Archives for category: Journal

There appears to be a common thread going through all three of the mystical traditions we’ve looked at. This is, which goes through Kabbalah, Chrisitian mysticism and Sufism is love. Each tradition places a slightly different accent on it but all of them include love and the heart as important aspects of the mystic’s life, the mystic’s relationship with the Divine and the mystic’s relationship with humanity.

In Lurianic Kabbalah the Divine’s desire to share was the initial impetus that led to the act of creation. The interplay between the desire to give and the desire to receive is one of the strongest themes in Kabbalah and is the focus of the process of tikkun. We undergo the process of tikkun in order to transform our desire to receive for the sake of the self alone to a desire to receive for the sake of sharing. This is a process of letting go in which the heart learns to relax the self-constriction and open up to receive the divine light.

In Christian Mysticism we see on one side the mystic’s love for the Divine which manifests as an urgency and eagerness to unite with the Divine. This love is expressed by many mystics and sometimes takes on erotic overtones as exemplified in the work of Hadewijch of Antwer. On the other side, the love of the Divine for the soul is described as a powerful force that purges the soul from its imperfections. This entire love affair is probably best described by the mystic works based on the Song of Songs, in itself a mystical text that describes the love between the Divine and the people of Israel.

Finally, for the Sufis love and longing are central to the spiritual path. The creation itself, according to the Sufis, is an act of longing: “I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known” (Hadith Qudsi). The end of the path is the ecstatic union of lover and beloved in the seeker’s heart. This relationship between lover and beloved is also echoed in the relationship between seeker and teacher as we can see in Rumi’s love for his teacher Shams Tabrizi. Since nothing is separate from the Divine, the sufi’s love and devotion to the Divine translate to love and service for all beings. This allows the sufi tradition to be open and inclusive of people of various faiths.

Obviously these different variations of love are each grounded in specific time and culture but what all of them share is the importance of the open heart. From the open heart shine forth love, generosity, kindness, compassion, joy and more but what does a heart need in order to continue being open? I think that the answer offered by the mystics is faith (or trust) in the heart’s capacity to love, to be loved and, eventually, to be love. At the end of the mystical path lies the union between lover and beloved. In this union the seeker discovers that the Divine’s love for the seeker is in fact the seeker’s own love for himself, for the Divine and for all of creation.

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Reading Murshid Sam‘s Karuna Yoga Gita I was initially struck by the symmetry between this presentation of the Sufi meditation of the heart and the Sufi creation myth. In the Sufi creation myth, the Oneness projected itself outward, creating manifestation so that it might have something to love. This relationship proceeded through several inversions moving from God is lover and manifestation the beloved to manifestation is the lover and God is the beloved. Throughout it all, though, lover and beloved are, in essence, one.

The Karuna Yoga Gita, which is an instruction manual for Sufi heart meditation goes through several stages. Initially the ego seeks the heart, concentrates on the heart, rests in the heart. This is manifestation seeking God. Next, in the stage of contemplation the seeker is intstructed to identify with the heart and seek the ego; this is the inversion of roles, now God is seeking manifestation. This inversion is the path to not-self which begins with the heart’s selflessness. As the heart expands into love, seeker and sought come closer.

In the stage of union the seeker is instructed to rest in the expansion and contraction of the breath, noticing at the same time the flow from not-self to self and back. This is the rythme of nature – divine flows into manifestation and then back into the divine; neither is more true than the other, neither can be whole without the other just like the in-breath cannot be without an out-breath. In the same way the seeker recognizes that self cannot be without not-self, neither not-self without self. In the realization of this natural process “breath joins man to God,” returning to the original state of Oneness.

