descent for the sake of ascent

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Though not raised in the Chasidic movement, I learned to appreciate it later in life. It offers a transcendental understanding of the human predicament in this life. One of the ideas I found there, was that descent is necessary in order to ascend. At first, I found the concept difficult to accept. In fact, when I first heard this theory, I thought that the whole idea had been invented to console the individual who found himself down, and was suffering from his misery. But the more I studied the concept, the more I realized that there was a great truth behind it.

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If you look at a seed, say our teachers, you realize that first it has to soften and come apart before it can grow to become a fruit tree. In order to climb a mountain, says another, one can not go up higher and higher all the time. No, one reaches a certain height, and then has to go down a way before one can go up even further. An example is found in the Talmud of Rabbi Zira who decided to go to Israel from Babylon, and fasted a series of fasts in order to forget the religious rules of the diaspora, so as to learn the rules of living in the holy land with a clear head. Many examples are given, but the message is enforced again and again…

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enjoying the music, Rivka

For a serious person, being down is not a state in itself, but part of the process of going up. When all goes well, a person is satisfied with his life, and doesn’t push forward. But when he is unsatisfied or unhappy, he examines himself and his situation, and in that way finds a path to improvement. And so our teachers tell us, we shouldn’t look at unhappiness and misery as bad luck… crying out, ‘why is this happening to me?’ but should see it as part of the preparation for ascent.

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Pini joins in on the drum

In another place I found this explanation. When a person is on a high, he sees everything about what he is doing and how he is living as perfectly all right. And so, is unable to see alternatives that are even better. To remedy this, he has to fall from his position of grace in order to ascend to a still higher level of consciousness.

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In the last couple of weeks, I found myself more and more miserable after hearing that my previous landlord was not interested that I continue to rent his apartment. I didn’t like the apartment that much. There were a lot of things wrong with it. But I liked moving even less. I felt uprooted and homeless. It has been about four months since my friends convinced me to move from my old apartment to a new one, and during that time, I’ve been living in temporary conditions. I have been without all sorts of tools and implements that I was used to. I’d moved from one temporary home to another. And there didn’t seem an end in sight. When I asked how my new home was coming along, I got one of two answers. Either I was told it was almost ready. Or I was told that there was a lot more to do to set it up. If I got the first answer, I would immediately suspect they were just trying to cheer me up. If I got the second answer, I would despair.

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My last move to still another temporary home was made with great speed and little caution. The new place was cleaner and nicer, and it had a little garden next to it. But though it was a two room flat, it was very small, and there wasn’t enough room to store all of my possessions in an orderly fashion. The kitchen was so small that I had to move the drying rack for dishes to the couch in order to have room to prepare a meal. And the two little windows let very little light or air into the apartment. I had to use artificial lighting all of the time.

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When my daughter Rivka was about to visit, she asked me if I would like her to bring dinner. I told her not to bring anything. I thought that since the kitchen was so small, it would be more trouble to prepare a good meal for us than it was worth. I decided to eat out. We went to Pini’s new restaurant. For years I used to go to the old one, and it was a place I loved. The story of how and why he moved is too long to tell here.

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When we arrived at the restaurant, it was full. There were musicians playing in one dimly lit corner of the restaurant, and we were offered a table right next to the band. It was clear that we would have to give up any hope of dinner conversation, but I said yes immediately. I love music. The music was of the Grecian style, and warmed the heart. It started out good, and got better when a singer joined the musicians. At a certain point, Pini himself, proprietor and master chef, joined the musicians to play the drum, Customers got out of their seats and started dancing. I hadn’t brought my favorite camera, because I worried that the rain my damage it. But I did have a little pocket camera that I always take with me for emergencies. These photos tell the story. As I started beating the rhythm on the table, while eating the exotic foods offered in this wonderful restaurant, I raised my head with a radiant smile, and said… ‘ah now I understand. The descent is for the sake of the ascent’. I was one with the world, and filled with happiness.

