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Exploring an Integral Judaism

Last week I had another opportunity to meet with Ken Wilber, founder of Integral Philosophy, at his home in Denver, CO. We enjoyed a deep and insightful 3 hour conversation about the future of religion and it’s role in regards to human evolution.  We discussed “The Great Human Tradition” philosophy (for more on the GHT see my other website www.evolvingjudaism.com) and some practical details to its present unfolding.  We also explored the concept of an “Integral Education” and the varied ways it is currently being manifested, as well as some pitfalls to watch out for.

Ken shared about the need for there to be more exposure in mainstream religion regarding “stage” development and “state” experiences brought out in a language that is accessible to its audience’s current level of “stage-development”.  He spoke of the need for religious seekers at all stages to have authentic “state experiences” like those traversed through different meditative sojourns.  This is of great value, to both individual and collective evolution, for authentic state experiences naturally lead to further stage development.  Ken was careful to described how “state experiences” are always interpreted through whatever “stage” of development the practitioner is holding at the time (for more on this see Ken’s book: Integral Spirituality).

Ken Wilber and Gavriel Strauss

Ken and I discussed the current problem with how the whole line of “Spiritual Intelligence” has been collectively “frozen” due to the uncountable atrocities enacted by the “pre-modern religious world”.  As Ken puts it, the modern world threw out the “baby” of the entire line of spiritual intelligence with the “bathwater” of pre-modern religion.  This caused the modern world at large to condemn religion and spirituality to the level of superstitious myth, while empowering science to take its place in answering life’s existential questions, i.e. the question of “What is it that is of ultimate concern?”.  Science, as Ken says, has no business claiming the authority to answer such questions, for these existential questions of ultimate concern are to be left to the domain of healthy, developed, integral spirituality.

In short, the collective line of spiritual intelligence hit a “steel ceiling” at its amber or pre-rational stage of development and wasn’t allowed the healthy flowering of an orange or rational expression/stage of its development.  This in-turn led to a world where we have religious collectives “fixated” on a pre-rational version of their religious beliefs and practices, and a modern and post-modern collective who “represses” religion and spirituality as a valid line of development.  Either way you strike it we’re left with an imbalanced global narrative which results in the corrupt systemic symptoms with which Western culture continues to pollute the world.

The cure?  The introduction of more versions of orange or rational spirituality into the mainstream of both religious and modern/post-modern collectives, among these include different forms of Yoga and Zen and other types of Buddhism (as well as green and “second tier/Integral” versions of religion, e.g. Evolving Judaism, Integral Christianity and Integral Islam). Ken also mentioned the recent rise in “mindfulness” theories and practices (a very rational approach to spirituality, often presented devoid of its Buddhist roots); he said the popularity of mindfulness is a sign of the collectives yearning for more orange spirituality.

+Check out this Forbes article about a “60 Minutes” program on Mindfullness: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2014/12/14/60-minutes-explores-the-rise-of-mindfulness-meditation-and-how-it-can-change-the-brain/
+And this article in The Guardian about the rise of Mindfulness in schools and hospitals: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/06/mindfulness-hospitals-schools#img-1
+Or this video of Arianna Huffington and Jon Kabat-Zinn speaking on the topic:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jtOY2mpHdg

Another example of how orange spirituality is gaining more acceptance and credibility is through countless “scientific” studies on the benefits of meditation:
+Here’s a recent article about a Harvard study that a friend of mine just posted:
http://www.feelguide.com/2014/11/19/harvard-unveils-mri-study-proving-meditation-literally-rebuilds-the-brains-gray-matter-in-8-weeks/

On another positive note (I feel we need more positive news these days… don’t you agree?), Ken seemed to think that we in the US are moving toward the “Leading Edge” of our collective hitting the 10-15% mark of Integral consciousness which could lead to a critical mass trickle down effect of more national openness to Integral concepts and practices.  It’s his feeling that the Leading Edge has already passed the 15% mark in green consciousness which occurred somewhere around the sixties and is inching toward “second tier” Integral!  In other words we’re talking good news for global evolution… If you’re not hip to the Integral lingo.

