We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Melancholy. Again.

Imbolc                                                                            New Life Moon

hitchikers melancholy robotCame back from a short trip to the post office and the doggy drug store. While driving, I realized I had sunk further into melancholy, the gremlins now over the wall of my subconscious. Perhaps that’s what this feeling of new life trying to break through is, a sadness about the immediate past, or perhaps it’s part of a deeper thread carrying those moments of doubt one accumulates in a life time. The overcast to my inner sky is real, whatever it is.

Negative emotions are closer to the surface, bursting out yesterday in a confrontation with Kate over to how complete a project. Anger is a handmaiden of melancholy, its easiest to access expression. Not proud of it. Kate responded out of our mussar learning, letting the stimulus and her response separate in time. Proud of her.

611333-ancient-roman-wall-with-street-nameboardIt’s been awhile, I think, since old man melancholy came to visit, set up residence as a guest, in Rumi’s characterization. But he’s moved in for the duration. Still don’t know what to do. Hunker down? Act better to feel better? The mussar way. Doesn’t feel right to me, at least not now. Go down the holy well from which this manifestation arose? If we do meet the gods in our pathologies, then who is this tromping around my psyche?

Spent much of yesterday reading I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg, a member of Beth Evergreen. Almost finished in it one long gulp. This is a profound and well-written account of a journey through madness, a psychosis with gods and demons populating another world, the world of Yr. In terms of background to melancholy, it shows the further reaches of hospitality, when the guests become multiple and their stay overshadows all. It also underscores the agony associated with mental illness.

Admin bldg, Richmond State Hospital.

Admin bldg, Richmond State Hospital.

We know that agony in my family with my Aunt Barbara, Aunt Marjorie and Aunt Roberta all diagnosed as bi-polar. Aunt Barbara and Aunt Marjorie both succumbed to the disease, Aunt Barbara spending the bulk of her life in a mental hospital, Aunt Marjorie starving herself to death. Aunt Roberta managed to get out of the same hospital after a long, severe episode. Psychosis is not faraway, at least not for us.

Not sure how long this journey will take. Not sure what new truth it wants to pull up from my inner world. I am sure though that this is a necessary path for me to walk. Where it heads, I do not know. I do sense that this ancientrail has an important purpose, probably about redefining how life is now, how it can be.

So, here, welcome to the table, old man melancholy. Dine with me for a while.

 

Life opens forward if you let it

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon

Jim

Jim

Friend Jim Johnson had an opening of his work in Aberdeen, South Dakota the other night. His new work is lots of colors, strings, leaves, nice bright colors as Simon and Garfunkel sang. Jim, and his long time friend Mark, have both taken their art with them into the third phase. Mark has written one book, an initiation tale, about his time in Vietnam and is at work on another, a hero’s quest tale of his time in Fiji and on the road. He also had a show of new work a couple of years ago, his bridge series. I admire them, keeping Bridgit’s hearthfire lit. Life opens forward if you let it.

Bridgit is the triple goddess in the auld Celtic faith, patroness of poetry, of song, of craft, of the creative spirit. At the double monastery in Kildare, Ireland (men and women), Christians kept her eternal fire burning even after the church absorbed her as a saint. This is Bridgit’s time. She’s the goddess of Imbolc, the cross quarter holiday when the magic of life in the womb brought hope to ancient Celts after the long fallow season.

bridgit's holy well, Killdare, Ireland

Bridgit’s holy well, Kildare, Ireland

This is my creed outworn (see Wordsworth in the post below). Or, part of it. James Hillman, a very interesting Jungian analyst, said we find the gods in our pathologies. I believe that, too. Jung said we find the gods in our diseases. I believe we find them, too, in passions, in new art, in turning over old life like a furrow in which to plant the divine seeds of a new one.

A while back I talked about doing the work that only I can do. Jim and Mark are doing theirs. Over the last few weeks, reading Emerson and Deng Ming-Dao in daily meditations, I’ve found resonance with this idea. Emerson said, for example, in his essay, Success, “Each (person) has an aptitude born with (them). Do your work…It is rare to find a (person) who believes their own thought or who speaks that which (they were) created to say.” Ming-Dao, in his 365 Days of the Tao, says, in his entry #40, subconscious: “Everything to be understood is within us. All that must be transcended…is within us. All the power of transcendence is within us. Tap into it and you tap into the divine itself.”

