by Dr. Zachary Stein – after the 15th and final Wisdom School at Shalom Mountain, which concluded a 10 year cycle

marc gafni, wisdom school, shalom mountainIn a popular culture that has re-packaged the great cultural revolutions of the 1960s we have to ask exactly where and what a “counter culture” could be in today’s world. One answer is that the counter culture has gone mainstream, it’s everywhere now—massive numbers are marching for women and the Earth, even more are engaging in political critique and ethical activism on social media. Cultural evolution proceeds via the center metabolizing the periphery; the fringes of culture move to the core. What was a rare view becomes common and identity formation and cultural production follow suit. Whole industries spring up around ideas and practices that used to be tucked away in obscurity. As the mainstream drifts to accommodate and commodify cultural innovations for the masses, true cultural innovation continues underground, as it always has been, articulated first and raw in some place off the map.

Across the centuries, mystics have convened mystery schools on the edges of civilizations and worldviews. Intentionally small and remote, peopled with trusted initiates, these schools have been the storehouses of innovations in consciousness, sourced in ancient traditions, guided by a memory of the future. Off stage and out of sight, a few have always been preparing seeds for planting in the compost of the rapidly degenerating culture of the so-called civilized.

The Catskills seem to be trying to hide Shalom Mountain in clouds and endless back roads, making it feel secluded enough to shout secrets into the air through a megaphone. The mystery school displaces the center of self and knowledge, shifting us to the surrounding realms of imagination, memory, instinct, and revelation. Everything is on the table, as Gafni becomes a trickster, weaving Tantric Kabbalah from ancient texts, modern science, and depth psychology. Paradox and laughter co-emerge in the dissolution of culture-wrought truncations of self, world, and God. Audacious sovereign greets audacious sovereign in a dance of co-empowerment and natural hierarchy. Gafni is repeatedly moved to tears by sacred texts, so much so that a late June thunderstorm is easily felt as God moved to tears by reading the book of Gafni’s life. So much was taught that I might only select one lesson—one from the calm in the morning after the storm.

T’shuvah means literally “to turn” and is usually translated as penitence or repentance, meaning roughly to turn towards one’s sins and mistakes, to understand them, and to fix them. This is exemplified in the tears shed by King David before the profit Nathan, followed by the King’s humble admission, “I have sinned.”  He had sinned, and would sin again. David, like others in the line of the Wisdom of Solomon, is identified as one whose greatness is intimately bound up with flaws and error. The finitude, limitation, and darkness of the human being have long been the mystical keys that open the heart of Tantra. We are exactly (precisely nobody but) the ones making mistakes, taking risks, landing in failure, illness, and shadow. Religions are built around the core idea of a fall. From Adam and Eve to maya and samsara, humans are destined to make mistakes and live with them. You and I will make mistakes again and again. On one view this is terrible—the fall is our shame, and it means that no one is innocent, no one is really truly good. On another view—the non-dual view—the fall is great news because everything is grist for the Divine Mill. The Good is not some static absolute innocence of non-action. The Good is making mistakes in the right direction. We can only learn and evolve by virtue of the mistakes we make and how we respond to them.

T’shuvah is a practical answer to the idea that because humanity is destined to make mistakes we are all tragically flawed. T’shuvah is a practice for turning mistakes into insight and transformation. The practice is clear, simple, and could not be any more radical in a broader cultural where mistakes in some areas of life are enough to mark someone as untouchable for life. What could be more radical than a practice allowing for an individual and collective turning toward sin, failure, and mistakenness? We can all lose face together, abandon the moral high ground together, and turn then toward each other before God, seeking only learning and transformation through and within our own and each other’s mistakes. Individually and as a culture we must turn towards our mistakes and thus toward our Unique Selves, which are fumbling toward actualization, making mistakes in the right direction.