My own (limited) experience with this practice has been very interesting. Resting the attention on the heart, I allow the feeling of love to flow. Remaining with the feeling of love, sometimes stoking the fire of love with images of the beloved, the attention slowly becomes absorbed in the heart. I notice how with my “normal” attention there is tension, clinging, trying to acheive something yet when the the attention comes from the heart there is only spaciousness infused with love. Allowing the absorption to solidify and expand farther I turn my attention to the pinpoint of longing at the center of the heart. Resting my attention there lightly and willing/allowing that point to expand until it contains all. In this spacious place, I am being and being is loving. Including the flow of the breath I notice the flow from infinite being who is all to nothing. As the breath grows shorter the all and the nothing become closer as the breath lengthens they part. Two sides of one coin but where is the coin?

I try to keep a holistic awareness when I look at my practice. This means I include things like nutrition, exercise and academic work in mind in addition to meditation. Lately, the physical element has been receiving more attention because I’ve fallen behind on taking care of my body and I’m feeling some of the consequences of that. Over the last few days, I’ve been looking at a lower carb diet and I’d like to share some of my process around that.

I look at diet and exercise as long terms habits I would like to develop or improve (as opposed to short term interventions). For me, this means finding a way that I can eat healthily and maintain it over time without struggling and without feeling deprived. I’m aware of the difficulties inherent in changing such basic habits and I’m approaching this change slowly.

I’ve already made a large change in my diet several years ago when I started eating (mostly) gluten-free. This change, even though it was pretty large, was much easier than I expected it to be. I think one reason for that is that I allowed myself to cheat sometimes when it was worth it (ref: Larry Niven’s fuzzy pink law). An unexpected consequence of this one change, by the way, was that I started paying attention to what goes into my food and as a result started eating better in general.

The first step I’ve taken in planning this new diet is to start tracking my food. Using a relatively simple app on my phone I can track most everything that I eat. This is helpful in a few ways:
I’m becoming even more aware of what I eat.
I can see how many calories I eat and where they’re coming from (carbs, fats or proteins).
I can see which foods “cost” me the most.

It’s this last point that helps me in designing a diet that I can work with. Since I’m aiming for a lower-carb diet I’d like to see what elements of my current diet contribute the most carbs; this will allow me to decide which of these I’d like to drop (or reduce), which I really want to keep, and which I can save for rare cheats. I think this approach will allow me to come up with a diet that is both healthy and satisfying and therefore sustainable.

Another thing I’m starting to do is changing my environment (m kitchen, in this case) to fit the new diet. This mostly means more veggies, especially ones that I can easily snack on, and less chips. I already include nuts as a sometimes-daily snack that I enjoy but I’ve been neglecting my veggies for a while. Creating an environment that is supportive of a new habit has been helpful for me. It makes it easier to engage the new habit and more difficult to fall back into old patterns.

Next, I plan to keep looking at my diet and figure out additional options for breakfast (especially when I’m in a rush), more options for snacking and more ways to get veggies into my meals. At the same time, I’m also trying to become more physically active. A holistic or integral approach means looking at more than one aspect of life, how they interact and how they can support each other in reaching my goals.

Reading through the writings of the various Christian mystics I noticed a repeating theme of love or passion for God. This love is often accompanied by urgency and eagerness to experience the fullness of the union with Him. This brings me to wonder about the place of love and passion in my own practice.

There was a time that my practice was characterized by urgency and eagerness. This urgency, however, was focused on the need to attain and the need to become; this was a form of spiritual materialism and very different from the love described by the mystics. I’ve looked at this desire for attainment before and often with a critical eye. However, I think there was an aspect of this urgent desire to wake up that was motivated by an honest passion for truth and freedom. I’ve often ignored this aspect of myself, perhaps because I find it easier to focus on the negative; I think it is time to look at it more deeply.

