Spiritual Teachings #51 Jewish

Spiritual Teaching from the Jewish Tradition

“Do not exalt any path above God. There are many paths that lead to God.

So people are capable of finding and following the ways that suit them,

provided they do not stand still.”    Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

The rabbi of Kotzk said: “It is written: ‘The ordinances of the Lord are true, they are righteous altogether.’ In this world you see one ordinance decreed for one man, and an apparently contradictory ordinance for another, and you are astonished and cannot understand how both can be righteous. But in the coming world you will see them all together and you will find them altogether righteous.”

To What Purpose Was Man Created?

Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk once asked his disciple Rabbi Yaakov of Radzimin: “Yaakov, to what purpose was man created?” He answered: “So that he might perfect his soul.” “Yaakov,” said the zaddik, “is that what we learned from our teacher, Rabbi Bunam? No, indeed! Man was created so that he might lift up the Heavens.”

The Ladder Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk said to his disciples:

“The souls descended from the realms of Heaven to earth on a ladder. Then it was taken away. Now up there they are calling the souls home. Some do not budge from the spot, for how can one get to Heaven without a ladder? Others leap and fall, and leap again and give up. But there are those who know very well that they cannot make it, but try and try over and over again until God catches hold of them and pulls them up.”

God’s Dwelling

“Where is the dwelling of God?” This was the question with which the rabbi of Kotzk surprised a number of learned men who happened to be visiting him. They laughed at him: “What a thing to ask! Is not the whole world full of his glory!” Then he answered his own question: “God dwells wherever man lets him in.” Fathers and Sons A man came to the rabbi of Kotzk and complained of his sons who refused to support him, though he was old and no longer able to earn his own livelihood. “I was always ready to do anything at all for them,” he said, “and now they won’t have anything to do with me.” Silently the rabbi raised his eyes to Heaven. “That’s how it is,” he said softly. “The father shares in the sorrow of his sons, but the sons do not share in the sorrow of their father.”

*****

May God bless and protect you and…

May you always be

Healthy, Happy

Safe and Comfortable

Seth Kelly Curtis

Spiritual Teachings #41 Jewish

Spiritual Teaching from the Jewish Tradition

“Do not exalt any path above God. There are many paths that lead to God.

So people are capable of finding and following the ways that suit them,

provided they do not stand still.”    Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Jewish Meditation Basics – Condensed Version

There are many different meditation techniques and variations to those techniques. For the sake of brevity, I am limiting these descriptions to one primary practice and slight variations to that practice that I have learned through my yoga tradition and experimented with over the years. This practice is generally categorized as a silent, internal, receptive practice, as distinct from many other meditation and contemplation practices that involve other elements, such as using external aids, chanting, guided visualizations, etc. I believe this practice provides an excellent foundation that can serve as a springboard for other practices, and can be utilized with internal visualizations or mantras in various languages and from various spiritual traditions. If sounds, colors or images come forward of their own accord during a meditation session, they may be worthwhile tools for focusing one’s inner attention.

Why meditate? People who desire to learn how to meditate often want to learn to relax, de-stress, quiet down their noisy minds. Meditation will do all of that and more. It will help you address an inner call/yearning to connect with the spiritual essence that resides within us all. When that inner essence is contacted and magnified, the other benefits will follow, including becoming a more productive participant in everyday life.

Posture. “Head, neck and trunk in a straight line”. My spiritual father, Swami Rama, never tired of saying this. There are a variety of seated positions that accomplish this. The most important point is to get the body in a position with this basic alignment that is comfortable, so that bodily discomfort is not creating a distraction. In this form of meditation, the primary concern is to leave bodily awareness and external sensation behind, which can only be accomplished if the body is comfortable and not a cause for distraction. (Zen meditation is quite different, where bodily and external sensory awareness is heightened. In contrast, the traditional yoga meditation involves withdrawing awareness from external sensation, freeing up this energy to focus within). It is also emphasized in this traditional yoga practice that the aligned head, neck and trunk need to be perpendicular to the ground in a seated position, and not lying down.