Importantly, the situation and dynamics in which we make mistakes have occurred before and will occur again. History repeats itself, both personally and culturally. T’shuvah becomes a kind of mystical fixing when practiced as way of life. By turning towards the dynamic that caused us to fall, seeing it, and committing to change it into something new, t’shuvah liberates the memory of each person and culture, destined as they are always to carve a unique path of mistakes. History itself must be unwound from the trauma of repetition and freed from the faltering stutter of eternal return. Beyond and after the total reciprocal forgiveness of each and everyone there is a new planetary culture that is possible. The mystery school felt like a living visitation from the future of humanity, transformed from the fall, moving up from Eden.

Enjoy this beautiful introduction and story by Dr. Marc Gafni from our recent CIW Board Retreat:


The Story of Levi Isaac of Berdichev Told by Dr. Marc Gafni

from the book Your Unique Self by Dr. Marc Gafni

When you fail to hold the personal, you may begin to engage in manipulation or possibly even psychological abuse. When you begin to see yourself as aligned with the process, which was the great teaching of Hegel, you may inadvertently give birth to the worst evils of Fascism, Communism, and Nazism, all of which were very heavily influenced by Hegel’s teaching that demanded that the individual must awaken and identify with the great evolutionary process of divine unfolding in absolute spirit. In Hegel’s powerful clarion call to align with the ecstatic impulse of historically unfolding evolutionary God, the holiness of the individual was somehow crushed in all the grand rhetoric, with devastating results for God and humans. The process must always remain personal.

For me it was always the Hasidic master Levi Isaac of Berdichev who radically reminded me of the primacy of the personal even when in the throes of evolutionary ecstasy. Levi Isaac was once leading the prayers at the close of Yom Kippur services. Yom Kippur is a fast day and the holiest day in the Hebrew calendar. The twilight hours at the end of the fast are filled with potency. According to the evolutionary mystics of Kabbalah, the enlightened prayer leader, during that time may potentially enter the virtual source code of reality and effect a tikkun; that is, effect a momentous leap in the evolution of consciousness for the sake of all sentient beings, in all generations. This is precisely what Levi Isaac—greatest of all enlightened evolutionary prayer leaders—was doing on that Yom Kippur. Night had already fallen, the fast was officially over, but the ecstasy of Levi Isaac was rippling through all the upper worlds. All beings held their breath in awe of the evolutionary power of Levi Isaac’s consciousness. All of reality was pulsating with him towards an ecstatic evolutionary crescendo. Just as the great breakthrough was about to happen at the leading edge, Levi Isaac spotted out of the corner of his eye an old man who was thirsty. The fast had been very long and the old man needed to drink. So in the midst of his ecstasy, Levi Isaac brought the whole evolutionary process to a halt. He immediately ended the fast and personally brought the old man a drink of water.

Editor's note: The following essay by Marc Gafni is published as a white paper of the Center for World Spirituality think tank. Our Spirit's Next Move blog is pleased to announce the paper's availability.

Ten Words to Live By

The second biblical myth word symbol of freedom is actually mistranslated into English as the Ten Commandments. The people, so the story goes, having fled Egypt, gather at the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. Of course, nowhere in the biblical myth is there any mention of Ten Commandments. Here is where the old witty maxim, “Reading the bible in translation is like kissing a woman through a veil,” becomes not altogether untrue. In the original Hebrew, the people receive at Sinai not Ten Commandments but “Ten Words.” Here Voice becomes Word, the articulation of speech. It is the beginning of the vision that follows revolution.

The third word symbol is no less than the word “Messiah.” “Messiah” in the original Hebrew is understood by the Kabbalists, quite astoundingly, to mean “conversation.” Master Nachum of Chernobyl, mystic and philosopher, points out that the Hebrew word for messiah, Mashiach, can be understood as the Hebrew word Ma-siach – meaning “from dialogue” or “of conversation.” His assertion radically implies that the Messiah is potentially present in every human conversation””every mutual act of voice-giving.

All authentic conversation is sacred conversation. The ability to have an honest face-to-face talk in which both sides are true to themselves, vulnerable and powerful at the same time, is Messianic.

