Thursday, December 23, 2010

Missing the Angels

While packing to leave Israel, I made the decision to ship my stuff via the post office rather than doing a lift. It was much cheaper than hiring a shipping company, but my problem was getting the boxes to the post office. I had no car and even though the post office was only a ten minute walk, I had too many boxes. For the first four boxes I packed, I managed to walk it, but for the second shipment of 11 boxes, of which four were books, I realized that there was no way I could carry them to the post office. A friend offered to drive me to the post office, but the scheduling was really problematic. We finally found a time.

He came over, we packed up his car, and drove up to the post office. He waited at the gate at the end of the driveway while I went to ask the guard to open it so we could unload. The guard looked at me and said that I didn't have time. In typical Israeli fashion, the post office is open until 4 pm everyday except the day we came (a Wednesday I think) when it closed at 2 pm. It was 1:56 pm and the guard told me I didn't have enough time to unload the boxes before he locked the door at exactly 2 pm.

After getting over my stunned disbelief, I argued with him and got him to open the gate. We managed to unload the boxes though he he did lock my friend out without opening the gate for him to leave. I was astonished that he couldn't wait the extra minute for me to unload in a country where nothing ever runs on time.

Two months later, in America, the boxes started to arrive. The first shipment of four arrived intact, but the second shipment of 11 didn't. The boxes were beat up. The boxes containing the books were the worst. One arrived empty, the side split open and then pushed back in place. Of the four boxes of books, one came complete (though repacked by the US post office), and of the other three I received only 10 books. The worst part of it was that these were many of my sifrei Kodesh, my religious texts.

When I went to talk to someone at our local post office, he told me he'd gotten complaints that day from two other people who'd received boxes from Israel. Apparently, the container containing my boxes had gotten thrown around and there was a lot of damage to everything in it. I had mailed another 10 boxes a few weeks later and they all arrived without a problem. It was only those 11 that were damaged.

The guard at the door was my angel and I'd missed it. If I'd listened to him and not shipped the boxes that day, they probably would have arrived without a problem.

It's so difficult to realize when the roadblock in your path needs to be climbed over and pushed through or if it's there to turn you to another path. Even more so during stressful and difficult times in life.

Photo courtesy of Sal de Mar

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Demons among the ruins

In Masechet Berachot 3a-3b, there is a story of R. Yossi entering a ruin in Jerusalem to pray. Eliyahu comes and guards the door while he prays, and then chastises him for praying there when he is done. R Jose states that, among other things, he learned that one should never pray in a ruin. Eliyahu then asks him what he heard while praying. R Jose replies that he heard a divine voice (בת קול) that was lamenting over the destruction of the temple. The Gemera continues with a discussion of why one should not pray in a ruin. The main reason given is to avoid demons (מזיקין). But if there are two righteous people then the demons will not manifest unless it is a place that is known to be haunted.

The word for Demon is מזיק which derives from the root נזק and means something that causes damage. This offers a relatively simple definition of a demon or bad spirit. It is one who causes us damage. The passage also supplies a relatively simple method for avoiding demons - keep good company when doing spiritual practices. But it is not enough to be with others when opening to the shamanic realm, the others must be כשרים or Kosher! Literally it means that they are proper or fit. To prevent spirits from damaging one needs to be surrounded by people who are upstanding and nourishing.

Places absorb energy from the people who lived there. Depending on the energy, different types of souls will be attracted to that place. In the ruins of Jerusalem not long after the destruction of the Temple, there would be a lot of dark energy surrounding those ruins. The last people who lived there likely died by either starvation or murder or worse. The first thing that he would have felt there would have been that pain. R. Yossi entered those ruins, opened himself to the spiritual world and heard a divine voice mourning the destruction. R. Yossi felt but was not overwhelmed by the sadness and pain. For another person, that pain might evoke fear or pain which makes a person in the spiritual realm more open to negative influences.

R. Yossi's initial prayers had called an exceptionally strong spiritual presence to him in Eliyahu hanavi. The text reads: בא אליהו זכור לטוב ושמר לי על הפתח Eliyahu, of blessed memory, came and guarded me on the opening. The traditional way of reading it is that Eliyahu guarded the door, but one could also read it that Eliyahu guarded the spiritual opening so that R. Yossi could hear the divine voice without being overwhelmed by the pain and sadness of the place or becoming susceptible to the spirits that are attracted to a place like that.

