Basic Jewish Mysticism. I like to share a basic idea that has very helpful insights for people who are beginners or people who are deeply immersed in Jewish practice and sources. The simple idea is called The Four Worlds. The concept is that we humans are layered beings with four centers or brains or levels. In each of these four levels, we are, of course, participating in the layered universe, generated by The Creator. We are in The Image of God, on all these levels. We have a unique role in creation. As humans, we can unify the Four Worlds. We can bring consciousness and intentionality from the highest world into the lowest. Isn't this a lovely way to imagine our special role in creation?
What are the Four Worlds? You might even be able to generate them for yourself with a little contemplation: Action, Feeling, Mind and Spirit.
Obviously, we are physical beings, subject to the laws of creation, decay and recreation. This is the world of action. The laws of physics apply in the world of actions. We are bound by linear time, here. In other words, we can imagine future events, but the events can only unfold in the fullness of linear time. The symbol and container for this world is the human body. The torah of the physical world is the guidance, laws and practices of the mitzvot.
The second of the four levels we posit in Judaism is the world of feeling. Feelings are somewhat physical, interpenetrated with the endocrine system and hormones. These are the organs and functions that signal and capture the emotions in our circulatory system. Emotions are less subject to the laws of physics than actions. Experiences from long ago, and future experiences that we imagine can effect us in a real way NOW. In the emotional world, we can live in the future and the past. We can become more aware of our feelings - in each present moment - thru attention. We can cultivate perspectives that help us establish helpful emotional responses to present conditions. These attributes include objectivity, fairness, gratitude, sincerity, trust and others. There is a whole system of emotional development in our tradition, called Mussar. A loose translation is internalized ethics or emotional intelligence. Many of you, mature and loving people, whatever your level of Jewish education and observance, have been exposed to ideas and practices similar to mussar. Jewish emotional intelligence parallels other systems influenced by mindfulness and psychological health.
The third world is the world of thought and mind. There are layers upon layers of thought in all of us. We can think, we can solve math problems. We can remember dreams or past events. We can imagine, we can direct our attention in prayer and self-study. The medulla oblongata is the "brain" that connects to certain automatic functions of the reptilian survival instinct in the body, the world of action. The limbic portion of the brain is the repository of the emotional intelligence. The hemispheres of the brain correspond to mental activity such as learning and computing. The complicated and late-evolving components at the center and front of the brain are the parts of our brain that connect to higher mental functions, such as self-awareness, intentionality, prayer, and contemplation. When we purposefully create a quiet mind, our very brains become receivers, or perhaps reflectors of the higher world, the world of spirit.
The fourth world, the world of spirit, does not exactly correspond to a bodily organ or system. It is rather the unity of the three lower worlds that gives us access to the higher world of spirit. The world of spirit, self-awareness and consciousness is always available but never automatic. WE have to be available: body, heart and mind.
This powerful and simple system has an implicit message: We are bodies with a soul. We are spiritual beings with physical bodies which allow us to function in the manifest world. As much as we have a capacity to digest food, we have a capacity to receive spiritual influx. Each of us. It is in our nature, or perhaps our natures, to connect "heaven and earth," the spiritual and the physical. Carry on with your important work!