Archive for the ‘kabbalah’ Category

I took in this James Cameron film in the first week of its release and it was simply delightful. Avatar is a melange of mythic elements and powerful archetypes that speak to and from our depths. The 2 hours and 45 minutes went by almost too quickly. This is a testament to the film’s rich symbolism and conformance to the twelve stages of the hero’s journey as articulated by Dr. Joseph Campbell, and the extraordinary and captivating CGI iconography.

As a Jungian, Avatar was a cinematic tour du force leaving me with plenty to think about.

While the storyline itself is not especially remarkable, the images and the interdependence among them certainly are. Of the many things in the film worth reflecting on and talking about, three things were especially striking as I look back on the experience:

  1. The Home Tree World: The central place of community and family life of the Nav ‘i people.
  2. The Tree of Souls: The luminous tree that acted as a nexus of the planet Pandora’s neural network, and the physical signifier of the presence of the sacred and ancestral souls of the Nav’i.
  3. The Contrast of Capitalistic Greed and Pastoral Intimacy: the Military-Industrial mining of Pandora that acts as the reason to displace an indigenous people by force, coupled with the Nav’i’s strong connection to the planet, it’s feminine spirit, and their deep respect for all living things and resolve to defend them.

The Home Tree world of the Nav’i was an enormous living structure with towering branches that served as passageways through the Nav’i homeland. It was reminiscent of the Tree of Life and was filled with delightful creatures (like the spiral plant-like worms with beautiful plumes that would retract as soon as touched). There were also the Seeds of Eywa, the spirits of the Nav’i divinity: phosphorescent parasol-like creatures that are intimately connected to Eywa.

The Tree of Life appears in traditions throughout the globe. It connotes the interdependence of all life, and the common heritage (brotherhood and sisterhood) of all sentient beings. It symbolizes the mystical history of the Family of Humankind and the Family of All Creation. As I watched the film, I was impressed with the sense of filial feeling and accountability that the Nav’i express toward all life, including the life they take for food or in self-defense.

There was a clear allusion to Wisdom and Sophia in the characterization of Eywa, the divine presence. The Home Tree is a symbol of life before the “Fall,” an Eden of beauty and youthful exuberance, filled with an authentic sense of awe before the Sacred: a pristine and simpler world threatened by the harsh and violent intrusion of weapons of war and technologies of death.


Read Full Post »

In two earlier posts, I examined the sacraments of Baptism & Chrismation/Confirmation. I turn now to the 3rd gate, Penitence.

At its heart, penitence is the act of acknowledging egoistic needs fulfilled at another’s expense. It is an act of repentance for our addictions of thought, feeling, and action that separate us from others, the truth of our greater Self, and, thereby, from the sacred. Penitence restores a 7th sense after the physical five of sight, sound, taste, touch,  smell and, adding a 6th, intuition.

The 7th sense is keener awareness of one’s spiritual station and place on the mountain path the leads to the Cosmic Heart, Divine Union, authentic compassion, or agape, enlightenment, or satori. Penitence is the corrective whereby we acknowledge the inner shadow and reintegrate it into our persona. It is a process of spiritual re-tuning, atonement for blindness of spirit, and remembering the once and future Incarnation.

It was once an ecclesiastically richer experience than it has become. In our times, the power, grandeur, mystery, and depth of this sacrament are leaner by virtue of the march of post-modern appetites for instant gratification, and a sense among many that it is somehow anachronistic, and no longer either necessary or relevant.

At the Mass, one can simply take part in the collective prayer of confession before the communion and all is forgiven, so why submit to this added, optional, (if recommended), ritual. In time, social ritual dominates and obscures the mystical interior.  What never changes, however, is the meaning sealed within it by centuries of contemplative practice and mystical experience. The esoteric significance is always awaiting the moment of re-enchantment inside of us.