One can contrast this to the demons who do damage. The angels guard and nourish us. When we are with people who we trust and love, then the energy we create draws good spirits to us. When we are with people who's actions and intentions are questionable, the distrust and fear draws bad spirits to us. This is especially true if we are in a place that is full of dark energy. The gemera refers to places that are known to be haunted by demons. These are the dark places of power. Even when we are with trusted companions, we have to be careful in these places before we enter into the spiritual world there.

By and large, who we are determines the spirits that we encounter when we enter the shamanic realm. That's why it's very important to continually work on oneself as one walks this path. R. Yossi teaches us to be careful with our company and where we pray so that each opening into the shamanic realm is not filled with pain but instead we encounter those who guard and guide us even through difficult situations.

Photo courtesy of Callmetim

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Truth within the system

I recently had a fascinating reading from a medium named Kurt Leland. He channels a spirit named "Charles" who mainly focuses on people's greater purpose in life. During the reading, I could feel a tremendous amount of power, which is one of my litmus tests. The focus of this post is not on what he said, but how he said it.

The reading was presented in the format of a very advanced version of the Michael Teachings. The basic idea is that the soul develops over lifetimes and goes through seven soul "ages" each with seven levels. Each soul has a primary archetype which remains constant throughout lifetimes. Each incarnation has various overlays which define the personality of that incarnation, and a "chief feature" which is either the greatest blockage or the source of the greatest power in that particular lifetime.

During the course of the reading, he also lead me through a powerful visualization/journey based on the fours worlds as interpreted in the lens of theosophy (of which I will write about in another post).

What he told me was accurate and true, which, according to the Ba'al Shem Tov, is the test of any medium or seer. The format he used was the method in which he conveyed the truth. It's important not to mix up the two.

There are two steps to receiving information from the spirit world. One is receiving it and the other is being able to convey it to the person receiving the healing. Kurt/Charles was exceptional at using the format to convey the reading in terms the I could easily understand and make sense of. My wife also received a reading a few months ago, and I was struck by the differences in wording between the two readings.

Is his system true? Are there seven soul ages and seven levels in each? I can't really say.

Chaim Vital writes about ten soul levels with ten stages in each. They are based on the ten sephirot. Each lifetime we can move up or down levels, but the general progression is upward. He writes about soul roots. That each of our souls grows out of similar roots. So that some people can have a soul root of Cain or Hevel, and others could be King David. The soul roots don't change over lifetimes even as we climb up the sephirot.

What is clear across systems is that souls contain certain elements which remain the same throughout lifetimes, and there is growth across lifetimes. In both Vital's system and the Michael Teachings, the end goal is union with the divine.

It's important to understand the lens of the system to clearly understand the message that's being presented. It's also important that the system is just that: a way of conveying a message so it can be clearly understood. One of the reasons I spend so much time studying Judaism is that it's the system that makes the most sense to me, and most fully explains my experiences. So the better I understand Judaism, the better I understand my relationship with God.

It's also important to realize that the power is in the message, not in the system. The system is worth studying and thinking about so you understand the message, but the power lies in the truth hidden within.

As a fellow healer, I also wanted to give a recommendation to Kurt/Charles. He does readings via Skype, so is available to anyone.  If it sounds like something that might be helpful to you, drop him a line.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Moving back to Boston

I just wanted to apologize for the upcoming month or two when posts will probably be few and far between. Due to personal reasons and several clear messages from the spirit world, I am moving back to Boston in early August. Over the next few months, most of my time and effort need to be focused on the transition between Jerusalem and Boston. I will try to continue to post regularly, but I suspect that I won't have much time until after the Holidays.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I recently stumbled across the Michael Teachings. As I read through the different archetypes and personality typings, I became very impressed with the system and it's approach to understanding a person's basic personality. Habitually, I began to compare and contrast it with different systems I know and finding the flaws in this system. It was then that I remembered the advice given to me by my mentor John: If it works, use it, if it doesn't, throw it out.

Typologies are ways of making sense of an infinitely complex world. They give us boxes and labels to help us comprehend the world around us. In a western mode of thought, we are always looking for the one true typology. We argue about the merits and values of each system and which is the best.

The truth is that the world is so varied that some typologies are true now while others are true later. Some are true for some people, and some for others. Judaism itself has many ways of dividing up and understanding people, so much so that it would be impossible to say for sure that there is one true set of Jewish typologies.

In the end, John's advice is best. If it's useful, then learn from it. Take what it's offering and use it as a tool for growth. But if it's not useful, don't get hung up on it and try to force it to work, just look for the next thing that can help you grow.

