Monday, May 16, 2011

Transformation Through Non-Being

Sefirat Ha'omer, Part V
By Shimona Tzukernik

I'm So 'Umble

Do you remember Uriah Heep? He's the arrogant creep in David Copperfield who consistently proclaims, "I'm so 'umble!" He captures our imagination because the struggle to rid ourselves of ego and self-consciousness is fraught with challenge and contradiction. You don't simply slam-dunk the ego through a bottomless basket, out-of-site, out-of-mind so to speak. And if by some miracle you do, you're likely to be beat in the game by a more refined ego that just can't get over how successful you are.

The struggle is as old as the first Friday of the world's existence. Adam and Eve ate from the tree and the world was forever changed. Innocence and absence of awareness of self were abruptly exchanged for ego-driven living where we watch ourselves and others, watch them watch us, and on and on in an ever deepening whirlpool of angst. In the post Tree of Knowledge reality, our ego leaves us feeling isolated from the Oneness of existence and from others, often scheming, and always yearning to regain that state of simply being.

But we can't shy away from the challenge because being "'umble" encapsulates the purpose of existence. We are asked to pierce through the curtain of cosmic amnesia and reveal – first and foremost to ourselves – that ego is a delusion. The raison d'ĂȘtre of creation is that we discard the false and acquired consciousness we imbibed with that first bite, thereby regaining access to reality as it truly is – entirely one with G‑d.

The fifth of the emotional abilities of the soul is called Hod, or "glory," and it's all about humility. It's about experiencing the glory of the other; being one with the Source; ridding ourselves of false notions of the way things are.

The name is etymologically related to three other Hebrew words. The first is modeh, and means "admission." The second is todah which connotes "gratitude," and the third hoda'ah, or "praise." As we will see, each of these is deeply connected to the notion of selflessness embodied by Hod.

The Power of Non-Being

Contrary to Uriah Heep's bloating himself up with proclamations of humility, it is really the ability to be small that truly makes us great. Our base self believes we have power when we are ego-present. The more solid our ego, the more likely we are to push ahead and succeed in the world! However, true power comes from what the mystics call ayin, "nothingness." It is at the moment that we get our ego out of the way that we can begin to plummet the depths of who we really are.

This nothingness is not the "absence of all else." Rather it is the existence of an idea or entity as it stands in its source in a state of no-thing. At that place, deep in the source, everything that is yet to manifest from it is non-recognizable. It doesn't yet exist in an individuated way.

Take for example the flames that rise from coals. I sit by the fireside and watch them emerge and sway. They are flames, not coals, albeit that they come from within the coals. Yet if I were to cut a coal open, I'd find glowing carbon. I can actually see the heat that generates the flame energy but there, within the actual coal, there is no flame. The flame exists independently once it emerges but not so within its source.

A deeper analogy of this notion of something losing identity when it unites with its source is that of the sweetness in an apple. I bite into one. I taste its sweetness. Yet when I cut it, I find no evidence for what my taste-buds experience. Even if you were to say to me, "Well of course! Taste is aural and sight visual!" I'd challenge you to try identifying where exactly in that apple the sweetness originates. In the sugars? Where in the sugar?! In which molecules? You've got C6H12O6.. Is it in the carbon? The hydrogen? Oxygen? You get what I'm saying. We can't point to where it originates not because we can't see it but because at that point, the sweetness exists in such an essential kind of way that it loses its individual identity.

Take this one layer down. Think for a moment of a flintstone. I'd contend that they've rivaled diamonds in their usefulness to humankind. These lumpy looking rocks have the appearance of greased glass when cut open, and prior to the invention of the match had been used to start fires around the world and across time. Tinder boxes were the match boxes of their day, generating sparks and fires from rock. So much for the similarity. But a flintstone is a far cry from a coal. In the latter, there's at least some visual evidence of the flame that emerges. Entirely not so in the stone. It's cold and grey. Yet embedded within is a hot and red spark. That spark is the very opposite of the rock. It exists there but so hidden in the source that there's not way to identify it.
Each of the three analogies illustrates the notion that the more something is united with its source, the more it disappears. Each affords us a mental glimpse of the subtlety and layers of the disappearance act.
The same thing applies at all levels of reality. Matter emerges from spirit but you'd be hard-pressed to find it there.
Similarly within our own souls. A simple definition of the ten powers of the soul is that they are a progressive and ever more individuated manifestation of its core beingness. Our ability to conceptualize1 is the most refined of the conscious dimensions of the soul. Its movement into our capacity to analyze2, and then subsequently into the talent to internalize information3 is at each stage a process of "materialization."

