Introduction to Kabbalah: The Tree of Life
Introduction to Kabbalah’s Tree of Life:
And now. . . ? Kabbalah, cards and Consciousness, the newsletter from fb’s group, Conscious Transformation offers an introduction to the mystical Tree of life as a basic tool used by mystics to comprehend Divinity and the creation, as well as our place in it. The inner face of Judaism offers the mystic a way of life that is based on the understanding that we are all deeply connected to a whole that is greater than its parts. Mysticism is an honoring of the mystery out of which we were born and to which we will return. Its teachings are many.
Kabbalah’s Tree of Life is a diagram of oneness and interconnection, comprising ten sefirot or, as I like to think of them, ‘cosmic chakras’ and the 22 pathways that join them. Each sefirah has a specific energetic vibration that is reflected in you and me, according to the soul qualities we own, enhance and share with the world. Perhaps we should start by defining what I mean by mystic, which for me is a term to describe one who accepts an underlying connection in all things, who believes that there is more to Life that we can access through our five senses, and who celebrates our diversity and seeks unity in plurality.
Jewish mysticism teaches that as we are formed in the image of a creative Divinity, we too, are creative beings. By connecting with our own intuition, we create our reality as a mirror of our beliefs about our own possibilities and potential. Like Tarot’s Magician, we bridge heaven and earth.
Kabbalah’s Tree of Life can be seen as an interconnected diagram of pathways and energy centers — portals that lead us into the Oneness of which we are all part. These ‘cosmic chakras’ are called sefirot (pronounced s’feerot) a Hebrew plural word while s’firah (pronounced s’feerah) is singular. In trying to understand The Tree of Life in ways that are accessible, I introduce each of the sefirot with an English term that makes the essence of each ‘cosmic chakra’ understandable.
1. Keter – Portal to intuition, intention and inspiration
Keter, the first s’firah is translated here as Spark— appearing as that bright, intuitive flash of light that seemingly comes from no-where, from the NO-THING-NESS of the Unmanifest. Suddenly there it is — and life changes. Perhaps the key to opening our connection to this mysterious realm is through intention— the stronger it is, the more likely we are to ignite that spark or flash of inspiration, intuition and insight— empowering our spiritual energy field to respond to something new, original and pertinent.
Aligned with intention, we feel the joy and enthusiasm of knowing that we are in the right time and place. In order to become conscious of the process, we need to step out of our story— the narrative that plays continuously as an inner voice that comments on everything we are doing. This s’firah reminds us that when we intend, intuit and manifest, anything is possible. We can see that Spark connects to Wisdom, Understanding and Harmony. It is from this point, the The Initiate/Fool starts each journey in trust, curiosity and joy.
2. Chochmah— Portal to Wisdom
The second s’firah is Chochmah the ‘cosmic chakra’ of Wisdom. How does creative energy expresess itself within us? Wisdom is alive in our lives when insight, feeling and an unexplained knowingness merge and we suddenly become aware. A new dimension opens in which unexpected insights and perceptions start to flow, eddying around us and waiting our attention. As we allow this new knowledge the time to ripen, thoughts start to take form.
‘Kabbalah‘ means ‘to receive’— Spark ignites the flow and energizes the Pillar of Expansion with the seeds of Wisdom. To really get a handle on these still unformed impressions, the energy flows across the Tree into the complimentary pod of Understanding where, with time, they gestate into the thoughts we comprehend and a new creative process begins. What is waiting to be born in your creative life? Become present to it and allow your imagination to soar into impossible realms. As you think of any project that you have brought to fruition, you recall it may well have started with an unexpected idea that was taken through various stages into manifestation.
3. Binah— Portal to Understanding
The third s’firah is Binah, the ‘cosmic chakra’ of Understanding. Comprehending how creative energy expresess itself within us, we may be better able to understand the concepts behind the Tree of Life. Completing the first triad, Understanding is the womb in which we gestate the information received from Wisdom, seeded by Spark. On the book Miraculous Living, Rabbi Labowitz states that thoughts are patterned and organized into a tapestry, becoming available, practical and usable. “In wisdom a thought is received, in understanding it is born.” Once this happens, we can claim the comprehension as our own. As Wisdom and Understanding are bridged, knowledge opens one portal to consciousness, while intuition opens another. Some mystics describe the mysterious s’firah of Da’at on the central pillar between Wisdom and Understanding as the orb of Knowledge. These three ‘cosmic chakras’ connect with the triad of emotion — Compassion, Strength and Harmony
4. Chesed— Portal to Compassion
The fourth s’firah is Chesed, the ‘cosmic chakra’ of Compassion. Visualizing how creative energy expresess itself within us, we may be better able to understand the concepts behind the Tree of Life. Many ancient wisdom traditions teach that one of the main reasons we incarnate in human form is to experience and master the emotional realm— balancing compassion with strength and creating harmony. Compassion is the portal of nurturance for body, mind and soul, for ourselves and for others; it encourages us to stay open, empty and receptive, letting go of thought and its story that repeats endlessly within us, an ongoing cycle and commentary of past mistakes, guilt, regrets. When we still the mind and become present, we are fully alive in each moment. The ‘cosmic chakra’ of Compassion (Chesed) is directly connected to Wisdom, Strength, Harmony and Innovation. It holds center position on the Pillar of Expansion.