I’ve always enjoyed it when things came together and made sense. I find an aesthetic pleasure in clear understanding and in elegant solutions. I enjoy seeing the system through learning how the parts fit together. To a large degree my spiritual search is driven by the desire to bring this same kind of understanding to my own self as a thinking, feeling, living being and then to the world at large and my place in it. I can only have myself when I understand myself and I can only be a part of the world when I see how I fit-in with the complex systems around me. What I yearn for is the knowledge that I am OK and the felt sense of belonging

For a while, this was largely a cognitive exercise but it became something much larger as I’ve grown to include other ways of knowing. The recognition of wholeness cannot be reduced to an intellectual understanding; it must permeate through all levels of being including the somatic, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. In fact, these way of knowing have always been a part of me but I’ve always allowed the intellect to claim ownership of their insights. In my spiritual search I’ve had to consciously widen the net to include all of those ways of knowing but I’ve not always found the right balance to strike.

Lacking a cultural framework to contain this search left me at times feeling lost. In fact, the search for such a framework has been part of my quest as well. I’ve found that the different systems I’ve encountered along the way have all been helpful in some way, however, they’ve also been frustrating. I often found myself struggling with some aspect or another of a spiritual system and again disappointed that I could not find the whole answer in Buddhism or Advaita, etc. What I was missing is a clearer understanding of what I’ve described here and permission to truly find my own way.

Often I’ve found that the biggest block for me in accepting a certain religion or practice was the image of God as something separate of myself. Even though many mystics describe what appears to be a non-dual understanding of God, I see wholeness as completely internal. Wholeness is a property of me, it is not a thing that I am, rather whole is the way that I am. Making this change has been difficult, I’m uncertain as I appear to be following an uncharted path that I have not yet explored fully and I have yet to give myself permission to do so.

Reading about some of the myths of Kabbalah I am once again reminded of the power of myth to hold and support us in life and on the spiritual path. I recognize this containment in Rabbi Isaac Luria‘s myth of the broken vessels, in the practice of tikkun ha-nefesh and most especially in the practice of tikkun olam. In many ways, tikkun olam seems to be a jewish version of the Bodhisatva ideal which is often presented as the highest ideal of the spiritual path. And yet, I find myself more easily able to connect to tikkun olam than the ideal of the Bodhisatva.

According to Lurianic myth, during the creation of the world God poured a ray of light into several vessels created to hold this divine light. Some of the vessels, unable to contain the owner of this divine light, shattered and spilled the divine light into the heart of creation. Most of this light returned to the source but some of the sparks were left behind, trapped in this world. By living the holy life, acting righteously and recognizing the divinity that is in everyone and everything we can help elevate those sparks and unite them back with the source; this is the work of tikkun olam.

In tikkun olam we are each asked to take a small part in the big, perhaps infinite, project of collecting the sparks of divine light. I feel invited to participate to the best of my ability in this massive project and to do my part along with everyone else. I see this as an invitation to recognize and to support the light in everyone around me, to bring about healing in small ways as well as large. It appears to be a task that everyone can participate in, and in fact we do even without knowing. This myth has the power to inspire which I can feel to a degree and yet, at the same time I still feel as if there is something missing.

There’s an internal resistance to allowing Luria’s myth in. It is as if there’s an internal conflict between the rational mind and the mythic mind. While the mythic mind enjoys and even craves the kind of support it gets from myth and story, the rational mind resists and is unwilling to let go of its own ways of making sense in the world. Paradoxically, I know that the more I’m able to lean into the myth, the more I’ll be able to let go of the need for rational understanding but this is not enough to resolve the conflict. I can see two ways out: one way is finding or creating a mythology that is acceptable to the rational mind; the other way involves relaxing the rational mind’s need to hold on to old stories and trusting that things will still work out.

This conflict between the rational and the mythical is the same conflict that kabbalists of all ages had to contend with. In their case it was the conflict between established religious organization and the mythical/mystical world that they’ve been exploring. Kabbalah survived partly because it managed to follow the second solution I outlined above; it managed to find a way to combine both worlds, to walk the seemingly narrow path of religious doctrine while at the same time creating a larger context through myth and symbols. In this way, I see the path of Kabbalah as integrating myth and rationality and I wonder once again about my own capacity to integrate those forces in my mind as well.