As a young man, I recall with much delight my pre-adolescent years walking the mile or so from my grandparent’s home to the Roman Catholic church in which we were parishioners, Our Lady of Good Counsel. It was our Saturday pilgrimage. My late maternal grandfather and I would head off after breakfast to go to “Confession.” I remember taking this all very seriously, as did he. I wanted to “get it right,” and there was, of course,  a formula greeting to say to the Priest that I had to commit to memory.

What I liked the most about it was the anonymity. I would wait with others in the pews in prayer for a vacant confessional booth, then enter one, close the door, and wait for the Priest to signal that it was time by his sliding the small wooden partition,  between his box and mine, to the left, and through which I could vaguely see him on the other side of a mesh grating, sitting in profile, and looking away from me.

It was a bit like a visit to the Wizard of Oz, to be honest. There was no relationship per se. The Priest didn’t really know me and vice versa, and that was just perfect. It had an air of mystery and gravitas. It was a special moment, set apart from all others. In other words, it was a Sacrament!

I felt that in confession I was speaking to a voice that was standing in for Christ. I routinely rehearsed the mantra: “Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession.” After that, it was pretty much a list-wise exercise. Generally, I always began with same items: ” I lied, I cursed, I disobeyed ny parents.” Dutifully, the Priest would then assign penance in the form of  a certain amount of “Our Fathers” and “Hail Mary’s,” offer absolution ( the next sacrament), and then admonish me to go and sin no more. I exited the booth, fulfilled the penance immediately, and walked back home feeling good as new.

Later in life, as a college undergraduate, I developed an academic relationship with the catholic chaplain, who was also my instructor in Phenomenology. He was terrific: a deeply spiritual man, authentically contemplative, funny, and intellectual. We met several times a week just to talk about life issues and concerns, hopes and dreams. (Eventually, my wife, then my fiance, and I, invited him to officiate at our wedding.)

In any event, on one occasion, I asked him about confession, and he offered to hear mine. He said, simply: “Go ahead. I’m listening.” Now, this was a culture shock moment as my history was all about anonymous confessions and so, though I requested it, I didn’t realize just how awkward it would feel on a face to face basis. So, formula greeting swept aside, I just began listing out my “sins.” When I finished, he said: “Interesting and scrupulous, but I am having a difficult time identifying any sins.”

For a moment, I felt that I let him down by being boring, and a part of me thought it would have been better to make up a couple of really good ones. You know, something like a series of pure lust relationships. Of all my confessions, this is the one  I recall the most. While it lacked the mystery of anonymity (which I still feel is an important aspect of the process), it was deeply personal, real, inquiring, and I was moved by it.

I walked away with more questions than answers: What is a sin then if the ones I thought to mention don’t fit the definition? I obviously thought cursing, lying, and disobeying my parents were sins. But, were they?

At times, cursing just feels like the right and best response. However, in social settings it comes across as inappropriate, shallow, undignified, and unrefined. But, is it sin? Well, not really. How about lying? Well, it depends doesn’t it on what one is lying about and to whom? Sometimes, the truth is an act of cruelty and violence?

At other times, reframing something, or being less direct, is gracious, respectful, and diplomatic. In other instances, a lie is a crime, as when under oath. But, when is it a sin? A lie is sinful when the intent is to manipulate, swindle, deceive for personal gain or benefit, or mis-represent for reasons of expediency and personal agenda. In other words, sin is a matter of intention (whether conscious or unconscious).

Thinking about my true sins, as opposed to acts of defiance, willful independence, argument, or a challenge of established rubrics of conduct or authority, is a powerful refection on my state of Mind and Spirit. It is a self-analysis. When joined by a confessor (anonymously, or face to face) the self-examination moves to another level of inquiry, precision, and clarity. When not handled in a rote formula fashion, it provides opportunity to clarify intentions of which we are unaware, and help make them conscious to better understand and master them. So far, all of this is therapeutic but it is still socio-sacramental.

