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Monday, November 26, 2012

The Reality of Choice
"You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live;"
-- Deut. 30:19
We live in a world where we feel an increasing loss of control.  The opportunity to earn an adequate living is decreasing.  Pensions are shrinking or vanishing.  Availability of health care is being questioned.  The world in which we once found our security is changing.  These are not outcomes of our choice.  Forces are acting on us that we cannot control.  We are being dragged in a direction that is further and further from our "comfort zone".  What can we do?

Many years ago, I visited the New Jersey shore.  It was after vacation season, and the beach was empty.  The day was beautiful and the ocean was so tempting.  I was a strong and experienced swimmer, so I decided to go into the ocean anyway.   The ocean was calm and I swam out quite far.  Suddenly the tide began to change and I started swimming straight back to the beach.  As I struggled to get back, I noticed that I was being dragged toward a jetty.  The harder I tried to swim toward the beach, the faster I was being dragged toward the jetty.  Reaching near exhaustion, I had to stop and try to catch my breath.  While treading water, I noticed that the waves were hitting the beach diagonally.  And, they were reaching the beach before smashing into the jetty.  I immediately changed my approach and, started swimming in the direction of the waves.  Although it was still difficult, I was able to use my strength, with the help of the waves, to get safely to the beach.

This incident offers a paradigm for addressing the issues relating to our current situation.  First, when the tide started to change, I responded to an inner voice saying swim straight to the beach.  Next, as I was struggling to avoid the jetty, I was forced to face the reality that the force of the ocean was overpowering.  I had virtually no control.  The ocean was determining where I was going.  Then, I realized that, if I was to survive, I had to adapt to the reality of the ocean. 

If I continued to struggle against the tide, I would not have made it to the beach.  If I simply submitted to the ocean and did not add my effort, I probably would not have made it.  I had to form a "partnership" with the ocean.  I had to "choose life".

As far as we know, humanity's relationship with reality is unique.  All other living creatures appear to passively adapt to the environment in which they are embedded.  Only the human has the capacity to actively influence its adaptation.  Humans, if they choose, can become participants in the process of adaptation.  We can become partners with reality.

In order to achieve this partnership, we must recognize two essential principles.  First, we have little or no influence over the realities acting upon us.  They are the products of nature and/or history.  In business, there is a saying that a good CEO controls about twenty percent of his/her business, influences about twenty percent and neither controls nor influences the rest.  His/her success depends on how he/she responds to the remaining sixty percent.  In life, the relative percent of control and influence is even less. 

This leads to the second principle.  Success or failure depends on our response to the reality in which we are embedded.  This means that we must align ourselves with the rules of that reality.  For humans, adaptation is not submission.  It is the creation of that "partnership".  This is the key to self-empowerment.

In metaphysical terms, this is the story of Abraham, Jacob and Joseph.  Each were plucked out of their comfort zones and required to adapt.  Each confrontation was a test that increased their ability to form a partnership with the Power of the Universe.

How can we increase our awareness of reality in our everyday life?  What must we require of ourselves?  The journey to self-empowerment continues.


Original content copyright © Secular Kabbalist



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Search for Reality
"Go out to yourself." – Genesis 12:1
The above translation is a little different from the ones that appear in most biblical translations, but it is a valid alternative translation of the biblical Hebrew.  Hidden in the ancient language of the Torah is the guidance to the path of self-empowerment.  Just as these words set Abraham on his divine journey, so can they show us the path to ours.
Of all the mysteries in the universe, the most mysterious is ourselves.  Although we think we know ourselves, more and more research reveals that we don't.  It appears that our mind is encased in a shell of genetics, family and cultural influences that hide reality from us.  If we can't confront reality, then we can't empower ourselves to deal with it.  We become helpless in the presence of reality.  This is why science is so very careful to separate the observed from the observer.
Cultural influences determine our “national reality”.  What if we accept that “national reality” as part of our internal reality?  Then we lose our power “to form a more perfect union”.
The sages have taught that “The Lord God is truth.”   For a kabbalist/scientist this leads to a fascinating syllogism.  God is Truth.  Truth is Reality.  Therefore, God is Reality.  If the kabbalist is to achieve his/her mission of acquiring knowledge of God, he/she must confront reality.  This might be why Ralph Waldo Emerson said “the religion that fears science insults G-d and commits suicide.” 
The following parable might help to illustrate the way the mind distorts our perception of reality.  You are driving along a country road dotted with farm houses.  In the distance you see what appears to be a person standing at the edge of the road.  As you approach, you become certain you are seeing a person.  Then, as you draw close, you discover that it is a mailbox.  If you had turned off the road before the point of recognition, you would have sworn that you saw a person.  Many people have experienced this phenomenon.
What happened?  Your mind is filled with a vast amount of data.  At a distance, it began to assemble some of that data and formed an image of what it expected to see based on past experience.  If you turned off the road, you would have retained that image in your memory.  In addition, that memory will add to the data for future identification.
This is the way that, from before childhood, we create a world within our minds that can be substantially different from reality.  This is what makes it possible for humans to turn fantasy into facts and facts into fantasy.  If we must confront reality in order to achieve self-empowerment, then how do we break through the shell of our minds?
This takes us to the meaning of "Go out to yourself."  The sages tell us that, on his journey, Abraham experienced ten "tests" which transformed him.  The tests required that he confront reality as it is, not a world as he wanted it to be.  With each confrontation he aligned his inner world with the real world.  Amazingly, in this process of revealing the world around him, he discovered himself and the power that resided within him. 
This concept of self discovery through confrontation with the world, as it is, is common to mystical systems and psychology.  In contemporary terms, Viktor Frankl, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning” said When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves. 
However, this leads to another paradox.  If our initial view of reality is distorted, how can we be sure that our changed view is any closer to reality?  The journey to self-empowerment continues.