As I sat down to write about the meaning of non-duality I discovered that there is some underlying resistance that I need to explore first. This resistance showed up initially as frustration and a feeling of inauthenticity. As I began to unpack these feelings, I discovered that there were actually several layers of resistance to explore. Through the exploration of these different layers of resistance I discovered some insights about my relationship to non-duality as it is defined in different places and how it may relate to some current issues on my own psycho-spiritual path.

The first layer of resistance that came up is one that I am familiar with to some degree and is not limited to writing about non-duality but it would still serve to explore it here. This first layer deals with authenticity, in that, I feel inauthentic when I write about lofty spiritual ideals or attainments like non-duality and awakening. A part of me does not believe that I have the authority to write about such topics and yet at the same time, another part wants to claim that authority. I think that this conflict of trying to be true to what I know (little as it may seem) while at the same time wanting, even needing, to claim some form of spiritual authority is at the root of this feeling of inauthenticity. The feeling is only magnified by my association of letting go of desires with spiritual practice. The result of this conflict is that I find it difficult to even describe my experience and my progress, as that too, appears to be laying claim to something that I have no right to claim.

Another layer of resistance appears to be more specific to some non-dual teachings that I’ve absorbed over time. One way that non-duality is presented is “we are all one”. I’ve often chafed at this claim but I’ve not taken the time to explore this particular bit of resistance. I seem to hear in this claim of oneness an almost moral directive that is telling me that there is some way I need to be or something that I need to recognize. Not only do I not see things this way but I also feel that this claim of oneness is denying my own individuality. In my own exploration I’ve found that the Theravadan Buddhist tradition speaks to me largely because it leaves enough room for me to find my own way. Theravada does not deal much with metaphysics and many Western teachers consider metaphysical issues, such as rebirth, to be irrelevant to the practice. This claim, that we are all one, however, appears to leave very little room for me.

I have found that I can relate better to other definitions of non-duality. For example the phrase “not two, not one; both one and two” appears to leave more room for my own personal being. Somewhere in between not two and yet, not one, I can find enough room to be. I find this definition of non-duality to be very similar to Jung’s description of individuation when one discovers that one is a human being among other human beings – moved by the same archetypes – and yet one is a unique expression of human being, never before seen and not to be seen again. Unique, yet similar. Separate, yet intrinsically connected.

The need to find a way to be connected, yet separate has come up in my life and in my practice many times. It has been my experience in the past that in order to feel connected I must give up my separateness. This usually comes at the price of being untrue to a part of myself that cannot be accommodated in a certain relationship or situation. Shutting out a part of myself only works for a while; eventually it leads frustration and anger. When the anger and frustration can no longer be contained, the only option I appear to have left, is to leave. This is a pattern that I recognize from a very young age.

Over the last few years I’ve started to find different ways that I can be in relationship while being authentic to myself. This means that even in situations where my whole self cannot be included, I do that by conscious choice. This requires being willing to touch uncomfortable places in order to figure out what part of me is being left out. It means being willing to communicate my needs, preferences and boundaries so that I can feel comfortable including myself in a situation. This is still a practice and I sometimes find myself frustrated for an unknown reason, just as I did when I first sat down to write this paper, but by stopping and unpacking those feelings I can find new insight. It seems to me, that a deeper understanding of non-duality, as well as related practices, would be helpful in this process of finding a way to be connected, yet separate.

Having grown up in Israel in the 1980s and 1990s, I have a complex relationship with judaism as a religion and as a culture. As a young child I enjoyed studying the stories of the bible at school and would even read through the bible on my own occasionally. In later years, around middle-school or high-school, we took a more critical and analytic view of the bible, looking at it as an important text but not taking it for granted. This approach fit very well with my rational mind and I found the different layers it revealed to be interesting. Looking at the bible as a constructed artifact as opposed to a God-given text served to solidify my secular stance in regards to judaism and religion in general.