Photo courtesy of Andreas E J

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Processing Fear

There are three facets to using fear for power.

You need to learn to feel/see the fear itself, and not react to it with another emotion - usually sadness or anger. Then you can get used to it so you can identify it in your life. The more time you spend with it, the more you will get desensitized to it so you feel but don't act on it's advice. Finally you feel compassion for yourself for having been so scared and send the fear Love. In that moment, you will reclaim the power of the fear.

Photo courtesy of Dean Ayers

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Does fear of God connect us to God?

This weeks Torah portion contains an interesting and very Jewish way of connecting to God. The background: the Hebrews are wandering in the desert. Miriam has just died and they have run out of water (there are many good midrashim about that connection). The people come to Moshe and Aaron and are complaining bitterly of their thirst.

Numbers 20:6:
ויבא משא ואהרן מפני הקהל אל פתח אהל מועד ויפלו על פניהם וירא כבוד יקוק אלקים: וידבר יקוק אל משה לאמר
Moshe and Aaron came away from in front of the community to the tent of meeting. They fell on their faces and they feared the presence of hashem their God. And God spoke to Moshe saying...

The key phrase here is "feared the presence of hashem their God". There are several ways of understanding this phrase. Either he feared to have the presence of God enter the room, or his fear was the way he connected to God.

Moshe was going through a tough time. His sister had just died. The people he had saved from slavery with miracles and wonders were complaining bitterly that he was now going to let them die in the desert. He did not know what to do. He came to the Tent of Meeting, where he normally would go to talk to God and fell down on his face instead of just walking in. Moshe was fed up and exhausted. He wasn't sure he wanted to talk to God. He was scared of what God might require him to do.

Or maybe he was just scared. He was in the middle of the desert and midrash states that Miriam always dealt with finding water (in corporeal or mystical ways). He was scared that he really had no solution for the people's need for water. And that fear connected him to God even though he was in a place where he felt no connection to God.

God had mercy רחמים on him. He told Moshe to talk to a rock and it would produce water. It was a simple thing to do. But Moshe was so emotionally worked up that when he went to the rock, he struck it with it his staff instead of speaking to it. For this he was prevented from entering the land of Israel. Perhaps God knew that Moshe needed to turn from a crisis leader to a leader of peace, from one who can send plagues to one who can talk for his solutions, but Moshe couldn't make the transition.

When we are emotionally charged, we are full of fear. It can lock us into ourselves and prevent us seeing the world around us. Or we can engage with our fear and use it's energy to grow closer to God.

Photo courtesy of Bootload

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Joseph: the master at just being

We asked while studying this week: why is it that our forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob sacrificed on a regular basis, but Joseph never did? Neither did God speak directly to him, but he did receive messages in the forms of dreams, though they were more metaphors to be interpreted rather than clear words. So what shifted between the first three generations of Jews and the fourth?

My Hevruta asked if God was always with Joseph, so there was no need to build an alter or sacrifice to bring himself closer to God. At that point, I felt the presence of Joseph come into the room and he showed me how he experienced the world.

Joseph was a person who was always open to the flow of energy around him. He could perceive it and used it to make choices that based on where the energy would flow most powerfully. He could perceive it in others and his reactions to them were guided by his energetic perceptions rather than his physical ones. In that sense, God was always with him because he could always perceive God around him and in the world. He had no need to increase the energy around him as he knew that it was always there.

When his brothers threw him in the hole, he didn't fight or run away because he could perceive that it was the correct thing to happen. I imagine he was very puzzled by it, but he went with the flow as he always did.

When Potifar's wife tried to seduce him, he ran because he could see her evil intentions and knew her seduction was a power play rather than an expression of Love. He ran from her because he could see through her.

When he interpreted dreams, he could feel the meanings within them. He could see how the energetics of the dreams matched up with reality.

He was the master of Being. He didn't puzzle about life or try to make things happen. He just went where the flow was strongest. He didn't need to build power to get close to God because he could always perceive God in the world.

Photo courtesy of Joseph Brauer

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

And God arose from upon him

ויעל מעליו אלקים במקום אשר דבר אתו
And God arose from upon him[Yaakov] in the place where he talked with him

Genesis 35:13

This verse occurs at the end of a message Yaacov receives from God, and signifies the end of the message. This is a very interesting way of describing a spiritual experience and union with God. Kabbalah often talk about Ruah Hakodesh (holy wind) that descends upon people and allows them to receive information, but here we only learn about it when it ends. I think that in itself is very common. People often move into an elevated state of consciousness slowly and don't realize how high they've gone until it's over.

