Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mystics, musings, and why #Occupy has no demands.

"Tsimtsum"  - by Jim Davis-Rosenthal
"Life is pretty bleak at the top too.  All of the bobbles of the rich, they're kind of this phony compensation for the loss of what's really important:  the loss of community, the loss of connection, the loss of intimacy, the loss of meaning.  Everybody wants to live a life of meaning.  But today we live in a money economy, where we don't really depend on the gifts of anybody.  We buy everything.  Therefore we don't really need anybody.  Whoever grew my food or made my clothes or built my house, well, if they died or I alienate them, if they don't like me, that's OK.  I can just pay somebody else to do it.    It's really hard to create community if the underlying knowledge is, 'we don't need each other.'"   ~ You Can't Evict an Idea

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Yesterday my friend Cathy Wiken shared an #Occupy movement video (embedded below), "You Can't Evict an Idea," by economist Charles Eisenstein. My friend was raised in a conservative household in a conservative town, and she is still very much a conservative. But she is also an expansive thinker, and she can see past labels. The video reached her in a place of higher humanity - a place that transcends politics and ideology and talks to us about what is becoming of our world in terms of human experience. Regardless of one's politics, it is impossible not to be moved by the slide of our global community into economic decline and therefore human impoverishment in all its multiple manifestations.

Today is the Jewish Sabbath. The Sabbath - Shabbat - was God's way of urging us to regularly step back from the rush of our lives across the fulcrum from birth to death, to ask ourselves if the path we are taking to that eventuality is the one we want to be on.  This Shabbat, I feel grateful to Cathy for giving me pause to think about our greater purposes, to ask myself whether I am contributing.

So, Cathy, this blog is for you.  I want to share with you - a non-Jew - the Jewish mystical view of the human condition, of why we are here.  And crazy enough, I want to connect the deeper urges of the #Occupy movement with a longing to act upon the oldest and most sacred obligation of humankind.

To put this in context: I worry about the power of language to shape our reality, and in fact to lead to the ultimate destruction of society.  Jewish mystics would likely not be surprised if the world's end is facilitated through the power of words. Such is simply the logical flip side of this Jewish belief:  the word is so powerful that God created the universe by speaking it into existence.  We are all familiar with the fable where a woman's cruel words have scattered like scrap paper to the winds; there is no way she can reclaim them to undo the damage caused. Words are not simply mouth noises controlled into formulaic emissions. They are powerful tools of construction and destruction.

Today's political parties and their operatives are experts at the use of language. Specifically crafted language, slogans and framing are artfully employed to manipulate opinions. The best arts, science and tools that marketers and demographers have to offer help us agree on policies that sometimes stand directly in opposition to what is good for us, and for humanity generally. Plenty of research has explored the reasons why people often support social policies that appear to be contrary to their own interests. While academically this is all very interesting, practically speaking we have endless examples of the destructive outcomes from using language manipulation for political power and control.  Outcomes ranging from national paralysis in the face of economic disaster to jihad to genocide.

What if we could somehow strip away all the lingo? What if we could strip away the anger and disagreements that tear us apart as a nation, and as cultures fighting over a planet? What if we could shed the stylized, formulaic and strident speech imposed upon us by those in power, rhetoric that allows for little conversation or disagreement?

"Anything people can articulate can only be articulated within the language of the current political discourse, and that entire political discourse is already too small. And that's why making explicit demands kind of reduces the [#Occupy] movement and takes the heart out of it. It's a real paradox. I think the movement understands that." ~ video "You Can't Evict an Idea"

If we strip away the rhetoric, the demands, aren't we likely to find underneath it all that we are all much the same? That we are all, more or less, simply yearning for the opportunity to get by in peace, to do our best to be good family members, neighbors, community members? To self-fulfill through relationships and finding purpose and meaning in our work? Oh sure, we come from different cultures and celebrate different holidays, but how is it that we are different, really? At base, we are human animals. What gives us the illusion of difference is our verbal insistence that we are. Why cling to these verbal representations past the point of sanity?

I'm not suggesting that we return to the melting pot, trying to assimilate the black and the brown and the foreign and the native into the majority culture as though all vanilla all the time is better than 31 flavors.