What then is the esoteric nature of this sacrament? Penitence begins with the choice to face our failings. Without “spinning” our acts of mind or deed, we simply speak the truth about what we have thought and done. In an authentic act of penitence, we present to a Priest that naked truth. What is critical for this sacrament to activate higher centers of consciousness is deep and real contrition. The contrite heart resolves to mend and restore balance. Simply put, to sin in this way no more. This is pre-requisite for the next sacrament, Absolution.

Penitence, in itself, activates another spiritual center on the Kabbalah Tree of Life, the center associated with Mind, or Hod, הוד. Through a contrite heart, our ties to egoistic gratifications loosen, and the warm Light of the Christos becomes radiant.

We experience profound refreshment. If real, it showers down on others and ourselves in the form of forgiveness. We break free of the prisons of mind defined by self-loathing, self-deprecation, guilt, anger, and angry fear.

For this reason,  Penitence is preparatory for Eucharist and Communion in ways that “Lift our Hearts up to the Lord.”

Regarding the “shadow” that resides in every man, woman and child ( and every group, culture, and nation) Jung wrote: “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” Let us orient ourselves toward the Light, see what’s real, and embrace the ALL. It is only in removing built-up spiritual plaque that Divine Light becomes radiant within us.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »


At the center you’re on the edge.

Yes, that’s right. Whether you fancy Dunkin Donuts or Krispy Cremes, the true doughnut ( the one with a hole in the middle), is a fitting metaphor for the spiritual life. Forrest Gump’s good and ever wise mother notwithstanding, chocolates are not the most fitting symbol. What I am talking about is the geometry of the Spirit. When you travel along an edge of the doughnut, you are also moving around the center.

Mathematicians refer to the doughnut shape as a torus, and its shape is “liminocentric”. So, what’s the meaning of this obscenely multi-syllabic word? In the case of liminocentricity, traveling along an edge, or, an outside part of the shape, is paradoxically also traveling inside of it. Many who talk about this kind of shape refer to the “chinese boxes” by way of analogy, wherein a series of smaller boxes fit inside larger ones. To be liminocentric ( limen, denoting thresholds, and centric, for center) small and large details of the shape are also the same.

The term was first used by Psychologist John Fudjack in his 1995 paper, Liminocentric Forms of Social Organization. The word has caught on in circles as diverse as physics, art, and consciousness studies. So, what’s all the fuss about?

In living spiritually, thresholds matter a lot. The moments of insight are most often threshold moments: we feel on the verge of some discovery. Perhaps we see something with fresh eyes, as if for the first time, or we are challenged in a way that seems to pull us into a new, unfamiliar space. But in opening ourselves to it, we are somehow closer to the center of reality, nearer a compelling truth.

Moses’ metaphorical encounter with the “burning bush” was liminocentric. He was at an unprecedented threshold, having stepped on holy ground where nothing was as we generally experience it. A bush burns without being consumed, and his relationship with the One embodied in the heat of the flame is at once personal, transpersonal, and Other. According to the Jewish Study Bible, the voice of Yahweh signs himself by uttering the words,” I will be what I will be.” The  burning bush was wholly and fully present, and also alive to all possible futures at the same time.

Moses stood on a mountain facing an awesome and, no doubt, terrifying visage, face to face with the ineffable, and they spoke: A Divine Q&A. He stood on a precipice, an edge, a verge of unknowing, and, at the same time, entered into the Bridal chamber, was at the center, at-onement with the Intimate Mystery.

Mathematicians and astrophysicists have gone far in exploring the geometry of liminocentricity. In fractal geometric terms, it is an apt model for the topology of the universe. The torus shape is ubiquitous: storm systems, galaxies, and black holes. There is no finer meditation than to open one’s eyes to the shapes of nature all around.

As we perceive the varieties of beautiful forms, we come to fully experience the outward topologies in deeply personal ways. Consciousness, it seems, is shaped as nature is shaped. Gazing inward, we experience our own threshold moments in which we are traveling an edge, and yet are closer to the center. We are involved in something seemingly small in finite time and space, but mindful, as a result, of the incomprehensibly vast.