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51 responses to “descent for the sake of ascent

  1. Interesting philosophy.

  2. Beautiful phptographs dear Shimon, I can almost feel the ambience in this lovely place and I wished to be there too. And also B&W standing so impressive too. But nothing could be more beautiful than your words/writing, I enjoyed so much. Thank you, have a nice weekend, Blessing and Happiness, love, nia

    • Thank you very much Nia. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. The lighting was very problematic there, which is why I shot in black and white. But I was pleased with the effect. Always very good to hear from you.

  3. Well onwards and upwards, Shimon. Or should that be downwards and upwards. Thank you for this truly uplifting post. And now that we’ve enjoyed the good food, music and fellowship, time to get back on the mountain trail. What a great safari we are having!

    • Yes, I too like to think of it as ‘onwards and upwards’, Tish. But there is no ignoring the downs, which are also part of life. And I do think that being able to see the great adventure is an important part of enjoying this life. Thanks a lot for your comment.

  4. I also find that it is good to be a “traveler” in my own life at times, Shimon, and to give up the measuring of progress. It brings me closer to joy and surprise in small things. Perhaps it isn’t as much “descent” as giving up the illusion of moving in a straight line? Wonderful pictures! Thank you for a thoughtful morning. Jana

    • I agree with you, Jana… that life doesn’t move in straight lines. But it’s hard to ignore the downs or the highs. We have to be aware of them. And many of us are dismayed by the downs. That’s why I thought it worthwhile to consider this attitude to downs and highs. Glad you enjoyed the thoughts as well as the pictures, and thank you for your good wishes.

  5. Broken as the way to wholeness, descent to rise up, disintegration to reintegration…very often, I’ve encountered these “routes” to healing in my studies and my life, too, Shimon. Makes sense to me as a spiritual companion, writer, and gardener.

    I have felt your “unsettledness” and hoped life and discovery would soon lead you to the best possible and most pleasing home. I am so happy your daughter’s visit and your willingness to go to Pini’s restaurant offered you some light and joy. These are some of my favorite photographs among the many excellent photos I’ve seen on your blog…I wanted to raise my arms and cry, “Opa!”

    Gentle peace, wonderful music, and great joy as you explore new possibilities to lead you home.

    • Yes, you are so right, Kitty, broken is a way to wholeness. And I’m very glad that you enjoyed these photographs of a very special evening. I too hope that soon I will be back in a home that really fits me and feels like a nurturing environment for me. But at the same time, I can’t ignore the fact that I would never have set out on such an odyssey of my own volition. So in a way, I feel grateful that circumstances forced me to go out and deal with the unknowns of life, and be tested once again… even in old age. As difficult as it has been, it’s been a learning experience. And it has reaffirmed life. Thank you very much for your comment.

  6. There’s a very popular American Franciscan, Richard Rohr, who proposes exactly this pattern in life – the need to descend before ascent. Only in my case, I wouldn’t say that it led to a higher state of being, merely a more honest knowledge of myself. And that is going on all the time!
    So pleased the music lifted your spirits. I hope that your new home will be finished sooner than you fear. Having lived myself in many different temporary homes, I understand, maybe more than most, how frustrating the wait can be and how we wrestle with ourselves to find a modus vivendi.
    By the way I am still ‘godschool’ but I have started a second blog for deacons and I can only have one avatar, it seems.

    • I have not heard of Richard Rohr but I did have the opportunity of meeting some Franciscan monks many years ago, and enjoyed the interchange with them. I agree with you that the awareness of such a theory is not in itself any guarantee of a higher state of being. But it can help us avoid being stuck in the misery of the ‘down’ when we find ourselves in such a situation. Both the music, and the happiness of others did encourage and uplift me. I too hope that my new home will be ready soon. But meantime, I feel that this period of my life has been very educational. Among other things, it’s made me realize that there is no real ‘retirement’ as long as we want to be fully alive. That on every stage of life we are challenged and tested. I hope that I’ve been able to learn from what was offered me, and that I will emerge a richer person for what I’ve experienced. Thank you for your comment, Gill.

  7. Sorry to hear of your housing troubles and glad to hear of your rising above these issues to enjoy life. Good luck with the housing.

