LIVING THE TREE OF LIFE
Context by which Concept
Converted to Content
INVITATION & INTRODUCTORY
You are invited to participate in our workshop Living The Tree of Life. It is designed to create a practice which supports our creativity through a process based upon a Tree of Life model. The Purpose is fourfold:
1. Develop a Context that will provide and sustain a personal creative spiritual practice.
2. Take a Stand to become aware of and responsible for what one thinks and believes.
3. Initiate a Dialogue with others interested in developing and sustaining this context and practice.
4. Produce a Body of Work as a result of this dialogue, stand, context, and practice.
The overwhelm of information and stimulation from today’s life styles and technologies tend to induce the paralysis generated by the existential question, “What is the point?” It has been our experience that using the method availed us by Living the Tree of Life not only provides us with an answer to that question but results in the motivation and focus essential to a creative initiation and practice that bears fruit.
Claimed by some to have originated in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life, in its many forms, has been used for thousands of years in different cultures for various meditative purposes and practices. The symbolic glyph or diagram for the tree that we will be using is a version based on those of 16th century Qabalists living in community in the ancient city of Safed located in the mountains of Northern Israel. Though it is said to have its origins in Judaic mysticism, the Tree of Life can be applicable within any belief system or practice. It will be used here to frame our endeavor because it is simple enough in design to provide a contemplative structure that is relatively easy to remember and visualize, yet complex enough to provide a system, much like a filing system, which enables us to organize the material each of us gathers throughout our lives for examination and use in our creative practice.
The Spheres, or Sephiroth, on the Tree of Life symbolize the emanation of the creator’s qualities and energies. Each is a path, which, along with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet that connect them, make up the thirty-two mysterious paths of Qabalah. These paths reveal the Emanation of creative energy by which Patterns initiate Activity to form or manifest Substance on the material plane. As such, this seems a good model or Map of Paths to follow. In other words—by Living the Tree of Life we:
Context by which Concept
Converted to Content
When embarking upon this course of action one should be aware of a few considerations regarding the nature of this material. One is that Qabalah is forbidden to various persons for various reasons, such as age, gender, marital status, religious affiliation or lack thereof, etc., and because it has been used by some for occult purposes. Don’t even get me started raving about the first group of reasons, and I will limit my comments (for now) regarding the final to the following:
If we were to eliminate all things which have been co-opted for occult practice there would be no end to that with which we would have to dispense. Such things (to name a very few) as: studying the stars, depiction of circles, crosses, and steeples, wearing robes, herbal remedies, bell, book (including the Bible) and candle, oak trees, participating in sacraments, and obviously—sex. More will be said about this as we proceed, but let me be clear: None of the material appearing here is designed nor intended for use in occult practices.
Another consideration is that if one’s goal is an in depth study of Qabalah, rather than that stated as our Purpose, there are other resources I can recommend that may be more aligned with your intent.
What could be the most daunting consideration for some may be the most enrolling for others. I have decided against trying to provide a generic or politically correct arena and most of this material strongly reflects my own world view. This is not because I do not respect the views of others, but because I do.
I cannot help missing the days when the passionate sharing of ideas and opinions, which could even include heated arguments, expanded our view and our respect for each other, instead of leading to the bitter termination of friendships. But, in the charged atmosphere of today’s political and religious agendas this dialogue may be something in which one, understandably, does not wish to participate. I can identity with this: I used to write a column I called The View From The Fence for a small town newspaper. I tried to avoid offending anyone. But if you have anything worth saying, you can be sure someone will be offended. I comfort myself with the words of one of my mentors who used to say, “Honey, if they’re not throwing rocks at you, it’s because you ain’t moving.”
The ability to take and relinquish a stand is unavoidable and indispensable for those whose goal it is to develop and sustain a practice that will produce a body of work of any substance. The expression of my views, besides being part of my own creative spiritual practice and body of work, is intended as a challenge. Stating a position or proposition can provide a barrier against which one can push from either side. It is hoped that in doing so, one develops a clear understanding of one’s own views, and gains the confidence and grace to express them, and the courage and conviction to either stand for them or change them to something for which one can.
Considerations will continue as we proceed and commentary is encouraged. The creation of this very dialogue is part of the fourfold Purpose.
Develop a Context that will provide and sustain
a personal creative spiritual practice.
We are empowered to the degree
that we are aware of that which defines us.
Our ability to create a context within which one can define oneself and be defined by others is one of the most empowering tools we can acquire. Helen Keller may have said it best when she stated “Life is either a great adventure or nothing.” The ability of this woman, who was born deaf, dumb, and blind, to hold her life in this context was foundational to empowering her to greatness.