Instead, I'm asking whether we might do more justice if we could shed the human-contrived definitions of truth, definitions keeping us perpetually angry at one-another for failing to see it my way. I'm asking whether we might do more justice if we come at our earthly problems from a sacred place, a universal place, a place that employs rhetoric of healing and wholeness, from which we could begin to work things out among us.

Jewish mysticism has a metaphoric explanation for our world that goes roughly like this (I am about to way oversimplify here for the sake of getting a point across):

God was always everywhere and took up all the "room" in the universe and beyond, and in fact is the universe, or rather the universe is part of the everything that is God...

Then it arose in the Divine will - e.g. God decided it was time - to create our finite Universe. To differentiate some of God's being into us. There are some who say God was lonely and others who say the Universe is simply the evolution of God's will over time.

In order for the finite Universe to be created, God is said to have 'constricted' God's self or pulled inward (in Hebrew, tsimtsum), and then re-expressed outward, resulting in the creation of a "first" Adam (adam is Hebrew for earth), a prototype, if you will. Some say the constriction was to 'make room' for the finite.

A series of these constrictions followed by re-expressions is said to have lead to the creation of our finite world. It's a hard idea to follow. I like to think of a metaphor where a baby is born through a series of contractions, each of which pushes the baby closer to its birth. The finite world in this view could be said to have been pushed through a series of heavenly "contractions" into being.

Like a baby is not yet an adult, this heavenly birthing exercise did not complete our finite world.

It is said that during these holy contractions, if you will, God's holy light, the force or energy necessary to propel and complete the finite world, had to be gathered. I guess another way to say this is that, prior to this gathering of light/energy, one might think of God as undifferentiated holiness.  To create something as uniquely differentiated as our finite world required God's energy and holiness to be corralled.  It was corralled into ten "vessels" representing ten attributes of God that must have been necessary to the creation. I do not pretend to know exactly what is meant by the word vessel, for while you would think that God's energy could not be contained by anything like a ceramic vessel, on the other hand, the finite world IS made of destructible materials like board and brick and flesh and bone. SO apparently these vessels were destructible. In fact, the light pouring into these "vessels" was so intense and the energy so strong that the vessels did shatter. God's energies remained "above" (in the heavenly realm?) but the vessels exploded into pieces.  Permeated by holy light, the vessels' shards scattered about our newly formed world like so much sacred shrapnel.

The Jewish mystics say that these ten attributes of Divine energy now infused into shards, must, for the completion of God's creation - our world - now be collected and reclaimed by we sons and daughters of Adam.

Are we here to collect the shattered pieces, or are the shattered pieces here so that we may collect them?

Because everything is by Holy design, we can surmise that the infusing of the vessels with holy light and energy, and their breaking and scattering, was not accidental. Our world was intentionally broken into tohu, or chaos, shaping our existence here.  The mystics say that our job on earth - our reason d'etra if you will - is to collect the shattered pieces of vessel, and "lift them back to holiness." Lifting each piece to holiness will in some way complete the human connection with the Almighty, and will help to finish creating and making holy - you could say "healing" - our broken, unfinished, finite world.  My apologies to any Kabbalists who find themselves shaking their heads, muttering "that's a vast oversimplification."  Well, yes.

What is involved in "lifting the shards"?   To find and lift the shards, we must learn to recognize the pieces of the vessel when we see them. These pieces are not actual shards laying around like pottery. Rather, they are the opportunities for interaction with one-another, with the earth, with God. How will we treat these relational opportunities? With anger? With kindness? With impatience? With arrogance?With mercy? With selfishness? With empathy and compassion?

If we choose to live our lives in a way that promotes healing and wholeness, then we sanctify the shards. If we choose to live our lives in a way that promotes only self-aggrandizement, selfishness, the destruction of "the other," then we miss an entire lifetime of opportunity to help finish God's creation.

I'm pretty far away from my original proposition about the #Occupy movement, so let me bring this back to where I started.