The Ramban writes that it was not a prophetic vision or dream alone, but that the Shekinah came to him where he stood, and put him on the path to truth. He cites Genesis 17:22 as another example of this type of experience. We must also ask if the place mentioned is a physical place or a spiritual place or a place within Yaakov?

Yaacov has a great variety of spiritual experiences. He has prophetic dreams, he gets messages directly from God, he wrestles with Angels, and, as seen in this verse, he experiences mystical union with God

The question is where is the place within you where God can connect to you? How can you make the space within yourself to invite God to descend upon you?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wrestling Fear into Transformation

My hevruta Shmuel Shalom Hacohen teaches experiential Torah. It's often difficult to explain what that means, but our study this past week really made it clear to me. It's when studying Torah is not simply the intellectual process of trying to make sense of the text. It's when studying Torah makes sense of one's life. The process of making sense of the text is the process of making sense of one's own life and self. If that process links directly to one's heart, then the study becomes a healing ritual to connect one to God and break through klipot (barriers) and blockages.

The story we studied was Yaacov's first meeting with Esau after years of separation. Yaacov had a lot of fear about the meeting. He'd been told by God to return to the land of his birth, but that meant seeing his brother Esau.  The last time he saw Esau, Esau was swearing to kill him. In Genesis 32:10, Yaacov prays to God that his meeting will go well and expresses many of his fears. What follows is the wonderful story of his wrestling with an angel all night. A close reading of the text will show that this was a night of transformation for him, allowing him to move beyond his fear, beyond his image of himself, and transform the relationship between himself and Esau.

The story begins with Yaacov leaving his camp, at night, with his wives, handmaids, and children. He crosses over the מעבר יבק which literally translates as the "empty passage" or "the passage of desolation". He helps his family to cross a river, but remains behind alone. He is in the midst of his family, but isolated from them. When fear is in control, it separates us from those we love. His family has moved on in the journey, but he remains stuck in his own desolation.

He then struggles with a man until dawn. Another aspect of a person lost in fear is their anger with the world, especially when the fear is about one's personal safety. It doesn't matter who this man is (Gn 32:30), Yaacov would have found a way to fight with him. Had he not been lost in fear, he might have welcomed the man in to talk, but as is, he struggles and fights with him.

It becomes clear that they are evenly matched and so the man touches Yaacov's hip and dislocates it. The man then begs to be freed from the struggle as the dawn is approaching. Yaacov asks for a blessing in return. The man asks for his name. Yaacov, he replies. Yaacov יעקב derives from עקב ekev, or heel. He was named that way because when he was born, he was grasping the heel of his twin Esau. עקב ekev also means footstep. Yaacov had been following in his brother's footsteps his whole life.

The man changes his name to Israel, one who struggles because Yaacov struggled with God and with man and was up to the challenge. Israel, ישראל can also be interpreted as ישר אל straight to God. When the sun rises, he names the place Paniel for here was the place where he saw God face to face (Panim פנים).  On this night of struggle, after injuring himself, Yaacov was finally able to connect directly to God and was no longer trying to imitate his brother.

The result? "He raised his eyes and saw, and there was Esau coming with 400 men" (Gn 33:2). Esau was also clearly expecting a fight. But with his fear no longer in control, Yaacov could truly see Esau and understood that he no longer wanted a fight. By changing himself, Yaacov had changed Esau and their relationship. The work done on himself reflected into Esau and both were changed by Yaacov's night of struggle.

So when Yaacov approached him, he sent his wives and children first, not his fighting men. When the two brothers saw each other, they embraced and cried. Yaacov was truly Israel then - no longer following or fearing his brother, but able to stand as equals and truly love Esau.

This interpretation arose during our Hevruta study. When I was going over my notes later on, I suddenly realized that this was me. I am going to be in the states in a few months and will be seeing an old friend with whom I've had some problems over the past few years. I've been worried about the meeting and trying to figure out how we can avoid fighting. I realized I need to find out what I'm afraid of, experience it for myself, and allow that change to shift my relationship with my old friend. It feels as if most of the change has already happened as a result of this study. This is the essense of experiential Torah study.

Photo courtesy of Docman

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Animal guides

Photo courtesy of Kirklandj

A common question I hear is if Judaism has animal spirit guides or totem animals. There are  references to angels that appear in the form of animals, but the idea of an animal spirit guide is not commonly found in Jewish mysticism. During a Zohar class, we studied a story of two men who went on a journey and were led by an Eagle. It conversed with them and eventually turned into a man who brought them to the heavenly beit midrash (house of study).

