumption of work we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order; there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people’s money…”

Why has nothing changed? FDR said it himself, fear. But fear in so many dimensions it’s hard to capture, even to see: Fear that if we make too many changes, too fast, the system will collapse and we’ll all become poor (the ‘Sky is Falling’ economics); fear that we can’t let go of our individualized pursuit of wealth and wellbeing and broaden our orientation towards the health and wellbeing of all because then maybe I won’t get a reasonable share, maybe I won’t get enough (‘Ring of Gyges’ economics), and; underneath it all, the fear that comes from the misperception that we’re all separate, that we’re somehow not intimately and always connected to all that is—Adam’s fear.

“Ask not if a thing is possible. Ask only if it is necessary.” This quote from the Alter of Kelm, an old Jewish mystic, underlay an approach to the world that has as its basis not fear, but faith. Today, we might call it ‘Veil of Ignorance’ economics, after John Rawls “original position,” which posits that we should determine the course of justice in our world by divesting ourselves of personal details, that we should organize our societies and economies without knowing where we might find ourselves within them; that is, we should have as our guide truly blind justice. From behind a veil of ignorance, would we really choose to develop a society that awards roughly 85 percent of its resources to only 20 percent of the population? Not likely, since chances are we’d fall into the category that more or less gets shafted, the group that’s loosing their jobs right now, or didn’t have them to begin with.

Is ‘Veil of Ignorance’ economics necessary? Certainly. Is it possible? Who knows? We cannot predict the future; the only thing we can do is work today to build the one we choose and hope for the best—or if you prefer, put the results in God’s hands. What stands between us and building a world of true justice, freedom and peace? Only fear itself.

Peaceful Sabbath,

Jonathan

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Living as a mostly hermit, I’m not as in touch with the daily news as I suspect other bloggers must be. The fact that I knew, last week, that Chrysler was going under for its “surgical” procedure was a matter of chance.

I aim, little by little, to tune into news that doesn’t change. Ezra Pound thought that was literature; I’d like to think of it as truth. The problem is, what is true evades capture by those pesky things we call words and sentences; this makes it an especially challenging topic for a medium such as this.

One worldly news-like item I did read up on this week is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) they built on the Franco-Swiss border. You know what I’m talking about, the world’s largest particle accelerator that cost more than 6 billion to build, the one they had to shut down after only two weeks. I was aiming to disabuse myself of possible hype I’d heard that those tiny particles, if they ever actually do collide and break apart, could take the earth, or even the whole universe, along with them. The independent scientists hired to assess the risk determined there was none. Of course, since the whole purpose for building the thing is that we have no idea what will happen if there’s a collision, how they could know the outcome will be safe is beyond me.

Still, the thing is impressive. It is, essentially, a 17-mile proton racetrack buried deep beneath the ground; two actually, since they run in both directions. To keep them going round and round, the thing requires close to 2000 gigantic magnets, each weighing from roughly 30 to 2000 tons. Once they get that fake rabbit back up and running, and the protons are released from their paddock, they’ll gallop round that over-sized ring in a breezy 90 microseconds. That’s about 11,000 times per second, or .999999991 times the speed of light.

It’s the largest, most sophisticated and expensive scientific apparatus built in human history; thousands of scientists from all over the world have contributed to its design. All of this expense and effort to understand one of the most common things in the world; the scientists who lead this effort have themselves calculated that the kind of “experiment” they’re conducting happens naturally “many many many trillions” of times every second throughout the universe, all around us, all the time.

What this tells me is we don’t have a clue as to what’s really going on. In fact, some scientists, even those intimately involved with it, feel that the best, most interesting outcome for the LHC project would be if they find nothing at all—no new particles, no extra dimensions, nothing. The thinking is that a no show will show how little we have actually figured out, opening all kinds of new directions for physics to go in.

Even if they do find something, however, I’d like to venture a guess that it will simply be one more perplexing, plump babushka in the ever-vanishing succession of Russian dolls that makes up our universe.

The LHC is essentially, through us, an attempt by the universe to examine itself; this is why advanced physics is so weird. Let me explain.

