Kabbalah, Beyond the Self: Discovering God Within the Struggle
The following two sentences were written by Arthur Green, one of todayʼs most respected teachers of Jewish mysticism, in his book EHYEN: A Kabbalah For Tomorrow.
“This God knows us because our struggle to integrate love and judgment is not ours alone, but the reflection of a cosmic struggle. The inner structure of our psychic life is the hidden structure of the universe; it is because of this that we can come to know God by the path of inward contemplation and true self-knowledge.”
Far from a mere intellectual grasp of the meaning, Greenʼs words threw a wrench into the workings of my mind and I experienced a moment of spontaneous insight into Godʼs completeness within the fragments of my own life. A shocking harmony reverberated between my heart and mind (love and judgement, Gedullah and Gevurah) and an inner stillness enveloped me. It seemed as though my whole being woke up with the bold truth of Greenʼs statement.
If our human struggles are the very ground and means through which we can find God and through which God can find us, then our psychological struggle ceases when we know God. We begin to see with the eyes of our heart into the non physical or transcendental realm of Kabbalah and the mystical traditions. Green succeeds in cutting through centuries of mistaken cultural and religious identities that regularly obscure our immediate relationship with God. He awakens us to the reality that we are God, and that through our struggles, we are held in a sacred covenant within that reality — irrevocably and completely.
Experiences of “reality beyond the self” have been a regular “intrusion” into my ordinary consciousness. It has been an ongoing challenge to know how to skillfully incorporate these experiences into the ordinary consciousness of my everyday life. Ordinary consciousness is just that — ordinary. As such, it includes the cultural and familial conditioning that fosters the “us and them” mentality of differentiation. The centrality of “me” eventually leads to clear definitions of “us” and “them.” Over time, this can easily lead to a personal identity that relates to other “identities.” Our skills of differentiation and judgement are quickly supported and validated within the culture. If we relate to God in this way, as an “identity” outside of self, as many religions do, then we inevitably distance ourselves from God. God is limited to a mental concept rather than a lived experience in the mystical sense that Green speaks of.
The following experiences, although varied through different ages, have all contributed to my overwhelming acknowledgement of communion with another reality and/or another way of being in the world. All of these experiences have involved struggle in one way or another and they have vastly expanded my self-knowledge beyond my ordinary understanding. At times the physicality and directness of my experiences have been frightening because the “ordinary I” is simply not featured.
Over the years, I have frequently had the sense that I am being guided and taught through a deeper understanding then I had reason to have. Often in a rather formless way, I could feel the Truth within my body as a sort deep calling. I have therefore found it reassuring when various teachings validated my undeveloped understanding. Kabbalah is one such teaching.
Rabbi Laura Kaplan describes Kabbalah in one sentence: “Everything in this world and every other points beyond itself.” (2) I hear these words with a good measure of relief because the burden of a conflicted “self,” reinforced by a well developed judge, is incapable of pointing anywhere but to itself. In the crowded quarters of personal struggle there is little room for movement beyond a personal pre-understanding. (For a complete reading of this 2008 paper, please visit https://lauramadsen.ca/papers/ and scroll down!)