Approa39It is axiomatic that each person is unique, a particular example of the human, of life, of the creative process that began at tzimtzum or the big bang, thrown into a particular time and a particular place. It is that particularity that Emerson elevates. It is that particularity which formulates within us, as instantiations of the whole, our own work. When we tap into the sacred, the shard of ohr (divine light) lodged within us, we come to know our work. And, the world needs it because you are the only one with this spark of the divine and the only one in the whole history of the universe who has it. If you don’t express your ancientrail, it will die with you and the world will be poorer.

We need you. As you are. Not as a bearer of tradition. Not as a follower of rules and laws, no matter what their claim to authority. Not as a sycophant to the culture in which you were raised. No, none of these. Instead we need the you that dances among the stars, the you that drinks from the deep holy wells within you. We need the you that only you can be.

Yes, it’s a scary prospect that you might be worthwhile just for what you are. Not for the degrees you’ve earned or the children you’ve had or the job you do, but for the you that carries a singular vision, a once in eternity vantage point on the universe. Tell us what you see. Tell us what you know. Tell us who you are. We need you, all of us need you.

 

 

 

Gospel Aversion

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The Winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
It moves us not—Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn
Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea,
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

The World Is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

 

GaithersWorlds collided last night and I found it unpleasant. Rabbi Jamie, the Evergreen Chorale, and choir director Val Robinson combined for an evening of Jospel music. That’s gospel music done in a Jewish idiom. Val was a spectacular director. She had the choir energized, crisp in its delivery, and used all of its members as if she were playing an organ. A Beth Evergreen member, Cheri Rubin and her husband Alan, helped make this happen.

Rabbi Jamie seems to blend in with other traditions, yet not lose his distinctively Jewish identity, a feat I admire. Last night he was in gospel mode, adjusting his usual musical style to the more upbeat, quick, punctuated rhythm Val and the music brought.

The worship began with a real memory dredger and heart massager, We Shall Overcome. Appropriate for Black History month and for a setting which commemorated the strong Jewish involvement in the early civil rights movement. So far, I was with the program.

As the music went on, words projected on two screens to either side of the sanctuary, though, I found myself wanting to be elsewhere. Too much God language with too much evangelical style emoting. The woman in front of me sat with her hands palms up, forearms lifted, elbows on her chair rests. Then, the God language got patriarchal with God on his throne and the heavenly father with an excellent name.

BlakeI didn’t realize the distance I’d come from Alexandria and the gospel music style of Bill and Gloria Gaither, my high school teachers who went on to become big stars in the niche genre of popular gospel music. No, that’s not quite right. The style is treacly and sentimental, pop in its overtones while churchy just underneath. That doesn’t push me away though it’s not music I’d turn on voluntarily.

What pushes me away, what I felt physically as a desire to leave the room, was the patriarchal God language, though even that is not the nub of it. The nub of it is the presumption of knowledge, certainty, about a god. That certainty which presents an anthropomorphic deity, gendered and crowned, comes from a text based religion which confuses the words of others with revelation. This confusion, common in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, leads to all the poisoned politics which those monotheistic faiths engender. (ha, a pun there.)

No thrones. No gender. No person like god. No. That cannot be read in the wind howling down Mt. Evans. That cannot be known from the blooming of the bloodroot in spring. That cannot be found in the cry of a new born animal whether human baby or puppy or calf or tiny turtle scurrying toward the sea. That cannot be learned from the glitter of the stars at night or the gentle silver light of a full moon.

No. Just no.

Burned Love

Imbolc                                                                              Imbolc Moon

ash wednesdayThe first day of Lent falls, this year, today. That means, as Allan Metcalf, the author of the article quoted below says, that we’re dealing with hearts and ashes. Makes sense to me that my 71st would fall on such a day. Since hitting three score and ten a year ago, I’ve passed into birthdays that commonly show up in the obituary pages. Ash Wednesday reminds us that we deconstruct, returning our enlivened elements. #Recycle Me as the green burial folks said.

