Jay Michaelson
Life During Wartime, or,
Freedom and the Ordinary, p.2

If true freedom is the ability to be boring, trivial, normal -- then zealotry is the opposite of freedom. So if Passover is the festival of freedom, it is a holiday against zealotry. But alas we Jews get very attached to the particular finger we use to point at the moon. I picked up a dharma book at Gobo, a great vegetarian place in the Village, and read this story, which I'll paraphrase: Imagine you are locked up in prison. The Buddha comes to you and says, look, I have the key to freedom. Just take it and put it in the lock, there, under the door, and turn the handle to the right. But you're so used to being a prisoner, that you hang the key up on the wall and pray to it every day.


It's not that I'm so in love with the Palestinians. Their leader rejected a workable and, from Israel's point of view, generous offer at Camp David. It's not that he necessarily should've taken that deal, but he could've at least offered one in return. But he came with nothing, and responded only with threats and new myths (e.g. that there never was a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount). Orchestrating violence, he condemned his entire population to continued occupation and brutality at the hands of the enraged and terrified Israelis, who promptly elected the Butcher to do the dirty work. As for Yassin, whether it was wise or not to assassinate him, the man was a mass murderer of innocents, and an enemy of what's left of the idea of civilization.

But as much as I can't stand the Palestinian leadership, and the bloodthirsty elements of the population, I would still like to believe that it's possible to play soccer with them. They are people, and they are being treated terribly. Whoever is responsible, ordinary Palestinians and ordinary Israelis are suffering. It is outrageous that, in some Jewish circles, to say even these banalities is considered a betrayal of the volk.

Recently I participated in a tedious program on "are you a Jewish American, or an American Jew." I'd like to have a different program: Are you more ordinary or more Palestinian? More ordinary or more Israeli?


Some Jews love to think of themselves as extra-ordinary. The chosen people, a nation of priests. "Ordinary" is a Western, secularist invention, they would say. It's the opposite of what a Jew would want to be.

In that regard, I'm reminded of the difference between Kabbalah and Zen. In the Kabbalah, everything is a symbol. Zen is the unsymbolization of the world.


And so much contention, striving. We mistake Godwrestling to mean becoming convinced about God and then wrestling with everyone else. I work with people who are sure that they are reading their holy book the only way it can be read, and that the God we supposedly share wants me to repress my deepest yearnings. I am sick of these people and their mistaken notions of God, and how it turns me into a zealot myself. And yet, we strive with one another because we want the same territory. Luckily, this territory is in the mind, not the Middle East.

Who cares about mental territory anyway. To my critics: if you come as close to God when you exclude me as I do when I am making love - good for you. I have my doubts, since the exclusion is in the mind, whereas love is both below and above it. In the mind are all your concepts, symbols, curlicues of intellectual titillation. In the mind are your limitations, exclusions, contradictions. Out here the sky is blue and naked bodies glisten.


Gershon Winkler called his recent book "Magic of the Ordinary." But the book isn't really about the mysticism of ordinary experience - it's about shamanistic magic. The trouble with magic and esotericism is they're all about secrets - astrological hoo-hah, meridians this, charkas that. But there really is nothing to get. Here's the truth: Everything is God. Don't believe me? See for yourself.

Likewise, the trouble with "spirituality" is that it often is taken to mean entering a different mind-state. I'm a big fan of different mind-states, but they aren't the same as enlightenment. Enlightenment is in this mind-state as well as other ones. It's knowing, deeply and in the Biblical sense, that You are God, that This is It, that everything is you and you yourself are nothing.

Indeed, when you catch glimpses of that truth - or more precisely, when you catch glimpses of directly seeing and knowing it to be true - you often are treated to rapturous, elevated mind-events. But the mind-events aren't the truth any more than the crackles of a fire are the fire itself.


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Images: Jay Michaelson

April 2004

Persistence of Vision
Dan Friedman

Avi Levy

Reading Toqueville in An Election Year
Michael Shurkin

Dead Sea
Debra Bruno

Life During Wartime
Jay Michaelson

David Goldstein

Our 450 Back Pages

David Stromberg

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From previous issues:

The Wrong Half
Margaret Mackenzie Schwartz

A Song of Ascents
Sarah Lefton

Michael Shurkin