By Steven E. Hodes, M.D.
Physician to Meta-Physician
Are we creatures who possess two opposing aspects of consciousness–thinking and feeling? And is this divide the source of much human suffering?
According to Buddhist teaching, the elimination of suffering and ultimately finding peace and contentment involves an awareness of the nature of reality, the impermanence of all physical existence. This allows the mind to take charge of the heart, for thought to reign in the wild excesses of emotional reactions.
Poet Theodore Roethke in THE WAKING writes we think by feeling, what is there to know? So are thinking and feeling so intertwined that they cannot be separated at all? It seems that human consciousness represented the first true expression of that divide between thought and instinctive behavior. Animals clearly experience emotion but rarely what we would deem pre-meditated thought. Adult humans are credited with the ability to plan their subsequent activities which is the basis for our legal system’s assignment of guilt or innocence.
On the other hand, how much of our thoughts are laden with emotional content? Much more than we might acknowledge, I submit. Our visual perceptions, seemingly free of emotional aspects, are, in fact, the result of inputs from our memories and our emotional centers of the brain.
Kabbalistic interpretations of the nature of reality includes the ETZ CHAIM or TREE OF LIFE which contains ten centers or sephirot. The highest three include Keter, the crown which is the source of Divine energy and also Divine will followed by Chochma or wisdom and Binah, understanding. Although this is not the place for a full discussion of such a fascinating description of metaphysical reality, I wanted to point out that this upper triad of the TREE OF LIFE precede the next three aspects which include Chesed, lovingkindness, Gevurah, restraint and Tiferet, compassion which are clearly related to the emotions, the heart centers. There is another sephira [singular of sephirot] known as Daat or knowledge which is seen as the ‘eleventh’ or silent one. It is known to make the connection between mind and heart. But it is clear that mind or consciousness is considered closer to the Divine Essence known as EIN SOF than the emotional aspects of the cosmos.
Hindu and Buddhist spiritual traditions balance their chakras from crown through heart into the more basic physical and emotional drives as well.
The much expressed but often vague notion of AWARENESS is described in many esoteric and spiritual writings. This is felt to be essentially a cognitive, or mind quality of consciousness which allows us to examine our lives as well as our feelings. It is seen as the mechanism by which the emotional roller-coaster of life which brings such extremes of joy and despair, can be tamed a bit. Once again, understanding and wisdom will allow [in theory] us to step back from our lives and our feelings for a moment in order to place them in context.
Buddhists believe that the cause of suffering is our desire of attachments to this physical universe. We are doomed to despair because we delude ourselves into believing that we will be happy when we obtain certain objectives such as wealth, prestige or fame which themselves are impermanent. The awareness of this truth should set us free. The understanding that our lives are fluid, changing processes should allow us to make better choices about where to expend our energies.
While taking note of the primacy of mind or consciousness, Kabbalistic writings do not demean the importance of our emotions. They describe the presence of Divinity in the midst of turmoil and Its proximity to a ‘broken heart’. Knowing that we are not alone in our misery is an antidote to suffering. Knowing that our lives are temporary schools for learning and spiritual growth should help us endure suffering as well. A strong belief in the ultimate survival of the soul after physical death is a powerful source of comfort as well.
This leads us back to healing. Healing is rectification of a broken heart as well as the broken nature of creation. The notion that God allowed his creation to fracture in order for man to participate in its repair or tikkun is considered a gift. This awareness of divine love and concern allows us to transform pain into joy. Although pain is our human response to emotional stress, we can reduce our suffering through our mind’s awareness that this is not divine punishment.
Buddhists might emphasize that past karma is exerting its influence upon our life’s traumas and our emotional pain. But such is not punishment either. It is a balancing and healing opportunity as well. Transforming the heart’s pain into a healing lesson require the mind to be present and aware. Perhaps by doing so suffering can be reduced. By allowing the mind and heart to interact and experiencing a sense of peace and joy is the ultimate goal.
The Kabbalist sees Divine will, wisdom, understanding and knowledge as gifts of the human consciousness which enable us to exist in a dynamic balance with our emotional aspects. It sees this balance as the source of equanimity and joy. Individuals who are ‘too much’ in their ‘minds’ will try to rationalize everything in their lives and cut themselves off from their hearts. Their necks are seen as strictures that reduce their ability to experience their emotions. Likewise, other individuals can be ‘too much’ in their ‘hearts’, overwhelmed by feeling and unable to rationally navigate through the labyrinths of their lives.
Mystics of all spiritual traditions have found that the discipline of prayer and/or meditation to be a vehicle by which mind or consciousness can exert some influence on the wild and often debilitating gyrations of the heart and emotions. Going inward becomes a way of gaining access to Divine guidance and compassion. Going inward allows one to find peace in the midst of chaos.
Be aware of how pain is a universal human experience and to recognize that no one escapes it. None of this is easy. Why would we expect our lives to me so? Yet hope is an equally valuable gift of the mind and the heart. Suffering can be transformed into acceptance, acceptance into peaceful equanimity, equanimity into joy. This awareness, a gift from the mind of the Divine, is itself a valuable healing lesson.
© Steven E. Hodes, MD., 2006
Steven E. Hodes, M.D. is a board certified gastroenterologist with over 25 years private practice based in Edison and Old Bridge New Jersey. He also has a degree in Religious Studies and teaches Contemporary Metaphysics at Brookdale College as well as lecturing and writing on Kabbalah and Healing, the Jewish View of Afterlife and on Near-Death Experience. Visit him at his Blog, Physician to Meta-Physician at www.meta-md.com