This reminder,  a mark made from the ash of palm leaves used a year ago, would be good for all of us. It doesn’t have to come with the whole freight train of Catholic dogma. We could use soot from the chimney or ash from a burned log in the fire place.

yamantaka3

Minneapolis Institute of Arts

It invites comparison to Yamantaka. “Yamantaka is a violent aspect of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, who assumes this form to vanquish Yama, the god of death. By defeating Yama, the cycle of rebirths (samsara) that prevents enlightenment is broken.” Met Museum

The holiday of Easter, which comes at the end of Lent, celebrates a god who conquers death. We do not defeat physical death though Christianity posits that great wakin’ up mornin’ sometime in a future dimly understood. Mebbe so. Mebbe so.

As for me, I’m with Yamantaka whose wonderful mandala hangs in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It encourages a focused meditation on your own death so that the Bodhisattva can help you clear your mind of fear. That is the victory over death that Yamantaka offers, release from the fear of physical death. An ash mark on the forehead once a year is a start, but the Catholic one comes with strings created by texts. So let’s create our own and use it to recall our work with Yamantaka.

Challenges

Winter                                                                     Imbolc Moon

Kep and Rigel

Kep and Rigel

No word yet on Rigel’s further tests, the ones focused on her GI tract. We do have her now on a diet exclusive of all proteins other than rabbit and those from milk products. She seems less needy, appears happier and to have gained a bit of weight, or, at least doesn’t look as emaciated as she did. These are all good signs and we’re hopeful, but still tentative. We go back to see Dr. Bayliss next Friday.

Cooking and sumi ink painting are my gardening equivalents here on Shadow Mountain. I realized not that long ago that I need some active, physical work in my life. This surprised me because I think of myself as an intellectual, a reader, a writer, sort of an in my head guy a lot of time. Which is of course true. Partially. I’m also an emotional guy with Kate and the dogs, family and friends. And, I also spent 20+ years as a serious horticulturist and beekeeper. Oh, right. Yeah.

kitchenI don’t miss the heavy lifting (the literal heavy lifting) for the most part, though part of my time at Beth Evergreen involves setting up for Adult Ed events and I do like moving chairs and tables, that sort of thing. Go figure. But I also need purposeful, intellect engaged physical activity. Different from exercise, which I also need. Cooking is physical and intellectual, also creative.

I’m challenging myself, trying to do things I’ve not been comfortable with. Don’t laugh, but I made pan gravy last night after pan frying some nice pork chops. I’d not done that before. Seemed, I don’t know, too delicate or fussy for my skills. Easy peasy. I also did the pork chops. It’s pretty easy to heat pork out of its flavor and tenderness zone, not as easy to cook it so it’s moist and tender. Got it last night!

zenThe sumi painting I’ve not yet fully engaged, still collecting materials, setting up my work space, learning techniques, but I intend to stay at it as long as it takes to get some proficiency. Precise or artistic hand work has never been my thing, but I’m going to change that, at least to some degree.

I have two areas I want to investigate. The first is the Zen calligraphy typified by circles and crescents, done mindfully with brush and paint as a meditation. The second is Hebrew calligraphy, drawing the letters as art. This last one interests me because I’m learning (well, sort of) the language itself and, more interesting for this work, I’m also learning the history of the individual letters, their symbology and their story. Their shapes are intriguing and I think focusing on making individual letters in the same style as Zen calligraphy may open them up to me in a new way. We’ll see.

This guy needs his hands in, something or other. Right now, the stove and the ink brush will do.

The Grail and the Veil

Winter                                                               Moon of the Long Nights

Sumi Brush“The more I have looked into the Quest for the Grail, it is clear it is a Western form of Zen. There is no grail, it is understanding that the veil is the mystery of existence, it is nothing, but our interactions with everyone and everything.” Woolly and friend, Mark Odegard

Mark is an artist, an author, a sweet guy and a friend of 30 years. He’s done many retreats at a Zen Buddhist retreat center in Minnesota and done calligraphy with that giant brush Zen monks use. He has an ability to come at ideas from the side, or behind, seeing what cannot be seen; the Zen work has informed his sight in substantive ways.

He’s asking the Woolly Mammoths this New Year’s question for their next meeting:

“What personal tool/skill do I need to refine for my quest for the grail’? I will write down your answer to this, and ask you again at the end of the year.

The story represents our own encounter with the mystery of life (often occurring in our late teen years). The meaning is veiled for us, what do you need to lift the veil.”