At each level, a more refined existence descends into a more material realm. Each lower soul power can be identified once it separates from its source yet if you'd "cut open" the higher soul power, you'd not find the lower one there. It's not that it doesn't exist in the source. It does. However there it exists in a way of non-being.

What's It Got To Do With Me?

So much for the philosophy! What does this have to do with our lives?

Getting in to the space of Hod will change it dramatically. In our source, we can be anything we desire. Because our essence contains all of who we are, when we touch it, we have the ability to manifest as whatever we choose, at any given moment. We're not locked in to one way of being. We no longer have to think of ourselves with any specific label or identity.

In our essence we are both daughter, friend, CEO, comedienne, philosopher. We are all ways of knowing, and all feelings – love, awe, compassion. We are sitting stillness and dynamic action. There where we are no-thing we are everything. Precisely in the place of non-attachment we become infinite.

If you live your life from the place of who you are at a revealed level, you'll find yourself on a rollercoaster. You never truly touch who you are or satisfy your deepest urges. Whatever soul or psycho or physical fix you feed your revealed self, at some point you'll need to move on to the next ism or sweet tasting delicacy. That's because the individuated manifestations of who we are, are limited entities. They themselves come and go, how much more so their objects of desire. Deeper, feeding ourselves at that level can't provide eternal solutions because it never really gets to our core. So the core essential self keeps on looking for what it needs as it rollercoasts along.

If you're in touch with your essence however, you don't "outgrow" the blessings life brings. When you come from non-being, which in truth is all-being, anything you encounter is informed by eternity. It expands by virtue of where you're coming at it from. In turn, you're more receptive to the world. Your experiences can now feed back in to your innermost point and nourish the soul.

Certainly we're not meant to remain in our source. The fire within the flintstone must be brought to revelation. Conversely though, we have to be able to retrace who we are to our personal ground-zero. We must have access to our inner essence.

Take for example our love for G‑d. It cannot remain in the heart. At the same time, it cannot be limited to externals. Love that is dependent on anything will die. True love is not because it doesn't take on any form connected to the revealed self. When you love G‑d in this way, you can bring that love in to any form you choose. You can love your parent, spouse, child; you can love the sound of the shofar, the taste of matzah. You can even love mangos and jazz. You're infinite and free.

And when you need to, you can feel the opposite feeling. You can respect, condemn something, push forward or pull back, whatever's called for in the moment. Your whole existence becomes a manifestation of the oneness that you are at your core.

Stepping It

How are we to access this place inside of us? How do we risk becoming a no-thing?!

Between the false sense of "I-am" and true awareness that "I am no-thing other than a part of G‑d," lies the danger of falling apart. It's not for naught that we're taught that of four sages who entered the orchard of the Torah, including its highest and most mystical dimensions, only Rabbi Akiva emerged whole and in peace. As we let go of delusion, we are fragile.

It's a Catch Twenty-two. At some level, you can't let go of falseness until you're connected to the essence. But you can't access the essence until you relinquish your false beliefs and the idol of ego.

The problem itself though speaks of the solution. In order to really want to break through and strip the ego of its delusions, you have to have already had contact with your core. It's only because of the fact that deep within you already have all you need in your essential self that you can step out and tackle the task at hand. The first step is to acknowledge that. Do that both to yourself and to G‑d. Then be quiet, try to eliminate the mental static that keeps you out of touch with your true self. The acknowledgement and silence carry you inside.

It's also vital to recognize that the answer lies not only within but also without. The "without" I'm talking of is the Torah. Our sages describe the Torah as G‑d's mind and desire, His wisdom and will. And whereas, as we have been talking, we are distinct from our thoughts or feelings, G‑d by contrast is One. Consequently, His essence permeates the entirety of the Torah. When we learn and understand something of the Torah, we are taking hold of our Creator!