Eternal or infinite love is unconditional and inclusive, inviting us to serve selflessly. Free of expectations, and without preconceived notions, we suffer no disappointment. With an open heart, we are able to accept what is, rather than focusing on what is not, or what could be. For every negative encounter, there is positive potential. Compassion allows us to offer our presence to one another — our full and undivided attention which is the greatest gift we have to give.
5. Gevurah— Portal to Strength
The fifth s’firah is Gevurah is the ‘cosmic chakra’ of Strength. Situated in the center of the Receptive Pillar on In the traditional Tree of Life, Gevurah is translated as Severity which is a heavily loaded word. The word ‘Strength’ seems less so. Compassion and Strength are the terminal points on the spectrum of possibility in the emotional arena. It is from a position of Strength that we pause, in the midts of the emotional flow that may seem overwhelming and draw on our ability to plan how best to respond rather than react, deciding when to step forward and lead with humility and when we follow with dignity for the greatest good of all concerned. Self-discipline sets boundaries and structures that allow us to achieve the goals we set, forming workable schedules that are not overtaxing. This ‘cosmic chakra’ connects to Understanding, Harmony and Tradition as well as to Compassion.
Strength reminds us to practice discernment rather than judgment because we never have the full picture. It gives us courage to speak up for the voiceless and stand firm in the face of injustice. It is a grounded holding-place from which to find balance on the pathway from love to fear and back. When not coming as a response to physical danger, fear emerges from a belief in paucity. As the Universe is abundant, this is an illusion. Strength is an expansive and courageous quality that frees the soul to overcome challenges that limit, and encourages us to move forward. Transcending the ‘shadow’ elements that prevent our fully expressing our own authenticity, we are able to persevere.
In the I Ching: a guide to life’s turning points, Brian Browne Walker teaches: “True joy is experienced by those who are strong within and gentle without.”
6. Tiferet— Portal to Harmony
The sixth s’firah— Tiferet— is the ‘cosmic chakra’ of Harmony which encapsulates beauty and resonance, and is in direct contact with every other sefirah on the Tree. In the traditional Tree of Life, Tiferet is translated as Beauty. On the middle path, it is halfway between the mysterious and the known. Inspired by insight from Spark, Wisdom and Knowledge, it is in the ‘cosmic chakra’ of Harmony we understand the bigger picture. From the lovingkindness and courage of Compassion and Strength we enjoy the potential to experience and express the unconditional love that we are; from Innovation and Tradition, our actions interpret our history with originality and authenticity, standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us; from Imagery and Physicality we manifest the magic of who we are as we bridge heaven and earth, the sacred and the secular.
Harmony is found in the present moment. In beauty there is resonance. In the silence of profound beauty we hear the still small voice as we are moved in ways we cannot name, as we are called forward, awakening the courage to hold fast to our dreams even when the goal is unclear. Divinity is with us, even in the darkness of a moonless night. We listen from the heart, opening all our senses to the beauty that exists within and without, known and unrecognized, even in the mystical coincidences and synchronicites that remind us of where we find Divinity and in the Mystery, find ourselves.
7. Netzach— Portal to Innovation
The seventh s’firah, Netzach, is the ‘cosmic chakra’ of Innovation. In the traditional Tree of Life, this ‘cosmic chakra’ is named Victory. Just as Wisdom and Understanding provide the spectrum for thought, and Compassion and Strength for the emotions, this level is where we consider action. Here on the column of the expressive, rather than the receptive side of the Tree, we see how we use our skills in creative manifestation. This is the place that we are invited to play, for the sheer joy of experimentation, where intution, thought and feeling are expressed in our own unique way— for the author, the book is in progress, the painter is hard at work at the easel, the gardener is planting, pruning, watering and weeding after visualizing what the garden will look like. This ‘cosmic chakra’ is connected Compassion, Harmony, Tradition, Imagery and Physicality.
Taking inspiration for the ideas you have, start to experiment, lose yourself in the creative process of expressing yourself— go back to the child you were, playing with sand and water to see what these materials can do. Give yourself time without distractions. Keep your focus. Lost in the process of doing, hear the inner voice. Dance with no-one watching, sing aloud with no-one listening. Feel motivated by the sheer joy of doing. Exercise your free will, take time to rest and nurture your body which is the physical vehicle through which you express your soul. Stay vigilant for the coincidences, serendipities and synchronicities that remind us we are part of something so much bigger than we know.
from Brian Brown Walker: The I Ching: “Activity grounded in truth brings progress and good fortune… great progress can be made through the effort of will. It is essential that all of your activity be characterized by humility, conscientiousness and adaptability. If fear or doubts intrude, remain quietly focused on the activity at hand.” Hexagram 46
8. Hod— Portal to Tradition
The eighth s’firah, Hod, is the ‘cosmic chakra’ of Tradition. In the traditional Tree of Life, this ‘cosmic chakra’ is named Splendor. Just as Wisdom and Understanding provide the spectrum for thought, and Compassion and Strength for the emotions, this level is where we consider polarities in the realm of action— expressive and receptive. Here on the column of the receptive, Tradition holds collective memory, both personal amd universal, for the accumulation of humanity’s actions and reactions, stories and beliefs. It is the voice of parents, culture and ancestors and is connected to Strength, Harmony, Innovation, Imagery and Physicality.