  • Being present at the birth of one’s child;
  • The moment of awe standing on the perimeter of a volcanic caldera;
  • Holding the hands of a loved one as they pass away;
  • Hearing a lover’s heartbeat while feeling one’s own;
  • Being really awake in that fleeting split second in between two thoughts and listening to true silence;

As I move through this last day of the holiday weekend here, I will be taking special notice of things liminocentric, and of those moments that are both edges and centers, and where the structure of small details mirrors the large.

In any event, my next doughnut promises to be a very special treat indeed.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »


Christ means the “Anointed One.” Throughout history and across cultures and religions, oil figures prominently, along with water, in ritual moments of sacred awakenings.

While the water of Baptism prepares and cleanses,  anointing ( from a linguistic root meaning to “smear”) is often performed using blessed oils, or chrism. In opening the Heart to the second sacramental gate, the oil, richer and heavier than water, penetrates to the inmost layers of our Being forming a foundation. It adds complexity.

The anointing with oil signifies an effulgence, an expression of one’s uniqueness, and brings the soul into more direct contact with the Christ Within. It materializes the spark of Divine Light that knows no evening, the fire that pierces the darkness. Where the waters of Baptism meet the flammable oil of  Chrismation, the flight of one’s soul toward the Omega Point, the Heart of the Infinite whence it arose, is enabled.

The Holy Spirit, the breath of the Beloved, moves through matter and psyche, like the solar wind, creating auroral-like currents announcing the presence of the Son. In this sacrament, we are confirmed in our identity as a seeker of the Grail, as a Knight commissioned by the “Most High.” We are deemed ready to step boldly into uncertainty and face the perils along a narrow road. We receive our first true commission to advance on the road that Joseph Campbell calls the “Hero’s Journey.”

Known better in Western Christendom as “confirmation,” this sacrament acts to energize the second sephirot of the Kabbalah Tree of Life, “Yesod,” or foundation. It represents “shalom” or peace. It completes what began in Baptism, when the first sephirot, “Malchut,” or the Kingdom, was spiritually opened. The second sephirot  builds on the baptismal naming of the soul, exciting the gift of self-expression or the embodiment of the Logos. “Yesod” also represents the unconscious Mind and the charism of spiritual knowledge. With the anointing, the first two gates to the Kingdom of the Beloved are opened to the soul, and the spiritual journey enters a new phase in fulfilling its telos (τέλοϛ) in the Pleroma, or the Divine fullness.

In Catholicism, Confirmation is the conscious decision to “be a soldier for Christ and defend the faith,” and is usually conferred in young adulthood.  In Eastern Orthodoxy,  Chrismation is combined with Baptism by water as a mystical conjoint act of naming and blessing. In Protestantism, confirmation is a rite viewed as a service of public declaration of membership.

For me, the Eastern tradition of Chrismation retains the fullest sense of the mystery that these moments of sacred encounter embody. The anointing with oil communicates a Christic charism to help unleash the foundations of the quest for the Pearl of Great Price. The Gates of the Cosmic Heart are swung wide as the individual soul joins the collective movement of the World Soul toward the Teilhardian “Omega Point,” the place at which the great opus of creation realizes its destiny according to the divine archetypes guiding it.

Meditative Epilogue:

In preparing greens and vegetables for a meal, we first wash them thoroughly and purify them. More often than not, we next garnish them with a favorite oil. First the cleansing by water, then the adornment with oil as the base with spices added that adhere to the oil and elevate a common collection of materials to something truly delicious; a culinary experience in the hands of a master chef.

So, too, we come into the world with a common collection of materials ( the organic stuff of what it means to be human). We are  Baptized in water, cleansed, and are then fully opened to receive the charisms that follow. Then comes the anointing with oil, that awakens us further to embrace the spices added later by the Master: the remaining five sacraments, and the experience of a lifetime in expanding upon them.

It is powerful to revisit these moments that happened in one’s youth, recalling their nature as perpetually active, not static happenings. Each day, the action of each blessing expands our spiritual universe as the universe we observe all around us accelerates its expansion.


© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »