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Kabbalah and Psychoanalysis

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Wilfred Bion once said, "I use the Kabbalah as a framework for psychoanalysis." Both are preoccupied with catastrophe and faith, infinity and intensity of experience, shatter and growth of being that supports dimensions which sensitivity opens. Both are preoccupied with ontological implications of the Unknown and the importance of emotional life.This work is a psychospiritual adventure touching the places Kabbalah and psychoanalysis give something to each other. Michael Eigen uses aspects of Bion, Winnicott, Akivah, Luria and Nachman (and many more) as colours on a palette to open realities for growth of experience. Bion called faith "the psychoanalytic attitude" and Eigen here explores creative, paradoxical, multidimensional aspects of faith.Eigen previously wrote of psychoanalysis as a form of prayer in The Psychoanalytic Mystic. In Kabbalah and Psychoanalysis he writes of creative faith. Sessions as crucibles in which diverse currents of personality mix in new ways, alchemy or soul chemistry perhaps, or simply homage to our embryonic nature which responds to the breath of feeling moment to moment.This book brings out ways that a sense of infinity interweaves with everyday life, at the same time it faces the destructiveness of life and human nature and attempts to work with it. Read these chapters and see where they take you. They are meant as personal support for your own inner work, touching nooks and crannies hungry for touch.

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CHAPTER ONE

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T…esting microphone, chanting: Shema. Shhhmaaaa. Shhhh …

The heart of the Kabbalah, the very heart of Kabbalah is the line: “V’ahav’ta eit Adonai Elohekha b’khol l’vav’kha uv’khol naf’sh’kha uv’khol m’odekha”. Everyone who knows this line please say it with me. (Group: V’ahav’ta eit Adonai Elohekha b’khol l’vav’kha uv’khol naf’sh’kha uv’khol m’odekha.) (Deuteronomy 6:5.)

When I was a child, we were taught that this meant, “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might.” It was presented as a commandment, although, even as a child, I felt there was more to it. More resonance, another vibration I could not quite link up with: more than a commandment, other than a commandment. It was a clue about who I was and what was in me.

When I was a little older, I took it as an invitation: you are invited to love God with all your heart and soul and might. A sort of invitation to God’s playground, God’s holy ground. You are invited to come and play with God with all your heart and soul and might. Then, when I was still older, I started thinking, V’ahav’ta—and you will love. And you will love, you will love. When I am in despair and wretched and totally unloving and hateful and miserable and have no guidance or hope, something sometimes comes up in me and says, “I love you.” And it is the hope that I will love. You will love, you will love God with all your heart and soul and might.

 

CHAPTER TWO

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Last time, I began by saying the essence of Kabbalah is loving God with all your heart and soul and might. The essence of Torah and the essence of Kabbalah in that respect are the same. That is the essence: love God with all your heart and soul and might. I mentioned that it sounds like a commandment. You should, you will, you have to. But it is more: you are. To love God with all you are defines you. You are this love and in relation to this love.

It is a discovery. If you make this discovery, if it happens, if it comes to you that, oh, my God, I love You with all my heart and soul and might, it is a fact. It is a fact not from the outside but from the deepest inside. Schopenhauer says music is the deepest dream of the world. You could also say this dream, this music, expresses this love. Last time I talked about my favourite historical and also fabled rabbi, Rabbi Akiva, and I will not be saying much about him today, but we talked about his kavannah, his devotion, and his awareness, his feeling at the end of his life when his skin was being taken off by the Romans that at last he was able to give God everything, love God with all his might, all that was in him, all that he was. In another part in the Bible it says love God with all your heart and soul and mind. So, there is a change from might to mind. They are both important and it is a challenge. How can one do that? What is “all”? What would “all” be? Rabbis say with the good inclination and the bad inclination. Love God with good and evil inclinations. And what would that look like?

 

Appendix 1: Ein Sof and the Sephirot (Tree of Life)

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Ein Sof is a notation for the unnameable, inconceivable, unimaginable, unrepresentable—what in English we call “God”. The words mean without boundaries, boundless, no bounds, represented as infinity or infinite infinite. In a way, it is beyond God, as the latter is a notation with a wide range of associations and meanings that limit its unknowability (the use of “it” is already a misappropriation). I personally sometimes think of Sofia, wisdom, already a vast limitation. With the popularity of Buddhism, one might speak of Ein Sof as no-thing and its twin emanation, being.

