When Rachel Pollack wrote the foreword to my book, When Moses Was a Shaman, she wrote a haunting line. She was discussing the importance of asking questions as a life practice. She wrote, “Perhaps Questions are the ultimate Homeland for all of us.” Respecting the power of the question, this blogpost poses more questions than answers.
I originally started writing about his idea when it was just authoritarian cruelty and creeping fascism that I had to worry about. Now there is a deadly virus afoot.
It seems to me that living among human suffering (war, famine, disease, inhumanity, abuse, prejudice) throughout history and even today is far more common than living in places and times of stability and abundance. And a goodly amount of it is human-caused. Why are we always drawn to suffering? Is there something to be learned from it? Or are we just an impossibly wounded species that insists on inflicting harm? I wanted to see what the mystics say about it.
This is from Jewish Hasidism:
The famous, sagely rabbi of Mogielnica said, “It is well known that the sayings of our sages which seem to contradict one another are all ‘words of the living God.’ Each of them decided according to the depth of his root in Heaven, and up there all their words are truth, for in the upper worlds there are no contradictions. There all opposites, such as prohibition and permission, guilt and guiltlessness, are one unified whole. The distinction between prohibition and permission appears only in their action on earth.”
Really? A President can ignore a pandemic on the horizon, and I can’t expect heavenly retribution? The sagely rabbi of Mogielnica says no. What if I want to count on karmic repercussions for people who cause human suffering? Luckily, it’s not up to me. And from a purely practical point of view, if I carry hate or anger in my heart, I am creating more of my own suffering than anyone else’s. Perhaps it makes more sense to focus on the heavenly viewpoint. Will I change the world if I focus on and increase my own feelings of love? No promises there either but I can guarantee that I will change myself if I love more.
Rumi is my go-to poet for connecting with life’s conundrums. He wrote a poem called “Joy at Sudden Disappointment” which I quoted in a previous blogpost:
Someone once asked a great sheikh
what sufism was.
‘The feeling of joy
when sudden disappointment comes.’
The eagle carries off Muhammed’s boot
and saves him from snakebite.
Don’t grieve for what doesn’t come.
Some things that don’t happen
keep disasters from happening.
I had written that I wished Rumi had stopped with the line about the sudden disappointment. I wrote that because it was feeling to me like the sudden disappointments of our era are, in fact, the worst-case scenarios and I was wondering how to continue feeling joy in the face of that. I have mused further on this. Clearly, based on the sagely rabbi of Mogielnica, we can’t know what happens in the heavens. We do know, at least, that heaven’s dictates will not conform to our own petty picadilloes.
We can’t know what disaster of Rumi’s is being averted. It’s possible that the disaster is not something that will happen in our own lifetimes. Perhaps our children or our children’s children will be happier and more joyful because of what is happening today. Maybe someone’s soul will be freed from suffering? We can’t know so we might as well put together a good story and choose happiness.
This quote below showed up on my Facebook page a while ago. I don’t know its source, but I really like it. It was attributed to Buddhist philosophy.
“Recently one friend asked me, ‘How can I force myself to smile when I am filled with sorrow? It is isn’t natural.’ I told her she must be able to smile to her sorrow, because we are more than our sorrow. A human being is like a television set with millions of channels. If we turn the Buddha on, we are the Buddha. If we turn the sorrow on, then we are the sorrow. If we turn a smile on, we really are the smile. We cannot let just one channel dominate us. We have the seed of everything in us, and we have to seize the situation in our hand, to recover our own sovereignty.”
Does this give us any answers? Perhaps it does provide a different way to think about and approach pain in our lives. Even if the mystic philosophies go too far in practicality for daily living, we can use these teachings to rethink our foundational paradigms, especially the cultural roles defined as “female” and “male.”
The following is based on a very old story told about Jewish mystics. I have re-written it from a pagan POV and using the singular “they” as a nod to the mystical truth that in the heavens there is no male/female separation. We are all “they” in our core essence.
One night 4 spiritual questors were visited by a divine being who carried them off to the center of the Milky Way. There they beheld the sacred Wheel of Ezekiel, the Dance of Shiva, Indira weaving her web, the eye of Kanaloa. Somewhere in the descent back to Earth, one seeker, having seen such splendor, lost their mind and turned into a compulsive complainer; “if such beauty exists in the world why I am cold . . . hungry. . . tired.” The second seeker grew cynical; “what an interesting dream, good thing that nothing really happened.” The third seeker became totally obsessed and wouldn’t stop discussing, analyzing and bragging about what happened. The fourth seeker was a singer and began to sing songs praising the nightingale, their sleeping newborn child, and all the stars in sky. And they lived their life better than before.
I have had the experience of being transported by divine revelation. You might ask me, which of the four seekers have I become as a result? My answer has been and continues to be this: All of them – and sometimes even all in one day.
 Buber, Martin, Tales of the Hasidim, Later Masters (Schocken Books, 1948),181. From stories of Rabbi Hayyim Meir Yehiel of Mogielnica.
Janet Maika’i Rudolph. “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE QUEST.” I have walked the spirit path for over 25 years traveling to sacred sites around the world including Israel to do an Ulpan (Hebrew language studies while working on a Kibbutz), Eleusis and Delphi in Greece, Avebury and Glastonbury in England, Brodgar in Scotland, Machu Picchu in Peru, Teotihuacan in Mexico, and Giza in Egypt. Within these travels, I have participated in numerous shamanic rites and rituals, attended a mystery school based on the ancient Greek model, and studied with shamans around the world. I am twice initiated. The first as a shaman practitioner of a pathway known as Divine Humanity. The second ordination in 2016 was as an Alaka’i (a Hawaiian spiritual guide with Aloha International). I have written three books: When Moses Was a Shaman, When Eve Was a Goddess, and One Gods. In Ardor and Adventure, Janet