Simply put, sacred conversation is the vessel that receives the light of Messiah.

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By Marc Gafni

Editor's note: The following essay is published as a white paper of the Center for World Spirituality think tank. Our Spirit's Next Move blog is pleased to announce the paper's availability.

The Second Stage: from Silence to Sound

The beginning of freedom is the emergence of voice. This stage is expressed both by the initial cry of the Israelite slaves that broke their silence, as well as by Moses' arrival on the scene. “When Moses came, voice came,” writes the Zohar. Moses does what the charismatic revolutionary always does: he gives voice to the people. Indeed, biblical myth text records the beginning of redemption with the following words: “”¦It came to pass in the course of many days that the King of Egypt died and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage and they cried out and their cry came up unto God.” The enslaved Israelites are received by the presence of God at the point when they move from the dumb silence of the slave to sound which is the beginning of speech, the characteristic of a free people. This “cry” is not an elegantly articulated protest – it is a cry as in the cry of a wolf, or the cry of an infant. It is primal, impassioned, pre-civilized, a howl of protest that makes it into the halls of heaven, heard by God himself.

For the first time the enslaved can express distress. They seek to articulate words that are not yet ready to form themselves on their lips. At this stage of moving toward freedom, we do not yet know how to tell our story. We do not know what we would do with the world if it were given over to our stewardship. We just know that we must protest.

The biblical myth symbol (Leviticus 25) for the transition from slavery to freedom is the primal blast of a ram's horn. No trumpet of gold, it is rather the rawness of the ram's horn that captures the slave's first fitful sounds. The first thing a revolutionary movement must do is sound its ram horn--start a newspaper, set up a radio station, build an internet site. It is not by accident that the fundamentalist and totalitarian states are trying to disallow or severely limit internet access. Freedom's beginnings are expressed in the first shouts of protest.

The sixties and seventies were such second-stage revolutionary generations. This helps explain why so many sixties hippies became late seventies and early eighties yuppies and then transformed again into the establishment of the nineties. The feeling of distress generated protest – sound and even the first glimmerings of voice--but there was no alternative vision of society to generate “speech.” Similarly, many third world revolutionaries reflect such second stage thinking. Consequently, as we all know, that not a few third world revolutionaries became the leaders of far more repressive regimes than the ones they overthrew. Because they lacked speech to articulate the primal manifestations of voice, they needed to repress all of their own pain, the very distress and disease that initially led to the revolution.

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Editor's note: The following essay is published as a white paper of the Center for World Spirituality think tank. Our Spirit's Next Move blog is pleased to announce the paper's availability.

"As the Kabbalists point out, the word Moses spelled backwards is Ha Shem, meaning 'the name.' Importantly, Ha-shem in biblical Hebrew also is the most common reference to God's name. When you respond to your call and realize your soul print, fully becoming your name, you become one with God. When Moses did this, he found his voice, he became a prophet."

By Marc Gafni

To live your story is to move from a state of slavery to freedom. Slavery is not limited to our old image of the oppressed Hebrew or black slave being whipped by the cruel master. We are all potentially free, just as we are all potentially slaves. Our intent in this brief essay is to at least begin to unpack a core intuition of the Zohar ””that a free person is a person who has found voice. As we shall see in the very last paragraphs of this discussion the implications of freedom are wondrous indeed!

The Hebrew name for the Passover Storytelling Ritual, which celebrates and reenacts the dynamic movement from slavery to freedom, is Pe-Sach. Renaissance mystic Isaac Luria reminded us that Pe-Sach is a combination of two words””Peh, meaning “mouth,” and Sach, meaning “talk.” Pe- Sach, therefore, means the mouth that talks.

One school of Hasidic masters unpacks this idea by defining redemption as the emergence of speech. To move from a dumb and mute existence to a communal storytelling existence is to undergo redemptive transformation. “To be redeemed,” writes one mystic, “is to lead a history-making, storytelling, communing, free existence.” To be in exile is to lack history, tell no story, fail to commune, and exist as a slave, silent.