Mark’s question made me start because I’d just written this, only two or three days ago here on Ancientrails:

“Torah study is about loving attentiveness. It is a way of engaging the sacred world which we can know first from within our own person and which permeates that which we encounter throughout our lives…

God lit up for me. Ah, if I do Torah study, if I engage in loving attentiveness to my Self, my own Soul, and those of others and of the broader natural world, then I can find the knowledge which permeates all things, that very same shards of the sacred that shattered just after the tzimtzum to create our universe. That is God being available everywhere. This is far different from the Latinate imponderable of omnipresence, sort of an elf on the shelf deity lurking in every spot, finding you everywhere. And judging.

No. God is another word for the intimate linkage between and among all things, from the smallest gluon to the largest star. God is neither a superparent nor a cosmic Santa Claus writing down your behaviors in the book of deeds; God is a metaphor for the sacred knowledge which permeates the perceivable, and the unperceivable, world.” Ancientrails

I’m not trying to revive the word God here, nor am I trying to reinsert myself into the thought world which includes God. I’m on the same grail quest I started years ago in Alexandria First Methodist sitting beside the huge stained glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Back then I read the Bible as history, not as mythology. Back then it mattered if there was a Jesus who prayed in that Garden that the burden of crucifixion be lifted.

I pushed those beliefs away long ago, passing through a moment, a long moment of second naivete with them, then moving into the world of the Great Wheel and the cyclical, spiraling time through which all life moves, in fact, all things. Over the last year or so my intense program of Jewish immersion has taken me another big step along this ancientrail, a true Grail quest began when, as a sixteen year old, I began to doubt the stories I’d heard growing up.

Frederick J. Waugh, The Knight of the Holy Grail, c. 1912

Frederick J. Waugh, The Knight of the Holy Grail, c. 1912

 

 

My true philosophical (qua religious) home, existentialism, found me in the aftermath of that doubting and my first encounter with philosophy at Wabash College. When I went into my Christian immersion, through seminary and in the Presbyterian years, my faith went mystical, seeing the divine as divinely personal, as a bright light shining within the darkness of my inner world, a light whose purpose was not to dispel the darkness, but to integrate, Taoist style, both of them.

Now, with Rabbi Jamie, I’m studying the kabbalah. Like Zen it insists on not seeing with eyes alone, but with the heart, with a poetic sensibility that understands religious language, I think all religious language, as metaphor, even and especially for the kabbalists, the written Torah.

The veil is a very important metaphor in kabbalistic thought. Like Mark observed above the kabbalists know there is a veil between us and the mystery of existence. The veil underscores the humility necessary for this work and without humility the quest will fail.

canterbury pilgrims

canterbury pilgrims

This idea is ultimately significant. Or not. We cannot penetrate the veil. Ever. Yet we all stand together on the other side of it. To see through the veil, to actually find the Grail, is not given to us, yet that place which we see through a glass darkly is the place where we stand right now. Yes, right now the Grail is in our hands, a cup from which we can drink at any moment.

This ancientrail, the quest for the Grail, the turning of the Great Wheel, the lifting of the burden of our crucifixion, flowing up and down with divine energy through the Tree of Life, is our life, is the life of this world, this cosmic pulsing brilliant reality. Yet we let so many things: work, fear, hope, pride blind us.

winter solstice3The Woolly Mammoths have been my companions, fellow pilgrims, on the way to Canterbury. Or, fellow Tibetan Buddhists inch worming their way around the sacred mountain, Meru. Or, my fellow Torah scholars, davening as we read the sacred texts. Or, fellow Lakotas, our skin pierced and tied to the world tree during the Sun Dance. Or, friends traveling through this life together until it ends.

“What personal tool/skill do I need to refine for my quest for the grail?” Out of far left field, I’m going to answer, “A Sumi brush, rice paper, an ink stone. And the courage to use them.”

 

 

Reimagining/Reconstructing

Winter                                                                           Moon of the Long Nights

Alan James Garner - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https commons.wikimedia.org

Alan James Garner  Own work, CC BY SA 3.0, https commons wikimedia org

Last night, third night in a row at Beth Evergreen, was the MVP, the mussar vaad practice group. Tuesday was the unveiling of the third stained glass window. Wednesday was the first class of the third in the first year kabbalah curriculum, the Mystical Hebrew Letters. On a personal, physical level this many evening sessions, which extend well beyond my usual 8 p.m. bedtime and then require a half hour ride home afterward, exhaust me. But on a psycho-spiritual level the nourishment I receive more than compensates.