Original content copyright © Secular Kabbalist

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Empowering a Nation

"...  and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so were we in their sight."  -- Numbers 13:33


By the time that this is posted, the United States will be in the midst of a critical election.  It likely will tell us how we define ourselves as a nation.  More than that, it will tell us how a significant part of our population defines themselves.

In Biblical times, we are told of a nation that experienced miracles of a magnitude that are still beyond our comprehension.  The Source of the miracles then told them that they had been granted a certain land.  They were commanded to conquer that land and assured that the Source was with them.  They sent out spies.  When the spies returned most of the spies said that, compared to the occupants of the land, they saw themselves as grasshoppers.  The people refused to carry out the command.  The price for this was that the entire generation had to die in the desert.  The next generation would fulfill the mission under the leadership of the sole survivor of the previous generation.

Whether you view this tale as history or allegory, it has stimulated much commentary over the succeeding eighty-five generations.  It is a profound lesson in the nature of humans.  It appears remarkable that a people who had experienced the support of the greatest power in the universe for a year would refuse to obey the command.  After many demonstrations, did they still not trust in that power?  Obviously, the answer is yes, but, why?

The answer is quite simple.  Although they saw this great power around them, they could not internalize it.  They still did not trust themselves.  The victory had to wait until they had absorbed some aspects of that power into themselves.  Then they would be able to trust themselves and fulfill their appointed mission.  This is the remarkable lesson of the Torah.

There are those who declare that the singular purpose of government is to protect its people.  I would respectfully disagree.  The singular purpose of a just government is to provide its people with the means to protect themselves.

All forms of government, democracy, republic, monarchy and dictatorship claim that they "protect" their citizens.  That is why people cling to their governments.  They seek its protection.  Sadly, history has taught us that, all too often, this may lead to "enslavement".  I do not mean the slavery that we currently think of, but the enslavement of dependency and the voluntary loss of personal power - the enslavement that turns people into "grasshoppers".

Archeology has shown us that Egyptian slaves had adequate food, medical care and housing.  However, their lives depended solely on the will of the Pharaoh.  That is the reason why the people who departed from Egypt cried to go back.  The government in which they had been raised turned them into "grasshoppers".

No government empowers its people, unless the people create a government that empowers them.  This is the lesson of the exodus.  Even the greatest power in the universe cannot empower people unless they choose to empower themselves.  This is the gift of free choice.  This is why the Declaration of Independence states, "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,".

The history of the Revolutionary Period in America is a magnificent example of national empowerment through the will of the people.  Under the Continental Congress, the United States was certainly not a strong nation.  Yet, it confronted one of the strongest empires in the world.  Its army was no match for the vaunted British army.  It sent representatives across Europe literally begging for financial assistance and talent.  Its only real asset was a population that most certainly did not see themselves as "grasshoppers".  From the will and dedication of this self-empowered population came the shining example of what can be achieved by a nation "of the people, by the people and for the people".

Sadly, many in the United States, and much of the Western World, have recently chosen to see themselves as "grasshoppers".  More and more are choosing the dependency and enslavement of "Egypt".  And, as we have been taught so very long ago, no power can change that except the will and self-empowerment of people.

In the next post, we shall begin to explore how the wisdom of ages can guide us on a path to self-empowerment.

Original content copyright © Secular Kabbalist