The practical implication is that even if you're having a really down day, stuck in the bits and pieces of existence with no access to your core, all is not lost. You can still re-enter your Divine space through the doorway of the Torah. Although the Torah "descends" through every level of reality seemingly moving away from G‑d's "essence" and "core," it is forever bound with the Creator and thereby an infinite Tree of Life.

Whether you're a sophisticated Uriah Heep who's whole reality is based on falseness and delusion, or whether you've never contemplated playing the 'umility game, all is not lost. You do have the ability to allow the idol of selfhood and independence to die because you already have the truth within. Couple that with the access you have to carry existence beyond through the study of Torah and you're well on your way to living from the inside out.

Bringing it Home

How though does all we have said apply to the concepts of admission, gratitude and praise we mentioned at the outset?

Admission is owning up to the truth. It's walking away from a lie. Admitting to G‑d by way of example means this: G‑d says, "I am the only True Existence." We by contrast say, "There is nothing other than ME. I and nothing else exists!" To admit to G‑d means I walk away from the lie of ego.

How can you admit to G‑d that you don't exist? Only when you're in touch with the very deepest level of who you are. Only when you access the part of you that is itself a part of G‑d, and is therefore not dependent on anything, can you make that kind of admission. You can destroy your whole consciousness with that understanding. That's not to say recklessly but in a holy way – you deconstruct the lie about how you've lived and admit to G‑d you don't exist. Then just as oil permeates all it comes in contact with, you essence will permeate all your existence.

At the interpersonal level it means you have no problem to say, "You're right."

Take a marriage for example. You ask your spouse a hundred times to close the seltzer bottle – to no avail. The hurt that follows is primarily an interpretation of what that means. Even more central to the argument though is your sense of what your spouse should be doing. Real admission means you no longer impose your perspective on someone else. You admit that maybe you're wrong, maybe there's another way to do things (seltzer bottles aside.)

This is possible only if you have a point of no-thingness to draw from. There you are no longer limited to your nature, your temperament, your soul-structure. You are in essence, unlocked in to form, and capable of manifesting in any way. That means it's seamless for you to say, "I'm sorry. I was wrong."

Gratitude parallels this dynamic. To say, "Thank you," to really say it, requires that you relinquish your ego. The ego thinks, "If I say thank you, then I'm a nothing." Have you ever noticed that some people can't bring themselves to say the words? They'll say, "That was nice of you," or something similar. But not, "Thank you." Because saying so requires Hod. It's not even the same as, "Thanks." The former puts you in relation to the other in a position of vulnerability. The ego hates that!

If you're coming from the consciousness of non-being however, you can afford to receive from another person. You're no longer threatened, no-one can destroy you, another's success or generosity can never detract from you. Hod in this way allows for true abundance mentality. The humility frees you up to be happy for another person's ability to give. It allows you to truly say, "Thank you."

The same principle applies to praise. Just as with admission and gratitude, to truly praise someone requires nullification of the ego. This is evident in the underpinnings of praise. First off, it is from a state of humility that you are able to sense the other's greatness. You're not focused on yourself but on the other person. Deeper than that, a non-ego state of consciousness allows you to gain access to what's really beyond you because you're no longer in the way! From there you can begin to experience true wonder, and come to the highest form of praise.

In the old word order, the exile mentality, "big" used to matter. Now, as the world is becoming more refined and is able to climb back up the ladder of cosmic progression, we are able to be small again. Our smallness is a non-being state that empowers us to be infinite. Only when we can be small can we truly connect to others and admit when we are wrong, express our gratitude and offer praise. Which is why in the new world order, small is the new big.

This article was based on a conversation with my teacher, R' Y. Y. Kesselman.

1. Chochma, or "wisdom"

2. Bina, or "understanding"

3. Da'at, or "knowledge"

This article was originally posted on

1 comment:

Reisha said...

Dear Shimona,

I hope all is well with you. I am always so excited to get your emails in my inbox. Your writing skills are brilliant, and the knowledge that you share is always inspiring and very deep. I do not always get it right away, but eventually the message sinks in and I feel empowered and uplifted.

all the best,

Reisha from MTL

p.s I hope you had a "luminous" Lag Baomer