We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Becoming Native

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon

20180211_120056Life still trickling by. A bit of snow over the last few days, colder now, in the Colorado measure of that term. So relative. Saw a facebook meme with Texans in parkas at 70 degrees. Could have countered that with a Minnesotan in shorts at ten below. Meanwhile 11, last night, felt pretty cold after three years here. These gross physical acclimatizations  are easy to spot, but what about the more subtle mental adjustments?

How does the mind change, for example, when it goes up and down mountains, around curves into canyons, rather than coasting across the flat lands of the Midwest? Or, what about looking up and seeing ovular lenticular clouds, high flying cirrus against blue sky? When fall comes and the changes are only in the aspen, a mass of gold variations, what happens to the heart used to deciduous colors?

Political colorations are different here, too. That thick vein of let me alone libertarianism too often gets mined for political results that would make even conservative Minnesotans cringe. Immigrants to the state, like Kate and me, drag along with us expectations that government should be of, by and most of all, for the people. This is a far from universal sentiment in the West. We’re adding new strata to the political geography, but the whole still feels very alien to me.

becoming nativeThis is all by way of becoming native to this place, a key element in my pagan creed borrowed from Wes Jackson at the Land Institute. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? That’s why I love it, the challenging notion that we can be of a new place in a very old, intimate way, through what Rabbi Jamie would call Torah study, close attention, close attention to details and to our own inner world, compassionate attention willing to be shaped by what we find.

IMAG0861Kate and I did it on the Great Anoka Sand Plain. Over the Andover years we listened to the soil, to the rhythms of the growing season. We stuck our hands in the soil, partnered with it. We planted trees and fruit bearing shrubs. There was the open prairie we cultivated on either sides of the more traditional suburban lawn carpet. Bees, with whom we partnered, for honey. Dogs who used the woods as their home and hunting ground. By the time we left we were native to that place. Its rhythms shaped our own and together we created a place to live.

It’s happening here, too. A long and nuanced process, still in its early days, but one that has promise for the Great Work, creating a sustainable presence for humans on this planet.

 

Shoulder, Trees, Writing

Winter                                                                         Imbolc Moon

shoulder-arthroplasty-Mayo-ClinicHippity hop to the ortho shop. Kate’s got an appointment at Panorama Orthopedics today. Her right shoulder. She can no longer hold things up with her right arm and has to use two hands to put dishes away, sometimes to lift a cup. Annoying and painful. Screws up her sleep, too. She needs some kind of solution, more than likely a shoulder replacement. This is the first step, a consult to see what her options are.

A friend of Kate and mine is having surgery for breast cancer today, too. It’s a cancer that has the improbable, but very desirable, cure rate of 100%. In the sort of piling on that getting older can deliver, her husband, only a week later, got a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. It’s a killer, but slow, maybe 5-10 years. He’s mid-70’s. Mortality is always stalking us, but seems to knock on the door more often past three score and ten.

Sister Mary tells me she’s been invited as a visiting professor to a university in Kobe, Japan this summer. Very close to Kyoto. And, great beef. Congrats to Mary. Brother Mark is in Bangkok right now, chillin’ in the tropical heat.

Tu B'ShevatAn interesting week ahead. A session on green burial tomorrow night at CBE. It’s part of a conversation about creating a Jewish cemetery up here in the Evergreen/Conifer area. Oddly, I think I’d like to work on that. The next night, Wednesday, is Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees. Judaism has a lot of pagan inflections, Tu B’Shevat and Sukkot, a harvest festival at the end of the High Holidays, for example. Looking forward to this one because there’s a seder, too, with seven species of fruit and nuts. I’ll explain more on Wednesday. After the this celebration is another Kabbalah session, more double letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

NovelIdeaRigel has her second appointment at the Vet Referral Clinic with Dr. Bayliss this Friday, too. I’m excited about it because we’ll get a clearer picture of what’s going on with her. And, it’s not the dire prognosis we anticipated when we took her in a week ago last Friday.

Meanwhile, I’ve finally levered myself back into writing, now on both Jennie’s Dead and Rocky Mountain Vampire (only a working title). Not sure exactly how I did it, just did it, I think.

