Saturday, May 09, 2009

Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein - Challenge of the Soul

Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein's "Challenge of the Soul" is a fine article on cultivating the traits we need in order to face the challenges of our life with less fear and more courage. His book will be published by Shambhala Publications, and this excerpt comes from the Shambhala Sun SunSpace blog.

Challenge of the Soul

May 6, 2009 Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein

Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein uses a variety of teachings –from Jewish and other sources—to answer the question: what are the qualities we need to cultivate in order to face the challenges of our life with less fear and more courage? His new book, Challenge of the Soul, which is being published by Shambhala will be on sale August 18, 2009. This is an excerpt:

When I speak with artists, writers, and composers, they frequently describe their work, not as something that they achieve, but rather that they receive. While it is common for religious mystics to describe experiences of having their souls possessed by the divine spirit, even atheists in the creative fields often talk about the role of the Muse as the mysterious source that inspires their craft. This shouldn’t surprise us. The etymological root of the word “inspiration” means the internalization of spirit—for that to occur, though, we must be open and receptive to it. The borderlines between creative inspiration and spiritual revelation are much more porous than most of us usually think.

The Sabbath highlights this point. Erich Fromm, the important countercultural psychoanalyst, discusses in his book You Shall Be As Gods how the Sabbath embodies that same synthesis of the material and the spiritual. The Sabbath—arguably the key observance in biblical religion—is an expression of freedom in its fullest form. Yet it is a freedom anchored firmly in the ideas of giving up and of giving over.

The Sabbath, in traditional Judaism and Christianity, is a day when we are supposed to refrain from work. Why? By not working, Fromm observes, we are no longer participants in, nor are we bound by, the process of natural and social change. This “frees” us from the limitations of time—for just one day a week. The Sabbath represents messianic time, providing us, if we choose to accept it, with a taste of eternity.

It is not work or production that are paramount values for Fromm, but “rest.” In the context of the Sabbath, it is this state of rest that sets us free, that humanizes us, that allows us to experience life in its purist manifestation. It has no other purpose, nor does it strive for one. As a humanist and a clinician, the Sabbath must have seemed to Fromm a very effective vehicle for both character development and self-actualization.

Yet there are other, more metaphysical (and even mystical) ways to view the Sabbath, and Abraham Joshua Heschel, an influential modern rabbi and activist, offers us one in his own book, The Sabbath. For him, unlike Fromm, the Sabbath synthesizes the psycho-spiritual and the aesthetic. On that holy day, each one of us is given the opportunity to act as an artisan of the soul, to participate in the creation of what he calls “a palace in time.” That spiritual architecture, however, is contingent on our working to construct it: without its builders doing their job, the palace cannot come into existence. The paradox of the Sabbath is that our “work” and our freedom are the consequence of merely being. When we take up residence in the palace, and when we allow the palace to dwell inside us, we create a harmony of mind and spirit, of human and divine.

We live fully in the moment, in the eternal now.

Read the whole article.

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