Monday, 9 January 2012

Wisdom of Kabbalah

Tree of Life
Many of us are reluctant to look at matters of faith outside our adopted religion.  We worry if perhaps it could send us off on the wrong path, or worse come into conflict with our adopted belief system.   Perhaps our biggest fear is that we may suddenly find ourselves on the ‘outside’ of our established  religious community. But these doubts have more to do what others think rather than where we should place our trust i.e., on what resonates in the depths of our heart. (if it doesn't resonate - simply move on).  Our heart is the place where God resides. Trusting in God means we will not be  lead into temptation.  All true conversion, according to the greatest mystics, comes from accepting the inevitability of change.  Oh, by the way. the Creator is known by many names (just look it up in Wikipedia), but he reads our heart and intent and is never confused by our words.

Lets make the case even simpler.  Suppose you are listening to the radio and you suddenly hear a beautiful piece of music you had never heard before.  The melody, the tune, perhaps the words move you the point of tears.  Should you turn it off because it hasn’t been part of your previous experience?  Of course not!  You wait to hear it again and again until you hear it in your head without it even being played.  So it is with examining and even capturing God’s inspired wisdom from other traditions.  So this week I would like to share some wisdom  from some of our Jewish brothers and sisters who have studied  Kabbalah*.  The chosen topic proved to be very relevant because it relates directly to my anxieties and fears about the cancer with which I am dealing  right now.  

So I will deal strictly with the very inspired Kabbalistview on 'Paradox of Anxiety'  

 Is it friend or foe? In an age where time seems to be traveling faster and choices are vaster -- living on the verge of an anxiety attack is becoming commonplace. Learn what triggers this strange emotion and how to use its force in your favor.

One word is all it takes and suddenly your thoughts are going so fast that they create a vortex in your throat making breathing impossible. Confusion is the name of the game and you cannot imagine where to go from here.

These are some of the symptoms of anxiety. There is little comfort in knowing that we've all experienced anxiety on some level at some point in our lives. Anxiety comes when we are faced with a defining, life-changing moment or, perhaps, when we are required to make an important decision. We feel our worst imagined fears creep into our self-conscious where they multiply, inciting uncertainty and worry over something that might -- or might not -- ever happen.

The great French philosopher Montaigne once wrote, "My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened." Anxiety distorts normal worries and magnifies them. We become trapped like flies in webs of our own making, struggling helplessly, paralyzed from taking the necessary action to free ourselves.
Fear is based on known danger, something tangible: a lump discovered during a routine breast self-examination, an impending bankruptcy. These are problems we know are real: we can touch the lump, we can see the debt. And although the problems are overwhelming, there are things that can be done: removing the lump, special diets, treatments; restructuring the business, finding investors. With anxiety, however, we feel haunted, out of control. Yet when pressed, we can rarely pinpoint the exact cause. Because anxiety has no physical origin, it is a disorder that baffles doctors and resists medicine. Sufferers who look to pills, tonics and drug regimens for relief rarely find it.

Yet, despite the negative connotations attached to the word anxiety, the sensation itself can create within us a truly positive effect. And though it is something we desire never to experience, we are usually better for having done so. Anxiety is both a terrible curse and an enormous blessing.

It all depends on how you look at it.

Kabbalists suggest that we should view anxiety in a positive light. They believe that it manifests itself to remind us that we are not realizing our full potential in this world, that we are not fulfilling our purpose. Only with the spur of constant self-evaluation, which often begins with anxiety, will we strive to do better and succeed in our efforts. In fact, medical science supports this perspective. Many doctors contend that some anxiety is a good thing. In his full-length treatise on the subject, Anxiety (Oxford, 1986), Donald W. Goodwin, M.D. suggests that stress is a useful tool that can "build character, enhance creativity and encourage us to do better." With anxiety, we experience a heightened awareness of ourselves. According to the American Medical Association, anxiety also helps us respond to emergencies.
Thus the paradoxical nature of anxiety -- is it good or bad for us? How can we diminish the negative effects of anxiety and use its positive effects to prod ourselves to do better? How can we best use our anxious thoughts to help us achieve our goals?

There is an old saying: "Fear knocked. Faith answered. No one was there." Those who study the Kabbalah believe that anxiety occurs when we don't have certainty. By refusing to trust in God, or in the perfection of the ultimate plan, we accept burdens we were never meant to bear and, therefore, feel uneasy, depressed and afraid. Our bodies respond physically to this spiritual imbalance, which is why anxiety sufferers often experience headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, incredible fatigue and respiratory problems.

According to the Kabbalah, however, our awareness of anxiety is the Creator's way of offering us a chance to reconnect with Him, a wake-up call to the spirit. Kabbalists believe that through anxiety we are alerted to a wrong turn we have taken, thereby giving us the capacity to re-orient ourselves on the path to our true destiny. Perhaps we were too focused on personal desires or in attaining fame or fortune and neglected our spiritual needs and the needs of others. Anxiety offers us the chance to step back and look objectively at our lives. "Review it and it will uplift you" (Mishlei 4:8). We need to examine our emotional and spiritual priorities and actively work to achieve them. Only then can we experience true peace of mind.

Tips For Dealing With Anxiety When It Strikes
• Keep a diary: each day write down five things for which you are grateful.
• Practice random acts of kindness.
• Recognize your incredible potential and strive to maximize it every day.
• Take your mind off your worries by helping others.
• Face your fears -- they are not as terrible as you imagine.
• Embrace the positive aspects of anxiety and use them to improve your life.

Some  of what has been offered here, I already practise.  Fear is the great motivator. Writing a diary is probably at the top of the list.  And I will expand just a tiny but very significant bit about that.  Allow God to speak directly to your fears and anxieties – it really, really works.  When I get braver I will share some of these letters.   But for now listen to your own heart and use the tools offered by our Kabbalist friends who seek the same God we look for.  
Lastly I hope I can encourage you to learn to use God's very practical gift of discernment to hear his Voice when it orginates from distant and perhaps unexplored places in our wonderful ever expanding universe.       
* Kabbalah is not a religion but rather ancient inspired text which offering  practical tools to help us come closer to God.  More about Kabbalah at a later blog.  In the meantime if you want to learn more about fear and anxiety from a Kabbalistic point of view you may wish to purchase Yehuda Berg's small book 'The Monster is Real: How to face your fears and eliminate them forever.

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