All posts tagged as kabbalah

28 May

Holy Aloneness

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / May 28, 2011 / 16 Comments

 

 

This month’s poetic interconnection is a personal one.

I’ve spent my last six months sharing a loft in an urban setting. The apartment is spacious but, being a loft, it’s one unbroken space. There is no privacy. The area is hip but, being downtown, it’s bustling. There is no quiet.

A challenging experience for a creative artist: a lack of privacy and quiet within which to create. All composition, analysis, experimentation, evolution, frustration, elation, and repetition occurring within direct eyeshot and earshot of a housemate, and always accompanied by the roar of traffic and the chatter of passersby.

I’ve answered this challenge by pressing pause on myself, my creative flow held back and pooling inside as I’ve grown more and more hungry for time alone, crisp air, and trees nearby.

Ancient Kabbalists wrote about our often unrecognized need for hitbodedut—’holy aloneness’. We live our days surrounded by other people and the bustle of commerce, our time given to practical tasks. Our spiritual need becomes easily neglected. To answer this need, Rabbis suggested retiring into nature at dusk, after our day’s work. There, alone, we can approach God, unhampered by inhibition or obligation. Our prayer can be intimate, spontaneous, and uncensored. It can be raw. We can catch the divine flow, the source of creative inspiration. We can perceive our potential—press play, roll tape, and jam.

 

 

There’s a scientific analogue here. Did you know that at quantum scales our universe behaves differently when it’s observed than when it’s left alone? When observed, subatomic entities act like classical particles, tightly packed balls of energy moving discretely from place to place. But between measurements, unobserved, quanta leave evidence of behaving more like waves. Particles loosen, smearing out into streams of potential energy. The streams stretch out infinitely across our universe.

Only when they’re left alone do subatomic particles relax and express their full potential, languid and boundless. Apparently, even our physical universe needs hitbodedut.

I’m well overdue for some.

A creative person spits out their internal experience as art. This blog post is a hard-won work: a confession, and a cry for help. Something’s gotta give.

Can you relate?

Comments welcome.

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14 Apr

Mystery of Metamorphosis

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / April 14, 2011 / 8 Comments

 

The Mystery of Metamorphosis

 

Last month my friends at Chelsea Green Publishing sent me a fascinating new book by Frank Ryan called The Mystery of Metamorphosis; A Scientific Detective Story. I whipped through it in a couple evenings, rapt. Tonight I finally found time to blog about it.

In the book’s prologue, the author defines metamorphosis as "…the dramatic transformation of one being into another." The classic example of this phenomenon is a caterpillar’s conversion into a butterfly. The process is threefold. First, the caterpillar builds its cocoon. Then, inside, it liquifies, losing any recognizable form. Finally, from this organic soup, a wholly new creature emerges: the butterfly.

It’s miraculous. The caterpillar dies and is born again—more beautiful, and able to fly.

Poetic interconnections abound… Our spiritual traditions describe a similar process of withdrawl, breakdown, and renewal. The most widely known, of course, is the Christian myth of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Christ walks the earth mortal, dies for three days, and rises out of his tomb, divine. He transforms, transfigures. His story is one of metamorphosis.

In Buddhism, Siddhartha Guatama wanders the countryside seeking wisdom, falls into meditative trance sitting under the Bo tree, and awakens enlightened. Once a seeker of truth, he becomes its embodiment—the Buddha. His story is also akin to a metamorphosis.

The creation myth in Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, describes a threefold metamorphic process. It begins with tsimtsum, which literally translates as ‘withdrawl.’ Here, God withdraws His infinite self to allow a space for our world to exist. Next comes shevirah—’shattering.’ Inside the space cleared for the world, the machinery of creation is overwhelmed by God’s energy and breaks into pieces, losing its previous form. Finally comes tikkun—repair. This occurs when the broken pieces are recognized, redeemed, and reformed. The divinity of the world is restored.

Again, this is metamorphosis—transformation from one thing into something higher.

Almost ten years ago now I experienced my own metamorphosis, which led directly to the existence of this blog. I left my life as a professional musician in Los Angeles, packed my possessions into storage, and withdrew into three years of solitude introspecting and studying mysticisms and science. I reemerged happier, healthier, and more expansive. I often feel as though I transformed from one being into another.

Have you experienced a metamorphosis in your life?