As I wrote this last sentence, I looked up at Black Mountain and noticed a pink glow, a penumbra at its peak. A good symbol for the new understanding that is beginning to dawn on me.

In the mid-day mussar class, where we are near the end of the Messilat Yesharim, the path of the upright, by the 18th century kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Luzzato, Jamie commented, “Remember, these are kabbalists. They include proof texts as an invitation to rethink them as metaphor, not to accept their literal meaning.” Jamie has said this before, in the kabbalist classes especially. “The Torah is a metaphor, not history.”

Torah being read at a Bar Mitzvah

Torah being read at a Bar Mitzvah

A bit later, he asked, “What is Torah study?” This was a topic we covered over a year ago when beginning Luzzato’s work. Torah study is not about content. It is not, in other words, limited to scholarship about Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Torah study is a method and it involves paying close attention to the person next to you, to the sunrise over Black Mountain, to the cry of a sparrow, to the way a lodgepole pine sloughs off snow, to the needs of the dog sleeping beside your chair. to the nature of fire crackling in the fireplace. Torah study is about loving attentiveness. It is a way of engaging the sacred world which we can know first from within our own person and which permeates that which we encounter throughout our lives.

And, again, aha! The sun, the sacred sun with its life-giving light, just lit up Black Mountain and showed me a sign, a way of illustrating a literally dawning awareness. The wind, the finger of the sacred blows as the ruach, the breath of spirit, the breath of life and moves the lodgepole pines in our front yard. The pines themselves erupt out of the stony Shadow Mountain ground, able to express life in a soil mostly barren of the rich nutrients available in the farmlands of the American Midwest.

Marily, Tara, the Burning Bush

Marilyn, Tara, the Burning Bush

I find this means I can read the word God in a new way. Shortly after Jamie commented on Torah study, we read a sentence in Messilat Yesharim that included the English word omnipresence, as in God’s omnipresence. I asked Jamie what Hebrew lay behind this translation. He looked it up, “Hmm. Something like, permeated knowledge.”

God lit up for me. Ah, if I do Torah study, if I engage in loving attentiveness to my Self, my own Soul, and those of others and of the broader natural world, then I can find the knowledge which permeates all things, that very same shards of the sacred that shattered just after the tzimtzum to create our universe. That is God being available everywhere. This is far different from the Latinate imponderable of omnipresence, sort of an elf on the shelf deity lurking in every spot, finding you everywhere. And judging.

hist_univNo. God is another word for the intimate linkage between and among all things, from the smallest gluon to the largest star. God is neither a superparent nor a cosmic Santa Claus writing down your behaviors in the book of deeds; God is a metaphor for the sacred knowledge which permeates the perceivable, and the unperceivable, world.

Our deeds are, of course, written in the very real book of our life, so they have consequences, not only on our life as whole, but as they impact others and that same world which we all inhabit. You could also see God’s judgment as the manifestation of those consequences, in their positive and negative natures, not as a divine finger shaking or outright punishing, but as ripples from one instance of the sacred to the another.

 

Yippee!

Winter                                                                  Moon of the Long Nights

A blur day. Somehow messed up my sleep, felt sleepy in the am. Napped in my chair, then went down to the bed for a nap. No sleep there. Of course. Ruth and Gabe came while Jon went to A-basin to ski. Ruth’s better but her throat’s still sore. Spent most of the day more or less tired or sleepy. No word on Rigel’s x-ray and blood work yet.

Mother's Day, 2016

Mother’s Day, 2016

Jen had to leave Denver to collect the kids. It was her dinner night with them. She communicates with me, so I arranged it with her. She hasn’t driven to Conifer since Mother’s Day of 2016, just before the divorce storm broke over the Olson sky. She got to the driveway, turned her car around pointed toward Black Mountain Drive and waited on the kids to come out. I didn’t see her. Weird.

Finished off an excellent Netflix series, The Travelers, about visitors from centuries ahead of the 21st, as they call this century, trying to avoid a full on catastrophe in the distant future.