The briefest way to characterize the LHC is as an attempt to understand the Big Bang. The Big Bang however, if that’s how things happened, was an episode that involved every point in the universe, all of space and time, being compacted into an infinitesimally small point, the singularity. That point is the seed from which the universe, in a sense, grew. But, and this is a Big But (ha ha), we cannot allow ourselves to think of that seed as having grown over time, since the seed itself contained, or inhabited, all of the time in which it would grow. The singularity of the Big Bang and the universe it spawned cannot be thought of as truly separate, in space or time. The seed, in effect, is the flower and the flower is the seed. The chicken and egg arise simultaneously.

So what’s my point?

We cannot properly think of ourselves as separate from the universe since we are, literally, a function of it. That cosmic episode, the one they’re trying to figure out, contained within it the possibility of us, the cosmo-genetic coding that brought us into being. Any attempt by us to apprehend it is, in a very real sense, navel-gazing. This is why we only see sub-atomic particles where we look for them, why they appear responsive to us. The fact that they could be virtually anywhere until we look for them means, in a very real sense, that they must somehow be everywhere until we do. And they are. And so are we.

If this sounds strange or troubling to you, get a grip. If you haven’t yet discovered that there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye in this world, it’s time you cottoned on.

What I’d like to suggest here is a shift in perspective. How do we come to truly understand the universe? It’s time we began to see that we are the experiment, and the microscope. Apprehending just how strange and magnificent the universe is is not something we can ever do with our eyes and ears alone. We will never see the nature of the cosmos, not even if we build a yet more dizzyingly expensive, colossal apparatus that reaches to the heavens, because it cannot be seen.

The only instrument we have that can come to appreciate the nature of all that is, is ourselves. How do we do this? We use the entire machine. What we are is an astonishingly sophisticated, fully-integrated, cosmically interpenetrating device designed, if you can call it that, as an opportunity for the universe to know itself. To grasp the universe and fully realize this opportunity requires employment of the whole organism—body, mind, spirit. It involves tapping into that integrated place where we effortlessly know the nature of the universe because we finally know our true selves. As expressions of the universe, the flower of that singular seed, knowing ourselves and understanding the cosmos are one and the same.

The LHC took decades to build and cost more than 6 billion dollars. We took 15 billion years to evolve from that crazy singularity, and the only way we’ll ever truly understand it is when we’re absolutely free.

Peaceful Sabbath,

Jonathan

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All week long I’ve been planning to write about something else—Adam and the fiftieth. But now I want to talk about paradox.

Paradox—two seemingly opposite, apparently mutually exclusive phenomena being true simultaneously. Or something like that.

For a while now, one of my takes on the story of Adam and Eve is that in the Garden they lived in a pre-paradoxical state. They saw only their oneness, their unity. They were merged with the divine and with one another. They saw no other, no multiplicity.

After eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve entered a state of paradox. Suddenly, they could see otherness, separateness. Reconciling this manyness with the unity they could now only remember became the source of great confusion. Living in a world of reason, they could no longer see how two could possibly equal one. It didn’t made sense, and still doesn’t, for these two seemingly opposite, apparently mutually exclusive possibilities to be true simultaneously.

The objective—of spiritual practice, of Torah, of humanity—can partly be characterized as a shift into a post-paradoxical state—where we see two, yet know one, and hold these two truths simultaneously and without conflict.

Why am I writing about this now? It’s Thursday evening, actually really early Friday morning. I’ve just been outside doing my practice, dialoguing about my day with, for lack of any truly appropriate terminology, God. I’ve had a long, challenging day. There were several stories percolating in my mind about situations with other people. This hasn’t been the case recently. Mostly, I’ve just been in a place of blessed union (not ultimate union, but still blessed). Going into the dialogue this evening I felt confused, agitated, concerned. After clearing away the cobwebs of identification with my stories, I came back to the recognition that everything coming my way is for my own good, that literally everything that comes towards me is a gift, beckoning me to awaken. I return feeling present, connected and blessed.

It struck me how one set of phenomena can lead to two such disparate results. On the one hand, I can get completely trapped in my stories about events, their impact and consequences. This, evidence seems to indicate, is the general state for most of us. On the other hand, knowing the stories fully, moving through them, understanding my relationship to them in the deepest sense, the same events can help lead me to clarity, truth and greater peace.