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15 Oct

Good, Evil, and Evolution

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / October 15, 2009 / 18 Comments

Sunday I had the honor and pleasure of speaking at an “Artist Beit Midrash” presented by Jewish Artists Initiative in Los Angeles, CA. Traditionally, a Beit Midrash is a study group in which weekly Torah readings are mined for deeper meanings. This group was unique in that it centered on a general theme instead of a chapter of scripture. That theme was the Jewish doctrine of Yetzer HaTov and Yetzer HaRa—the good and evil inclinations in the human soul.

Are human beings fundamentally good or essentially evil? Jewish philosophy proposes we’re both, observing that we seem to possess equal potential for doing right and wrong. In classical Judaism, the Yetzer HaTov is analogous to an angel on our shoulder reminding us to obey God’s law; the Yetzer HaRa is like the devil on our other shoulder urging us to break it. Our work, classically considered, is to side with our angels.

From a more spiritual perspective, our good inclination can be thought of as a tendency toward altruism: prioritizing our community, environment, and sense of God over our immediate self-interest. Our evil inclination can be thought of as a tendency toward greed: pursuing self-gratification even at the expense of the people, ecosystems, and divine energies that surround and support us.

Spiritually speaking, our work is to accept both our good and evil inclinations—and to keep them in equilibrium. Judaism asks that we balance the self-concern necessary to honor our God-given individuality with the social, environmental, and spiritual conscience needed to love and sustain the world.

Nature asks a similar effort of all its creatures.

Evolutionary biology theorizes that those of us best suited to our natural environment survive and reproduce, passing our genes to subsequent generations. If we don’t fit well with our surroundings, we can become better adapted using two approaches: competition and cooperation. Competition requires us to become more powerful than those around us also striving for food, shelter, etc. The predator with the sharpest teeth wins; the prey with the fastest legs also wins. Cooperation requires us to become more sociable with those whom we share a habitat. Here, whoever partners best wins: bee and flower, algae and coral, etc.

 

 

It seems to me that the energy of competition is analogous to Yetzer HaRa and the energy of cooperation to Yetzer HaTov. In nature, either inclination pushed to its extreme can cause a creature to ruin itself, its community, and/or its environment. Only a dynamic balance of self-concern and care of others, rivalry and mutualism, creates an environment in which we can evolve, and keep evolving.

So… Since the 16th century, religion and science have been competing for a vital title: Truth. Many people believe these two ways of interpreting our world can’t ever be harmonized. This blog exists to point out commonality-after-commonality between spirituality and science, begging this question: After centuries of competition, isn’t it time we consider some cooperation?

Your comments welcome.

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13 Sep

Kabbalah and Einstein lecture Sept. 26, 2009

In News by poeticinterconnections / September 13, 2009 / 1 Comment

What do Jewish mysticism and the physics of Albert Einstein have in common?

Kabbalah teaches that sparks of God’s light are hidden deep within us and every other created thing. Einstein’s seminal equation E=mc² says every seemingly solid particle in our universe is actually pure energy. The correspondence is unexpected and intriguing… This lecture by Adam Daniel explores God, soul, and science, inviting students to recognize the infinite creative potential inherent in themselves, and in everything.

Saturday September 26, 2009, 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM
The Enlightened Path Center
74-140 El Paseo, Suite 1
Palm Desert, CA 92260
Admission: $20.00

More information is posted at this blog’s Events page.

Hope to see you there!

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22 Jul

Pillars of Creation

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / July 22, 2009 / 3 Comments

One of this blog’s first posts, Indra’s Net and the IGM, described a surprising correspondence between Mahayana Buddhist myth and actual findings in cutting-edge cosmology—the branch of physics exploring the creation of our universe. The post ended with this question: What happens when metaphors become measurables?

Subsequent posts have also explored the implications of modern science seeming to agree with ancient spirituality. Are these simply poetic interconnections, or might creative intuition deserve the same practical respect we give objective observation in decoding our world?

Today I found a particularly enchanting example of this question:

In Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, God is described as having 10 characteristics. These characteristics are called sefirot—Hebrew for ‘jewels’. The sefirot are arranged in three vertical pillars, as illustrated in this diagram, courtesy of Sunrise magazine:



sefirot




As indicated in the diagram, the three pillars have names: Mercy, Judgment, and Harmony. In creation, these become stations through which God’s generative energy travels as it descends from heaven to Earth. Helping along the miraculous transformation from pure spirit to physical matter, each pillar contributes the quality for which it’s named. The resulting creation is thus balanced and complete: mercy and judgment, harmonized.

