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Spiritual Eldering: Integration in Motion

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 Spiritual Eldering: Integration in Motion
An interview with Rabbi Zalman Schacter Shulomi
by Raz Ingrasci, President (Edited by Shawn McAndrew)
Professor at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, CO, Rabbi Zalman is the author of From Aging to Saging, a national leader in the Jewish Renewal Movement and is a member of the Hoffman Advisory Board.

Raz Ingrasci: Thank you for talking with me this morning. I'd like our discussion to focus on spirituality and religion, both the difference and compatibility between the two. What is the connection between religion and spirituality?

Rabbi Shulomi: Trends happen from time to time and they are spoken about as one thing being "in" and another thing being "out." It looks now like spirituality is in and religion is out. This is partly due to the fact that religion has come to mean religionist governments which has given religion less than a good name. People feel that they don't need to connect with a hierarchy or a religious organization as much as they crave being able to be in touch with God through their own personal connection. If you don't have the tools for your own spiritual maintenance, you are lost because what we get in the official synagogue/church setting of doesn't seem to help people to cope with life's difficulties. Spirituality seems to include the tools for soul management.

RI: You indicated that religion has gotten a bad rap, or it's out right now; but certainly religion has served people throughout history. I could say I don't need religion to have spiritual experiences, I can go up on the mountain and experience nature, or whatever. What exactly does religion offer us?

RS: Many people see religion as a one-generation phenomenon. For most people spirituality is not a social phenomenon; for example, for many became Unitarian because they no longer wanted to be Catholic but their children aren't necessarily doing the same. Many people have embraced Vedanta, Buddhist, Sufis, and other spiritual paths, but their children have not. Conversely, wherever you have religion, there seems to be a way of life that has continuity, that is socially shared. We live today under the trance of the media; one must be really strong to overcome it. Nothing can provide that strength like a religious community. Many of us celebrate the Sabbath, and for twenty-six hours on the weekend we are out of touch with the media. We live in our community and this is where religion really binds people together and is very, very powerful.

RI: It provides some guidelines and a sense of tradition because once you start studying religious orthodoxy from a spiritual place, it's not necessarily so binding and regimented. Rather than being a set of dogmatic rules it provides some guideline, some tradition, and some knowledge.

RS: This is correct. Wherever we find the greatest harmony between religion, which is the larger thing, the social thing, and spirituality, which is the here and now and vertical connection that we have, wherever these two are in harmony everything is good. However, sometimes they go out of kilter. For instance, there are some fundamentalist people today who are suspicious and untrusting of the word "spirituality" because it seems to be so individualistic and it doesn't go by the book. On the other hand, there are some people on the side of spirituality who, when you speak to them about religion, run over to the other side. We have seen that it is the most fruitful thing when religion and spirituality are wedded together.

Spirituality culminates best in mystics. Religion has a peculiar relationship with mystics, liking only housebroken mystics. Mystics always push the envelope - Meister Eckhard wasn't quite housebroken, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wasn't quite housebroken. There are people who give the juice and the energy to religion who are often suspected by the religious authority. This creates internal tension in religions between the mystics who know their spiritual armament, who have the spiritual tools, and the people representing policy and hierarchy in the church.

RI: Perhaps there's an analogy between government and religious institutions in that at this point in history we think that the best government is one that guarantees individual freedom rather than takes it away. Yet we need governments to guarantee individual freedom; we can't get by without government.

RS: Right. Government often creates cruelty in order to maintain itself so that it can impose a rule. If it doesn't have any teeth then it's not a government. So there's always a problem of the right and wrong use of power.

RI: Tell us a little bit about Jewish Renewal. What is Jewish Renewal and what is its goal?

RS: In the Quadrinity Process it is very clear that human beings operate at four levels at the same time: the physical body, the emotional child, the intellectual adult, and the spiritual self. These four levels share a lot with other mysticisms - with the Kabbalah, for instance, where we speak of four worlds: the physical, the emotional, the intellectual, and the spiritual world. They are related to the four letters of the divine name, Yud Heh Vav Heh that make up the name Jehovah or God. This is also the four levels in the yogas: there is Hatha Yoga, the yoga of the physical body; Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of feeling; Damiana Yoga which is mind, and Raja Yoga which is spirit. We are dealing here with systems that describe something deeply essential to our nature. Put another way, it is because we are hard-wired this way. We have a reptilian brain, a limbic brain, the cortex of the rational mind, and approximately 85% of the brain that is uncharted which is where intuition and other psi powers reside.

