It’s fascinating to watch the theatre of the mind, what slides by and what refuses to be forgotten. This week a fleeting image on a screen caught my eye and stuck in my psyche, echoing for days like an alarm that refused to be silenced. A scene of four men in white lab coats carrying off a defenseless chimp by her four limbs. That was all. It was an old documentary about arrogant, misguided practices. But my mind latched onto the image and couldn’t shake it, especially the demure surrender of the chimpanzee.
But why did this scene in particular choose to torture me? The paper is filled with disturbances nowadays, far more current and pressing. Clearly this one evoked something in my unconscious needing to be recognized and articulated.
Gloriously, one tendril leads to another in our mysterious neural labyrinth. Not able to push away the pathos or the horror, it eventually blossomed into a recollected teaching by Marianne Williamson. We were at the National Cathedral at the height of the Iraq War. I was leading Shabbat rituals and she, well, she was the resident prophet. The nave was filled with 1,300 women; the theme was compassion.
This morning my head is swimming at the remarkable events that unfolded yesterday in Uhersky-Brod—a verdant, sweet-smelling town in the Carpathian Mountains of the Czech Republic. This is where our great-great grandparents Moses and Tzilka lived and bore their children, so we rented a car to come see what we could find.
My sister and I were happily taking photos of ourselves in front of town hall (notice the splendid countryside in the background) when a man named Michael approached us. A native of the place, Michael not only knew English but was familiar with the history of his town. On our map Michael showed us where the old Jewish neighborhood and cemetery once stood. “Of course there is not one Jew left,” he said, “but across from the big Janacek brewery is where they once lived.”
Sure enough, in the woody hills across from an enormous beer factory we found a country synagogue, with a big padlock on the door. Through the window we could see an empty floor, on the wall a photographic exhibit behind glass.
A beloved teacher of mine in the world of Jungian psychology once told me this dream:
I am in an unrelenting storm of whirling energy. Everyone is panicking, running about helter-skelter, desperately seeking shelter or escape. Every so often, a bolt of blue electricity tears through the crowd like a buzz saw, threatening anyone in its path. In the midst of the pandemonium I stop to notice that this spiral nightmare is like a crazy amusement park ride, and that everyone has a seat. I quickly find my own and climb into it. No sooner do I click into my place then everyone around me stops running and finds their own seat. Things slow down. The blue bolts of lightning soften and stop and calm takes over.
How like the world these days! Faster and faster we spin, breathless to keep up, to outpace what feels like an inevitable calamity ready to strike at any time. When we are out of our seat, our center, askew from the ground of our being, the world around us can be too much to bear.
But if we—like the dreamer—can take a minute to stop, notice, and click into our own selves, come back down into our authentic place, we may notice that the world around us responds in like measure.
The imagery of the Zohar is outrageously colorful. I am speaking of the 13th century
masterpiece central to Kabbalah. Here in sacred surreal story form, we learn from an angry angel that our purpose on earth is:
- to turn darkness into light
- bitter into sweet
- to assist God to unite with the gazelle, that is, the Shechinah, the divine feminine who has been lost in exile.
Throughout the Zohar we have this profound and radical idea: that God—though infinite, the totality of consciousness and more—is not quite whole. One main reason: God is masculine seeking His feminine, feeling side. You might say this is a projection. Or you might say that we humans reflect the Creator’s own cosmic imbalance.
Understanding Kabbalah in the light of depth psychology has been a lifetime pursuit for me. Both draw upon a simple premise that beyond the physical reality shown to us by our five senses there exist unseen dimensions, or force fields that exert their gravitational pulls upon us.
In my twenties, I dreamt of walking in an old European city at night. The cobblestone street led me to a towering old Jewish synagogue. Awed by its enormity, I circumambulated the edifice, but it was surrounded by a wrought iron gate and bolted shut.
Finding no way in, I finally gave up and started to walk away. Alas, a cobblestone in the street was askew and I tripped and fell to the ground. There in the dark, grappling to come to my feet, I felt something sticking up from the beneath the stones. I pulled out two items. First, an old parchment scroll, hand-scribed with fiery Hebrew letters.
And second, a thick volume of the collected works of C. G. Jung.
The dream came during a period of deep disillusionment. I had been raised in a rigidly Orthodox household and felt that Judaism—at least the patriarchal ways it had been transmitted to me—could not take me to the places I needed to go. I was for all intents and purposes, done with Judaism.