Tag Archives: intensity

in honor of the temporary

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Riding a bicycle (though I haven’t done it for years) is an allegory for me on living life. We have to be constantly aware of balance, and at the same time are bolstered by the forward movement and the wheels going round, establishing centrifugal force. Though yin and yang is not part of the Jewish tradition, when I read about it in my study of eastern religions, I accepted it as an inherent part of life, familiar and inclusive. Each year we have the same holidays at the same time of the year. Are they repeat performances of something we’ve already done? Yes and no. Every week, we read a portion of the pentateuch. Is it the same each year? Again, yes and no.

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These cyclical events are in fact a repeated framework, and there is a general message that is enforced with each experience. But they are different for us each time we observe them. Each time we read a particular portion of the five books of Moses, we look at it differently, and examine it in the light of different commentaries and by comparing the historical chapter to things that have happened in or own lives, or bits of wisdom that may be understood in the context of our own experiences.

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The holiday of tabernacles comes at the start of our year, after celebrating the new year and having a day dedicated to soul searching and the acceptance of our own mortality. Tabernacles reminds us of our exodus from the slavery of Egypt, but we don’t usually dwell on the subject. I live in a stone house as do all of my neighbors, but once a year, we leave the comfort of our homes, and move into temporary booths which are considered home for a week. It is meant to remind us that all of life is temporary. That even the security of home is a temporary circumstance. We don’t suffer much from hurricanes or terrible earthquakes, so we have to take it upon ourselves to remember that the physical structures of our lives are not permanent. The roofs of our booths are built so that we will see the sky through the roof, and the walls of our temporary homes do not insulate us from the environment. On the outside, they all look pretty similar. But on the inside, they are usually decorated, and pictures may be added to make them as pleasant as possible.

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As the years go by, each year provides a very different experience, even though the framework remains the same. Many of us have used the same boards or tent cloth from year to year with very few changes. What’s important about the tabernacles is our own subjective experience, which changes from year to year. Of course, different people have varying enthusiasm towards custom and tradition. Some folks are satisfied to visit such a booth just once, or a few times maybe. They might choose to visit the booth of a friend, or sit in one set up by city administration, or by one of the many synagogues in our town. Those of us who are more religious will build their own booth, and spend more or less time in it. Most of those who have their own booth will eat their meals in the booth. And there are some people who are so adherent that they will not eat in any other place but a booth, which is called in Hebrew, a sukkah. A lot of the restaurants in town have set up booths for their customers to sit in while they eat. This custom is prevalent in our town.

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Among my family and friends it is common for us to eat all our meals in the sukkah, but only a minority insist on sleeping in the booth. Even so, this practice is respected. In my youth I often slept in the sukkah, but nowadays I’m no longer willing to give up the comfort of my own bed.

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The days of this holiday, this year, have been very intensive. I no longer have the strength I once had and was used to. And in this period of my life, it is wearing for me to spend a lot of time with people. Long conversations and continuous social activity wears me out, even though I have the very good luck of meeting with the finest of people, folks that I truly love. So I didn’t really expect that I’d have the strength to write a blog post today. I thought maybe I’d post a photo and leave it at that… maybe a photo and a link to some previous post. But then, I started searching out pictures of the holiday in past years, and I found so many that it was hard for me to choose. And while looking at old pictures, chose to check out some of the recent photos of family and friends in booths this last week, and that made it even harder. And now I’ve written all of this, so here’s another post on the festival of tabernacles.

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acid trips

This evening is the start of tabernacles. It is the only holiday in the bible, in which we are specifically asked to be happy. I have written about this holiday before, and I will probably write some more about it in the coming days. My base has moved, from my home in Jerusalem to my home away from home in the village where some of my children live… and though we may take some trips on the holiday, which lasts a week, this will be my base now, and as I’ve explained in previous posts, and last year too, this is the holiday in which we all move out of our houses and make our homes in temporary booths. And try our best to be happy.