The reptilian brain assures that your turf is safe. The limbic brain makes sure that you feel integrated in relating to the members of your tribe. The cortex makes sure that you have a good, clear reality map. But intuition is what takes you to spirit. So here are the four levels. Most mainstream religions operate on the same level of consciousness as when you go to the mall and do your business. On the other hand, Jewish mysticism is always operated in all four worlds. Jewish Renewal is a four-worlds system, number one. Number two, Jewish Renewal says that as it was in the beginning so we have to do right now which is to say we have to be relevant to this time and place. So, whereas in traditional Judaism there may be a level in which women are seen as lesser citizens, in Jewish Renewal women are seen as full citizens. In other areas there are certain laws that don't quite fit today's urban world. In the area of the Sabbath, ever since World War II people have not been resting weekends. Blue laws were rescinded and now everybody in the world lives a "7-Eleven", 24-hours-a-day lifestyle. You can't negotiate a check on Friday and then deposit money on Monday to cover it because everything goes electronically and very fast. The speeding up has necessitated keeping some of the older laws to help us maintain harmony with nature. Conversely, some of today's laws don't quite work out because of our social mobility. Some people can't possibly walk to the synagogue on the Sabbath from where they live, they have to take some form of transportation to get there. These people would say "we will use transportation to go to the synagogue, but we will not go shopping or traveling other than that."

Jewish Renewal has loosened up some of the rules of the tradition and has strengthened some others even more than the traditional method. For example, in tradition we have kosher laws. In Jewish Renewal we have eco-kosher laws which means ecologically kosher, so that according to old kosher styrofoam is fine; according to eco-kosher, it isn't. Renewal says that we have to live harmoniously with nature as God's will today, as we had to live in harmony with God's will in the past.

RI: It sounds to me that in a certain sense Jewish Renewal is reclaiming the mystical or spiritual tradition and saying to people this religion, your Judaism, can be an authentic path to God. Yes, there are other paths but this is an authentic path. And you don't have to leave your cultural tradition to get access to it.

RS: That's number one. Number two is something else that goes along with that. In the past you couldn't possibly claim that your religion made room for other religions. That was called triumphalism. In other words, people would have the notion that when the Messiah would come, the second coming, it will be clear that the Christians were right all along and the Jews were wrong And it would be the same way from a Jewish point of view. Those people who would say this is the second coming, and maybe there was no first coming before. So people always have the feeling that in the end their religion is the one that will be vindicated. Jewish Renewal feels that there is no such thing as triumphalism. Can the liver claim to be triumphalist and say I'm more important than the heart? Part of ecological thinking is that all species are necessary and important. In the same way, part of Jewish Renewal thinking is to say that we are at this point looking at life in an organic way and all vital organs are needed; the heart cannot claim that it is better than the brain. We have to take into consideration that all religions are intended by God to function in the world. Religions have to learn to get along with each other and to understand that we are all intrinsic to the healthy life of the world. That's one of the reasons why triumphalism is out.

Jewish Renewal empowers individuals. We were talking before about the issue of spirituality. Very often in traditional religious situations the priest or rabbi told you what to do. That was possible when people lived in a parish where somebody had to call the shots, because you were compelled to live in that society. Today, everybody follows their religion by personal choice. No one is being forced.

RI: I would like to ask you some questions about the Quadrinity Process and I'm looking at the letter you wrote us last year in which you speak very eloquently about the Quadrinity Process and the psychological aspects of how the Quadrinity parallels what you'd learned in the Kabbalah.