Getting closer to using the sumi-e brushes, maybe today. Yesterday I tied string at the base of each new brush after applying a bit of glue all round, too. That had to set for a day. I gathered some towels, watched a couple more videos. Youtube is a fantastic resource for all kinds of things. Jon watches Japanese woodcrafting videos to calm down, for example.

Next week is Kate’s quilting retreat in Buena Vista.

 

Big Guys Do Cry

Winter                                                                  New Imbolc Moon

Being sick, even mildly sick as I’ve been for four or five days now, takes me into strange territory. Mortality flits across the mind. All the obituaries that include the phrase, “after a brief illness.” Labile. When I saw this video about Ronnie the Donkey, I cried. And, too, when I read about this special organization, Cayleb’s Senior Dog Rescue. Kate and I donated.

Donkey And His Mom Celebrate Their Emotional Journey    This donkey was so depressed after he lost his baby boy. But the woman who adopted him knew exactly what he was going through and figured out the sweetest way to make him feel at home. Today on Party Animals, Ronnie’s mom is throwing him a very emotional 5th rescue-versary party to celebrate their amazing journey 😍

Posted by Party Animals on Saturday, January 6, 2018

Got to wondering about being labile. Why is that part of illness?

I asked Kate. Less energy to maintain your defenses, she said, in essence.

Castle Dinas Bran, Llangollen, North Wales

Castle Dinas Bran, Llangollen, North Wales

Which raises a second question. Why the defenses? Why would I need to place a barrier between my feelings and my expression of them, especially feelings of tenderness? Is it too difficult for my sanity to rock my inner world? Somehow I don’t think so. It seems more likely that big boys don’t cry. As our president might say, Sad. Why not recognize when the heart softens, when it takes in a moment of love and responds? Why not just go ahead and cry? Tear up.

Maybe one of the functions of illness is to remind us of our heart truth. When the body feels threatened, insulted, perhaps the mind takes the opportunity to reexamine our spot in this world. Perhaps it allows the cultural constructions, the moats and castle walls we put up, to crumble a bit, so we can know they exist. We do tend to forget about those fortifications, the ones built by stereotype, by social convention.

dinas bran. I visited these ruins in 1995.

dinas bran. I visited these ruins in 1995.

We northern Europeans seem to have well-built walls. Perhaps that’s why we can be gulled too easily by ideologues who have burnished their fear of the other, who take their fear and embarrassment as cues for violence rather than compassion. It is a danger we could altogether eliminate, if we let the right feelings in.

As for me, I’m going to try. The moat drained, the walls down. Good. Let them stay that way.

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.

 

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.

 

The Miraculous Ordinary

Winter                                                         Moon of the Long Nights

Joe and SeoAh's house, Robbins AFB

Joe and SeoAh’s house, Robbins AFB

Christmas is over. As is Hanukkah. Diwali. Posada. Advent. Thanksgiving. Samain. The Winter Solstice. Coming up: Kwanzaa, New Year’s, Epiphany, Feast of St. Agnes. Holiseason continues.

Much as I love Holiseason and all its wonders, the ordinary miracles and the miraculous ordinary of its lights and meals and time spent together with friends and family, I admit it can be hard, too. Some, many, are left out of the merriment due to poverty, ill health, prejudice. Others find the memories of Holiseason’s past unpleasant, even suffocating.

Visitors, while wonderful, can tax a home. Kate and I have discovered that holidays where she cooks and the grandkids are around strains her too much. The combination of being on her feet while managing expectations she feels from them has become difficult. Either I’ll cook or we’ll cater or go to a resort. Having the grandkids and Jon, Joe and SeoAh around is too important to lose.

1514288916927Joe and SeoAh are different because, as SeoAh says, “You are my parents, now, too.” She cleans with no prompting, cooks with us. Joe, inspired by her, does the same and helps out otherwise. Murdoch, see the post below, is a joy. Lots of puppy energy, friendly. And growing so fast.

Even so, any difficulties we find in the holidays only underscores their importance. They are special moments, often moments out of time, that connect us to the deepest yearnings of the human soul. What are we? What are we for? Who are we? Who are we for? Where are we going? Where have we been? How do the mysteries of life and the universe effect us and those we love?