    • Thank you very much for your good wishes, Lisa. It has been difficult at times, but I have also gained a lot from the adventure, ever since I left my secure home.

  8. Encouraging post, Shimon.

  9. much like you, I’ve found that sometimes when my personal life is in the most shambles.. I have found that I am the most open the generosity and joy of others.

    • Yes, Michelle, we can’t always choose the sort of challenges we are going to face. And as mature adults, we don’t get advanced warnings of tests. But life itself includes both challenges and tests, and the challenges often open us up to very valuable lessons. Though I’ve been going through some hardship in recent months, I feel that I’ve learned a lot, and had some wonderful experiences as well. Thank you very much for your comment.

  10. Reblogged this on Cool lady blog and commented:
    A thoughtful man’s views on life,pain and meaning.

  11. So many teachable moments in life..We just need ears to hear and eyes to see..Wonderful words and photos!

    • Yes, this world is full of wonder and riches. And often we need just open our eyes and ears. I feel that though I had a lot of the right ideas in my head before this experience (of the move of my home) started, I was still taking things for granted at times. And this was an opportunity to realize my own failings and to become more aware. Thank you for your comment, Roberta.

  12. O, how I would love to hear the music …

    • The music was just wonderful, cat… and there was something thrilling of being a witness to its creation, as compared to listening to recorded music. It was really a moving experience.

  13. Ahhh….I felt your pleasure, happiness and enjoyment here, for I was on my feet, dancing to the music with the beat pulsing in my veins!!! You excel with these black and white pics….fantastic they are, for less is always so much more, especially when the senses can fill in the blanks re the food, the music and the atmosphere!
    I’m glad you felt happy and I agree about having to go down to come up again, I feel like I’ve done that all my life.There is many a pit I’ve dug myself out of….and when I do, the air smells fresher,the days seem brighter and there seems to be a point worth fighting for …yet again….for there is so much good in this world, that is worth fighting for.
    I really hope your new home will be ready soon, shame the new kitchen is that small, I hope you have a comfy armchair at least. Glad to hear in your comment to Janet in your last post that you and Nechama met up….don’t worry, she is really annoyed with you but will come around once you are suitably punished and you are back together again. Here’s to smelling the air! xxx

    • So glad you were able to enjoy the beautiful evening along with me, Dina. Sometimes I feel that this is one of the disadvantages of my choice to live the moment with the greatest intensity possible. When I’m down, I tend to take the down very seriously too, and am liable to forget that ups and downs are the natural way of things. It is wonderful though, when we are able to pull ourselves out of a hole, and enjoy life as you describe it. I agree with you, there is so much good in this world. And it’s important that we remember it. I am not a great fan of armchairs. I usually like to sit in a straight backed chair. I always thing that if the chair is too comfortable, I’ll never get out of it. But in this apartment, the chairs were really harsh, so for the first time I can remember, I got two pillows to make sitting a little easier. I think I’ve gotten a little too thin recently, and am losing the pillow god gave me for my backside. I have been meeting with Nechama recently, and I feel we are progressing. At first, I thought she didn’t recognize me. But now I realize that she has some mixed feeling about me, and we’re trying to find our way back to our old friendship. You’re right; it’ll probably take a while. But that’s okay. I’m patient. Always good to get your support, my dear friend. xxx

  14. Wonderful photos! I can feel the ambiance. I have never really given much thought to descending in order to ascend, but as I think on that now, it makes so much sense. My daughter is going through this and it is hard for her (and me) to see, but she is beginning the ascent now. There was no other way.

    • Very happy to hear that your daughter is recovering from her recent down. Yes it happens to all of us… and it’s easier to see when it happens to a friend than when it happens to ourselves. But you are right, Angeline. It’s all a part of life. Very glad you enjoyed the photos.

  15. I suppose descent is necessary, but I never thought the medicine had to taste bad to be good for you. It is just what it is. And you need to find out what it is that these friends are doing about your home. Have you seen it? I worry that you are disconnected from the things that make life reasonable. I suppose I am a little angry with the renovators… Chuckle…
    Where is Nechama? I don’t like the view from here. But, I was happy to hear that you had such a wonderful evening with Rivka. We have to live in the moment for that is all there is. It’s the little things, after all. This was a great post, Shimon. Positive. And, positive is good. I love the photographs.

