Author Archives: evolvingjudaism
When I was a kid this time was almost awful to me and the word T’shuva (repentance/return) was daunting… It meant a sort of seeing how bad I am and beating myself up over it. And Rosh Hashanah meant having to come clean with G!d in a judgmental way of a parent chastising a child, and all the fear that surrounds an interaction like that. It was the same thing with Yom Kippur, but even worse… I dreaded the day, having to fast and pray all day…. Yuck!!
Now , Thank G!d, the story has changed and I so look forward to these upcoming days of deep reflection, realignment and reconnection with Source, with Ratzon Hashem (Divine Will), and my true self and true purpose in life. These truly are awesome days!!
And Elul is the gift of getting ready, a month to prepare for making Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot as powerful as they can be. And how do we do this? Through T’shuva… Return… Returning to our true selves and deep connection with Source – Where we came from and where we are truly going. It’s a wake up call, a reminder to look deeply into what has been driving us this past year, to lovingly see where we’ve been faltering, getting distracted and moving off track away from the integrity of our true selves and our personal service to the Divine unfolding of Evolution.
T’shuva is sweet… so sweet! At first it can be hard, depending how far off track we’ve gotten, but that pain of seeing where we are, that we’re out of alignment, is a gateway we must walk (or cry) through to get to the other side where the sweetness of reconnection awaits us. The pain and sadness of disconnect is actually a sign of connection… It shows us we care and we feel how real and important our relationship with Hashem is.
And once that relationship is reestablished through the pain of feeling distant we can let go of that and just revel in the bliss of knowing we’ve never actually left G!d’s side, that in fact it is impossible to leave G!d’s side…. for in truth we are infinitely connected with the Creator… And maybe part of our sadness comes from the fact that we keep forgetting this awesome truth… forgetting how infinitely united we are with Hashem. Please Creator help us remember!!!
One of the ways that helps us remember is prayer… Prayer is our big tool of T’shuva. It can help us reunite with G!d, through calling out verbally to the Divine, asking forgiveness, asking for help to remember, asking for guidance on this magical path… And also giving thanks, verbally thanking G!d for being here, for being given the chance to travel in a human body on earth, to be given the chance to consciously connect, love and serve the Divine. What an incredible, utterly off the hook gift!!! And T’shuva is the physical/spiritual/emotional process of remembering this.
And that’s why it’s so sweet, we get this chance all the time, but once a year during Elul leading up to and including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we can make it so potent, for our selves and each other. It’s perfectly set up this way, a divine gift for us… Let’s revel in it and do whatever we can to make it the most powerful and meaningful time, practice, and process possible… Because we are here and we are alive!!
Just as human beings intrinsically possess 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-person perspectives of the world, so do we possess those same perspectives in our experience of spirituality. And while these dimensions of the divine can be found in just about any spiritual lineage—Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Islam, etc.—many of these traditions only explicitly emphasize one or two of these perspectives, resulting in one or more important aspects of spirituality often being left out of their conceptions of God.
God in 3rd-person is often described as the “great web-of-life,” and is frequently experienced when observing objects of miraculous beauty such as the Grand Canyon, exquisite music, transcendent art, or the mind-boggling elegance of deep-space photography. Many astronauts returning to Earth have experienced powerful states of transcendence triggered by simply looking at our planet floating in the vacuum of space, the sublime fragility and significance of the human condition clearly reflected in their retinas. As John Glenn said, “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith.”
Or, consider the words of another NASA hero, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell:
“On the way home from the moon, looking out at the heavens, this insight—which I now call a transcendent experience—happened. I realized that the molecules of my body had been created or prototyped in an ancient generation of stars—along with the molecules of the spacecraft and my partners and everything else we could see including the Earth out in front of us. Suddenly, it was all very personal. Those were my molecules. It was an experience of interconnectedness. It was an experience of bliss, of ecstasy… it was so profound. I realized that the story of ourselves as told by science—our cosmology, our religion—was incomplete and likely flawed. I recognized that the Newtonian idea of separate, independent, discreet things in the universe wasn’t a fully accurate description.”
God in 2nd-person is traditionally defined as the “I-Thou” relationship with the divine, where Spirit is experienced as a living intelligence that we can actually interact with in our own lives. As Ken often says, borrowing from renowned theologian Martin Buber, in the “I-Thou” relationship, God is the hyphen connecting the I and the Thou. And of course, our conceptions of God in 2nd-person evolve right alongside the rest of humanity, growing from magical animistic immersion, to the mythic “old bearded white man in the sky” interpretation, to rational and pluralistic recognitions of divinity within our families, communities, and humanity itself, to the simple intuition that we all exist within the unimaginable Mind of some Supreme Being, by whatever name.
