Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Stumbling over Stepping Stones

Recently I tried to move on to meditations related to the start of chapter 2 from Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation. The meditations in chapter 1 are mainly focused on getting an experiential knowledge of the ten Sefirot Beli-Mah, by oscillating from rational to psychic intuitive mind and directed meditation on the infinite nature of the Sefirot. Chapter 1 also has basic letter meditations as mentioned in previous posts.

The next exercise in Chapter 2 is to start combining letters. Aleph with Bet, Aleph with Gimmel and then all the other letters. Bet with Gimmel, Bet with Dalet and then all the following letters. Gimmel with Dalet, Gimmel with Heh and then all the following letters.

The first time that I tried this was an abysmal failure. I did not get past the first line of Aleph combinations. Then when I tried the next night it was even worse. It felt a bit like… well like either running through an unfamiliar garden and missing all the stepping stones. Instead I landed in the brambles every time. It also felt a bit like trying to do a new dance involving more complex moving between dance partners and getting it all very, very wrong.

The worst bit was that I felt as if some of the letters did not like me. It may sound a bit childish and kindergarten thinking, but I definitely felt some resistance. Since I like to twist myself in to impossible pretzels whenever there is even a slight failure in my attempts at magic - I chose a different approach. This involved going through the letter combinations as fast as I possibly could to get used to “running around the garden stepping stones”.

Photo source; Stepping Stone Hospice

At first it was really hard and almost felt like learning to walk again. Some letters stubbornly refused to play along and I literally stumbled over pronouncing them time and again. But within a few days of walking and meditating it was starting to come together and even becoming fun. It reminded me of dancing at a wedding and twirling from one dance partner (letter) to the next.

Although I’ve still not progressed very far with the letter combination meditations from Chapter 2 of Sefer Yetzirah – I have continued with the simple letter meditation from Chapter 1. The curious thing is that now my voice has a ringing quality that it did not have before. Almost like I’m inside a giant bell-jar with all of my surroundings vibrating.

What does that mean? I have no idea… however I’m looking forward to finding out where this journey takes me. What have been your experiences of meditating on the 231 gates or Hebrew letter combination exercises in general?

Sunday, 19 May 2013

6 small changes

Every week there is a batch of leaflets produced by Daf Hashavua leaflets delivered to my places of worship. It contains 4 short essays that are linked to the Torah portion of the week. Last weekend the editor Rabbi C. Gross included an article titled: "Change does not Come Easy"

In this article Rabbi Gross quotes the verse:

"A man or woman shall separate himself/herself (yaflee) by taking Nazarite vow of abstinence..." (Bamidbar 6:2)

A Nazirite is someone who has taken a vow to abstain drinking wine, cutting one's hair or coming in to contact with a corpse. This time period is 30 days.

"Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra (d.1167) suggests that the word yaflee actually means 'does a wondrous act'. Based on this, according to the understanding of Rabbi Yerucham Liebovitz (d. 1936) the Torah is giving us some useful advice about how to approach changing our life habits..."

The act of wonder is changing one's habits in a small way. It's considered ground-breaking and praiseworthy.

Anyway... it's about time I made some New Year resolutions as it's almost June. So I figure there are about 6 changes to make habits between now and 2014.

Three habit changes that are active/doing, e.g. add 231 gates meditation to daily practice, do 30 minutes of calligraphy practice twice a week and attempt to visit the Inner Library once a week. Three habit changes that are passive/stop from doing, e.g. stop going to bed after 2 am, no longer spend excessive time surfing the web, only buy a new book on Kabbalah in Hebrew once I have finished the previous one.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Study Update

Five years ago, I read quite a few books on theoretical Kabbalah (Gershom Scholem, Moshe Idel, Aryeh Kaplan), religion, philosophy, history. Once I started meditating a couple of years ago, my focus of reading shifted to a just one book with advice on practical Kabbalah meditation – Sefer Yetzirah.

However, it felt as though there were gaping holes in my knowledge and as I delved further those gaps came to light in full glaring Technicolor. So now my study schedule looks like this…. And this is just the beginning:

My plans for future study include:
  • ·         Go through the whole of the Prophets and Writings, preferably with multiple commentaries
  • ·         Study all of Mishneh once (expected duration 4-7 years)
  • ·         Study all of Gemmarah once (expected duration 7 years)
  • ·         Study all of Abraham Abulafia’s works (expected duration 7-14 years)
  • ·         Study all of Shulchan Aruch and Mishneh Torah (unknown duration)
  • ·         Study major works of Musar and Chassidus (unknown duration)
  • ·         Study the Zohar  (unknown duration)
  • ·         Study the works of Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Eliezer of Germizah, Rabbi Chaim Vital, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Rabbi Yoseph Gikatilla (unknown duration).
  • Continue to read works by academics including Moshe Idel, Gershom Scholem, Jim Davila, Rebecca Macy Lesses,… there are about another dozen or so other authors whom I would be eager to keep reading…. Then there are the new up and coming academics to consider…

Please note many of these books can be done in parallel. The main thing is to make time to study.
Pirkei Avot chapter 2, verse 7:
5. Hillel said: Do not separate yourself from the community; and do not trust in yourself until the day of your death. Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place. Do not say something that cannot be understood but will be understood in the end. Say not: When I have time I will study because you may never have the time.
I play a game with myself where I try to steal as much time as I can to study (and meditate). My travel bag has a number of books and Kindle, my phone has numerous MP3s and every minute of my 1 hour commute each way is spend reading books or listening to MP3s. Even on Shabbat morning in synagogue there are small gaps in which some study can be done – this is how I completed Maimonides “Guide to the Perplexed” in 10 page gulps and Yehuda Ha-Levi’s “The Kuzari”.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Worldview Necrosis

This is one of those posts that I’m not sure about putting up… but here goes…

Long term readers of this blog will (hopefully) be aware that I like to challenge my worldview.

A worldview should in my opinion not be something static with foundations cast in stone, but rather something that evolves over one’s life with part or all being knocked down and built up again to keep it resilient and alive. If a person does not explore and test their worldview, one potential outcome is that it becomes rigid and ‘turns to stone’.

However, exploring and pushing the boundaries of your worldview is not without risk. Pushing your comfort zone can lead to fear, anxiety, depression, feelings of euphoria and feeling disconnected from the world. But that’s not the worst of it.

One outcome that I’ve considered a potential outcome is worldview necrosis. This is where a person becomes so enamoured with their worldview that they try to mould, shape, hammer and squeeze everything that they come across that grabs their interest to fit their worldview. But the centre does not hold and things start to fall apart, necrosis sets in and even this can be woven in to their decaying worldview.

A (hopefully) light-hearted illustration of this is a story I heard many years ago…
In a Hebrew hall of study a bird flew in one day and started circling the cabinet in which the Torah scrolls were stored. For three days the bird circled the ark pausing only to sleep at night. Eventually one of the students could not contain himself any longer and rushed over to his teacher.
“Rabbi!” he said bursting with excitement. “This bird has been circling the ark for three days.”
“Nu?” the rabbi replied looking up from his books.
“Perhaps it’s a Gilgul?” the student asked, referring to a reincarnated soul that has come back in an animal form.
The rabbi sighed, looked at the bird and replied: “Perhaps it’s just a bird.”
All the dots can be connected. That does not mean that they always should be connected. As it recommends in chapter 1 of Sefer Yetzirah, test them… explore from them… Experience for yourself and see if theories hold up. If they don’t, knock them down and move on.