I'm not a person who has ever been attracted to animal spirit guides or totems. Most of the souls I encounter are in Human form, if they have a shape. I share this reference in answer to the questions I've received and for those who do interact with spirit animals.

From the Zohar, part III, page 161 bet, parsha Shelah. Translation by my teacher.

He [the spirit guide] turns to them and says, go out from here, you are meritous, you are righteous. They went out. That appointed being gave them each a rose and they went out. When they went out, the door of the cave was closed and couldn't be seen at all.

They saw that Eagle that was coming down from that tree. And he went into another cave. These two they smelled their rose and they entered into there. And they met the Eagle by the opening of the cave, he said to them: “Please come in true righteous ones, friends, because I have not seen the joy of friendship from the day that I'm here. Only with you.”

They entered into the cave. They arrived in another orchard and the Eagle is with them. They found people there studying the Mishna. So then the Eagle transformed into the image of a person in garments of glory shining like them [the masters of the Mishna]. And he is sitting like one of them. He said to those that were sitting there [the two people in the story]. Give honor to these masters of the Mishna who came here because their master has shown them great wonders here.

One of them said, Do you have sign? They said yes, we do. They took out their two roses and smelled them. The masters of the Mishna said “please sit down master of the yeshiva, sit down true righteous ones.” They were happy with them, and they sat down. At that time, they learned there 30 Halachot that they did not know before this, and others secrets of the Torah.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Magic Eight balls and free will

Photo Courtesy of CRASH: candy

Everyone wants a magic eight ball. Ask a question, shake, then get a definitive answer as to what to do. Unfortunately, the world doesn't work that way.

Generally when we ask for spiritual direction, we do not get clear directions from the spirit world. I think it's part of God giving us free-will. If God spoke plainly to us, our only choice would be to do or not do. When we get vague images or half-remembered dreams, it forces us to do the work and make the best choices we can. Our role in this world is not to follow blindly, but to engage and grapple with God. The messages we get can help us along, but it's still up to us to do our work so we can interpret them correctly.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Healing is swimming in the Ocean

 Photo courtesy of Morberg

A patient of mine was late earlier this week. She called me to let me know she was on her way, but running about 20 minutes late. As I waited for her, I began the treatment. I sat at the head of the table and placed my hands where they would be if she were lying on the table. I pictured her in front of me and felt our energy connecting. I felt like I could "see" her whole body  I felt a strange pattern in her neck, which I'd never felt in her before. When she came in 10 minutes later, the first thing she said was that she had slept funny the night before and her neck felt stiff.

When I work on people, my main focus is creating the space in which they can heal. I am not very good at "seeing" everything that is going on in their body, but when the connections are made and the space is created, the healing happens. So it was a little surprising to me that I'd seen her neck problem before she came in.
I realized that the distance between us had allowed me to "see" her problem. Like most feelers, I instantly react to the presence of others. I feel their emotions and energies and immediately start to interact with them when I touch or am in the same space with them. I realized that seeing requires distance, which is why it's so hard for me in the treatment room.

It's the difference between standing on the cliffs and watching the ocean and swimming in the water. While on dry land, you can see the expanse of the water and hear the crash of the waves. But when you are swimming in the ocean, you can feel the cold of the deep and the motion of the waves. The healing happens when you are in the water. The connection between the healer and the patient is what bring the shechina and God into the healing, which allows it all to happen.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Pesach thought: Mishna Pesachim 10:4

The Mishna in Pesachim 10:4 begins with the four questions and then continues:
The father should teach [about the exodus] according to the son's knowledge, wisdom, and ability. You begin in disgrace and end with praise.
The traditional explanation is that one teaches about the disgrace of our slavery and end with the praise of God for bringing us out of Egypt. I think it's more didactic: teach your children according to their ignorance and curiosity. When they are uncomfortable with their ignorance is when learning begins, so find out the things which don't sit right with them about the exodus and about the seder and begin the teaching there.

May you all have wonderful Seders that move from confusion and consternation to praise and connection to God.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Jewish Standing Stone

Photo courtesy of Minipixel

The study of sacrifices brings us to the story of Jacob's dream. The story can be found in Genesis 28:10-22.

To quickly recap the story: Jacob has left home to find a wife in Paddan-aram and left an angry and vengeful Esau behind. He's on his way and, seeing that the sun is about to set, takes a stone from the area and lays his head upon it. That night, he dreams that there is a ladder fixed to earth upon which angels ascend and descend. God stands by his side and promises him that his many descendants will be a blessing to all the nations. God also says that God will protect him be with him where ever he goes.