"This movement isn't about the 99% defeating or toppling the one percent.  You know the next chapter of that story, that the 99% create a new one percent.  That's not what it's about.  What we want to create is the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible, a sacred world, a world that works for everybody, a world that is healing, a world of peace.  You can't just say, 'We demand a world of peace..."  ~ "You Can't Evict an Idea"

I truly believe that the political rhetoric and labels and framing and slogans are keeping us from sanctifying the shards. That the rhetoric and formulaic ideologies keep us from seeing the holiness in the relationship opportunities we have - with each other, with the earth we were given to live on, with God, Him(Her)self. I believe God wants us to get out from under the rhetoric and see our relationships as opportunities to bring God's energy back into alignment and finish this holy creation. To heal and finish making whole.

Ideologues are people who can only see the world in one way and would discard everything and everybody who does not fit this limited vision or agree to conform. Ideologies - like communism or capitalism, either one - are just man-made theories that ask us to believe there is only one way to put the vessels back together. But these are human blueprints, and they fall short of offering a way to put God-made vessels back together. Human ideologies are not encompassing enough, any of them, to be a blueprint for a Holy creation.

One of the reasons I love the #Occupy movement is because it is self-organizing. By that, I mean that in its emergence, it is following its instincts rather than any ideology. In fact is refusing to be co-opted by ideologues. While embracing all who wish to help or join, it has refused to adopt or become a tool for a single perspective. It has refused It has refused the Obama-ites. It has refused to wear the union label. Refusing these labels, refusing to grant these formalized organizations a place of leadership, creates room to follow our God-given human instincts.

Some of these instincts will be base. The media likes to point its cameras to the basest parts of humanity. But some of its instincts will be holy - or you could say "transcendent."  By refusing a single ideology, #Occupy asks us to look into the deepest parts of ourselves, beneath the many unholy grails that pervade our media, into our souls. To reconnect with our deepest sense of humanity. And to lift up what we find there out into the light of day. To become something better, more humane, more giving and therefore more sacred.

And if that's not why we're here on earth, I really don't know what else God might have intended.

"You have necessary and important  gifts to more and more people wake up to the truth, that we're here to give, wake up to that desire, to the understanding that the other way isn't working anyway, the more reinforcement we have from people around us, this isn't crazy, this makes sense, that this is how to live, and as we get that reinforcement then our minds and our logic no longer have to fight against the logic of the heart which wants us to be of service.....An economist says that essentially more for you is less for me, but the lover knows that more for you is more for me too."  ~ "You Can't Evict an Idea"


  1. Sandy,
    I'm so honored that you dedicated this blog to me.
    I was definitely not one to get on board with the OWS, but once I saw this particular video I thought how I wished they had expressed themselves in a more spiritual way.
    As we talked last night, and after reading what you shared about the Jewish mystic's beliefs, I could finally put into words what the OWS was really about. I actually don't think a lot of them know what they are standing for. And, that isn't meant in a negative way, rather it's meant to say they are actually speaking of a conscious shift in our world. They don't realize they're speaking of love, honesty, humanity - everyone being one.
    I find this exciting because this is what was suppose to have taken place. These people are open to the shift and some don't even know it. I just can't help but smile at all of this.
    I'll be writing more on my FB wall, with this blog attached. I have to put all these thoughts together.
    Thank you so much for dedicating this to me. I'm truly appreciative because you were one of the few who obviously understood much of what I speak of when I get into deep discussion with my friends.

  2. Cathy, do you remember me saying I wanted to send you a book? I still don't know what happened to the book, but the woman who wrote it, Martha Beck, also talks about "the shift" that's going to take place. I think maybe the 99% who feel what the video narrator feels maybe can't even articulate this sentiment because - as he says - it's not part of the political narrative we use right now - and as you say, it's a spiritual narrative. I'm so glad we've connected around this topic. Not something I get to talk to too many people about. ;)

  3. I am the artist who created the image you've included above. I like your posting and your description of the process of tsimtsum is lovely--and I like that you are keeping the teaching relevant through its connection to Occupy.

    All best,

    Jim Davis Rosenthal

  4. Jim, not sure how you got here, but... I'm so glad you feel I've honored your art work by connecting it to my ideas. I'm curious to know how you found your way here - am very glad! And, where can we see the rest of your work? Do you have a web site?