Writer, editor, lawyer, and teacher Jay Michaelson is a rising star in Jewish spirituality circles and the founding editor of Zeek
, an online magazine of Jewish spirituality and thought. In this meditation, Michaelson introduces the three Kabbalistic "sefirot" that represent lovingkindness, judgment, and harmony, and leads an exercise that will leave you feeling these three emanations in deep and meaningful balance with each other.
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I'm Jay Michaelson, author of "God in Your Body: Kabbalah, Mindfulness, and Embodied Spiritual Practice."
The Kabbalistic Tree of the Sefirot, sometimes called the Tree of Life, is a system of ten divine energies, which are located in the human body, mind, heart and soul.
At the center of the Tree of the Sefirot is a triad of Chesed, Gevurah and Tiferet, which means loving kindness, judgment and harmony.
In our human relationships in which we're always searching for the balance between loving kindness and boundary.
In the body, Chesed represents expansion and Gevurah, constriction. Chesed is like yoga. Gevurah is like weight training. Chesed is like relaxation. Gevurah is work.
And Chesed is located in the right arm, Gevurah in the left.
Tifereth, beauty and compassion, is in the middle, the balance point, the center of the body.
It's possible to experience these three energies on an embodied and emotional level with the following meditation practice.
First, stand up, feet shoulder width apart so that you're comfortable and grounded. Clear your mind of distraction by paying attention to ten breaths in a row. Just quiet down, settle back and feel the stillness in the body.
Now, bring to mind an image that, for you, evokes loving kindness, warmth, comfort. Perhaps it's a person or a place. Maybe it's a memory of a particular time.
Just select one image and really try to stand in the presence of this image, experiencing the feelings of Chesed, loving kindness, on an emotional level.
Now, use your right arm to express in your body the sensation you're feeling. Don’t worry if it seems strange. Just give it a try with an open, curious mind and your eyes closed.
Move your arm. Let it dance or sway or caress, whatever feels intuitive for you. If nothing's coming up, just fake it for a while and see if the body can lead the heart in its movements.
Stay with this for some time. Really let your right side of your body express the sensation.
If you like, the entire right half of your body can follow your right arm. You might move in a graceful circular motion. You might dance a little bit - whatever feels right in your body.
Keep coming back to the heart, feeling the sensation of loving kindness and expressing it with the body.
Then, after a while, let it rest. Bring your attention to the right side of your body and to your heart and experience the sensation of Chesed.
Next comes the harder part. With your body still once more, direct your attention to a source of difficulty or pain in your life.
Again, it may be a person or a situation. Perhaps it's an illness, a disagreement or a difficult time in past or present.
I encourage you to really be fearless. Go into the pain and feel the Gevurah happen, the tightness, the constriction, just as you did with Chesed.
And now, express it with your left arm. Maybe you want to clinch a fist or push something away. Maybe your muscles tighten.
As before, just follow your intuition shamelessly. Exaggerate if you like with as much curiosity as you can muster. Just see how your left arm feels and really stay with it.
As before, really let the entire left side of your body express this energy of Gevurah. Keep focused on the image of the person or of the situation which provokes this response in you. Just keep coming back to it and expressing it with the left side of your body.
Now, without stopping the movement in your left arm, restart the movement in your right at the same time. Both arms are now moving and you can allow your torso to move with them, mediate between them, dance with them.
As before, don't judge. Leave that for later. Just let yourself have this experience.
Devote the same attention to your spiritual development as you do to your intellectual or physical development. Feel these two energies, Chesed on the right side and Gevurah on the left, and notice that whatever its source, the experience is real. You can cultivate this consciousness and express it in the body.
Feel the suppleness and the love and the smoothness on the right and the strength, the boundary, the constriction on the left. Really go for it.
And now, with both sides of the body fully moving and both parts of the heart energized and activated, feeling Chesed and Gevurah simultaneously, I want to invite you to clap your hands together. Hold them there and stand in stillness.
With your body, know that wisdom is not choosing the pleasurable over the difficult. Wisdom, compassion, beauty, Tiferet, is in seeing the shadow as a veiled light, uplifting it, integrating it.
Stand still in this place of integration, being centered on Tiferet in the heart center, being very attentive to the body and to thoughts and feelings arising in the mind.
If you have a sensation of energy, notice it, follow it, be curious about it. If you're judging the practice, notice that, but let go of it so that you can see what it can teach you.
The Tree of the Sefirot can seem at times very abstract. But, if we open the heart and let the body lead, it can be as real as our experience of the divine reality of this moment.