When he wakes, Jacob lifts the stone upon which he slept into a Matzebah מצבה (pillar), pours oil upon it, and proclaims that this is the house of God and it a Gateway to heaven. Jacob then vows to God that if God protects him, he will accept God as his God and the pillar will be God's house. Furthermore, of all the God gives him, he will tithe 10 percent  to God.

On the pshat (simple) level Jacob had an unexpected spiritual experience, his first, in which he found that God was protecting and standing next to him. He realized that where he slept was a place of power and created a Matzebeh to mark the place. He then makes a vow to God demonstrating that he was changed by the experience.

One central issue in this story is what is a Matzebah? The word derives from the root יצב which means to station oneself or to take a stand, and appears three times during the story.

The first is verse 12 in reference to the ladder that reaches from earth to Heaven: סלם מצב ארצה "the ladder was fixed in the ground". In this case, it means fixed permanently. We learn here that this is a place where there is always a שער השמים a gate of heaven (Gn 28:17). The ladder is not resting on the ground, but it is fixed to the place.

The next occurrence is in the next verse ה' נצב עליו which can be translated as "God is standing upon him" or "God is stationed with him". Again, there is a sense of permanence here. God will always be with him.

The last two occurrences are in relation the rock. In 28:18 it states: וישם אתה מצבה "and he put it (the stone) as a pillar".  In 28:22: והאבן הזאת אשר שמתי הצבה יהיה בית אלקים "And this rock that I put as a pillar will be the house of God". The Brown Driver Briggs translation of Matzebah is a pillar or obelisk or a stone that is anointed as a memorial of a divine appearance.  In addition to that the Matzebah is a special marker that denotes a place where God can always be reached. Then Jacob poured oil upon it, it was a type of sacrifice to proclaim that this was a holy place, a place of power where the gate of heaven is easily accessible.

A מזבח mizbayach is the more common type of Altar that can be moved or built as needed. The Matzebah is determined by it's location and can't be moved.

Bringing this to the present day, I'm left wondering if there are certain places where everyone can connect more easily with God? Or places where individuals can easily connect to God due to a prior history with the place? Or if we need to build some sort of altar when we want to connect, and what that would look like from a modern Jewish perspective? What do people think?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Healing to Face to Face

Image courtesy of joshbousel

Last night I learned a text on Purim from the Shaar Hakavanot by R Luria and R Vital. His explanation for something I commonly experience was quite beautiful and I'll try to explain it here.

What I experience is that on some days the divine energy flows and on some days it just feels like it's inaccessible. It flows in a very cyclic manner. The other thing I experience is a period of deep stillness during my treatments. In craniosacral terms they are known as "still points". The energy in the patient and the room seems to come to a halt as everything slows to a stop. Sometimes they last just moments, sometimes they extend beyond the time I have for the treatment. When things start to move again, it as if everything has "reset" and where there was dysfunction is now health. I always explain it as equivalent to hitting Ctrl-alt-delete in the PC world. But I think the Ari's explanation is a lot more beautiful.

In Lurianic Kabbalism, when God created man during the first creation story, God created man as androgynous, one being containing both male and female, connected back to back. During the second creation, God put the man to a deep sleep דורמיטא and separated the two halves which allowed them to turn around and be face to face.

One way of understanding the effects is to look at how the two beings would relate to each other. Back to back allows no communication and, although they are connected, they aren't having much of a relationship. When they are face to face they can really relate to each, see each other, understand and love each other.

God took a being in a state of dysfunction, caused a still point, and they awoke from sleep in a state of health. My experience in the treatment room models on the same process. I help the client enter a stillpoint at which point God rearranges them into a state of health.

The Ari points out that during Purim, Haman, who was a master Astrologer, knew when the connection between the Jewish people and God would be weakest. It was then that Haman planned to destroy them.

The Ari writes that the human experience of the deep sleep דורמיטא is a time of troubles and difficulties, during which there is very little divine providence. God feels very distant to us, but when the cycle completes and the connections again strengthen, there is much greater health. In the midrash around Purim, it is believed that Esther's son became King and assisted the Jews to return to Israel to build the second temple.