The pillars can be thought of as factories, using divine light as their raw material, producing and refining everything we see and touch.

Contemporary cosmology also offers an explanation for how creation occurs, and it also involves factories of sorts—in this case, stars.

Stars are made of highly pressurized clouds of hydrogen gas and galactic dust. As a star forms, its hydrogen atoms collide, fusing into helium. The helium atoms then collide, fusing into carbon and oxygen. A cascade of collisions and fusions continues, as elements combine to form heavier elements, and heavier elements, etc. Eventually the weight and energy of all these chemical elements cause a star to become so pressurized it explodes, blasting the elements it’s created deep into space, where they eventually coalesce into new stars, planets, and people.

In 1745 a Frenchman named Jean-Philippe de Cheseaux discovered a cluster of faraway stars, now called the Eagle Nebula. In 1995 the Hubble Space Telescope photographed a region of the nebula in which densely packed interstellar gas and dust has formed three vertical columns. These columns are particularly fertile star factories. They’re popularly called “Pillars of Creation”.

Here’s the famous photo, courtesy of Wikipedia:



pillars




So… Kabbalah mythologizes three columns of sefirot that process divine light into physical matter, and cosmology discovers three “Pillars of Creation” that birth stars and all the chemical elements they engender.

The question again: What happens when metaphors become measurables?

Comments welcome.

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29 Jun

Religion, Science, and Education

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / June 29, 2009 / 8 Comments

Yesterday I graduated the Master of Arts in Education program at Antioch University Los Angeles! This personal milestone has put me in an excited and reflective state of mind. And so today, rather than detailing a specific poetic interconnection between spirituality and science, I’m feeling inspired to renew the overall mission statement of this blog, and my ongoing research in religion, science, and education.

This post is a credo!

The world’s religions have been at odds for centuries, with violent and tragic results. And since the Scientific Revolution in the 16th century, religion and science have also been unable to stop fighting. The reason for these conflicts is that our religious sects, and religion and science, have traditionally offered very different answers to the deepest questions people face: Where did we come from? Who are we? Why are we here?

These questions are philosophical, but should not be dismissed as abstract. Guiding philosophies lead directly to actions. Our metaphysics informs our ethics.

In his wonderful book Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues, groundbreaking religion/science scholar Ian Barbour defines metaphysics as “philosophical analysis of the most general characteristics and components of reality…” At this point in human history, we undertake such analysis of our foundations using religion and science as our main tools. Sadly, in my opinion, both have become misused and misinterpreted in-and-of themselves. Traditional religious dogma convinces us our deepest questions all have answers, promoting absolutism over inquiry, hubris over humility. Worst case result: we kill in the name of our chosen deity. The scientific materialism of classical physics reduced us to assemblages of mindless particles moving in empty space—purposeless, lacking agency and soul. Emphasizing technology over wisdom, we penetrated the atom and used what we learned to build nuclear bombs.

But inside these tragic problems lies their solution: there are less traditional forms of religion and new developments in science that answer our most vital metaphysical questions in ways that sound similar, finally allowing for the possibility of an integrative and constructive worldview in which we can all share, peacefully. These untraditional forms of religion are the mysticisms this blog continually describes and celebrates: Vedanta Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Kabbalah, Islamic Sufism, and Christian mysticism. The new developments in science are Einstein’s relativity theories, quantum theory, chaos theory, systems theory, and evolutionary biology.

The perennial philosophy of mystical spirituality and the worldview emerging from discoveries in modern science both describe a reality characterized by holism, interdependent relationship, and emergent creativity. This sort of reality should inspire awe and humility, compassion and charity, and playfulness and artistry.

As a thinker, writer and educator, I encourage all these orientations! I find them all to be expansive. Thus expanded, we all tend to kindness.

I also prioritize synthesis: both/and, higher level thinking. Other academics have championed religious tolerance, and tolerance between religion and science. While admirable, these efforts haven’t eased the perception that these two worldviews are fundamentally dissimilar—thesis and antithesis. My mission is actual resolution of the dialectic: I want to lead my readers and students in identifying principles common to religion and science, and interweaving them into a new unified and useful philosophical tapestry.

To repeat an analogy previously used in this blog: Only from the mountaintop can we clearly see how all paths upward actually converge on the same peak.

My goal is to illumine that summit—and to share the beauty, joy, and enchantment I experience seeing it all lit up!