Nosedive

Nosedive

Also watched the third episode, Crocodile, in the 4th season of Black Mirror. This is a dystopian sci-fi anthology which has, some critics say, a marked Luddite tendency that doesn’t let up. That may be, but the show is prescient. For example, the first show of the 3rd season, Nosedive, has a near future culture where the ratings from social media determine life options. Look at the recent news about China’s social credit system which, though voluntary now, will become mandatory in 2020. It’s a broadening of the U.S. concept of the FICO score for financial credit to one that has immediate social implications for the individual, too.

The first show of this, the 4th season, U.S.S. Callister, critiques Trekkies and more significantly, gamer culture. Crocodile, which I just watched, is a cleverly constructed story that takes a while to show the implications of a “memory dredger” used to pull up memories as a tool for investigation. Spoiler alert: don’t buy a guinea pig. This material is entertaining, but in a very dark way, hence Black Mirror. Sort of my sweetspot.

I don’t know whether this is peak TV as some claim, suggesting that the money being pumped into new, innovative series and movies can’t be sustained over time, but it is definitely a golden moment for sci-fiction and fantasy. Battlestar Galactica. Lost Girl. The Travelers. The Magicians. All the various Marvel offerings. Black Mirror. Dr. Who continues, now with the first female Time Lord. True Blood. Game of Thrones. Handmaid’s Tale. Dark. All of these have high production values, are high concept and have excellent actors. As a very early fan of Marvel comics and a life long reader of science fiction, I can only say, yippee!

Celebrating the Obverse

Winter                                                              Moon of the Long Nights

sol-invictusThe solstices mark swings to and from extremes, from the longest day to the longest night, there, and as with Bilbo, back again. Darkness and light are never steady in their presence. The earth always shifts in relation to the sun, gradually lengthening the days, then the nights.

Most folks celebrate the Winter Solstice for its moment of change toward increasing light. Sol Invictus, the Roman sun god, added a martial spirit. The ancients feared that the nights would continue to grow in length, and act as a shroud thrown over the earth marking an end to growing seasons, to warmth, to life. It’s no wonder that relief at the return of the sun, revealed by small increases in the length of the day, caused holidays to be born around this subtle astronomical change.

There are also bonfires and songs and drinking and sex on the Summer Solstice. The sun manifests itself as light giver, light bringer, with the longest days. The growing season is well underway then, the miracle of life that the sun’s increasing light creates is the very relief anticipated on the Winter Solstice. Fear and the vanquishing of fear. Sol Invictus, the conquering sun.

Yet even in ancient times there had to be a few outliers like myself. We don’t begrudge the return of the sun, nor deny all the miracles that its return makes possible, that would be silly; but, for some psychic reason, perhaps not clear even to us, we reverse the common sensibility and find succor in the gradual lengthening of the nights that begins at the Summer Solstice and reaches its maximum on the night of the Winter Solstice.

We know that the cold and the darkness, the fallow time whose genesis each year happens on the longest day, is also necessary, also worthy of honor. It is earth’s sabbath, a time for all the generative powers to rest, to regather themselves, to ready themselves for the next florescence. I suspect somehow in our psyches we honor slight dips into depression or melancholy, knowing that in those times we regroup, rest the eager forward creative parts of our souls and the gradual lengthening of the darkness outside mirrors that.

winter solstice4In these long nights the cold often brings clear, cloudless skies. The wonderful Van Gogh quote that I posted a few days ago underscores a virtue of darkness, one we can experience waking or asleep. Dreaming takes us out of the rigors of day to day life and puts us in the realm where ideas and hopes gather. So, the lengthening of the nights increases our opportunity to experience dream time. Whether you believe in Jung’s collective unconscious or not-I do, the rich resources of dreaming are available to us with greater ease when the nights are long and the cold makes sleeping a joy.