When we become overwhelmed and confused it is because the context within which we are experiencing ourselves and our circumstances is not big enough to accommodate the perceived reality of our experience. If we were to compare ourselves and such circumstances to a tapestry we might say we feel like we are “hanging by a thread” or “coming apart at the seams.” Recreating the context would be to experience ourselves as being in partnership with the weaver or the maker.
Another way to look at context is to symbolize our circumstances as a fence. We might say that we are feeling “trapped” or “closed in on” or that we can’t “break through.” It is important to give language to these feelings. Assigning language is what reveals the perceived context and enables us to re-contextualize into something that is large enough to contend. For example, by using our Tree of Life to examine the word fence we can begin to get a taste of what it means to contextualize. Let me explain:
Each of the twenty-two glyphs or symbols which constitute the letters of the Hebrew alphabet is assigned a name and has a meaning. For instance, the meaning of the name for the Hebrew letter Cheth is fence, or a field enclosed by a fence. On the Tree of Life it appears as Path 18 which joins the Sephirah Binah (Understanding) to that of Geburah (Justice-Strength). The teaching on this path is not that we are closed in or trapped by a fence, but that an area of our infinite experience has been marked off or “fenced” for our protection so that we can focus on and contemplate what is needed for the understanding that can empower us with the strength to define and come into compliance with the laws of nature on which reality hangs.
There will be much more to say about this path when we come to it, and hopefully you are not as intimidated by these concepts as I was in the beginning. It gets easier once we have the whole picture, or if you will, the whole Tree. But even from this little glimpse, one can see how bringing language to our experience, redefining and recontextualizing it, one has a sense of empowerment instead of feeling trapped.
We have the ability to redefine and recreate our context so that we are not only supported by it and participating within that support system but that we are co-designing it to our own very specific needs and desires. For instance, if one were to hold oneself as created in the creator’s image we would hold ourselves as created to be in partnership with the maker. Our Tree of Life model is designed to instigate and sustain living within that context, or to challenge it with one tailored to and by one’s own world view.
Take a Stand
to become aware of and responsible
for what one thinks and believes.
We are empowered to the degree
that we know ourselves.
While taking a stand is listed second as the four parts which define our Purpose for Living the Tree of Life, it is foundational to the others. Taking a stand is necessary to fulfill not only the the third part of the Purpose, which is to initiate a dialogue, but also informs all the other parts. As previously stated, the ability to take or to relinquish a stand is unavoidable for those whose goal it is to develop and sustain a practice that will produce a body of work.
Taking a stand is absolutely necessary if one is to commit art! But we are also taking a stand when we say things such as, “I don’t know what to paint,” or “I don’t have anything to say.” Stands, conscious or not, are inherent in both creating and not creating. It will become evident that if one just paints an apple, one is taking a stand. The stands we take inspire and inform our art, or stop us dead in our tracks.
Before one can qualify that for which one stands, one has to have some sense of who the “I” taking the stand is. Our beliefs and that for which we are willing to stand are a product of who and what we were, who and what we are, and who and what we become.
Without laboring the ongoing “nature versus nurture conversation” we can say that certain physical aspects are obvious at birth, such as those eliciting declarations of gender. And while we weren’t born believing as we do, it soon becomes apparent that there are other aspects, besides gender, which could only be credited as having come with the package. These, combined with aspects which we acquire and continue to acquire are what individuate and define each of us, and come to be referenced as our identity.
That human beings are born creative entities, little artists, if you will, becomes obvious early on. This is an identity which, based on marketability and consequently possible financial and socialization difficulties, is not always encouraged. Not only is this most inherent of qualities not encouraged, it is in fact discouraged, which often results in even greater difficulties.
Add to this that most religious systems utilize language not conducive to artistic endeavor, such as “die to self.” Never mind the creativity required to misinterpret and write the commentary promoting this non-creative agenda. After God comes family and community. But without a self, an identity, an “I” there is nothing which can even begin to think about creativity, family and community, let alone God.
Even if one’s responsibilities to family are being met, surely spending one’s time serving up soup at the local homeless shelter seems more important than standing at a canvas, brush in hand, or sitting at the piano reaching for the next chord, or trying to come up with that first line of verse. But some of us can’t give it up, can we?! And it’s not easy, is it? My taking a stand, not only for creativity but for my use of Qabalah, has basically alienated me from my church. Nevertheless, I cannot stand otherwise and be in good standing with my creator who created me to create.
Initiate a Dialogue
with others interested in developing and sustaining
this context and practice.
We are empowered to the degree
that we know and acknowledge Source.
