Kabbalah teaches that we cannot comprehend the meaning of life without exploring profound depths within ourselves to attain a clear recognition of our own essential nature. From the kabbalistic perspective, all of our physical, emotional and intellectual knowledge will fall short of its potential when not informed by the clarity and awareness that comes out of spiritual knowledge.
When spiritual teachers talk about “enlightenment,” they are usually referring to a quality of insight that casts the light of revealed truth onto our experiences. Some teachers suggest that enlightenment endows one with supernatural powers. Most teachings, however, are not a concerned with paranormal displays, but are focused upon an extraordinary refinement of our everyday traits and characteristics. Flying, walking through walls, and manifesting gold out of lead are interesting metaphors for the enlightened being, but what is truly astonishing is the ability to have a soft heart toward all who have caused us harm, to care deeply for all who suffer, or to turn away from revenge, hostility, or violence under all conditions.
Most of us are quick to react to irritations, we go after tiny mosquitoes with a vengeance. We react strongly when we experience emotional betrayal. We are willing to argue at length, even when we know the person to whom we are speaking is unalterably opposed to our opinion. We are often fixated on physical, emotional and intellectual issues or questions, often dwelling on them for days or weeks. We invent dramas and obsess on powerful experiences, replaying them over and over again, especially when we feel we are being abused, mistreated or misunderstood.
This is not to say that the enlightened response is always accepting, passive and yielding. Rather, it is simply to note that our normal conditioned reactions in relation to many of the activities and situations in which we engage are most probably not the way a more enlightened person would react under identical conditions. Indeed, the way we react to various situations is one of the key measures of one’s degree of enlightened consciousness.
People pursue spiritual paths for various reasons. Near the top of the list is the desire to become more skilled in our relationships with family, friends and even strangers, acting more gracefully, being kinder, gentler, more loving, more accepting, more generous people. These are noble aspirations. We expect that an enlightened person would clearly exhibit these traits. In fact, we are usually disappointed when we see a spiritual guide acting in ways that do not fit our image of what enlightenment is “supposed” to look like.
Our expectations of how an enlightened teacher will act can often lead to considerable disappointment and grief. A change of perspective, however, can quickly resolve this problem. My personal view agrees with the opinion that there are few, if any, fully enlightened people, per se, but there are untold numbers of enlightened acts. Each day we have many opportunities to achieve one or more enlightened acts, and each time we accomplish one, the world is a better place. This realization changes completely our approach to the enlightening process. We have less concern with discovering an enlightened teacher who will be our guide, and more emphasis is put upon our own decisions and acts, moment-by-moment, to raise our own consciousness and actions accordingly.
Following a spiritual path is far more a way to live one’s life than it is a means to achieve a goal. Rather than seeking enlightenment, an authentic spiritual aspirant is one who realizes the continuing process of enlightening many times every day. There is nothing higher than a moment of kindness. Enlightening does not have a measure; one enlightened moment is not better or higher than another. However, the process of skillful action itself affects the practitioner. That’s what spiritual “practice” means. We develop a habit pattern of doing more and more enlightened actions, and we become better people, we break out of old habits of conditioning and we come closer to attaining the full potential of our natural kindness. What more would we ask of a practice?
Ecstasy is one of those words—like love—that can mean many things. When we use the term “ecstatic Kabbalah,” we are mainly concerned with the meaning of ecstasy in the spiritual realms. The root of the word ecstatic comes from the Greek wordekstasis, which means “out of place,” as opposed to mundane life in which nothing special stands out in the humdrum unfolding of time.
The purpose of spiritual practice is to gently and consistently move us from our place, where we normally “hang out” in our day-to-day behavior, to a place of greater refinement. In this context, refinement is connected with our conditioning, our normal reflexes and responses to situations that arise every day. Through practice, we begin to reflect and react in different ways. This change in our behavior actually causes a couple of significant results.
Enlightened action changes the dynamics of a situation. It affects all the people engaged in the situation. If affects how things will unfold after the situation. It affects how we, who have changed, feel about ourselves. In addition, there are a multitude of variables that arise out of this change of behavior. And whether we can realize the full impact or not, even the smallest circumstance can and will change the way life unfolds in the future. All this can occur, for example, from manifesting a gentle smile in a situation that might normally have evoked an angry response.
Spiritual practice, is this context, has a series of tiny ekstasis that arise when we behave out of place of our normal reactions. We must keep in mind that “normal” for most of us is quite different from “natural.” Normal is how we are conditioned to respond. Conditioning develops from the time we are conceived; some say that our propensities to be conditioned go back into our genetic dna. But the spiritual principal at the base of many traditions is that our natural inclinations arise when we fully recognize the basic nature of our own minds and thereby gain greater ability to resist conditioned reactions.
Naturalness of being is built upon a clear sense of selflessness, and this results in the peacefulness of open arms, the sense of inclusiveness and non-separation. When there is no separation, it means that there is no place needed for the selfless awakened being. The condition in which there is “no place,” and no ego-self, is the state of absolute ecstasy in spiritual terms.
Each enlightened act is “out of place,” so to speak. This is what ultimate spiritual ecstasy is about. When we engage in an on-going flow of enlightened actions, this ekstasis slowly becomes conditioned. But it never becomes fixed, never permanent, for life itself remains a constant unknown.
Keep in mind that enlightenment as a steady state of being should never be a goal of practice, for it is a self-defeating fixation. Skilled practice results from an ongoing engagement in what everyday life presents. As we never know what life will bring, we need always to be prepared to bring our highest potential to each moment. Thus, to the best of our ability, we continuously attend the opportunities that present themselves for manifesting enlightened actions. Each and every time we succeed, we change the world.
The highest teachings suggest that our most enlightened opportunities occur in the ordinary daily life we now experience. The highly developed spiritual practitioner faces the same challenges in daily life as everybody else. The difference is that one who is awakened recognizes the essential nature of what is happening while the one who is not awakened is easily overwhelmed by an ongoing flow of dramas. We can only see clearly when we are able to gain some distance from the all consuming self-indulgence that causes us to believe we are separate and thus gives us a distorted view of existence. That distorted view causes a great deal of harmful actions, false beliefs, negative reactions and confusion. So the aspiration or goal of practice is nothing more than breaking down the wall of confusion brick by brick.
This book and its accompanying compact disk are designed to teach specific practices that over time help us experience more refined states of mind that open new levels of insight and new recognitions of the nature of things. The more we see clearly on the spiritual plane, the better informed we are on the physical, emotional and intellectual levels of knowing. The more informed we are, the deeper we can go. So, the spiritual path is not a separate life process, but in fact is in complete symbiotic relationship with our ordinary daily life experiences.