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Quieting the Mind: Kabbalah vs. Yoga

10 February 2006

I went back to my yoga class last Tuesday after probably 4-5 months of being away. With the rigors of parenting, everyday life, crazy work schedules, and the inertia that strengthens itself every single day it is allowed to persist, it’s been hard to get my butt back into the studio. However, in doing so I had an instant recollection and recognition of why I love it so much, and why I need to have it in my life. Beyond the obvious physical health benefits (maybe they’re obvious — there are some who still debate the efficacy of the yoga workout. I contend that it kicks my ass more than weight lifting.), there is most definitely a mental benefit as well. I would say ‘spiritual’, but that’s a loaded term that brings into question all sorts of philosophical issues that I would just as soon leave on the back burner. What Yoga brings to me is a certain sense of well-being, a deep connectedness without having a definite ‘about-ness’. It’s exactly that well-being that I have strived for through my mystical/spiritual pursuits, and which I have often gotten side-tracked from by those very pursuits.

This is all interesting to me, in light of my particular path and some recent decisions that have been put before me around the study of Kabbalah. Some of you that know me, know that I’ve been on a life-long pursuit of the meaning of my own existence, and a seeker of an experience of a deeper reality than that which is revealed to us in our day-to-day existence (or at least to perceive that deeper reality which IS revealed to us in our day-to-day existence). In that pursuit, I have followed many paths varying across the spectrum, but I can categorize the nature of my pursuits by those which are primarily intellectual or ideological, and those which are primarily physical and ecstatic. Being a person generally driven by the mind, I have a natural gravitation towards those things which appeal to the mind. However, any spiritual pursuit that engaged my mental faculties as a means for affirmation and explanation are ultimately doomed for me, for I have an insatiable skepticism that I can suspend for finite periods of time, but which ultimately always creep back in and fwap me upside the head with ‘uh, WTF? This is all a head game, after all!’. I have a deep-seated desire to find a consistent explanation of it all, a link to a higher power or reality, and yet every proposal bottoms out on epistemological grounds. At the base of every pursuit is a requirement to take it on faith or worse, to believe some proposition which is obviously flawed. On the other hand, any physical pursuit or ecstatic pursuit that I follow ultimately feels shallow, and causes me to seek a deeper explanation behind the practice, thus sending me down the road of intellectual inspection and philosophical dogma. Thus, I am back in my same position. I am both drawn towards and ultimately driven away from mystical traditions and explanations.

It has taken me a long time to even recognize this tendency in myself, and I haven’t interpreted what it means ultimately. Recently, it’s happened again; at the synagogue I went to a session on Kabbalah, which led to me taking a full-day class at the local Chabad. There was an eight-week course on kabbalah and time being given which started on wednesday that I fully intended on taking. The truth is, the concept is intriguing to me, and there are some messages that I heard that I strongly am in tune with, and yet… I took a peek down the road I was yet again about to follow, and I saw a familiar landscape, and that familiarity has bred a certain apprehension. So, I’ve decided to cool it for now, and take the exploration into Kaballah slow and only on the level of intellectual curiosity. What I desire to avoid is another path that leads to a disappointment and disillusionment because I’ve allowed myself to get involved in another mystical pursuit without feeling grounded in my connection to it.

This all gets to the root of my questioning of religion/spirituality. I know I have a need for a connection with a higher reality, and I cannot deny that need or ignore it. On the same level, I now that any approach that requires the belief in a dogmatic approach, or attempts to explain itself to the mind in anything but the most scientific and open terms is doomed for failure for me. And so, what this leaves me with is approaches that allow me to feel the connection that I crave, without attempting to explain itself to my mind. As much as I have been attracted to the Western approaches of spirituality, I’m coming to the conclusion that it is the Eastern methods that might hold the key for me, and only the very narrow approach of no-minded meditative work that does not require me to believe anything beyond what I am feeling and sensing in the moment. I will try to take those moments for what they are, and nothing more. That is my challenge, but now I am aware of the processes involved in me. The irony for me is, that the intellectual methods of the western tradition designed to overstimulate the mind into shutting down bring the participant to a similiar state as no-minded methods, but my mind is too active for those methods to work me. So, I must deny and avoid all explanation, and seek the experience of connection directly. Without an explanation, there is no dogma. Without dogma, my mind has nothing to take apart.

So, in a very long-winded fashion, I am saying that Yoga may be the spiritual path I need to take to give me the connection that my inner self desires, and as long as I keep my practice on the basic level and do not dive too deeply into the dogmatic underpinnings, I should be fine.

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