The cycles of divine energy are part of the healing too. This is a beautiful way of understanding the ebb and flow of divine energy in the world, and how that too, pushes us towards healing.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Unbinding of Avraham

Photo Courtesy of Underpuppy (And Rembrandt)

As my study of sacrifices continues, we have come to the Akeda - the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22). Avraham is asked to sacrifice his only child and in return for doing so, he is rewarded with a promise from God that he will have many, many descendants. The paradox is that in his willingness to give up the thing he most cherished, he was able to assure that it would remain.

The story is very well known and studied. God tests Avraham by telling him that he needs to sacrifice his son as an Olah עלה sacrificial offering. Avraham sets off with his son and two servants. He gets to Mount Moriah, binds Isaac, and places him on top of his newly built alter. As he reaches out for the knife to do the sacrifice, an angel calls out to him and tells him to stop. He raises his eyes and sees a ram stuck in a thicket which he sacrifices instead.

To understand the deeper meaning, we need to look at changes that occurred as a result of the Akeda. As Avraham is approaching the mountain, he and Isaac are described as walking as one: וילכו שניהם יחדו (Gn 22:8). After the Akeda, Avraham returns to his servants but we are not told what happened to Isaac. The two never spoke again after that day, and Midrash has it that they departed separately from the mountain. It is certain that they no longer walked as one.

In response to Avraham's actions, God blesses him with "...descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven..." (Gn 22:17) If the separation that occurred between the two led to the blessing of descendants, then the connection between the two was a spiritual blockage that prevented it. As Avraham was the one commanded by God, then the blockage was inside of him.

In Shamanic healing,  most powerful blockages are usually fear. In this case, Avraham's greatest fear was that he would not have descendants (see Gn 15:2). As is the case with all fears, if they have power over us and we work too hard to try to prevent them coming true, that pretty much ensures that they will come true. In order to take back the power from the fear, Avraham had to be willing to give up his what he most wanted. 

When Avraham reaches for the knife he is stopped and looks up to sees a ram. The text reads "וירא הנה איל אחר" And he saw, here was another (a different) ram (Gn 22:13). The text makes a point earlier in Genesis 22:7-8 that there was no animal for the offering, so how can there be "another" at this point? If you remove the Yod from איל (ram) then you are left with El, God. The fear had become so dominant for Avraham that it had become like a God to him. At that moment, he was finally able to see the fear that had been the other god in his life and in sacrificing it, bring himself back to God.

It was the emotional intensity of the moment that freed him. In order to go through the catharsis, he had to believe that he really was going to do it. When I think of ways to bring this idea into the modern world, we must be prepared to give up things that we want in order to make them happen. It's important to note that Avraham's fears revolved around Isaac and not around himself. He was trying to influence something over which he ultimately had no control.

It's a lesson to all parents, that we can hope for our children, but it's best not to be dominated by our expectations and fears for our children. It will only ensure that the fears will come true. If it's in our control, we can work hard and get it. If it's out of our control, we always have to be prepared to let go of it completely.

One final note on symbolism in the text: when Avraham gets to the top of the mountain, he built an alter, laid out the wood, then bound Isaac. Building the alter is how Avraham builds spiritual power and creates connection to God. Laying out the wood is the preparation that went into the act. In order for wood to burn easily as is required for a burnt offering, it needs to be dried for months and sometimes years. It shows that Avraham had already been putting in a lot of hard work before God enabled him to break through the fear.

The last is the actual binding of Isaac. There is a midrash that Isaac asked Avraham to bind him so when the moment came, he did not flinch. When we go to do things of such emotional intensity, we need to bind ourselves to the act so that we don't flinch when the moment comes.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why Shaman? A definition and clarification

Photo courtesy of Akiva

People often ask me why I use the word Shaman. The question usually follows the statement that being Jewish and being a shaman are not compatible and that shamanism is part of Avodah Zarah (Idol worship and therefore forbidden). The term shaman originally referred to tribal healers in Eastern Asia, most probably Mongolia, who definitely held beliefs and performed rituals which would have been considered avodah zarah. However, over the past 50 years as the term Shaman has become more widely used in the west, it's meaning has blurred to such an extent that it no longer really refers to those original tribesmen.

In it's vagueness, Shaman has come to denote a type of person, not a set of beliefs. A shaman is one who interacts with the spirit world. Most Shamans, but not all, use that interaction for healing. The only common belief among all shamans is that there is a physical world and there is a spirit world. The shaman is a person who can access the spirit world. There are beings that exist in the spirit world which can interact with the shaman. Lastly, changes made in the spirit realm effect the physical world so any changes done there are reflected in the physical world.