In living a creative life, there is time to step aside from the canvas you are creating and look at the art. In the pause, we step out of our own way and consider how inspiration and creation have come together. Against the back drop of the eons of traditional perspectives out of which we find our own authenticity, we take time to stop, let go and ‘be.’ It gives us an opportunity to reconnect with the divine spark within. In letting go of any expectations that we have taken into ourselves, we open to our own creative and non-judgmental genius. Tradition is a compendium of fairy tales, archetypes and myths (which according to Jean Houston, are ‘stories that never were and always are’) from which we learn to discern the helpful from the hurtful. As we live out the hero’s journey we choose, we learn from the past and move forward by adding our own experiences into the Akashic record of all that was, is and shall be.
From Alice Kane, in The Dreamer Awakes:
The dreamer awakes, the shadow goes by
When I tell you a tale, the tale is a lie
But ponder it well, fair maiden, good youth
The tale is a lie, what it tells is the truth.
9. Yesod— Portal to Imagery, imagination and dreams
In the traditional Tree of Life, this ‘cosmic chakra’ is named Foundation. On the central path, and just above Physicality, we all visualize our longings, our dreams— our possibilities and potential, constantly forming, shaped and limited only by our own beliefs. This is the realm of creative imagination, archetypes, dreams and images. It is here we step out of the boundaries of the five-sense reality we experience and open to our soul’s yearning and to our spiritual essence. What we can imagine, we can become. As energy vibrates here at a higher level, we are not bound by the physics that limit our possibilities— we can go anywhere, do anything, become anyone.
Through this portal to our creativity, our inner vision opens in wonder to the limitless potential that exists— of the freedom that creative imagining releases. We start to think beyond the concrete and enter the world of paradox, beginning to comprehend that the spark of Divinity that resides within, renders us all identical and at the same time, in the way that we express ourselves, all totally unique. Identical or unique? The answer is YES. From this vantage point, we long to answer the question ‘who am I’— beyond the gender, beliefs and roles we play? We see and acknowlegde one another with the greeting ‘Namaste.’ Our goal in each lifetime is to expand the spark of Divinity that is ours, and recongize our Oneness. This is reflected in the way we respond to others, to Nature and the world around us. Philosopher Martin Buber suggested we can choose to approach all relationships in an ‘I:Thou’ manner. Intention (‘kavannah’) opens us to our creative potential of expressing the sacred in the secular and allowing us to celebrate our diversity as we sanctifiy LIfe.
10. Malchut— Portal to Physicality and Manifestation
In the traditional Tree of Life, this ‘cosmic chakra’ is named Kingdom. On the central path, below Imagery, Harmony and Spark, as the energetic vibration becomes denser with each stage, is the tangible, physical world of our five senses. This is the realm in which we see the results of our beliefs.
As we shape, mold and form our lives we constantly begin anew, releasing what is complete. We learn the magic of both the possibilities and limitations of the spiritual being on a human journey; it is here that our plans are set into motion, accomplishments evaluated and completed or cast aside. By celebrating our diversity and remaining in awe of the wondrous multiplicity of living forms on our planet, we sanctify Life. In closely observing nature, we revel in the cycles of birth, death and rebirth and come to understand that nothing stays the same, nothing is as it appears in the vast and unified field in which we live. Physical forms are time-constrained as they begin and end, but spiritual essence and energy is timeless.
In this ‘cosmic chakra’ of Physicality we expand our awareness, becoming present in equal to measure to all that we are, as we gain experience by thinking, feeling and being. We learn to discern the differences in these three modes of learning about who we are in this time and place. With these three harmonized, we gain access to fulfilling our soul’s purpose of experiencing the physical. We find ways to heal the brokeness that is part of the system— waiting to be healed as we heal ourselve. In Hebrew this is called ‘tikkun olam.’ We find our own authentic way of living as unique individuals in a blended community, honoring both the differences and similtudes we all share. As awareness opens, we shatter the illusion of being alone in a meaningless world. We learn the difference between independence and interdependence. By just being who we are— for me, by ‘Heather-ing’ for example, we forge our unique path of connection and consciousness.
We recognize that we each play a significant part in the game of life, and without us, being who we are, the puzzle is never complete. Harmonizing thinking, feeling and being, we attempt to fulfill our soul’s purpose of healing the brokeness of a perfectable rather than a perfected system of living consciously on Planet Earth.
Rabbi Shoni Labowitz teaches: “In kneading, sculpting and molding your life you will culminate the old and begin the new. . . . . and you learn that letting go is liberating, endings are beginnings and death is not final.”