This, as Br. David mentions, is reflected beautifully in the closing lines of a love poem written by ee cummings, titled i am so glad and very:
we are so both and oneful
night cannot be so sky
sky cannot be so sunful
i am through you so i
Or, from the lips of George Harrison:
It’s been a long long long time
How could I ever have lost you
When I loved you
It took a long long long time
Now I’m so happy I found you
How I love you
So many tears I was searching
So many tears I was wasting, oh oh
Now I can see you, be you
How can I ever misplace you
How I want you
Oh I love you
Your know that I need you
Ooh I love you
God in 1st-person refers to the actual phenomenological experience of God, in the form of satori, kensho, ecstatic reverie, and other sorts of “peak experiences” of the divine. These are most frequently exercised through some form of contemplative practice, such as meditation or prayer, in which we can directly experience consciousness as the “singular to which the plural is unknown”—and the effortless, open awareness behind all of our experiences is recognized as the consciousness of God (or Godhead, as Christian mystics might prefer). In this space, all of our thoughts, emotions, and experiences, as well as the rest of the world around us, are simply and effortlessly witnessed, in much the same way that clouds float effortlessly through the infinite expanse of the sky. And that effortless expanse at the center of each and every moment IS God transcendent, looking at His/Her own immanence through each of our eyes. A wonderful description of this sort of personal experience of and as God can be found in Ken’s book One Taste:
“It is true that the physical matter of your body is inside the matter of the house, and the matter of the house is inside the matter of the universe. But you are not merely matter or physicality. You are also Consciousness as Such, of which matter is merely the outer skin. The ego adopts the viewpoint of matter, and therefore is constantly trapped by matter—trapped and tortured by the physics of pain. But pain, too, arises in your consciousness, and you can either be in pain, or find pain in you, so that you surround pain, are bigger than pain, transcend pain, as you rest in the vast expanse of pure Emptiness that you deeply and truly are.
So what do I see? If I contract as ego, it appears that I am confined in the body, which is confined in the house, which is confined in the large universe around it. But if I rest as Witness—the vast, open, empty consciousness—it becomes obvious that I am not in the body, the body is in me; I am not in this house, the house is in me; I m not in the universe, the universe is in me. All of them are arising in the vast, open, empty, pure, luminous Space of primordial Consciousness, right now and right now and forever right now. Therefore, be Consciousness.”
What is fascinating is that we can see that any spiritual tradition is capable of expressing all three of these forms of spiritual experience—in fact, if you are leaving any of these out, chances are your understanding of spiritual realities is incomplete in some way.
Historically, Western traditions can be said to have largely focused on 2nd- and 3rd-person interpretations, and have often been distrustful of 1st-person reports of God, using them, at times, as the grounds for heresy. On the other end of the pathology, Eastern traditions tend to emphasize 1st- and 3rd-person perspectives, and too often try to deny the existence of any sort of personal “God in 2nd-person.” However, when moving from a 3rd-person description of God directly to a 1st-person experience of God, without the soul-cleansing qualities of extreme humility, grace, and gratefulness that God in 2nd-person bestows upon us, it can be deceptively easy to sneak the whims of the ego into our interpretations of spiritual experience—and, rather than transcending the ego, our spiritual experiences can ironically become the last refuge of the ego.
Strictly speaking, nothing can be said about the true essence of Reality (including that)—but in the finite, manifest domain, the three faces of God appear to be intrinsic to Spirit’s radiant display. And unfortunately, Spirit’s expression as 2nd-person Thou has largely gotten stuck at the mythic-membership fundamentalist level of development. The modern world not only rejected the marginalization and cruelties associated with the mythic god, it threw out God in 2nd-person altogether—and thus a huge baby got thrown out with the bathwater of mythic consciousness: one-third of God’s own ever-present Face. Indeed, one of the key dilemmas for humanity is discovering a way to help the great spiritual and religious traditions grow into their modern, postmodern, and integral forms of being-in-the-world, with all three faces of God shining brightly.
Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah
Significance: A follow-up to Sukkot;
the completion of the annual cycle of Torah readings
Length: 2 days (Some: 1 day)
Customs: Limited “dwelling” in the sukkah;
dancing and rejoicing with Torah scrolls
…On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Sukkot, seven days for the L-RD… on the eighth day, there shall be a holy convocation for you. -Leviticus 23:34
Tishri 22, the day after the seventh day of Sukkot, is the holiday Shemini Atzeret. In Israel, Shemini Atzeret is also the holiday of Simchat Torah. Outside of Israel, where extra days of holidays are held, only the second day of Shemini Atzeret is Simchat Torah: Shemini Atzeret is Tishri 22 and 23, while Simchat Torah is Tishri 23.
These two holidays are commonly thought of as part of Sukkot, but that is technically incorrect; Shemini Atzeret is a holiday in its own right and does not involve some of the special observances of Sukkot. We do not take up the lulav and etrog on these days, and our dwelling in the sukkah is more limited, and performed without reciting a blessing.
Shemini Atzeret literally means “the assembly of the eighth (day).” Rabbinic literature explains the holiday this way: our Creator is like a host, who invites us as visitors for a limited time, but when the time comes for us to leave, He has enjoyed himself so much that He asks us to stay another day. Another related explanation: Sukkot is a holiday intended for all of mankind, but when Sukkot is over, the Creator invites the Jewish people to stay for an extra day, for a more intimate celebration.
Simchat Torah means “Rejoicing in the Torah.” This holiday marks the completion of the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings. Each week in synagogue we publicly read a few chapters from the Torah, starting with Genesis Ch. 1 and working our way around to Deuteronomy 34. On Simchat Torah, we read the last Torah portion, then proceed immediately to the first chapter of Genesis, reminding us that the Torah is a circle, and never ends.
This completion of the readings is a time of great celebration. There are processions around the synagogue carrying Torah scrolls and plenty of high-spirited singing and dancing in the synagogue with the Torahs. Drinking is also common during this time; in fact, a traditional source recommends performing the priestly blessing earlier than usual in the service, to make sure the kohanim are not drunk when the time comes! As many people as possible are given the honor of an aliyah (reciting a blessing over the Torah reading); in fact, even children are called for an aliyah blessing on Simchat Torah. In addition, as many people as possible are given the honor of carrying a Torah scroll in these processions. Children do not carry the scrolls (they are much too heavy!), but often follow the procession around the synagogue, sometimes carrying small toy Torahs (stuffed plush toys or paper scrolls).
“THE DANCE OF FORGIVENESS”
(from Ascent Quarterly)
The cycle of the year begins with Rosh HaShanah, and is followed by Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, all within the same month. The concluding celebrations are characterized by dancing in a circle, the Hebrew term for which is “machol.” This word has the same grammatical root as the world “mechilah,” meaning “pardon,” which is the theme of the preceding Holy Days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. This double entendre is not at all coincidental.
Dance consists of movements that alternately separate the dancing partners and then draw them towards each other again. This process is evocative of the ebb and flow – the “yearning and returning” that characterizes our spiritual lives. There are times when we feel a sense of distance from G-d, and other times when the distance is bridged and we feel a great closeness. Were it not for this periodic distancing, the moments of closeness would not be so appreciated.
Throughout history the Jewish nation has experienced a collective ebb and flow in its relationship with G-d. Positively viewed, the periods of distancing are only for the purpose of experiencing the joy of closeness over and over again. Man, by nature, is not static, but keeps oscillating in this manner.
The Divine attributes of “Kindness” and “Severity” generate the “right” and “left” dimensions of existence respectively. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are colored by the severity of the left side. They epitomize the first half of the verse from the love sonnet of Song of Songs [2:6], “His left hand under my head, His right hand embraces me.” The theme of this verse is similar to the rabbinic expression: “The left hand pushes away while the right hand draws close.”
As the verse indicates, a Jew’s service begins with the left side. Accordingly, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the days of awe and judgment (both of which are aspects of severity), come first in the cycle of Holy Days. On these days and the seven days in between we are introspective, analyzing the distance that has ensued as a result of poor judgment and inappropriate actions on our part. Subsequently, on Yom Kippur, we become more involved in regret for these shortcomings. Seeking purification from (hopefully) the very depths of our hearts, we make a firm resolution that from now on our sole aim and main endeavor will be to conduct our lives in a way that G-d would approve.