None of these are incompatible with Judaism or could be called Avodah Zarah. Judaism  believes that there is a physical world and three other worlds above that. Judaism believes that some people are able to transcend the pargod (veil) to enter the spirit world and interact with angels, demons, ghosts, and tzaddikim there (among others) or through practices in this world make contact with those beings (look up the practice of lying on graves of Tzaddikim). Jews believe that these spiritual beings can cause all sorts of blessings or problems in the physical world. Jews also believe that people in this world are capable of making changes in the spiritual realm to heal in this world. Jews commonly ask for blessings from rabbis or brides or anyone who is considered to be in a holy state and can more easily bring down blessings from God.

A shaman is a descriptor of a type of person, not a set of beliefs. That's why I see no problem with using the term Jewish Shamanism for what I do. I use Jewish means to effect changes in the spirit world for healing and that makes me a Jewish Shaman.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One man's trash...

I went to the bank yesterday. I had about 10 minutes between appointments, and I needed to make a deposit. My heart sank when I walked in - the place was mobbed. The banks here are known for their long lines, so by the door is a number dispenser. I pulled out number 481. I looked up and heard them call number 444. I sighed and looked for a seat. At least I could eat my lunch before I had to go.

I sat down and noticed some crumpled papers on the table in front of me. I didn't give them much thought but pulled out my food. I heard them announce 446, then 447 when no one moved. I had another bite. I got curious and smoothed out the papers. It was number 446. I smiled to myself. If I had just looked at the papers first, I would have been able to do my deposit. As it was, I had to come back the next day and wait another half hour to get it done.

Sometimes God does you little favors, it just takes an open mind to notice them.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Home is where your altar is

Photo courtesy of Premasagar

In this post, I will look at how altars are used in Genesis 12 & 13. Avram builds altars to mark places of power, to invoke God's name to help him through difficult situations, and to help him establish a home.

After the Sacrifices in the story of Noah, the next time we encounter them are in Genesis 12:7. God appears to Avram and Avram build an altar to mark the spot. The word for altar is מזבח which derives from the root זבח which means sacrifice or slaughter for sacrifice. An altar in biblical Hebrew is a place where sacrifices happen.

In this case, we are not told if he actually made a sacrifice, but only that he "built there an altar to God". It's interesting that he did not build an altar when God first appeared to him in Ur (Genesis 12:1) and told him to go to Canaan, but only when he arrived there and God showed him the land. In this case, the altar is used as a place marker for a place of power.

There are two general ways of contacting the spiritual world. The first is when the souls or God intrude upon us and they initiate the contact. I don't use intrude in a negative way. The second is when we do some sort of ritual or practice that opens us to the spiritual world. In the traditional metaphor, the first type is that heaven descends upon us and the second is when we ascend. One aspect of places of power in the world is that Heaven is closer to the earth at those points and contact is easier. Avram's altar is marking the place where contact is easier.

The narrative continues and Avram continues to travel through Canaan. He builds another altar when he is in the mountains between Bethel and Ai (Gn 12:8). His innovation here is that instead of a sacrifice, he "invokes the name of God". He has discovered that the name of God is itself powerful and can bring him into the spiritual world. For those of us in the modern world who are averse to animal sacrifice (and I hope most of you are), this has important implications.

It's easy to see his intention for making the altar by looking at the literal translations of his locale (thanks to my chevruta for this insight): Bethel בית אל means the house of God and Ai עי can be translated as destruction or ruin. עי comes from עוה which means distortion or ruin. Avram is in a hard place and doesn't know which direction to go. He sees that one way leads to God and another to ruin, but he's unsure of the path to take so he builds an altar to ask. In the verse immediately following the altar, Avram moves forward on his journey, so clearly he got an answer.

After a brief sojourn in Egypt, Avram returns to the altar and again invokes the name of God. This time, there is strife between his herdsmen and the herdsmen of his nephew Lot. He is looking for a good solution, and invokes the name of God to help lead him to peace between his people and Lot's. Lot goes one way and Avram another.

The last altar in this section is built when Avram moved his tents to Mamre in Hebron. In this case, there is no clear reason given for building an altar. He moves, sets up camp, builds the altar, and then the narrative moves on in another direction entirely. In this case, Avram is setting up his camp and knows that a strong spiritual connection to God is central to creating a good home.

Altars are used in three ways: to mark a place of power, to get direction from God, and to create a home. The commonality is that each use is about creating or noting a connection to God. In the two cases where Avram creates the connection himself, he invokes God's name to do it. This is a little bit different from the next mention of sacrifice in Genesis 15 which involves no altar but cutting animals in half. Stay tuned!