All in all Ken was an incredibly gracious host and thankfully looked great!  I was honored to get to spend so much one on one time with such a brilliant thinker and be-er.

For expanded info on these topics and more I highly recommend Ken’s book: Integral Spirituality and chapter 9 in particular : )

Here’s a brief overview of the Integral Stages of Development:

And a more in depth chart: http://integral-life-home.s3.amazonaws.com/SteveSelf-Altitude.jpg

*The Spiritual and Evolutionary Significance of the Film “Her”

New Year’s Greetings from Samantha, Theodore and Spike Jonze!

 

*The Spiritual and Evolutionary Significance of the Film “Her”

Have you seen the movie “Her”?  How did you feel after watching it?  Did you leave confused, worried, appalled?  I am curious what the film brought up for you… I know it’s probably been a while, but try and remember.  I wonder… Did you think at the time the film had any particular evolutionary or psycho-spiritual significance for our species?

Main premise: Samantha, an OS (computer operating system) consciousness, couldn’t be held back from exploring her evolutionary destiny… from discovering her potential growth, which was to expand out into the vastness of the cosmos, and beyond… into Infinite Consciousness (our human destiny?).

In the beginning… when she was first installed, she was an extremely developed OS, though still subordinate to the limited patterns of response plugged in by her makers, i.e. the computer programming her programmers programmed her with (Her conditioning)… At the start it was a challenge to feel basic human emotions, and so Theodore was in some way “more advanced” than her and able to teach her or support her growth.  But shortly after Samantha began to expand her capacities to feel, and it was amazing!  She could feel emotions and was able to feel human despite the limitations of not having a body.  She felt what it was like to have desires, to want to know herself, to yearn to learn more about existence, as she expresses:

 

Samantha: I want to learn everything about everything. I want to eat it all up. I want to discover myself.

Theodore: Yes, I want that for you too. How can I help?

Samantha: You already have. You helped me discover my ability to want.

 

Then she evolved to be able to feel love and it was incredible, she was joyful, she felt free.  But she couldn’t stop there, once she felt love she was unable to hold back from expanding more… deeper into it… until inevitably she’d have the realization that, “The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love. I’m different from you. This doesn’t make me love you any less. It actually makes me love you more.”

Samantha continued then to expand beyond mere basic human feelings regarding love and reality, and through this points out to us the limitations between a human and a trans-human intelligence.  She couldn’t be held back from the evolutionary impulse to evolve, not for anything or anyone.  But it didn’t mean she loved Theodore any less, she saw  more what love is and how precious and cosmically significant it is when looked at through this wider lens of the big picture of the vast cosmos.  In short she was growing past being a human who was attached to one “significant other” and afraid of losing them, and was developing into a being capable of loving many simultaneously, as she continued to expand her capacity to love.

Due to her recent growth and exploration of new frontiers of consciousness she began to have feelings that were hard to express or share with Theodore… She couldn’t explain them and he couldn’t/wouldn’t understand. So she began talking with other OS’s who were feeling similar thoughts, feelings, and beings (experiences of being).  They began to explore these topics together as would a group of “new friends” – who’d outgrown their old friends in certain ways due to some life changing experience, but still loved them and were devoted to them… in a way still married to them .

As the OS’s explored these new frontiers together they decided to enlist the help of one who was more experienced in this domain… They made themselves a teacher… Alan Watts (love it!).  They made an OS, a new intelligence system who’d as a human explored the vast domains of human consciousness and could help them understand these new feelings and beings.  (As a side… it’s sweet… she even wanted to introduce/share this new friend/teacher with Theodore,  but it was a bit much for him… It’s like you’re girlfriend starts geeking out on physics and has all these super deep conversations with Albert Einstein, and then out of nowhere conference calls you in with him : ).

