Jay Michaelson
Meditation and Sensuality, p. 5

4.      Why all this is actually very Jewish

In a way, Judaism is a tantric path. By this I mean that there is a choice in the contemplative life between living in the fullness of the world (and, if able, to see God in that world) or living in less-full environments which allow concentration and contemplation to take place more easily. The latter choice, asceticism, is not masochism; it is a tool to enable the ascetic's mental- emotional-spiritual processes.

Yet asceticism is not usually the Jewish way. There are exceptions - most of the inventors of the Kabbalah, people like Abraham Abulafia, the German Pietists, etc., for example. In the main, however, the Jewish path is one of sanctification of the sensual and material worlds. Food, sex, business - these are to be engaged in, lived in, and sanctified. From a contemporary perspective, Jewish restrictions on these areas of life may seem, well, restricting. However, they can also be seen as elevating to the holy every aspect of human life. In contrast to early Christianity, which saw certain parts of life as inherently evil (even if necessarily so) Rabbinic Judaism developed an attitude of "build a fence and honor what's inside." Kashrut laws govern food, and eating properly is seen as holy. All kinds of laws govern sex, and sex, too, is seen as holy. Jewish law is based upon a communal model of responsibility, and assumes people are engaged with the world. The way of renunciation, though practiced by many Jewish mystics, is not the mainstream.

In that context, enjoying the sorts of sensual benefits of meditation which I have discussed here are in line with this Jewish sensuality-affirming path. Obviously, it is neither traditional nor Orthodox interpretation of 'affirming sensuality.' An Orthodox critic would be well within his rights to object that, according to mainstream Judaism, exploring sensuality beyond the bounds of halacha is negating a Jewish sensual consciousness; that only within halacha's boundaries is sanctification possible. It is also possible to live a 'tantric' practice in other sensual, carnal experiences -- physical exercise, for example. However, taking a broader view, and comparing the tantric path to ascetic contemplation practices on the one hand and sensuality-negating forms of Pauline Christianity on the other, I think the application of spiritual attention to physical life is very Jewish indeed. We are taking our religious consciousness and practices, and joining them to the sensual world in which we live. This, on a fundamental level, is the unity of shamayim and aretz that so much of Judaism is about.

Of course, meditation is not only or even primarily a sensual path. Nor is it limited to the individual spirit. It enhances those communal aspects of worldly existence which Judaism seeks to maximize. It nurtures compassion, caring, and gentleness. It makes greed and social injustice ( the kind I often write about in Zeek) viscerally hard to bear.

And it enhances love. When I am in a relationship, my mind begins to race as fast as my heart. The more I fall in love, the more anxiety rises: he doesn't love me as much as I love him, what can I do to keep him, how are things going , what does this mean, what do I want it to mean. The neuroses, and the words themselves, get in the way both of sexual expression and of meaningful relationship. When I quiet the mind, though, I learn to let go of the fear. God is not in the future, when my lover will or will not conform to my dreams and expectations. God is Here and Now, manifesting in this way, conditioned by an infinite chain of causes that goes back to yehi ohr. The idolatrous false gods of my wants are set aside, and the One That Is As It Is (ehyeh asher ehyeh) fills my divine soul, my animal soul, and the ties that bind the two together.

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Image: Mica Scalin

Jay Michaelson will be teaching a course in Embodied Judaism this July at Elat Chayyim in upstate New York.

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July 2003

Symposium on
Douglas Rushkoff's
Nothing Sacred

The Sacred and the Profane
A Conversation with Douglas Rushkoff

Reinventing the Wheel: A Review of Nothing Sacred
Michael Shurkin

They Gonna Crucify Me: A 'Lapsed Jew' Responds to Nothing Sacred
Ken Applebaum

Plus these other attractions:

Meditation and Sensuality
Jay Michaelson

Anything You Want to Be
Ben Cohen

Not Mentioned
Hal Sirowitz

Josh Graduates High School
Josh Ring

Zeek in Print
Spring 03 issue available here

David Stromberg

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