Some might find the holidays have answers to these questions, and that’s all right, but I prefer to see them as prisms through which many possible answers refract, the lights of Holiseason seen from many, many perspectives.

winter solstice3What are we? Gods. Brothers. Sisters. Mothers. Fathers. Husbands. Wives. Grandparents. Sources of light and love. What are we for? For each other. For the planet. For our own growth.

Who are we? Fellow travelers, as Ram Dass says, walking each other home. Who are we for? Each person floating in their barque toward the sea of all souls. Each living entity on the planet, not least because they sustain us. The earth as a living goddess who loves and nourishes us.

Where are we going? To the heavens. To the soil. To the darkest of nights. To a Thanksgiving table always filled with food. To the depths of our own souls. Into a new year. Where have we been? Through the desert running from an evil king. In a fortress fighting off alien invaders who destroyed our temple. On the shores of a new world. In the dark, happy and content. In the dark, waiting for light and warmth. Most recently, 2017.

 

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.

 

The Great Wheel and the Ten Sephirot

Samain                                                                        Bare Aspen Moon

SamainThink I’ve figured out my kabbalah presentation. Still a bit rough around the edges but that’s going to be part of it. It’ll be a how to think with the tree of the life as a touchstone example, using the Great Wheel as an instance.

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks trying to figure out whether or not I’m trying to put the cliched square peg in a round hole. That is, can the Great Wheel be interpreted from within the tree of life’s basic framework? Or, vice versa.

My tentative conclusion right now? Yes, they both speak to  the same essence, to a fundamental truth about the nature of reality as we humans experience it. Both abstractions focus us on the dynamic of life arising from the inanimate and returning the borrowed elements to the inanimate at the end of a cycle. We could call it entropy, but entropy does not have the revivifying element of both the tree of life and the Great Wheel.

sephirothshiningonesThis a crucial difference between a secular, scientific world view and a mystical one. Entropy posits, as I mentioned in a post not long ago, that all things die, including death, I suppose. The Great Wheel and the tree of life challenge that grim metaphysics with an alternative.

In the tree of life emanations from the keter, or crown, flow down through the ten sephirot, emerging after a journey through possibilities and limitations, into malchut, the realm of the Shekinah or the feminine aspect of the divine. This is the daily reality you and I experience. Rabbi Jamie uses the illustration of a fountain with metal leaves (the sephirot) that catch the emanations, then direct the flow downward toward malchut. This could be entropic. Divine emanations could flow down to malchut, exist there for awhile, then simply disintegrate, disappear. Or, they could all flow down to malchut until it was filled, then the flow would stop. The heat death of the universe could be seen as such a result for the big bang.

But this fountain flows both ways. Malchut, as Rabbi Jamie explains it, is also a pump and the fountain sends water (divine energy) back up the tree of the life, returning it to the ein sof, the infinite oneness. Repeat until God is repaired.

tzimtzum_classicGod became fractionated during the tzimtzum, the contraction of divine energy that made the finite possible. This idea is still difficult for me, but I’m just accepting it for the purposes of this presentation. During the tzimtzum the infinite light, ohr, tried to manifest in the finite, filling the space created by the contraction, but the vessel, things, (ein sof = no-things, infinity) could not hold it and shattered. That shattering created all the elements that now make up our universe. (and other universes, too) Trapped inside all of these elements is the ohr. The ascent and descent of divine energy, from the keter to malchut and backup through the sephirot to the keter from malchut, is the way the ohr will once again join with the infinite. How? No clue.

OK. So how does this correlate, if at all, with the Great Wheel? The Great Wheel divides into two halves, a fallow half beginning at Samain and ending at Beltane when the growing season begins. That’s roughly from October 31st to May 1st on the Gregorian calendar, but of course the reality varies by latitude and altitude. The key thing to consider here is a growing time, a time of vitality and, not only vitality, but vitality created from the inanimate materials of soil, air and sun followed by a fallow time when plants die back, when the animate returns to the inanimate.

slinkyThis is a malchutian manifestation, I think, of the ascent and descent and ascent again of divine energy represented by the tree of life. Why? Well, until the divine energy passes through yesod and becomes real in malchut, it is hidden, invisible, just like the vivifying function of the soil and the air and the sun is hidden during the fallow time. Both represent the cyclical nature of things coming into existence from apparent no-thing, then returning themselves to the invisible, the hidden.

