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  • Rabbi Mordecai Finley Ph.D.

Introduction to the Daily Spiritual Practice


Our Torah portion this week, Nasso, contains the priestly blessing, verses that are very difficult to translate experientially. For example, "May God shine His light upon you, and be gracious unto you" feels clunky in comparison to what it feels like to meditate upon the rich Hebrew meaning of the verse. A meditation on this verse comes out as: "May the Cause of Being shed the light of its Presence upon you, and may you know the grace that this Presence bestows."

Verses from the Bible can be used as sources for spiritual and mystical experience, in that they center consciousness into depths of holy words. This sinking into the interior world of holy words is part of what is called a "hitbodedut" (mystical) practice, isolating consciousness into knowledge of the Divine. Such a practice requires, in my mind, a thorough grounding in basic spiritual practices, referred to as "hitbonenut."

For the next several weeks, I want to use the morning study sessions to teach how to set up and maintain a spiritual and even mystical practice. I often refer to a "daily practice" and sketch out details here and there, but have not taken the time to teach the details of this practice. I guess the time has come!

I will start with the basics of the "hitbonenut" practice, the practice of self-reflection. This practice requires that we be able to access the Higher Self (known properly as "Da'at" (Knowledge) in the texts that I study). From that perspective we can both examine the contents of Ego Self consciousness and restructure those contents.

I often refer to the Ego Self, so allow me to use this Shabbat thought to describe that idea in writing. I call this realm of the inner life the "Ego Self" and not Ego, so as not to confuse the student. The term "ego" is often used in two ways. One way is to use the term to refer to natural narcissistic tendencies. People say, "I have to get my ego out of the way." I think at a more precise level they mean "unenlightened self interests." Most of our thinking is naturally self-interested. What gets confusing is what is actually in our best interests. Our own best interests, for example, include the interests of those around us, at least in the long run.

Another way the term "ego" is used is in traditional psychodynamic psychology, being one part of the ego-id-superego triad. In this sense, a healthy ego (authentic self, I would term it) is trying to emerge out of the conflict between primal urges of the "id", and the repressive function of the "superego."

I use the term "Ego Self" to differentiate from both of those uses. By Ego Self, I mean what Roberto Assagioli (who is one of the main sources of thinking) calls "the plastic unconscious." By plastic, he means moldable, to differentiate this aspect of the unconscious from the structured, archetypal subconscious, address in, for example, Jungian psychoanalysis. In this Ego Self, we find thoughts, feelings, emotions, drives, impulses, images, sensations and intuitions that all vie for control of the will. The problem is, these forces of the Ego Self are often profoundly mistaken in their understanding of ourselves, other people and the world around us, sometimes even delusional.

The Ego Self, therefore, contains both the Id and the Superego, as well as our tendencies toward unenlightened self interests. In the basic hitbonenut practice, our work is to enter into the Higher Self of Da'at (Knowledge) and be able to examine and restructure the contents of the Ego Self.

In this practice, I focus on seeking out the most destructive of our inner tendencies: anger, resentment, despair/depression, unresolved grief, guilt (irrational obligation), shame, anxiety, fear, envy and destructive desire. Once we can identify destructive patterns (the Yetzer HaRa) our goal is to provide interventions toward greater Higher Self consciousness.

Instead of a one session rush-through on this first, basic level, I want to offer a fuller examination of all these ideas.

I will try to make each of these teachings of stand-alone value, but my goal is actually to create a relatively thorough introduction to spiritual and contemplative practice, over several sessions.

Please come and join us!


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