Later in life, some sociopolitical shifts in Israel pushed me even farther away from religion. I watched the ultra-orthodox parties grow in power and then use that power in order to gain unfair advantages to benefit small segments of the population and to promote a way of living that I did not agree with. This became the beginning of a new split in Israeli society and in this split I chose to be squarely and without a doubt on the secular or modern side.

In later years I’ve come to find a way to relate to spiritual matters that was not as dogmatic and seemed to allow more room for me to be the way that I am. It may have taken moving to California and discovering Buddhist practice but through this practice I was able to come to terms with a part of myself that had very little opportunity for expression until this point. A large part of my practice over the last year has been to integrate the rational and spiritual aspects of myself. Decades of conflict between these two forces just about convinced me that this kind of integration is not possible but I’m finding that to be false.

Today, I am more interested in looking back at my own roots as represented by jewish religion and israeli culture. Through my spiritual and psychological practice and probably as a result of growing older, I find that I’m more easily able to come into relationship with those aspects of myself that I’ve left behind. I could see that in my recent visit to Israel and I see that in a new-found interest in the jewish view of the mystical experience.

I first learned about Kabbalah through the story of the four sages who entered the Pardes: one died, one went insane, one became an apostate and only one – Rabbi Akiva – exited in peace. This story serves as a warning that it not enough to be wise and studious before studying the Kabbalah, one must also be psychologically grounded, pure and able to withstand the subtlest temptations. At the time, I doubted the message of the story but, still, did not explore further. Today, I know that there is at least some truth to this story as I’ve experienced some of the difficulties of the spiritual path. Having done so, and finding my self ready to come back into relationship with my jewish roots, I think this is a good time to venture in.

Compass for the Soul
Over the last few months I’ve discovered a growing willingness to be present with more and more of my experience of myself and the world. I like this kind of change for many reasons. For example, not being at odds with my experience means having more peace. Also, being able to face reality as it is rather than hide from it or wish it was different means I can engage with things as they are and I don’t have to waste mental energy on playing mind games with reality. But what struck me as interesting this time was how bringing attention to difficult places facilitates healing. This is what I’d like to focus on here.

The healing I refer to is the kind of healing that occurs during therapy when one is able to bring the light of attention to dark places. I’ve found myself more often during therapy sessions willing to admit to things I’ve never been able to admit to before (not even to myself). I’ve engaged difficult truths and the difficult emotions that accompany them. Not only that but I’ve also found myself willing to accept the times when I cannot engage things as fully as I’d like to. The result of bringing engaged, accepting attention to those difficult places is that healing can occur in those long neglected parts of the psyche. Needless to say, I’ve been finding myself more dedicated to the practice of therapy because I can feel the effect it has on me.

Over the last several of days as my meditation practice is directed toward the practice of Metta (Lovingkindness) I’ve noticed something else. When I have the intention of holding myself and my experience with kindness, I can be present to even more. For example, moments of distraction that I usually notice only briefly and push away were recognized and held in kind attention. The involuntary reaction of repressing that part of my experience was not as prevalent as it often is, leaving more present and able to accept this moment of “failure.” Bringing this kind of attention to a therapy session could be very powerful indeed!

For various reasons I’ve been thinking recently about the combination of meditation practice and therapy. Reflecting back on my experience, in this way, allows me to see the power of combining both practices, how well they support each other and how they help me in opening up to discover a more whole and more wholesome version of myself. The more I see that, the more I’m convinced that for many of us in the modern world, this is what spiritual practice looks like – a combination of East and West, transcending and transforming.

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Mandala

I created this one as part of my Jungian Psychology and East-West Spirituality class. Jung considered mandalas to be a symbol of wholeness and therefore of the Self. Jung himself used mandalas as a way to explore his current state of mind and as a way to restore balance. It was interesting to notice how at some point the process took over and I was no longer in control.