Whereas the summer solstice could be seen as a major holiday for malchut, so the winter solstice could be seen as a major holiday for the keter and the ein sof. The summer solstice is a celebration of growth and fertility, the winter solstice a celebration of darkness and hiddenness, the depth (or height) of the nine sephirot and their crown.

Now it could be said, and I have said, that the Great Wheel represents cyclical time and that the notion of time itself is a matter of mental organization for the human mind. It could also be said that the very nature of the Great Wheel limits it to malchut since it expresses the seasonal changes of our particular planet. I believe, at least right now, though, that the Great Wheel instead reveals the universal nature of life on our planet, in malchut, as a simulacrum of the energy paths of the tree of life.

Planetary_Motion_SpiralThe slinkys I will hand out, tiny one-inch ones, illustrate what I mean. The Great Wheel turns through one year, one orbit around the sun, then repeats and is, in that, cyclical and not chronological. But, if you link this orbit to that one we get a spiral as our rapidly moving planet follows our solar system around the galaxy at unimaginable rates of speed. The Great Wheel then extends in space, in a spiral, this year’s revolution becoming another while the whole planet and its sun captive neighbors push further and further around the Milky Way. And, just to add complexity, as the whole galaxy moves, too.

 

Spaced Out

Samain                                                                     Bare Aspen Moon

M31

M31

Not trying to do this, but last night, before I fell asleep the subject was space. The first three kabbalah classes are titled: soul, space, time. The other night I got caught up in the concept of time. I realize my thinking on these matters is probably naive relative to, say, astrophysics, but I’m trying thought experiments to come to my own understanding. I’m trying to read the book of the universe on my own, pursuing what Emerson called original revelation to us.

So here was the thought experiment on space. Imagine space as a large box. Or disc. Or sphere, whatever object. Now. Remove all the objects in it. All the galaxies. All the stars in the galaxies. All the planets. All the debris traveling anywhere. All the black holes. Everything. So now we have a large, empty universe. There is, I think, at this point, nothing but space. No thing.

empty-spaceEmpty. No way to know where you are because there are no reference points. Only empty space. But. This amount of space is contained by the limits of the universe. (I’m pretty sure this experiment violates some way of understanding the universe. An edge to the universe seems difficult to comprehend, but let me have this small-ok, large-conceit.) Now we put back in all the stuff. The things. Right back where they were.

We still have the same amount of space. It was empty and now it’s filled, but the space itself did not increase or decrease. So, then space itself is not a property of the things, it is  sui generis. In other words space itself is not the gap between objects, it has nothing to do with objects, since we had all of it still when the universe was emptied. So when we move objects further apart we are not creating more space, just as when we move objects closer together we are not closing off space. The amount of space is a constant.

einstein-einstein-quotesThis means, I think, that space as we use the term in day to day life is actually about relationship, not stillness and not emptiness. In other words the amount of space remains constant, yet we perceive space as relational, the gap between things. Space is used as a way of understanding relationships, actually, of perceiving other objects, because without space to differentiate objects everything would mush together to a somehow independent observer.

So try this, too. Imagine a square meter of space, imagine it in a place between galaxies. Now try to find it relative to another square meter of space. Nope. Can’t do that. Without objects to create points of reference space itself will not differentiate. That means that though space is vast and changeless, it can only come into conscious awareness when it is filled with objects, things. So no-thing can only be known in relation to some-thing. Space is relational, yet we don’t change it as we move through it. We can only understand, comprehend, perceive space as a gap between things. No-things, then, we might say, no space.

Does this mean that our original thought experiment fails? Does space exist sui generis or is it only about relationships, about perceiving? I’m inclined to say that space is not a thing at all because its most basic definition is undifferentiation, yet it is impossible for us to know space, anything really, if it cannot be differentiated from other things. Therefore space must not be a thing, but a matter of consciousness, some-thing that springs into existence when we see this in relation to that.

Oh, geez. I may have lost myself here. I’m going to post this and leave it for awhile. Come back to this at another point. I’m going to give this whole thought experiment some space.

February 2018
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