    • I agree with you completely, George. medicine doesn’t have to taste bad to be good for you. On the other hand, taste is relative, and it changes for us at times too. I used to drink coffee with sugar. And now I drink both tea and coffee without sugar, and enjoy it more. There were things I found bitter when first I tasted them, and learned to love the taste. Nechama has already moved into the new house before me, and now I visit with her from time to time. I can see that there is progress on the new house, but things are still not properly set up. The living room floor has just been rebuilt, and closets are being installed as well as other appliances. They’ve turned this into a big project. It’s been a hard time for me, but also very educational, and it seems that things will work out okay eventually. I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos. Very glad you liked the post.

  16. Descend to ascend, It is a concept that I am well aware of in both personal terms and in my working life. It is often referred to as being ‘rock bottom’. Though, I would add, that on occasion, depending how it was defined, rock bottom was not quite low enough to reverse whatever situation it was. An individual will definitely know when they have got to the real level for them, when they want to carve out something different from that which they were used to.

    Tell me Shimon, what is the difference these days between the Hassids and the Haredi?

    • I’ve heard the expression ‘rock bottom’, but never really understood it till now, and thank you for the explanation, menhir. I think that many of these concepts which try to explain the dynamics of life are common to different cultures. To answer your question about the hassidim and their opponents, both are now often referred to as haredim, when they are ultra orthodox. However, the Chassidim usually take a path which is based on social consciousness and a mystical teacher or leader, while their opponents are usually referred to as ‘scholars’ and believe that study is the path to awareness, and avoid the mystical path. The Chassidic movement has grown, and I believe it is in the majority today. But the scholastic movement is still strong, and has many adherents. And there is a lot more cooperation and friendship between the two movements than there was when I was young. Thank you very much for your comment.

  17. Glorious, Shimon.

    I picture your smile as you beat on the table. That makes me smile.

  18. I have very personal experience of descending to ascend Shimon. Whilst it was an incredibly long and painful process, my life is better for it. I enjoyed your post very much. I sincerely hope your new apartment is ready for you soon.

    • I had the feeling, Chillbrook that you too have known some serious hard times. And I feel you’ve also known that they can lead to very rich and valuable experiences in life as well. Very glad you enjoyed this post. I do have the hope that my new apartment will be ready soon, because I’ve grown a little weary of the difficulties, despite the fact that I’ve had good times too, and learned from my experiences. Thank you for your good wishes.

  19. A lovely post. And so very true, Over the years, there have been many ups and downs but now when a “down” looms ahead I go back in time and remember how ever low period was, it eventually was followed by a high. And that the chart of highs has been moving upwards as i begin to understand what is truly important and truly valuable.

    And it is these perfect moments which are our reward and which point towards better times. You describe one of those precious evenings perfectly. I can almost sit at your table and drum the beat with you.

    • How good to hear that the ‘chart of highs’ has been steadily moving upwards. But in fact, that is one of the indications of this theory. As we grow, and learn fromm our experiences, we continue to develop. The ups and downs are not part of a static situation, but more like changes of position in our progress. Now and then, we have these ‘break throughs’… occasionally an enlightenment… which make all the struggle so worthwhile, and give us a taste of what is to come. I am sure you would have loved the evening, Nikki.

  20. This is such a beautiful post, Shimon. Both the pictures and your words are so inspiring. I hope you are settled in a permanent home again soon. I know from experience that it is quite exhausting living in between permanence.

    • Thank you very much Kari Ann, and especially for your good wishes. I have been visiting the new home recently, and it looks like things are coming along all right. I hope I will see a conclusion soon to my temporary living conditions. You’re right. It’s been very exhausting.