If sitting cross-legged on a cushion on the floor is not comfortable, then sitting in a firm chair is the next best choice. A second important aspect is to sit in a manner in which the posture itself supports the back, without the back leaning on anything else, like the back of the chair. So, if utilizing a chair, sit forward, away from the back, and find a comfortable posture with the head, neck and truck aligned. It is helpful for the feet to be comfortably touching the ground with the soles planted on the ground, for the thighs to be roughly parallel to the ground and the lower legs to be roughly perpendicular to the ground. For short people whose feet dangle from a normal chair, use cushions under the feet. For tall people whose height prevents the thighs from being parallel to the ground and the lower legs from being perpendicular to the ground at the same time, stretch the legs out in front until the thighs are parallel to the ground and cross the legs at the ankles, right ankle over left. If for any reason it is not comfortable to sit without external support to the back, then use whatever support for the back that will make you comfortable.

Sense withdrawal. As discussed above, this meditation technique is designed to aid in withdrawing the expenditure/dissipation of energy through the external senses, and redirect this energy within, to aid in the unfoldment of inner dimensions. The eyes are gently closed, thus easily eliminating the sensory expenditure involved with sight. Concerning the distraction of external hearing, meditate in a quiet space. It is also easy enough to select a space not prone to strong odors, minimizing exposure to stimulating smells; and it is recommended that you meditate on an empty stomach for many reasons, including that by doing so, there is little chance of any lingering tastes in the mouth that may provide a distraction. Concerning touch, positioning of the body in a still, comfortable posture as addressed above minimizes the sensations of touch.

It is worth noting that for every external sensation, there is a corresponding internal sensation that may be experienced during meditation and may help provide a point of inner focus. For sight, there is inner light, colors, images, visions; for hearing, there is inner sound and music; for taste, there is inner flavor such as a taste of nectar/ambrosia; for smell, there is inner fragrance; and inner touch usually takes the form of a sensation of inner heat, although other inner touch sensations are possible. While these inner sensations may be pleasant and assist with inner focus, they are not to be considered the goal of meditation, but only guideposts and tools along the way. 

Breathing. Although there are techniques that promote exhaling through the mouth, this practice emphasizes breathing only through the nostrils on both inhalation and exhalation. So to accomplish nostril-only breathing, as described earlier, during this technique the lips should remain gently sealed. Breathing should be at a comfortable and natural pace, allowing the bodily intelligence and needs to set the rhythm. It should be done diaphragmatically, coordinating the movement of the abdomen and solar plexus area with the breath: the abdomen/solar plexus region gently expanding during inhalation and gently contracting during exhalation. This is deep but gentle breathing, utilizing the internal diaphragm muscle located in the lower rib cage/solar plexus region, as distinct from utilizing expansion of the chest. Only the lower portion of the rib cage should expand and contract just a little to assure optimum use of the diaphragm and minimum use of the chest. There should be no extended pauses between inhalation and exhalation, just a natural continuous flow with that split second of suspension as it transitions from inhalation to exhalation, like the waves of the ocean coming onto the beach, turning, receding out, then turning and flowing in again. The breath should be smooth through the duration of each inhalation and exhalation, without any halting or jerkiness. Visualize with each inhalation that your body is like an empty glass being filled with the breath, first pouring down to the bottom and filling it up as it goes. Likewise, with each exhalation, the glass is emptied first from the top (being pushed up and out from the bottom), with the last bit of exhalation coming from the bottom. A slight variation is to visualize/sense a circuit of energy flowing into the body and up the spine during inhalation, and flowing out and down the front of the body during exhalation, creating a circuit running up the spine and out through the nose and down the front of the body, then up the spine again, and so on. A further visualization is to imagine the release of stresses, toxins and obstructions with each exhalation, and replacing those with nurturance, healing and well-being with each inhalation.