The most oft cited source for this idea is a stunning passage in the Zohar which describes the Egyptian slavery as the “exile of speech.” In Kabbalah, every biblical nation represents a different organ of the body; Egypt represents the throat. The mystics read the Hebrew word “Egypt” literally as meaning narrowness. The throat is, of course, the narrow, constricted passage between the wide spaces of the heart and mind. The narrow throat, Egypt, is thus the ideal symbol for the exile of speech. Speech remains caught in the throat, in the dark passage, and can't make it to freedom's gateway, the mouth. Redemption comes in the birth of the word. In the actual process of your retelling, you reclaim your story. But to be capable of retelling your story you need voice. Redemption then is the process of finding voice.

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By Dr. Marc Gafni

Summary: The four faces of eros, described by Marc Gafni in this excerpt from Mystery of Love (2003), are 1.) being on the inside, 2.) fullness of presence, 3.) desire, and 4.) interconnectivity of being.  As Marc describes, with its mystical role in these four expressions, the face itself is the truest reflection of the erotic.  In the flow of eros, we access the experience of being on the inside of God's face, which Marc explores here through the Temple mystery of the sexually entwined cherubs atop the Ark who are positioned face to face; the Hebrew word “panim,” which means “inside, face, and before;” and the erotic experience of having a true face-to-face conversation. This significant passage from Mystery of Love invites you to embody the erotic””which is modeled but not exhausted by the sexual””more deeply in your own life.

Eros has many expressions. Each expression is hinted at in the temple mysteries.  There are four faces of eros which, when taken together, form the essence of the Shechina experience. In this essay, we will explore the erotic understanding which forms the matrix of the secret of the cherubs and informs every arena of our existence. As we shall see, at the very heart of Hebrew tantra was a very precise and provocative understanding of the relationship between love, sex, and eros. This will open us up to a whole new understanding of our sexuality and will show us the way to erotically reweave the very fabric of our lives in more vivid patterns, sensual textures, and brilliant hues.

The First Face of Eros: On the Inside

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The cherubs in the magical mystery of Temple myth were not stationary fixtures. No, these statues were expressive, emotive. They moved. When integrity and goodness ruled the land, the cherubs were face to face. In these times, the focal point of Shechina energy rested erotically, ecstatically, between the cherubs. When discord and evil held sway in the kingdom, the cherubs turned from each other, appearing back to back instead of face to face.1  Back to back, the world was amiss, alienated, ruptured. Face to face, the world was harmonized, hopeful, embraced. Thus, face to face in biblical myth2 is the most highly desirable state. It is the gem stone state of being, the jeweled summit of all creation.  Face to face, to be fully explicit, is a state of eros.

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Candles Flickering

Photo Credit: Dey


By Marc Gafni

This post concludes the “Protest as Prayer” series. It is continued from post 14.

It was late one Friday night, with the Sabbath candles flickering in the darkness, when the Rebbe stood up. He had been especially pensive this night: wrapped in thoughts and prayers of his own. He walked purposefully to the table, spat on his hands and snuffed out the Sabbath candles. In the sudden darkness the shocked Chassidim heard the cold fury and despair in their Rebbe’s voice resounding in the gloom as he intoned: “There is no Judge, and there is no Judgment.”

Rebbe Menachem-Mendel of Kotsk then walked out of the synagogue, locked himself in his room, and never came out. For over twenty years until his death he remained in isolation and spoke not another word. But his Chassidim did not reject him as a blasphemer, nor a madman. In his silent solitary rage the Rebbe of Kotsk became more respected, more loved than ever before, as the Kotsker Chassidic tradition flourished in all its contradictions.

Somehow the Chassidim understood that ultimate Doubt, ultimate challenge, when conducted from within deep relationship, paradoxically can become the ultimate service, the ultimate worship.


Job

By Marc Gafni

This post is continued from Part 13.