RS: I'd like to say something about spiritual eldering which is currently what my work is all about. I have been doing this work since I freed myself from the papa/mama stuff in the Quadrinity Process. Jung discusses Freud and early years' development. And this is part of the homework that we did in the Process. People who haven't done this work can't get on with doing the spiritual work of the rest of their life. The Quadrinity Process prepared me to be able to pay attention to issues that were way beyond the issues of growing through adolescence and going beyond the papa/mama stuff. I then realized that there were some tough questions here Most of us feel a certain kind of depression as we age because on the inside we don't feel older yet we look older when we see ourselves in the mirror. When you pay attention to your inner life, you see that the rational being is very often the one that betrays the body. It exploits and abuses the body in ways such as whipping it into shape so it can compete with people much younger. Most people haven't paid attention to the elder years because there's no model for the elder years in our society. It's a youth culture. Look at all the ads; even the ads in the AARP magazine called "Modern Maturity" features people who look like teenagers with white hair going on cruises. We don't have models of people who have become elders; we have people who feel ashamed that they are old. So my program has become "from age-ing to sage-ing." The earth today truly needs sages, people who have wisdom. We have an information glut but not enough wisdom about how to use the information. We have high technology but we don't have the wisdom to apply it to enhance life. We have become the servant of the technology, which is another way in which we abuse our emotional life.

Very few people today can take time to mend relationships with past spouses, lovers, children; very often the neglect on the social sphere becomes so great that we become atomized. We don't have the social fibers any more of being connected with other people. Friendships are diminishing; there's no time for that. The planet needs elders very badly to help us extend the vision from the current bottom line to seven generations, to be wisdom keepers.

RI: It's true that our culture only celebrates youth and yet you're speaking about a phenomenon of a life change that occurs which, if properly embraced, does lead to wisdom and if not embraced, if resisted and rejected, leads to a kind of stagnation.

RS: And to great, great depression. Most people haven't harvested their life. They keep on working and not harvesting and that's why there is so little joy in the elder years. When people learn to harvest they do themselves a great favor because then they lift the depression. Another important issue is consciousness. Most people live in the consciousness of their earlier years even after they have been given an extended life span. When you have an extended life span without using extended consciousness, you are dying longer instead of living longer.

RI: It seems to me then that the Quadrinity Process, by helping you to resolve the mama/papa issues, really healed you into your own path of contribution into the world.

RS: So that I could then start really paying attention to the issues we have now. And now the baby boomers are coming into those years and they will also need to find a way by which to use tools like those presented in the Quadrinity Process. The tools that we use in the spiritual eldering process are very close to the Process tools. Nothing works just by admonition. You have to get into the "imaginal" realities that people live. For instance, when you had us sit at the tree and wait for our spiritual guide, that was clearly a moment that occurred outside of the physical plane. But operating in that imaginal realm is what made it possible to see ourselves as a "four-ness" rather than as a oneness and be able to sort it out and harmonize it. In some ways this is what we are doing with the eldering work because you can't become a sage, you can't get into wisdom, if the emotional child has not matured. That requires a lot of forgiveness work, letting go of vindictiveness. You can hear the Quadrinity Process as I speak this.

RI: It seems to me, Rabbi, that there is actually a stage of life that commonly is called aging but in which people have the responsibility to take on sage-ing. For example, I have heard it said that among Native Americans no man could become a chief until he had reached 50 years.

RS: That's correct. And in our government we have a Senate and the Senators behave like teenagers. The issue then is, can we possibly have Senators who have grown in wisdom? Look at the last election. Along came Dole and he tried to convince us that he could be as effective as a younger man. He might have said I have learned from life and I'm not rushed and I can hear all the nasty stuff that's being said, but you know what, this country needs to take the long look. Then people would have had a sense that here is a responsible elder. Look how it used to be in the days of FDR when there was a sense that FDR was the father of the country. You don't have a sense that Presidents or Senators today are at that level.

RI: Well, Rabbi, you have given us a lot of wonderful material today and I just want to ask one last question. Do you have a personal message for people who have done the Hoffman Process who might be reading this interview?

RS: Yes. I'm saying that having done the Hoffman Process it makes a great deal of sense to start preparing for their elder years with consciousness, because no one will take responsibility for us when we are older. We have to do it ourselves. We have to assume our own responsibility over the fall. I see childhood as the winter, the lessons in youth as spring, the main opus of a person's life as the summer. But beginning with age 63 and up, we are in the fall and fall is harvest time. If people only see that leaves are falling, they don't realize that falling leaves means that the apples have ripened and life has harvested. If graduates apply what they learned in the Quadrinity Process to prepare for the elder years, they will find happiness and serenity.

RI: Thank you very much.

The Interview

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