Focal points for the journey within. Once you are settled into your seated posture and have closed your eyes, begin to focus on the breathing as described above. To assist with establishing a comfortable breathing rhythm, first focus attention on the gentle expansion and contraction of the abdomen/solar plexus region coordinated with the inhalation and exhalation of the breath. Once a steady, comfortable rhythm is established, move the focal point to the tip of the nose, and observe the sensation of the breath as it moves in and out through the nostrils. This process aids in relaxation and moving your awareness from bodily awareness to breath awareness and the more subtle awareness of the life force (“prana” in yoga, “ruach” in kabala) that rides with the breath.

Once the attention is steadied on the movement on the breath at the point at the tip of the nostrils, you may move your focus of attention from the tip of the nostrils to either the “third eye” point between and above the eyebrows (the center of the mind), or the region of the heart (the center of the emotions). Moving your focus of attention is similar to moving your sense of identity. The idea is to locate the higher quiet mind (as distinct from the lower chattering mind) or the higher quiet heart (as distinct from the lower emotive heart) and rest your attention/identity in one place or the other. The lower heart and lower mind are very noisy and chatty, creating a seemingly never-ending emotionally-charged inner soundtrack/dialogue. By locating and maintaining the focus on the quiet higher inner heart or quiet higher inner mind, the chattering starts to cease or at least recede into the background. The image I often use is that of a hurricane: the eye of the hurricane remains calm, even while the bustle surrounding it continues. Meditation is about locating and remaining with our inner eye of peace and serenity.

Eventually, if you keep at it long enough, this profound sense of inner peace attained through regular silent seated meditation stays with you, and you can take it with you into the external world of everyday activity. That is what is called “meditation in action”. You will become a more centered, peaceful, yet dynamic and productive participant and contributor to everyday life, and experience a deep sense of fulfillment and existential meaning and purpose. So now we have come full circle and have concluded with the answer to the question posed at the beginning, “Why meditate?”

A few last details. Recommended time: 20 to 30 minutes, twice a day, on an empty stomach; best first thing in the morning, and either late afternoon before supper, or before bed-time. Locate a quiet place in your residence for meditation sessions, and commit to doing your sessions regularly. Meditation practice has a cumulative effect if done regularly. If not done regularly, the effect is diminished. It is that simple. The above are optimal conditions, but meditation can be done in a variety of less than optimal settings, including on buses, trains, planes, airline terminals, etc. Bon voyage! Om Shalom.

by Steven J. Gold, Torah-Veda

*****

May God bless and protect you and…

May you always be

Healthy, Happy

Safe and Comfortable

Seth Kelly Curtis

Spiritual Teachings #36 Jewish

Succot Festival – Kinds of Joy By Naftali Loewenthal

The Mishnah2 and Talmud describe great all-night celebrations in the Temple, brightly lit by massive oil lamps, in which huge crowds of men and women would gather and the leading Sages of the time would dance. 

For the down-to-earth people of our generation, this might be rather a difficult idea to accommodate. To a great extent we base our lives on rational structures, even in our relationship with G-d. A favourite motto of Chabad is “the mind rules the heart”3. Time and again we see that euphoria is highly dangerous. So how are we to understand the concept of joy on Succot?

Joy is defined by the Sages as psychologically going beyond limitations. The fact of finite existence in a world of materialism and often of pain and even evil presents harsh limitations to the soul, the inwardness of the Jew. The soul seeks G-dliness and holiness – but these qualities are generally concealed.

The soul is trapped in this very limiting situation. In fact, through the ages the elite of humanity as a whole have been aware of this problem. Much of the world’s art concerns this existential trap and the effort to transcend it.

The Torah and its Commandments provide us with a path to transform the situation, not only for us, the Jewish people, but for the whole of humanity. G-d created the world with the potential to be changed into something higher: still physical, still “this world”, but now an expression of the holy, something intrinsically Divine.