Thank you, as always, for joining me along the way.

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20 Apr

Unifications

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / April 20, 2009 / 1 Comment

Today’s poetic interconnection between spirituality and science is inspired by a bold book called The Trouble With Physics. Written by Lee Smolin, one of my favorite contemporary physicists, the text argues against the popularity of string theory. After years of focus and funding, the cutting-edge theory has yet to actually be made physically testable. And since good science requires experimental trial and verdict, the question inevitably comes: Is string theory science at all, or just wishful thinking?

Discussing the almost religious faith the theory has inspired in the scientific community, Smolin explains that its big temptation is its claim of unification. String theorists believe they’ve discovered a Theory of Everything—a mathematical and conceptual framework that fully explains our physical foundations, incorporating all the previously irreconcilable masses and forces in the universe.

A true TOE could be the sublime end of theoretical physics. A messianic age for science! Good stuff.

Smolin writes:

The most cherished goal in physics… is unification. To bring together two things previously understood as different and recognize them as aspects of a single entity—when we can do it—is the biggest thrill in science.

This blog, of course, is dedicated to uniting seemingly dissimilar ideas and discoveries. And unexpectedly, this now stated goal of science turns out to also be the same as that of spirituality! All the world’s religious mysticisms teach us that the multiplicity of creation is an illusion: All the varied things we see are just passing, playful expressions of a singularity we call God. We’re called to recognize this reality, and live accordingly.

What Smolin calls unification, mystics call gnosis. What he refers to as a thrill, mystics call the sublime bliss of enlightenment.

Religion may inspire more poetic language, but the ideas are essentially the same: Both spirit and science seek the purity and simplicity of wholeness. It appeals to both our emotions and intellects in a primal and mysterious way, bespeaking truth. And the realization that we’re all entangled aspects of one totality leads to ethics of connection and compassion that can be world-changing!

Does it matter whether that realization comes by way of revelation or experimentation, intuition or cognition?

Ancient Kabbalists used the Hebrew word yehudim to describe the spiritual exercises and prayers used to reconcile self with God. The term translates literally into English as… unifications.

The synchronicity thrills me, and it leads me to ask: Are spirituality and science just neighboring paths up the same unitive mountain?

It must be a lovely view from the top.

Comments, as always, welcome.

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05 Feb

God is a Dirac Delta Function

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / February 5, 2009 / 13 Comments

Math scares me.

I can handle 2+2=4 well enough, and even some long division without a calculator, but higher math—differential equations, divergent series, multivariable calculus—makes my head hurt.

So I had a conflicted experience last week when I stumbled across something called the Dirac Delta Function. Named after Paul Dirac, a physicist and sort of ‘Original Gansta’ of quantum theory, the function is a math equation that yields zero for every number you plug into it, except when you plug in zero, in which case the answer becomes infinity!

Infinity only occuring at zero… I had no idea exactly what it all meant, but I smelled poetic interconnections between the Dirac Delta Function and religious mysticisms. Buddhists consider the true nature of things to be sunyata—emptiness. And Kabbalists describe God as ayin—a ‘nothingness’ (zero) with infinite potential to become anything and everything.

Math suddenly seemed like a fear worth facing…

I called a friend, Dawn Porter, Ph.D., University of Southern California math/statistics professor and co-author of the fabulously exciting text, Basic Econometrics. I begged for tutoring, and she generously obliged.

Here’s what I learned:

A math function can be used as a formula for exploring possibilities. Considered this way, functions are best visualized as graphs: The horizontal axis of the graph (the x axis) represents a range of possibilities, and the vertical axis of the graph (the y axis) represents the likelihood of any of those possibilities coming true. Here’s a visual:

 

 possiblities graph

 

The Dirac Delta Function yields a graph in which almost all values of x register a zero value on the y axis, which means there’s no chance of any of those possiblities coming true. The only value of x that gets any action is x=0. At x=0, the y value becomes infinity. So, paradoxically, when x is nothing, when there’s no possibilities at all, everything suddenly happens!

The darkest hour is just before the dawn… (No pun intended, Dawn!)

Here’s a cool animated GIF to illustrate that graph, courtesy of Wikipedia:

 

Dirac Delta Function

 

Now… Mystics the world over believe there’s a proportional correlation between ego and God. The more we identify with our self, our ego, the less room we have inside us for God. Thus, the more we empty ourselves of self-oriented wants and motivations, the more space divinity has to move into us and exercise its wants and motivations, which are always loving and groovy. Then we become Godlike.