Poets and other writers are ever in search of the perfect opening line. I am a Poet and it is by this identity and within this context that the work I produce, the stands I take, and the dialogue in which I engage are informed, as is my very life. As this lover of words, I have yet to encounter any opening line more perfect than that opening the Book of John in the New Testament: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Elohim, and the Word was Elohim.
No matter what may be said regarding the ultimate truth of the records that contain this line, whatever the source of inspiration for the bringing of the point of the pen to the parchment to write this incomparable line gets to be my God, my Elohim. In the opening book of this same record this God claims: In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth, and also claims that we are created in that creator’s image. Therefore this is the Elohim for whom I stand. And why I stand for the very first commandment, though unwritten, being “Thou shalt create.”
Both of the lines quoted tell of beginnings. Beginnings imply a cause or a Source, which imply an effect or result. While different for each of us, the need to connect to Source seems basic to our instincts and to our creative process. Some of us experience Source as being something existing outside ourselves, and others as inside ourselves, while some see it as being both. Others think of Source as community, and yet others experience themselves as Source. For some of us it may be all of these things or something not mentioned here. Whatever our experience of Source, it needs to be recognized, acknowledged, talked to, and about.
The more one comes to know and to acknowledge self, the more one can know and acknowledge Source, and visa versa. We become able to enter ever deeper into relationship with what it is that informs our creative process. The effect or result is the production of powerful self-expression and creative work.
Source is not the only subject about which we will dialogue, but it is a good place to begin because, by definition, it is that from whence all else springs. And there are endless ideas about what it is, so it is ideal for practicing the taking of stands.
Speaking again of stands: I am one of those who actually believes the bumper sticker that claims ART SAVES LIVES, and I stand for the possibility that through adherence to the making of art, the life we save might just be our own, and that in so doing, the possibility that what we produce may play some part in saving the lives of others or, at the very least, improving the quality thereof. And most certainly, making art invites dialogue and dialogue instigates art.
By entering into the dialogue that arises from participating in Living the Tree of Life it is hoped that one will be challenged to more clearly identify both one’s self and one’s Source, and to be in relationship with, take a stand for, and create a body of work inspired by, and in celebration of that self and that Source.
Produce a Body of Work
as a result of this dialogue, stand, context, and practice.
We are empowered to the degree
that we recognize that the point is to create.
Beginning is the hardest part. One can be paralyzed by the prospect of initiating a creative action, let alone a practice. How to begin? You may have noticed that in addressing one item listed in our Purpose the other three are also employed. The Context is being developed, the Dialogue is being initiated, the Stand is being taken and, in my case, this writing is part of the Body of Work I am producing. Presenting the material in this way demonstrates that it does not matter where we begin. One thing leads to another. Creative action is not linear. It would better be described as spherical. To begin we must leap into the vortex.
One of the reasons for choosing the Tree of Life model for the contextualizing of our creative journey is because while it has a definite structure and order, it accommodates one being able to start anywhere. As demonstrated by the four items serving to define one another, one will discover that each Sphere and path informs the other. One may enter anywhere at any time into the existing process.
Regardless of genres by which our creativity is labeled, the exercises, materials, information and formations will arrange themselves as we proceed. In order to proceed one must begin. To begin, we must simply put the point of the pencil to the paper and follow where it wants us to go. To use dance language: En pointe!
I use the phrase “point of the pencil to the paper” because that is where it began for me, and therefore symbolizes my creative beginnings. I also danced and sang and the other things children do, but the most ecstatic memories are of the instant where the point of my yellow No. 2 pencil made contact with my white 8 1/2 by 11 in. sheet of paper. That moment of anticipated entry into the realm of my creativity! That realm of shape and form where lines become images, and letters become words!
Engaging the memories of our childhood ecstasy of creative beginnings is one of the ways to begin to produce our Body of Work. Yours may come from pointing your crayons to the page, or your brush to the canvas, or it may be pointing your toes to the floor and making dance, or your fingers to the piano, your lips to the reed, your voice to the note and making music. In this age of technology, making may be pointing your fingers to the letters on the keyboard. The point is to point.
Sometimes the need, conscious or not, to say or do something of great significance thwarts our creativity. This was true in my case. For all of my desire to write, I believed I was not capable of anything of value or significance. I was devastated, and lived for some time within the context of that perception. Then one day it occurred to me that since I had nothing of importance to say, and no one was going to read it, I could say whatever mundane and insignificant thing came to me. My context shifted to: All bets are off! Yippee! Now I am free! Free to write!” Several poetry awards and books later, I still at times have to re-create that context of my liberation in order to begin again. But this re-creation is now integrated into Living the Tree of Life. We will, of course, dialogue further about this, but let us now begin upon the Paths.