On Rosh Hashanah we recognise G-d the Infinite as our King; the hundred blasts of the Shofar are represented by the word Sechach, the leafy covering of the Succah, which has the numerical value of 1004.  The spiritual covering and atmosphere of the Succah is also seen as representing the cloud of fragrant incense which the High Priest offered in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, when we came so close to G-d that all our sins, stains on the soul, were purified.  On Succot we become aware of this contact with the Infinite as a permanent bond which will be part of our daily lives throughout the coming year5.

The Succah expresses the way the Divine encompasses every aspect of our being; the Four Plants – Palm Branch, Citron and so on – express the four letters of the Divine Name which are revealed within us. We are therefore surrounded by G-dliness, and filled with G-dliness; we no longer feel that we are struggling to overcome a barrier which hides G-d from us.  This explains the joy: we have broken through the barrier, not by destroying something or forgetting it (as in mindless euphoria) but by transforming it from something potentially negative to something totally positive.

Finally at the close of Succot, on Simchat Torah, the Rejoicing of the Law (5-6 October), we bond to G-d and His Torah in a way which links our Essence with the Divine Essence.  We rejoice with the Torah, and G-d transforms the barriers of existence, opening them for us, pouring blessings to us and to all Israel for a year of peace, health and joy…

*****

May God bless and protect you and…

May you always be

Healthy, Happy

Safe and Comfortable

Seth Kelly Curtis

Spiritual Teachings #30 Jewish

Spiritual Teaching from the Jewish Tradition

“Do not exalt any path above God. There are many paths that lead to God.

So people are capable of finding and following the ways that suit them,

provided they do not stand still.”    Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

A Vessel without Light Breaks

A parable is a vessel for the message within it. So too, the word is the vessel for the expression of thought. And if one speaks without Kavanah, it is the very enactment of the “Breaking of the Vessels” (1), for in such a case, there is no inner life to the words. But when one divests oneself of materiality, which is the person’s body and “vessel”, one is able to behold the inner nature of the vessel, the life and light of the letters.(2) When one is divested of corporeality and is enclothed in one’s words, one is in a state of D’vequt. Take care not to lose the concentrated stream of awareness and fortify yourself on high.

________________

(1) The cosmic rupture at the beginning of the process of creation that enabled duality and evil to manifest in creation, for the sake of providing humanity with free choice; as a means toward the individual growth of awareness and integration with the Primordial Tiqqun. But whereas the original “breaking of the vessels” occurred as an act of Divine Will for the reason just mentioned, this breaking, due to the seperation of one’s intent from one’s words, serves only a destructive purpose. It is interesting to note that whereas in the Creation process, the vessels broke due to a superabundance of light, here, they shatter due to too-little light. This is no doubt because the provision of light that cannot be integrated also leaves the vessel empty and unsustained.

(2) This subtle teaching contrasts the the divestment of intent [which is like the “light”] from words [which are like “the vessels” – and as a result of the seperation of light from vessel, the vessel falls and breaks – as in the Zoharic-Lurianic formulation]; with the divestment of one’s awareness [which is again, the light] from the body, which is here described as the outer manifestation of the inner nature of the vessel. But here, in contrast with the Creation from Nothing, rather than causing the breaking of the vessel, one discovers the true essence of the vessel – the divinely communicated outer world of information that enables the stability of the outer world – in a dispassionate way.

*****

May God bless and protect you and…

May you always be

Healthy, Happy

Safe and Comfortable

Seth Kelly Curtis

Spiritual Teachings #25 Jewish

JOY IS A CENTRAL THEME IN THE FESTIVAL OF SUCCOT. THE TORAH stresses the idea that during this festival we should rejoice1. The Mishnah2 and Talmud describe great all-night celebrations in the Temple, brightly lit by massive oil lamps, in which huge crowds of men and women would gather and the leading Sages of the time would dance. 

For the down-to-earth people of our generation, this might be rather a difficult idea to accommodate. To a great extent we base our lives on rational structures, even in our relationship with G-d. A favourite motto of Chabad is “the mind rules the heart”3. Time and again we see that euphoria is highly dangerous. So how are we to understand the concept of joy on Succot?