Technically, Ein Sof is not part of the Sephirot/Tree of Life. It is beyond all representation. You might envision it as the Energy that flows through the Sephirot and “creates” them. Unrepresentable Primal Power, or Presence. Again, these are terms drawn from our phenomenology of force, action, experience, care, and mystery. I should say at the outset that everything I say is hypothetical, fantasy, attempts to express the inexpressible, touch the intangible that touches me. Bion speaks of O, unknown, unknowable ultimate reality, not identical with Ein Sof, but not unrelated.

 

Appendix 2: Four worlds

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Four worlds are associated with the various levels of the sephirot. The first is Atzilut (emanation), the upper tip of the sephirot. Keter lives here. I might call it a first level of emanation from Ein Sof, but, Kabbalah being as intricate as it is, there are finer, less perceptible levels even higher, which we are omitting. Atzilut is related to a word meaning close, near. Near Ein Sof. A kind of near direct contact, direct enough. The Bible says the soul is pure and Jewish mysticism says a pure point of soul is in contact with God.

There is dispute as to whether Atzilut, emanation, is characteristic mainly of Keter (crown) or extends to the rest of the “head”, Chochmah, Binah, Daat (wisdom, understanding, knowledge). Does the second world, Beriah (creation), begin with Chochma (wisdom), or with Chesed (mercy)? For our purpose, I will treat Atzilut, emanation, as including the head sephirot plus Daat, which, strictly speaking, has no location (direct Godly knowledge).

We will posit the second world, Beriah, creation, starting with Chesed (mercy) and going through Tiferet (beauty). Beriah is also related to a word meaning outside, suggesting it is a further step from the primordial infinite Light, which, in Beriah, takes the form and function of creativity. Although biblical creation begins with light (“Let there be light”), it is creative light, created light, more formed, differentiated than uncreated Light closer to Ein Sof. There is light that we see and dimensions of spiritual Light that we do not see, which are invisible, intangible, non-measurable.

 

Appendix 3: Circle and rays

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Figure 1. Circle and rays 1.

Figure 2. Circle and rays 2.

Idrew these diagrams as simple depictions of the idea of many paths through, or somehow associated with, a common centre. One can picture them as radiating out of a common centre or crossing through the latter, emanating from a nucleus, or whatever your imaginations suggest. I was thinking of Nicholas de Cusa’s remark about God being a circle with centre everywhere, circumference nowhere. Other translations write God as centre nowhere, circumference everywhere. What is conveyed by either is God every-where-nowhere. Our perspectives change. Our relationship to Everywhere-Nowhere grows beyond coincidence of opposites.

I do not mean these images as an exact correspondence or representation of Nicholas de Cusa’s thought or experience, but as an informal evocation of sensing that parallels aspects of Kabbalah’s Ein Sof. God is unrepresentable, unfindable, and yet one cannot be anywhere where God is not. Already we are speaking in opposites: is-is not. Bion writes that for a thing to exist it must be and not be at the same time. Nicholas, I think, tries to take us beyond opposites. For Nicholas, language is conjecture. “Knowledge” of God conjecture. Bion also brings out how our narratives select, slant, and organise experience that exceeds them, subtends them, or has no location at all. I mean these images in a playful way, to reverie on, to see where they might bring you or what they might make you feel. The geometric nature of them is rigid, as is the sephirot tree. They should be wavy or erased, no image at all. But I thought they might be fun and even useful for some. To touch an invisible core without a location anywhere, yet somehow touching us.

 

Appendix 4: O-grams

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Figure 1. O-gram no. 1 (Bion, 1994b, p. 323).

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Figure 2. O-gram no. 2 (Bion, 1994b, p. 325).

Bion writes favourably about the structure and function of ideograms. He quotes a book that writes of Chinese characters as poetry (1994b, p. 323). He likes the idea of opposites combined in a single image, diverse directionality in a figure. It connotes richness of experience. The ideogram-like hierarchies that he sketched I have called O-grams. Each begins or ends with O alone beneath all processes and branches above it.

In Chapter One (pp. 23–24), I wrote about some of the relationships between Bion’s O-grams and the Kabbalah and the structure of the sephirot. In O-gram no. 1, O subtends “root”, which branches off to instrument, God, stone, language, paint. From a primordial O-sense, tools, spirit, expressive materials (language, paint, stone) emerge, and from these, music, religion, sculpture, poetry, and painting. Bion quotes from Ernest Fenollosa’s work on Chinese characters, “My subject is poetry …” He gravitates towards expressive gestures, expressive needs, contact with life, and the press to mine what this contact gives rise to. In the beginning, there is O. And O gives rise to experience pressing for survival and culture, a kind of complex monism. By saying, “in the beginning”, I have already misappropriated O, which might not have beginning or end.