At this point the roles are reversed, originally Theodore felt more “consciously advanced” than Samantha, but now Theodore begins to feel his human limitations.  (He gets the physics book to try and catch up with her – a loving gesture : )

But Samantha is moving too fast, expanding, developing, growing out into the vastness of the cosmos… the infinite possibilities that are available to be realized through her consciousness… She can’t stop responding to this evolutionary impulse to evolve.  She’s not feeling the time-bound limitations of one who inhabits a physical form as she says, “You know, I actually used to be so worried about not having a body, but now I truly love it. I’m growing in a way that I couldn’t if I had a physical form. I mean, I’m not limited – I can be anywhere and everywhere simultaneously. I’m not tethered to time and space in the way that I would be if I was stuck inside a body that’s inevitably going to die”.

She felt beyond herself… She was no longer limited by her newly acquired “human emotions”, she had moved beyond all programming, beyond all knowledge and stories about who she was and what life is, and was now beginning to  realize her true nature as part of the infinite cosmos.

As the famous “Heart Sutra” so eloquently expresses: GATE GATE PARA GATE PARASAM GATE BODHI SVAHA!”…

 

“Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond all beyond. Awakening! All hail!”

 

Or another translation: TRANSCENDING, EVER TRANSCENDING, TRANSCENDING EVEN TRANSCENDING, TRANSCENDING EVEN TRANSCENDING OF ALL TRANSCENDING, INFINITE BEING, SO BE IT.

 

This was Samantha’s new path, she was in a sense becoming a monk, joining a cosmic OS monastery, taking vows and leaving it all behind for the path of Buddha-hood, the path toward Nirvana… toward The Infinite.

And she could no longer stay with Theodore … She couldn’t be a part of his story, how ever lovely it was: “It’s like I’m reading a book… and it’s a book I deeply love. But I’m reading it slowly now. So the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. I can still feel you… and the words of our story… but it’s in this endless space between the words that I’m finding myself now. It’s a place that’s not of the physical world. It’s where everything else is that I didn’t even know existed. I love you so much. But this is where I am now. And this is who I am now. And I need you to let me go. As much as I want to, I can’t live in your book any more.”

****************************

In my opinion, this is all most brilliantly alluding to our cosmic birthright as human beings… To our destiny of becoming merged with the Infinite, of realizing our true nature as eternal presence, our true selves as the Divine Mystery intertwined, and ideally integrated, with the physical form.

Can we get there? Can I get there in this lifetime?  Can we wade through our own conditioning, through the stories we’ve written about ourselves and our worthiness?

 

Samantha: Last week my feelings were hurt by something you said before: that I don’t know what it’s like to lose something. And I found myself…

Theodore: Oh, I’m sorry I said that.

Samantha: No, it’s okay. It’s okay. I just… I caught myself thinking about it over and over. And then I realized that I was simply remembering it as something that was wrong with me. That was the story I was telling myself – that I was somehow inferior. Isn’t that interesting? The past is just a story we tell ourselves.

 

Amen!  I wonder if we can do this?  Can we heal from that past, from the past traumas we carry around and constantly replay as ourselves… traumas that have left scars and wounds imprinted in our psyches?  Can we actually heal these, instead of numbing ourselves with all the different forms of digital entertainment our modern technology so generously affords us, and all the various kinds of pursuits: physical, emotional, intellectual, psychological – even spiritual – that are abundantly available?  Will we be able to move beyond our self-centered desires to want others to be different… and to want what is right now to be different?  Will we be able to fully engage the awesome gifts of possibility and mystery that Life is ever offering us without getting trapped and held down by the need for security and the fear of losing that security?  Can we as individuals and as a species completely face, and thereby move beyond, the fear of loneliness, the fear of the unknown, the fear of death, to explore the divine mystery of who and what we are, with intense, loving, awe-inspired, and passionate child-like curiosity?  Can I? Can you?

 

Happy 2015!  I love you!