  21. In your last post, the picture of you looked quite harried and, yes, you’d lost weight; a sign of stress! I too hope that your new home will be ready soon, so that you can settle again. Then that will be an adventure of a different kind, exploring your new environment and turning it into you. I hope Nechama will also enjoy it and find her own little nooks! I look forward to posts about your then-new life in your new home and surrounding suburban life, whatever that may be. Shalom. :-)

    • Yes, the last few months have been a little rough for me, though I did have some very positive experiences and learned a lot from what happened. I do look forward to settling into a more permanent life style, and being able to enjoy my normal tools and accommodations. I’m very familiar with the new environment. It is not so far from my old home, and I’ve often visited the area. So it should be easy to adjust. Thanks for the good wishes, Janina. I hope to provide some interesting stories of my move to the new place.

  22. When you touch the bottom, then you climb up again… This is an old saying that I heard my grandmother sighed (she was born in the late 800)…
    You have to make room for new things, so get rid of items you no longer use!
    Surely it is the same as your metaphor Shimon… and your very open-minded flexible as ever, again brought you a lesson!
    Sometimes I feel you aren’t happy with what you have unless you try first to perceive their lack, because of this is important to find a middle-way, a feeling in which you are content with the semplicity of being. (Sorry, I know it’s so difficult to get my concept).
    But these you give us are beautiful photos (and believe me, it wouldn’t be so nice if you had used the other camera… nothing happens by chance!)
    A big hug from a sonny-again Switzerland (the snow has fallen quite a long time and spring has now the chance to show it’s beauty). :-) claudine

    • Glad to think that I’m in step with your old grandmother. There are truths about this world that have been with us through all the generations. Sometimes we’re so enthusiastic about the new gadgets and inventions of our own time, that we forget that culture is built by one generation after another, each on the basis of what came before. And our grandparents and great grandparents still have a lot to teach us. And what you say about learning from the lack of things is so true. I think your concept was quite clear. Thank you Claudine, for the fresh breeze from Switzerland. Very nice to get your viewpoint.

  23. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed seeing your photos Shimon – it’s the black and whites, and I realise I miss black and white photography. I used to mainly shoot (in film) B&W, but with my digital and my focus shifting to the garden I’ve taken colour. I need to get back to B&W – the textures are just so wonderful.
    And I’m relieved to hear you found a space to relax and enjoy yourself -

    • Very nice to hear you enjoyed those pictures, Claire. I used to shoot a lot of black and white too. But since the advent of digital, there seem to be less reasons to go for that. The big problem, I think, is that we have to envision the pictures differently when we’re shooting in B&W. And from my experience, changing a color photo to B&W is not usually successful. There are certain ingredients that have to be part of the panning in monochrome. One has to put more emphasis on form and shape… and we have to remember that the black and white picture is in fact an analogy, and not a copy of the original. I am getting very close to the move to my permanent new residence. And believe me, I’m ready. This has been something of an ordeal.

  24. I am certainly informed of that philosophy and sometimes wish I weren’t. :) Intriguing instruments shown in your great images. I hope your move gets fine tuned to your satisfaction. My Dad of 100.5 yrs died Feb 7 and I’m involved in that descent/ascent thing for sure.

    • I was sorry to hear of the death of your father, my friend. Because I know that even when the time has come… and we are able to accept the end of the chapter intellectually, there is still that ache in the heart, when the world has changed… and father or mother is no longer a part of it. I wish you good strength and wisdom in your sorrow, and a speedy return to the day to day existence that makes life worth while.

  25. Your “descent for the sake of ascent” reminds me of the Portuguese proverb “uns sobem, outros descem,” which means “some go up, others go down.”

    A mathematical (specifically probabilistic) look at the world leads to the expectation that there will always be a few people for whom life goes mostly up, and a few others for whom life goes mostly down.

    • As always, Steve, you have a very interesting point of view. I have to agree with you, that there probably are those few perpetual winners or losers at the very ends of the spectrum. But I think that even if we were to watch one of those winners at a game of cards, we would see ups and downs… a certain tension that is part of the game… the threat of losing it all, which adds spice and excitement to his life. If her were to know that he was guaranteed victory, would he still gamble? I wonder…

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