Joy is defined by the Sages as psychologically going beyond limitations. The fact of finite existence in a world of materialism and often of pain and even evil presents harsh limitations to the soul, the inwardness of the Jew. The soul seeks G-dliness and holiness – but these qualities are generally concealed.

The soul is trapped in this very limiting situation. In fact, through the ages the elite of humanity as a whole have been aware of this problem. Much of the world’s art concerns this existential trap and the effort to transcend it.

The Torah and its Commandments provide us with a path to transform the situation, not only for us, the Jewish people, but for the whole of humanity. G-d created the world with the potential to be changed into something higher: still physical, still “this world”, but now an expression of the holy, something intrinsically Divine.

On Rosh Hashanah we recognise G-d the Infinite as our King; the hundred blasts of the Shofar are represented by the word Sechach, the leafy covering of the Succah, which has the numerical value of 1004.  The spiritual covering and atmosphere of the Succah is also seen as representing the cloud of fragrant incense which the High Priest offered in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, when we came so close to G-d that all our sins, stains on the soul, were purified.  On Succot we become aware of this contact with the Infinite as a permanent bond which will be part of our daily lives throughout the coming year5.

The Succah expresses the way the Divine encompasses every aspect of our being; the Four Plants – Palm Branch, Citron and so on – express the four letters of the Divine Name which are revealed within us. We are therefore surrounded by G-dliness, and filled with G-dliness; we no longer feel that we are struggling to overcome a barrier which hides G-d from us.  This explains the joy: we have broken through the barrier, not by destroying something or forgetting it (as in mindless euphoria) but by transforming it from something potentially negative to something totally positive.

Finally at the close of Succot, on Simchat Torah, the Rejoicing of the Law (5-6 October), we bond to G-d and His Torah in a way which links our Essence with the Divine Essence.  We rejoice with the Torah, and G-d transforms the barriers of existence, opening them for us, pouring blessings to us and to all Israel for a year of peace, health and joy…

*****

May God bless and protect you and…

May you always be

Healthy, Happy

Safe and Comfortable

Seth Kelly Curtis

Spiritual Teachings #20 Jewish

JOY IS A CENTRAL THEME IN THE FESTIVAL OF SUCCOT. THE TORAH stresses the idea that during this festival we should rejoice1. The Mishnah2 and Talmud describe great all-night celebrations in the Temple, brightly lit by massive oil lamps, in which huge crowds of men and women would gather and the leading Sages of the time would dance. 

For the down-to-earth people of our generation, this might be rather a difficult idea to accommodate. To a great extent we base our lives on rational structures, even in our relationship with G-d. A favourite motto of Chabad is “the mind rules the heart”3. Time and again we see that euphoria is highly dangerous. So how are we to understand the concept of joy on Succot?

Joy is defined by the Sages as psychologically going beyond limitations. The fact of finite existence in a world of materialism and often of pain and even evil presents harsh limitations to the soul, the inwardness of the Jew. The soul seeks G-dliness and holiness – but these qualities are generally concealed.

The soul is trapped in this very limiting situation. In fact, through the ages the elite of humanity as a whole have been aware of this problem. Much of the world’s art concerns this existential trap and the effort to transcend it.

The Torah and its Commandments provide us with a path to transform the situation, not only for us, the Jewish people, but for the whole of humanity. G-d created the world with the potential to be changed into something higher: still physical, still “this world”, but now an expression of the holy, something intrinsically Divine.

On Rosh Hashanah we recognise G-d the Infinite as our King; the hundred blasts of the Shofar are represented by the word Sechach, the leafy covering of the Succah, which has the numerical value of 1004.  The spiritual covering and atmosphere of the Succah is also seen as representing the cloud of fragrant incense which the High Priest offered in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, when we came so close to G-d that all our sins, stains on the soul, were purified.  On Succot we become aware of this contact with the Infinite as a permanent bond which will be part of our daily lives throughout the coming year5.