The great kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Arizal, said that in Egypt (where we just were 15 days ago) the nation of Israel had reached the 49th level of degradation. According to this view, had we remained slaves for even one more instant, we would have fallen to the 50th and suffered complete spiritual death as a nation. As we know, we turned things around, 180, and reached instead the 50th level of purity at Mount Sinai. One circumstance, two opposite directions.

This challenge, and opportunity, is the paradoxical universe we face still today. As we move through this time of year, counting the fifty days of our journey from Passover—physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual slavery—to the ultimate freedom of our encounter with the divine, I pray that we can find the strength, as a species, to not turn from the great challenges we face, but to confront them head on. I pray that we come, all of us, to fully grasp the pain of a world plagued by violence, hunger and ecological destruction, and that we move through these crises to see them as terrible gifts, urging us ever more intently to awaken to our true nature—many-faceted beings who, to survive and blossom, must come to comprehend and embody our fundamental and astonishing oneness.

Peaceful Sabbath,

Jonathan

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I’ve been thinking about free will lately. I just came back from an event called Pesach in the Desert. A wonderful time spent with about sixty like-minded people in the spare, hot wilderness far to the east of here.

I offered a class on one of my favorite stories from the Talmud, about Eliezer be Dordia:

Eliezer ben Dordia’s claim to fame was that he had slept with every prostitute on earth. One day, he heard of one more prostitute. She lived in a distant land at the edge of the sea, a perilous journey, and charged several hundred gold dinars for her hire. But this was his life, his reason for being, this was who he was, so he somehow collected the money and set out to meet her.

He traveled across seven rivers to the edge of the sea. He gave her the money, and they went into her chambers. Just as they were about to do it, to consummate, she let out a loud fart. She looked him directly in the eye. “That,” she said, indicating her release, “has as much chance of going back to its source as Eliezer ben Dordia does of going back to his.”

He ran from her room and into the hills. He sat between two mountains. “Mountains and valleys,” he cried, please intercede for me in the heavenly court and beg for my forgiveness!” “Sorry,” they replied. “We cannot bear true witness for you. We too are unworthy. We cannot do it.”

“Heaven and earth,” Eliezer ben Dordia pleaded, “intercede in the heavenly court on my behalf and beg for my forgiveness!” But they too claimed to be unworthy and unable. He next turned to the Sun and Moon, then to the stars and galaxies, with the same result.

Finally he proclaimed, “I understand, it’s all up to me.” He put his head between his knees and he wept. At the end of an hour, his soul left his body and a voice came from the heavens, “Rabbi Eliezer ben Dordia has been accepted into the World to Come.”

Hearing this, the great Judah Hanassi remarked, “Some of us, it takes an entire lifetime to gain the merit to enter the World to Come. Eliezer ben Dordia did it in one hour of weeping, and he gets called Rabbi.”

*

Certainly a perplexing tale to find in a code of sacred law, the story of Eliezer ben Dordia bears interpretation on many levels. But I’d like to focus on just one for now.

The last words we hear from ben Dordia are, “I understand, it’s all up to me.” This is, in a way, his final lesson.

We tend to think of free will in the abstract. It seems to me that way at least. In my tradition, Judaism, and I imagine in others, free will is a fundamental, bedrock principle. Yet rarely do we seem to confront what that truly means; we bump around life, going from place to place, activity to activity, work, eating, sleeping, mostly in a kind of fog. But what free will actually means is that at every given moment, this moment, any future is possible. We literally have the freedom, always, to choose whatever world we wish to create. This is true for us as individuals, and as a species. From this point on, we can build whatever is deepest in our hearts. All we really need to do is, like Eliezer ben Dordia, wake up to the true depths of our freedom.

At this time of year, as we move from the energy of slavery and make our way towards the promise of freedom, I pray that we find the strength to see the full scope of our free will, and ultimately that we come to exercise it in the service of building a world of peace, justice and freedom for all people, all creatures and the earth.

Peaceful Sabbath,

Jonathan

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