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Posts Tagged ‘tree of knowledge’

“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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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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