Monday, January 30, 2012

Spiritual Mystical Experiences

Just left class on Spiritual Mystical Experiences, with the awesome educator, Levi Cooper, and felt overwhelmed with emotion. Often times, after sitting in his lectures, I walk away with a strong emotional reaction. I think there are a few reasons for this reaction:

  1. Perhaps because I feel connected to the material he teaches, and the way he teaches. The charisma and fluidity in his teaching, in addition to the way he applies the content is incredibly awe-inspiring for me. I find that his presentation itself is a mystical experience that allows me to go into a different space and I enjoy every minute of it. The journey brings me to heights and lows when it ends.
  2. Intensity. I get emotional by hearing him articulate thoughts that I've had in my head for a long time, that I was never able to identify. That's a very intense feeling that I can't quite articulate.
  3. Longing. Part of me feels like I've missed out. Even though I am grateful for every moment of that class, I wish I would have encountered these issues and questions when I was younger.
  4. I just don't know what to do with this new awareness/insight. They are pearls of wisdom that I know, somehow can make a big impact on my life... somehow... but how?
  5. A sense of failure/guilt. I will never be in a place where I feel fully content. With these new insights, and new questions, I always feel like I'm just not doing a good enough job being in the place I'm supposed to be. This is my own pathos, I know.
  6. Confusion. Why, after all the shiurim and classes I've taken, is he the only educator discussing such beautiful concepts of self-discovery and growth?
Today Levi went into the concept of spirituality as broader than just being something anti-intellectual. Spirituality can manifest in many different avenues in our lives, and allows for many ways of self-expression. Highly individualized, spirituality in the broader definition allows even those who 'aren't spiritual' to experience something spiritual.

As Levi spoke, I began to choke up. I know that I have had the fortune to experience spiritual, mystical experiences in the past. They are hard to describe, but it's a feeling that you are transcending yourself and going into another place, where you're elated, euphoric, invigorated. There are a few experiences that come to mind:
  1. NCSY shabbaton (an all-around feel good experience, but so infantile!)
  2. Playing flute
  3. Shabbat in the Old City back in 2000 (first time in a diversely Jewish environment)
  4. Teaching in Moscow
  5. Dancing
  6. Being atop a snow-topped mountain in Cortina d'Apezzo, Italy
Part of me sensed a feeling of fear as he was speaking. There is some barrier in me that prevents me from getting involved in the very things that I see as spiritual. A fear, a deterrence, as if that very passion, that very love, can actually hurt and pain me. As if I may fail. Or I won't be good enough, or I won't make it last... So I just won't go near it again.

Embracing these spiritual experiences makes me feel vulnerable. It is an invigorating feeling when you're in the moment (and immediately after), but it takes a tremendous amount of energy to go ahead and bring them into my life. I have a fear; sort of like falling in love. Being in love is the best feeling in the world, but it can end at any moment, and then you're all alone all over again.

To dedicate yourself to a realm that you are passionate about can both excite you and make you feel vulnerable at the same time. I think I've experienced this duality in the past, when I brought these passions close to my life, especially when made them a central part of my livelihood. I think this is one of the main reasons why I've always stayed away from education. I love to teach, but I want to save my energy and passion for when I know/feel I'm truly ready to appreciate it. I don't want to have to deal with allowing other people to mess up my dream, as what's happened with other professional places I've been in in the past.

On a positive note, Levi's presentation did make me realize that I can compartmentalize areas of spirituality in my life. Take, for example, my struggle with staying in Israel. Part of me feels like I am not fulfilling my desire to reach out, educate and teach others. Here, I am one in a million and I don't feel like I have a unique place to really let my talents shine like I do in less Jewish environments abroad.

On the other hand, I feel intrinsically fulfilled by simply living in the Land of Israel, participating in the everyday ongoings of this country. I feel a sense of meaning by being part of this national entity, and that is a spiritual satisfaction that I wouldn't get abroad.

These are two aspects of my spiritual mystical experiences; by doing one, I neglect the other, and vice versa.

So what happens to those who cannot solidly identify one area of life that inspires us? Am I to remain 50/50 half-fulfilled, and half-lacking, at any given moment?

I can't quite articulate what is deterring me from taking on something that I know will fulfill me. But my emotions really stirred me up today. I am my own enigma.

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