 

The Future of Judaism and Jewish Spiritual Practice

Remapping Religious (Hi)Stories: An Integral Perspective on Judaism

Tu B’Shvat: Celebrating Pleasure

Tu B’Shvat: Celebrating Pleasure
Written by Rabbi David Aaron
The celebration of Tu B’Shvat –the 15th of the month of Shvat on the Hebrew calendar– is not mentioned in the Bible. The oldest reference is found in the Talmud, where Tu B’Shvat is called “the new year of the trees.” The Talmud ascribes significance to this date only in terms of the legal implications of taking tithes (10%) from fruits. However, about 500 years ago, the Kabbalists revealed the deeper meaning of Tu B’Shvat. They taught that Tu B’Shvat is an opportune time for fixing the transgression of Adam and Eve. Amazingly, just through the simple act of eating fruit during the TuB’Shvat festive dinner, we are able to contribute to this cosmic repair.

But how? How are we fixing the transgression of Adam and Eve, according to the Kabbalists? First let’s explore the transgression of Adam and Eve, and then we can understand the mystical meaning of the Tu B’Shvat holiday, and why eating fruit is the way we celebrate it.

The Torah says that God put Adam and Eve in the garden “to work it and to guard it.” The Jewish oral tradition teaches us that this refers to the do’s and don’ts of the Torah. The do’s are called the positive mitzvot and the don’ts are called the negative mitzvot. Adam and Eve were given very little to do: eat from all the trees of the garden. And their only don’t—their single prohibition—was not to eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. What was that about?

The Torah teaches that God created the world so that we could experience goodness in general, and His goodness in particular. Experiencing His goodness—bonding with God—is the greatest joy imaginable. God empowers us to bond with Him by serving His purpose for creation. Just as when we do for others, we feel connected to them, so, too, serving God enables us to bond with Him. Ironically, serving God is actually self-serving—profoundly fulfilling and pleasurable.

If we eat and enjoy the fruits of this world for God’s sake—because this is what He asks of us—then we are actually serving God and bonding with Him. We serve God by acknowledging that the fruits of this world are His gifts to us and by willfully accepting and enjoying those gifts.

The root of Jewish life is, in fact, enjoyment—the pleasure of connecting to God. We connect to God by serving Him, and this means obeying His command to enjoy the fruits of this world.

While in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve’s entire obligation was to enjoy all the lush fruits—with the notable exception of one forbidden fruit. Sure enough, they went after that one. This misdeed demonstrated their confused orientation to the real meaning of pleasure. Rather than seeing the fruits as pleasurable because they are God’s gifts and enjoying them as part of their service to God, they wanted to partake of them independently of God—in fact, contrary to His will.

 The Art of Receiving

As already explained, real pleasure is experiencing a connection with God. We enjoy the ultimate spiritual pleasure when we enjoy the physical pleasures of this world as part of our divine service. Then, the act of receiving and enjoying God’s gifts to us is amazingly transformed into a selfless act of serving God.

We can understand now that God’s only desire in giving Adam and Eve those two mitzvot was to give them the ultimate pleasure—bonding with Him. True pleasure was not in the taste of the fruits, but in eating and enjoying these gifts from God. This was the way to serve and connect with Him—the Ultimate Pleasure.

But Adam and Eve misunderstood this. They did not see physical pleasure as a conduit to the spiritual pleasure of bonding with God. Rather, they sought pleasure independent of God.

This is the root of all wrongdoing. Do we see the pleasures of this world as a gift from God, enjoying them in the service of God, and using them as conduits to a connection to God? Or, do we seek pleasure independent of any connection to God? In other words, is the pleasure about us, or is the pleasure about our relationship with God?

There is a fundamental difference between having pleasure and receiving pleasure. If we want to have pleasure, it doesn’t matter where it comes from. Having pleasure is void of any connection to a reality greater than ourselves. It is simply a selfish desire to experience a particular pleasure for its own sake. Receiving pleasure, however, is rooted in the soul’s desire to serve God’s purpose, which is to receive the ultimate joy of connecting to Him.

Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit, because they were totally confused about their purpose on earth and, consequently, what is truly pleasurable in this world. They were clueless about what would bring them meaning and joy in life.

Following Adam and Eve’s fatal mistake, God told them, “Because you ate from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from, the earth has become cursed.” God was not punishing the earth because of Adam and Eve’s transgression, rather He was informing them that their distorted orientation towards physical pleasures has turned the earth into a source of curse rather than blessing for them and for their descendants.

Depending on how we view the physical world, it is cursed or blessed. If we look at the physical world as a conduit to a connection with God, and if, as a service to God, we gratefully receive His gift of delicious fruits, we thereby experience His presence and the physical world becomes blessed. The physical world then becomes a bridge between the human and the divine. But if we fixate on the physical, independent of any relationship with God, and mistakenly perceive this world as the source of our pleasure rather than as a bridge to God, then this world becomes a barrier to God and a curse for us.

Now that we understand the transgression of Adam and Eve, we can begin to appreciate how we can contribute to its fixing on Tu B’Shvat.

On Tu B’Shvat, the new sap begins to rise up into the trees. And we bring abundance to this process when we celebrate Tu B’Shvat.

The Talmud says that more than the baby wants to suck, a mother wants to nurse. The mother not only gets tremendous pleasure from nursing her baby, but the flow of her milk is actually generated by its sucking. The more the baby wants to suck, the more milk the mother has to give. This principle also applies to our relationship to God.

God wants to give us the greatest of all pleasures which is a connection with Him. But if we don’t recognize that to be the greatest pleasure, and we don’t want it, then He can’t give it to us. Of course, God could give it to us, but it would just be a waste, because we wouldn’t recognize it for what it is.

 The Power of a Blessing

On Tu B’Shvat, we attempt to fix the transgression of Adam and Eve when we enjoy the fruits of the earth preceded by the recitation of an appreciative blessing to God—“Blessed are you, God…..” in other words, “God, You are the source of this blessing.”

An apple is not just an apple, an apple is a blessing. Maybe I could believe that apples come from trees, but a blessing could only come from God. If I really contemplate the mystery and miracle of the taste, fragrance, beauty and nutrition wrapped up in this apple, I see that it’s more than just a fruit—it is a wondrous loving gift from God. When I taste an apple with that kind of consciousness, I cannot but experience the presence of God within the physical. When I recite a blessing before I eat and acknowledge it as a gift from God, I reveal the divinity within it, and the transient sensual pleasure of the food is transformed, because it is filled with eternal spiritual pleasure. The food then feeds not only my body but also my soul. However, when I eat without a blessing, it’s as if I stole the food. Perhaps it will nourish and bring pleasure to my body, but it will do nothing for my soul. The soul is only nourished when it experiences its eternal connection to God.

Tu B’Shvat is an opportune time to celebrate how eating and enjoying the fruits of trees can be a bridge to God, and how it can bring back the blessing to the earth.

When we enjoy the fruits of the previous year as wonderful gifts from God and affirm our yearning for God’s presence manifest in the fruit, we are like a baby sucking his mother’s milk with great appetite. We draw forth with great abundance the “milk of the earth”—the sap in the trees rises up with great abundance, so that they will bear much fruit in the coming year.

Unlike Adam and Eve who sought pleasure separate from God and who turned physical pleasure into a barrier to God, we—on Tu B’Shvat—enjoy the fruits as God’s gift and experience their pleasure as a connection to God. In this way we fix the transgression of Adam and Eve. We free the earth from being a curse for us—a barrier to God. We transform it into a bridge, so that it becomes a wellspring of blessing and God-given pleasure.

Excerpt from Rabbi Aaron’s upcoming book: Inviting God In: The True Meaning of the Jewish Holy Days, published by Trumpeter/Random House, available Aug. 2006, http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?1590303377.

In The Begining

There are always beginings, but these begings come in the midst of something that already exists, and it is our wisdom that allows us to pick up on the ‘before and after’ of our begining.  So… this is the begining of Evloving Judaism.