This period then gives way to the days of Sukkot when the closeness between man and G-d is re-established (“His right hand embraces me”)–the s’kach “hugs” us!. Pulling the lulav towards the heart after each waving–the same spot we tapped on the High Holy days during the Confessional prayers!–draws G-dliness into our hearts.
“Mechilah” (pardon) reaches its culmination in the act of “machol” (dancing) that is the highlight of Simchat Torah. The two together comprise a cycle and process whereby the Left Side of existence fuses with the Right Side, where the ebb and flow of distance and closeness meld in the mystical bond between G-d and His people.
Who Knows Eight?
That the overt miracle of Chanuka, the lighting of the Menorah, lasted for eight days, is not accidental, but intrinsic. The Torah informs us that G-d created the world in six days and ceased working on the seventh, the Shabbat. The number six can thus be said to represent the natural world that was created in six days (time) with its six spatial directions (east-west, north-south, up-down). The number seven represents G-d’s immanence, the hidden presence of the Divine at the heart and core of this world. In other words, seven is the very soul of six, permeating it, instilling it with (transcendent) holiness, and elevating it to its perfection. The next number, eight, represents G-d’s transcendence above and beyond this world. Like all miracles, Chanuka happened from the level of “eight”, that which is beyond natural law. However, being the last miracle of its kind until the coming of Mashiach, Chanuka had to embody “eight” in a unique, special way. It had to breathe “eight”. This oil represents…the Jew’s potential to awaken from the deepest slumber of exile
In Hebrew, the word shemonah (eight) has the same exact letters as hashemen (the oil), neshama (soul), and mishna (transmitted teaching). As recorded in the Talmud, the Syrian-Greeks had entered the Temple and sullied all its oil. This oil represents the deepest level of the Jewish soul. It represents the Jew’s potential to awaken from the deepest slumber of exile, to come to life even (and perhaps especially) under the most trying circumstances. Only one jar of pure oil was found, sealed with the seal of the Kohen Gadol (high priest), the holiest Jew, who embodied the level of “eight” by virtue of the eight special garments he wore when serving in the Temple.
The siddur informs us that it was Mattityahu the Chashmonai (Mattithiah the Hasmonean) and his sons who rallied the Jews to defend the Torah and fight against the Greeks. The name Chashmonai has two components, the letter chet, the eighth letter of the aleph-bet, followed by the word for oil, shemen. Thus, the Cha–shemonai family embodied the power of Eight. Eight beckons us to transcend the constrictions of time and space
“Eight” beckons us to transcend the constrictions of time and space, to see through a world that disguises G-dliness and threatens to engulf our souls in materiality. “Eight” calls us to see miracles in the order of nature, in confusing events of our individual and collective lives, in the hidden pathways of Divine Providence that guide us.
“Eight” can rouse us from our collective slumber. By reminding us of the time when G-d did indeed overtly “interfere” with and “alter” the “natural” course of history, it quickens our anticipation of the revelation of G-d’s salvation that we await in our time.
“The Three Faces of Spirit is one of the most important insights that Integral theory offers to the field of spirituality. All human approaches to spiritual practice and mystical realization can be seen to fall into three broad categories — First-Person Spirituality, Second-Person Spirituality, and Third-Person Spirituality.
The Mystery of existence, the matter of ultimate concern, is the ultimate profundity. No perspective can possibly capture it. By its very nature, Spirit itself, the great Mystery, transcends all perspectives.
But human nervous systems are perspective-making machines. We can’t help taking perspectives. And thus, since the most ancient times, our spirituality, and our descriptions of it, always make use of our fundamental perspectives. The structure of language gives us a hint to the deep structure of our perspectives and our spirituality — we organize our speech in three broad categories.
The first-person. There is “I” or “me” the first-person perspective; from this vantage-point I can explore the rich depths of interior experience, of what it’s like inside me, of my consciousness, my intuitions, my thoughts, my experiences, and my feelings. In language, the first-person is the one speaking.
The second-person. When I am able to connect with someone, that one goes from being (for me) an “it” to becoming “you.” We connect. There is at least the most basic kind of communion. We are able to understand each other, reach mutual agreements, and a culture can arise. And in any kind of inter-subjective connection, a “we” arises. In language, the second-person is the one spoken to.
The third-person. When I contemplate anything or anyone, or when I act upon anything or anyone in my world, whatever I contemplate or act upon is the object of my attention or action. I can see it, observe it, examine it, sense it, and affect it. This is the domain of objective information and experience. Herein lies all objective knowledge, including all our sciences. In language, the third-person is the one spoken about.