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a cypress tree from my trip in the Galilee

Which brings me to the subject that I wanted to discuss with you today; The experience of a holy day or holiday, or religious experience. Before the day of atonement, I spoke of what was about to happen; what I was about to do on the holy day… with great confidence. Having done it so many times before, I felt that confidence when talking to others about it. But it is not really like that. And when I concluded the day, I thought again about what I had written, and wanted to append my description. One of my friends here, among the bloggers, asked me, was it a ceremony or a ritual. And I answered, a ritual. But what I would like to explain now, is the difference between ceremony or ritual, and a truly religious experience.

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overlooking a valley from a northern mountain ridge

There are ceremonies and rituals, and prayers printed in prayer books, and they all attempt to prepare the person for the religious experience. But when I thought, how do I explain the religious experience to someone who might not have experienced it, I looked back through my life, at the many experiences I have had, looking for something parallel that would be understandable even to a non religious person. And what I came up with, was a series of experiences I had, more than forty years ago, in which I took LSD, Lysergic acid diethylamide. It is a semi synthetic psychedelic drug; which has been shown to be very similar to a substance that can be found in a normal human head. In very unusual circumstances it is secreted naturally. But by taking a dose, prepared by a chemical company or a pharmacist, we can experience a short cut to a religious experience. LSD was first synthesized by Albert Hofmann in 1938 from a grain fungus that typically grows on rye. Since then, it has been experimented with by psychologists and psychiatrists, philosophers and clowns. It was popular for a while in the 1960s counterculture. And after reading a book written by Aldous Huxley called, “The Doors of Perception”, I decided to try it myself.

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a hill in the galilee

The drug I bought was from the Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland, and was of high quality. In those days, it wasn’t a drug taken to ‘get high’. But to experience transcendental awareness. It was a short cut. You didn’t have to fast for days, or pray for long periods, or climb a mountain. Or learn the many disciplines associated with spiritual research. It wasn’t like studying yoga. You could just swallow a pill, and begin to experience some very unusual awareness after a half an hour to an hour. It worked on just about everyone. You could be an atheist or an agnostic, and still enjoy a very religious experience. It was and still is considered non-addictive. But I don’t know if I would take any today, now that it is produced by underground manufacturers, and sometimes mixed with other drugs. In that period, I took it some fifteen times. Sometimes with friends and sometimes alone. I took it in a variety of circumstances. I could tell you many stories of my experiences with the drug, some of them very humorous. But the most outstanding feature of this drug, was that I experienced certain phenomena that up until then, I had associated only with the religious experience.

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a wild rock badger I met

It was a trip. You could make all the preparations you wanted, but you didn’t really know where you’d get and what would happen while you were on that trip. You had to give up control, whether you wanted to or not. You didn’t know exactly when it would start. But you knew very well, once it had started. It usually lasted for about eight hours. It could be very good; a taste of heaven. But it could also be a nightmare. And then you just had to go through it. In English, that sort of nightmare was called a ‘bummer’, and there were those who studied how to avoid them. But the truth of the matter was that it was dependent to a large extent on what was happening in your own sub conscious. So there was no sure way of protecting yourself from such an experience. Having taken the drug, one experienced altered thinking processes, hallucinations while eyes were either open or closed, and an altered sense of time.

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a rock bridge over a deep chasm

While I was doing the work of the day of atonement, I had a sense of being intensely involved in the reality around me. The past and the future were fluid, and I found myself face to face with some of the things that I am most scared about, and most worried. Not life and death, because I’ve already dealt with those questions and reached a certain understanding and acceptance. This time, the subject was free choice and wrong choices. And not of my own. But the choices of people I loved; people who were young enough to be naïve and innocent, and we take pleasure in their innocence. I won’t describe the exact and specific issues, because one would have to know my world very well in order to understand what I was talking about. But suffice it to say, that if I had been walking on a narrow path at the edge of a cliff in a catastrophic storm, it would not have been more scary. Ceremonies… rituals… they have their place in society. But this was something much much more intense. I have witnessed what is called ‘extreme sports’, and I suppose there is something similar in that. But that is just for the thrill. And this was coming to terms with life itself. It was different.