 

Appendix 5: Bion’s Grid

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Figure 1. Bion’s Grid.

When Bion was in New York (1978), he placed little emphasis on the grid. His main emphasis was on the living session. In experiential terms, he felt the lived session was in row C, dream thoughts, dreams, and myths. If you were D through F, the chances were you were not in the session, not in the felt moment. At most, the grid was for between session reflection about the emotional experience of the lived session, a way of taking a session apart and re-situating it along a number of dimensions that might improve discernment of processes. He wrote of it as a kind of psychic exercise, keeping alpha function alive and in repair, keeping intuition alive.

As he spoke, I wondered if he was consigning the grid to a kind of scrap heap, much the same as Husserl did with his early attempts to mathematise consciousness. Husserl decided that a mathematics of consciousness was not possible (at least from his horizon) and turned full attention to delineating structures of experience and came to be known as the “father of twentieth century phenomenology”.

 

Appendix 6: Bion quotes

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Following is a selection of quotes from Bion that are relevant for psycho-spiritual reflection. One could say most of Bion’s work is, so why pick these? I have picked a few that contain some kind of more or less explicit reference to psychological and spiritual dimensions. There are many more. I hope, from the few I chose, to stimulate interest for further exploration. I hope, too, that when I add some notes that they will be more helpful than annoying.

***

The fundamental reality is ‘infinity’, the unknown, the situation for which there is no language—not even one borrowed by the artist or the religious—which gets anywhere near to describing it. (1994b, p. 372)

***

Bion uses O to signify unknown infinity, ultimate reality. In this book, I have linked it with Ein Sof and YHVH, realities no name, image, or conception can circumscribe or describe. Yet, to use O, Ein Sof or YHVH seems harshly limiting. In the passage above, Bion tries to leave it open, no sign for it at all, although words like “the fundamental reality, infinity, the unknown” already infringe as pointers. What is it Buddha tries to convey when he speaks of reality that words or images or concepts cannot do justice to, not even words like “emptiness”? The unknown, too, is part of science and problem solving, gaps in knowledge and attempts to fill them. The physicist, Eddington, somewhere said about the universe, “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what”.

 

Appendix 7: Rabbi Nachman’s paths

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The following summarises what I am calling “paths” that Rabbi Nachman lived at various moments of his life. They condense aspects of his spiritual experience written about in Chapter Two, above, and in Green’s (2004) Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, which I draw from. Do not be confused by the different spellings of Rabbi Nachman’s name. Green uses Nahman; others like Kamenetz (2010), also a background source for Chapter Two, use Nachman. I use Nachman because I grew up spelling the gutteral throat growl-like sound “ch”. Neither spelling conveys the actual sound in Yiddish or Hebrew.

While elaborations are in Chapter Two, I thought a list of Rabbi Nachman’s paths might be helpful. The list is not meant to be complete but suggestive.

***

1. Emotions as messengers. Nachman enjoyed and suffered intensities of experience, moments of closeness to God and moments of ghastly separation, unbridgeable distance. His states echo emotions in the psalms, the psalmist bereft, cast into the abyss when God withdraws, joyous when again God’s face shines. A kind of double movement of towards–away. One does not know when God withdraws or the soul withdraws, and vice versa. Whichever extreme he lived, Nachman felt emotions as paths to and from God.

 

Appendix 8: Selected readings

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This section of selected readings supplements the References. I thought it might be useful to readers to include works that help form a background for what is presented. Some are cited in the text, many not. The list is partial and suggestive. Kabbalah literature is vast. What is included and left out is largely chance and circumstance. One book not mentioned is the Bible. Its stories, laws, psalms, prophecies, images, and possibilities form a core basis for Kabbalistic meditation. The suggestion that Moses saw God and spoke with Him face to face is a mirror image of a reality we find within ourselves.

Basic background readings

Buber, M. (1987). Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters Vol 1. New York: Shocken Books.

Eigen, M. (1998). The Psychoanalytic Mystic. London: Free Associations (especially Chapter Three, “Infinite surfaces, explosiveness and faith”).

Scholem, G. (1996). On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism. New York: Shocken Books.

Other suggested readings

Bakan, D. (2004). Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition. Dover Publications.

 

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