The Succah expresses the way the Divine encompasses every aspect of our being; the Four Plants – Palm Branch, Citron and so on – express the four letters of the Divine Name which are revealed within us. We are therefore surrounded by G-dliness, and filled with G-dliness; we no longer feel that we are struggling to overcome a barrier which hides G-d from us.  This explains the joy: we have broken through the barrier, not by destroying something or forgetting it (as in mindless euphoria) but by transforming it from something potentially negative to something totally positive.

Finally at the close of Succot, on Simchat Torah, the Rejoicing of the Law (5-6 October), we bond to G-d and His Torah in a way which links our Essence with the Divine Essence.  We rejoice with the Torah, and G-d transforms the barriers of existence, opening them for us, pouring blessings to us and to all Israel for a year of peace, health and joy…

*****

May God bless and protect you and…

May you always be

Healthy, Happy

Safe and Comfortable

Seth Kelly Curtis

Spiritual Teachings #15 Jewish

Spiritual Teaching from the Jewish Tradition

“Do not exalt any path above God. There are many paths that lead to God.

So people are capable of finding and following the ways that suit them,

provided they do not stand still.”    Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Succot

JOY IS A CENTRAL THEME IN THE FESTIVAL OF SUCCOT. THE TORAH stresses the idea that during this festival we should rejoice1. The Mishnah2 and Talmud describe great all-night celebrations in the Temple, brightly lit by massive oil lamps, in which huge crowds of men and women would gather and the leading Sages of the time would dance. 

For the down-to-earth people of our generation, this might be rather a difficult idea to accommodate. To a great extent we base our lives on rational structures, even in our relationship with G-d. A favourite motto of Chabad is “the mind rules the heart”3. Time and again we see that euphoria is highly dangerous. So how are we to understand the concept of joy on Succot?

Joy is defined by the Sages as psychologically going beyond limitations. The fact of finite existence in a world of materialism and often of pain and even evil presents harsh limitations to the soul, the inwardness of the Jew. The soul seeks G-dliness and holiness – but these qualities are generally concealed.

The soul is trapped in this very limiting situation. In fact, through the ages the elite of humanity as a whole have been aware of this problem. Much of the world’s art concerns this existential trap and the effort to transcend it.

The Torah and its Commandments provide us with a path to transform the situation, not only for us, the Jewish people, but for the whole of humanity. G-d created the world with the potential to be changed into something higher: still physical, still “this world”, but now an expression of the holy, something intrinsically Divine.

On Rosh Hashanah we recognise G-d the Infinite as our King; the hundred blasts of the Shofar are represented by the word Sechach, the leafy covering of the Succah, which has the numerical value of 1004.  The spiritual covering and atmosphere of the Succah is also seen as representing the cloud of fragrant incense which the High Priest offered in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, when we came so close to G-d that all our sins, stains on the soul, were purified.  On Succot we become aware of this contact with the Infinite as a permanent bond which will be part of our daily lives throughout the coming year5.

The Succah expresses the way the Divine encompasses every aspect of our being; the Four Plants – Palm Branch, Citron and so on – express the four letters of the Divine Name which are revealed within us. We are therefore surrounded by G-dliness, and filled with G-dliness; we no longer feel that we are struggling to overcome a barrier which hides G-d from us.  This explains the joy: we have broken through the barrier, not by destroying something or forgetting it (as in mindless euphoria) but by transforming it from something potentially negative to something totally positive.

Finally at the close of Succot, on Simchat Torah, the Rejoicing of the Law (5-6 October), we bond to G-d and His Torah in a way which links our Essence with the Divine Essence.  We rejoice with the Torah, and G-d transforms the barriers of existence, opening them for us, pouring blessings to us and to all Israel for a year of peace, health and joy.

*****

May God bless and protect you and…

May you always be

Healthy, Happy

Safe and Comfortable

Seth Kelly Curtis