Based on the distinctions between the first, second, and third person perspectives, we can see three distinct “families” of spiritual experience and practice. We’ll consider third-person spirituality first, then first-person spirituality, and finally second-person spirituality.
Third-person spirituality often involves contemplating the mystery of existence (“looking at it.”) This can take a wide variety of forms; two of the most important and familiar expressions of third-person spirituality are (1) nature mysticism, and (2) philosophy or theology. Nature mysticism is found in all spiritual traditions, and it is important in the lives of most post-postmodern practitioners. It involves contemplating the natural landscape, light, sky, sun, moon, stars, and creatures, seeing them, in a sense, as the body of the Mystery of existence. In reading, writing, or discussing philosophy, we contemplate existence, noticing the abstract patterns that connect and underlie our world and experience. Philosophy and nature mysticism are entirely different undertakings, but they both involve “contemplating it,” looking at aspects of the Mystery, and letting that process transform us. In Integral Life Practice, the core third-person spiritual practice is called Kosmic Contemplation.
First-person spirituality involves awakening to the unchanging IAMness that is always present as the still and silent Witness of experience. This IAMness is the pure consciousness that is present during every experience, every sound, sight, smell, taste, sensation, thought, or feeling, however pleasant or unpleasant. Such pure consciousness is often described as the ultimate realization, the goal of Eastern mystical paths. It is experienced when eyes open after meditation, and there is an experience of Oneness with all existence, of Union, of non-separation. And long before we achieve any ultimate nirvana, we can experience a glimpse of IAMness (also called Suchness) via meditation, inspiring conversation with a spiritual teacher, or spontaneously, as a graceful accident. The paths that focus on first-person spirituality usually focus on meditation, on transcending our “monkey mind” tendency to be absorbed in our constant stream of thoughts, and on the open field of consciousness that naturally arises when the mind relaxes. In Integral Life Practice, the core first-person spiritual practice is called Integral Inquiry or Integral Awakening.
Educated post-postmodern Westerners tend to feel a natural openness to both of these forms of spirituality. Modern science questions the idea of personal identity and validates the inherent oneness of the cosmos. Both first-person and third-person spirituality make sense to a contemporary worldview. The Western discovery of Eastern spirituality has primarily sparked trans-rational explorations of first-person, and to a lesser degree, third-person spirituality.
Second-person spirituality involves communion with the Mystery of existence as one’s universal beloved intimate. It is a direct relationship between the individual “I” with the “you” of Spirit, turning directly into feeling-contact with the universal beloved. It can be expressed through prayer, and through a devotional life of worship, service, and celebration. Second-person paths usually begin with insight, the acknowledgment that the heart tends to close, cutting us off from others and life. On that basis, there is practice, the intention to open the heart, loving surrender to the source of grace, and devotional enjoyment of intimacy with Spirit.
Second-person spirituality is a difficult sticking-point for many Westerners. One reason is that Western culture was long dominated by Christian second-person religion with a dogmatic mythic conception of God. When Western cultures made their transition into modernity, they (rightly!) rejected mythic religious conceptions of God. But they threw out the baby (second-person spirituality altogether) along with the bathwater (a mythic version of God.) It can be especially difficult for Westerners to accept trans-rational prayer, since they often imagine that communing with the Mystery must inherently presume a metaphysical conception of God. (“First, tell me exactly who I would be praying to?”) But that dogmatic skepticism fails to notice that we can relate to Spirit trans-rationally, as the graceful nature of reality, the universal “other-ness” implied by the experience of “me-ness.”
But second-person spirituality is essential—and it’s one of the most transformational opportunities opened up by an Integral view. Human brains and nervous systems evolved in hunter-gatherer bands, and therefore we are mentally and emotionally structured for relating to others. Those relational capacities are not engaged by first-person awakening to IAMness or third-person contemplation of nature or philosophy.
A love relationship with existence is the essence of second-person spirituality—and love enables us to access tremendous power and energy. Second-person spirituality implicates us personally, revealing our closed hearts and contraction for what they are—a violation of our inherent love-relationship with the Mystery of existence. The universal drama of a love-relationship with the universal Beloved quickens our blood and brings us alive. Love is what unleashes the power of our whole being. And what is spirituality without love? In Integral Life Practice, the core second-person spiritual practice is called Integral Communion.” -Terry Patten
For more from Terry check out: http://www.integralspiritualpractice.com/