It was, too, many years ago when I pushed the notion of transcendence out of my spirituality in favor of immanence, incarnation over a god in the sky. My focus moved to down and in, not up and out. Our inner world is a mystery, a place of fecundity, but also a place often occulted by the demands of the day. When we shift our focus to the night, to the half of the year when darkness grows, we can use that external change as a trigger to lean inside, to find the divine within. If we can make this discovery, the god that we are, we can stiff arm the notion that revelation stopped thousands of years ago.

each birth, always

each birth, always

Every moment of our existence is a revelation, the path of a god, the most fundamental ancientrail of all. No, we are not omnipotent, that’s an illusion created by the idea of transcendence, the need to find validation outside of our own soul. This is the true polytheism, the one that folds its hands, says namaste, bows to that of god in everyone, in every animal, in every plant and stone and star.

When you reach out in love to another person, to a dog, to a crocus blooming in the snow, you bring the finger held out by the white haired floating god in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. That moment of creation is always, ongoing, a joint effort between and among us all, human and inhuman, animate and inanimate, the cosmic dance of Shiva brought into this mundane world. He or She is not out there, waiting to be called by prayer, but in here, waiting to be called by the quiet, by the joy, by the persistence held in the soul container that is you.

 

Enthused and excited

Samain                                                         Bare Aspen Moon

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

I got excited before my presentation at Beth Evergreen. It felt substantial and unique, so I was eager to see what others would think. There were three of us presenting last night. Anshel talked about the mezuzah and its correlation to the tree of life. CC presented Maslow’s hierarchy and laid it over the tree of life. It fits well. Seeing both of them wrestle with their material and its fit with the tree of life reinforced our learnings and gave us new insights.

Anshel, for example, explained that the placement of the mezuzah on the door post relates to the four worlds of the kabbalah and should be placed at the bottom of the top third of the doorway. The mezuzah protects against demons and will protect the whole house. It guards space and reminds us that the space about to be entered is holy.

maslow mysticsCC’s work with Maslow sparked a conversation about the difference between human agency in moving up the pyramid as opposed to the necessity of God’s agency. Within my worldview this is a false dichotomy, but the conversation was fruitful. It’s a false dichotomy to me for two reasons. 1. How else would God move someone up the pyramid save through human agency? 2. Since I see energy moving up and down the tree of life, from the invisible to the visible and back through the visible to the invisible, this energy flow is the key agency involved, imh. I might call it chi, or prana, or l’chaim. Could also call it divine or vitality or consciousness. I don’t see that adding God to the conversation accomplishes much.

I got antsy during these two presentations, wanting to be sure I had enough time. I wanted the conversation over with. Not my finest hour. I’d gotten myself so enthused that I really wanted to see how people would react to my ideas. A teachable moment for me. I did reenter the moment during both presentations and was proud of myself for being able to.

When my turn came, it was past 8 pm and we usually end at 8:30. We quit around 8:45 or 8:50, so I ended up with plenty of time. The conversation was eager and engaged. Debra said the ideas “gave her chills” and Rabbi Jamie said it was fascinating. Because I didn’t outline my ideas, they flowed better, but I did leave out some key material.

foolIn the end I felt heard and honored for my understanding of the relationship between the cyclical turn of the seasons and the meaning of the tree of the life to kabbalists.

This is a unique place, Beth Evergreen. I’m accepted as a full member of the community, in every meaningful sense, yet I’m on a divergent spiritual path from nearly every one else.

Reconstructionist Judaism and I approach religious matters in an oddly similar way, looking for the fit with real life, for the way to articulate ancient knowledge in a contemporary idiom. We share, in other words, a way of thinking about religion, though we do not share starting points. That’s tremendously exciting to me.

Add in, then, the kabbalist’s contention that all torah is metaphor and I find myself able to learn from the thousands of years of Jewish thought while maintaining my status as a fellow traveler.

pilgrimSince I have long believed that the world’s religions are philosophy and poetry accessible to all, I remain eager to learn from them. Since I know their claims cannot all be true, I choose to remain outside them, yet to walk with them as part of my journey. During college, when fellow students were turning to Asian faiths: the hare krishnas, zen, tibetan mysticism, I believed that the religious traditions of the West were most culturally attuned to the American mind. I still believe that and find Judaism and its traditions and thoughts, like Christianity, trigger a depth of understanding I don’t get from the Asian faiths.

That’s not to say that zen, tibetan thought, and particularly for me, taoism, don’t have lessons and insights, too. Of course, they do. But, for me, acculturated in the Judaeo-Christian West, I find I learn best from within my cultural framework broadly defined.

 

February 2018
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