We began with three truths. God is good. God is powerful. Good people suffer. These are the three truths of Job. We hold all three. We can live in the deep and painful uncertainty of not always knowing how all three fit together. Those unable to hold the uncertainty emasculate God. This is Harold Kushner’s basic move. God can’t do anything about evil — God is nice but not powerful.

Others, unable to hold the uncertainty, emasculate man. That is pious orthodox thinker Gottlieb’s move. He has theo-logically solved the problem of suffering. He denies the rage, the protest, the unanswered question which defines Jewish text. He cannot live with the uncertainty of the question so he must argue that certainty has been achieved and the question answered.

Wisdom

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney


By Marc Gafni

This post is continued from Part 12.

One of the most striking formulations of the Yehuda Moment in Chassidut is the movement's founder, the Baal Shem Tov's, teaching on a verse in the Book of Job. The verse in Job reads "There is a spirit in man -- the breath of God -- which gives wisdom."

These words, which appear towards the end of the book, are spoken by Elihu in rejection of the ”˜punishment for sin' theodicy offered as a certainty by Job's friends. The Baal Shem Tov interprets the verse: ”˜The breath of God is the spirit of man'.

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Secret

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney

By Marc Gafni

This post is continued from Part 11.

That this is true is mystery and mystery is esoteric -- it is secret. Secret, not because, as it is usually explained, it is forbidden to reveal the mysteries to the uninitiated; rather, secret because it is not possible to reveal the mysteries at all. For if the soul is not ready to receive the mystery then the secret cannot be transmitted. The holy energy of uncertainty is in the realm of mystery. I cannot fully explain. Yet two guidelines for those who would struggle to understand are in order.

The Rebbe of Kutzk teaches about the old man and the young baby. They both ask the same questions. ”˜How, When, What, Where - Ayeh?'

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Hebrew Books

Photo Credit: chany14


By Marc Gafni

This post is continued from Part 10.

The Zohar writes that the Shechina is called "I". This is a particularly dramatic way of expressing the idea that the Shechina speaks through the human voice. This means that whenever a person finds their voice on the deepest level, they are finding the voice of the Shechina. The human cry to God “Please be King” is also God crying out through the same voice, “Please I am trapped -- bound in chains -- free me and let me be King.”

God's voice and our voice are one. The language of God is man.

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God emotions

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs


By Marc Gafni

This post is continued from Part 9.

To go one step further -- God feels the pain of the sufferer through the agency of human beings who feel the pain of other. God feels, not only but also through, human agency. We are God's emotions.

Based on this understanding a number of mystical writers provide us with the vocabulary to re-think the idea of God's Kingship. It was with this quandry that I introduced the problematics of God-language in a world that suffers. How can we call God King?

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Doorway

By Marc Gafni

This post is continued from Part 8.

The implication of this Kabbalistic strain of thought needs to be unpacked more fully. One of the core ideas in the Lurianic understanding of the religious act is the need to identify with the pain of the Shechina in exile. According to the Talmudic masters the divine presence  -- the Shechina -- is exiled with the Jewish people. In one of the most daring affirmations of divine intimacy, the Talmudic teachers and later the kabbalistic masters insist that the transcendent God of the Bible becomes incarnate in the suffering of the Jewish people (and, I would add, of all people).

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Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev

Pictured: Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev

By Marc Gafni

We are all despearate for communion. It is what makes our lives worth living. Communion is the movement from loneliness to loving. It is the experience of being held and received.

We are all systematically mis-recognized. To be recognized is to be seen. To be seen is to be loved. To be love is to be in communion. It is only when we are seen that we are called to the fullness of our glimmering beauty as unique incarnations of the the divine treasure. It is only when we are seen that we feel moved the personal evolutionary impulse that lives in us to give the unique gifts that are only ours to give and that are desperately desired by the all that is.

To be in communion is to know that Your deed is God's need. It is the realization of communion that gives us joy and calls us to evolutionary responsibility.

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