With that in mind, let’s reconsider the animated graph, above. Imagine the horizontal x axis is your ego—your sense of self. Now imagine the verticle y axis is God. The Dirac Delta Function says that when x=0, when you become nothing, the value of God for you becomes infinite! But when you have any other value than zero, whether positive or negative, the possibility of God vanishes: When we concern ourselves with ourselves, divinity just can’t find good living space inside us.

I’m a born again math convert now… The Dirac Delta Function saved me! How about you?

Comments welcome.

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13 Dec

The Revised Gospel of NET

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / December 13, 2008 / 2 Comments

Religious scholars believe our scriptures are mostly compilations. To historical experts, sacred texts reveal signs of revision, editing and translation. For me, nothing about this possibility makes our holy books less beautiful or valuable. I like the idea of God-inspired people co-creating our wisdom traditions. It feels communal.

This week, I was blessed with a bit of co-creation! My last blog post, The Gospel of Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics, was based on a book called Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics and Life. One of the book’s authors, Dorion Sagan, was kind enough to leave a comment about the post, and in his comment he made a notable correction to what I’d written.

I’d said that perhaps life on Earth evolved to reduce a temperature gradient (difference) between the hot sun and cold space. Mr. Sagan explained that the reduction of any temperature gradient was a secondary issue, and that the primary gradient life on Earth reduces is between the “high quality” electromagnetic energy of the sun and “low quality” energy of space. He referred to the sun’s energy as “quantum packets”, referencing quantum physics’ discovery that light travels in discrete energetic bundles.

We facilitate a balancing between star-quality energy and dark, cool space. The poetry in it knocks me out.

And here comes today’s spirituality/science interconnection: All world mysticisms believe human beings to be a conduit between divine and physical realms. Kabbalah teaches that the purpose of human life is Tikkun Olam—’repairing the world’. In an earlier blog post called Kabbalah and Einstein, I explained Isaac Luria’s teaching that material creation is thought to be infused with sparks of divine light, fallen from their divine source and needing to be raised and redeemed.

So now, putting it all together, I wonder… Are Kabbalah’s holy sparks analogous to quantum packets of solar energy? In reducing the sun/space gradient, are we all actually working toward Tikkun Olam?

This post is to thank Dorion Sagan for his feedback.

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16 Nov

Kabbalah and Einstein

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / November 16, 2008 / 20 Comments

Isaac Luria was a 16th century Jewish mystic who redefined Kabbalah with sublime teachings about creation, the nature of God and the spiritual purpose of human lives.

Luria illuminated a three-stage cosmology. It began with God existing alone, as an infinite plenum of conscious energy called Ein Sof. Desiring to create the universe, Ein Sof withdrew itself from a small area to allow space for a material world. Within this space, God then eminated a ray of generative light. This light was mediated through 10 vessels called sefirot, which were supposed to manage the transition from pure unified energy to diverse physical creation, much like prisms refract white light into a rainbow of colors. But God’s light was too powerful for the sefirot, and they shattered. Sparks of the light became trapped in shards of the vessels: Divinity became lost in physicality, soul became lost in body. God became unrecognized in the world, hidden inside matter like a pearl in a shell.

The mission of all human beings, taught Luria, is to ‘raise’ these sparks: to find and recognize the Or Ein Sof—the light of the infinite—in ourselves and in everything, redeeming all creation!

Four centuries later, Albert Einstein, during a career of great genius, produced the seminal equation E=mc². Put into words, this equation says that energy (E) equals mass (m) multiplied by the speed of light squared (). This means that energy is equivalent to mass sped WAY up. Einstein’s correspondence between mass and energy is profound—it indicates that all matter in our universe is really made of pure energy! This idea is most clearly realized by performing a quick algebraic transformation on the equation, rewriting it:

m=E/c²

Written this way, the equation now says that mass equals energy divided by the speed of light squared: Mass can be described as energy slowed WAY down. Basically, mass is energy trapped in relative stillness! We look around ourselves and see seemingly solid, still objects, with all their limitations and boundaries. But the energy inside wants to break free—it wants to be raised! Our truest nature is energetic: fast and infinite.

Was Luria right, then—is every particle of which we’re made just a shell, within which exists an energetic pearl of pure divinity?

Did Einstein confirm Kabbalah?!

Comments welcome.

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