Tag Archives: spirituality

Devotee of Justice and Consciousness Change – Joseph Tieger

When I am reminded of the bravery of those who put their lives in danger for the sake of justice, I am moved to find at least a bit more of that courage in myself and take whatever steps I can to continue that struggle for a more just and peaceful world. I recently had a conversation with my good friend, Joseph Tieger, who was among the early white participants in the civil rights struggle in the South. By activist, I don’t mean someone who attended a few civil rights marches or protests, but someone who devoted himself full-time to local and national efforts and was repeatedly threatened, beaten and imprisoned. I recorded our talk for both a podcast and YouTube and hope you can take the time to tune it in.

Joseph recently published a memoir of his activist time in the civil rights struggle from 1962 – 72, and his later attempts to find an even deeper path towards bringing about change. The book, Lately It Occurs To Me: A Memoir of the Civil Rights Movement & The Open Road (1963—1976) offers a deep and detailed look into the movement in North Carolina and beyond. It givers us a glimpse into the overt hatred and violence as well as the only somewhat more subtle actions of the political and legal establishment to stop the movement towards integration and voting rights. It’s an exciting and mind-opening read.

After his years as a civil rights activist and then attorney, Joseph watched as the movement splintered and broke apart. He went on a journey of self-discovery not unlike many of us in the 60’s ending up in California. (Full disclosure: In many respects Joseph’s journey is very parallel to my own, and when we met in the 1980’s we discovered that we were in each other’s FBI files).

It was in the Bay Area of California that I met Joseph. He was then traveling and presenting a video series with his wife Johanna called “How Then Shall We Live.” It featured Ram Dass and Stephen Levine and eventually became a PBS series offering “essential teachings for personal awakening on social action, impermanence and living life fully present.”

After that, Joseph and Johanna produced a magical ten-part series with Ram Dass and dozens of other visionary teachers and celebrities live in Oakland that involved thousands of participants in social justice and diversity training while cultivating self-awareness and an open heart. This series, “Reaching Out” also became a video series.

Interestingly, on the day I had my recorded zoom conversation with Joseph, I received an article from Tikkun Magazine that included the following passage:

“However, in a sense, the saturating effects of the sixties movements were radically incomplete. They have not reached many people, particularly many White people, in our bones. Although the movements have created, and continue to create, institutional and legal and systemic shifts, the system is quite stubborn because most people’s hearts and minds have not been deeply affected. That’s why what’s needed in the United States, and the world over, is a moral, even a spiritual, change, to rise to the level of the demands for political change. ….. It’s actually quite empowering to know that we’re responsible for what we see on the news. Instead of wringing our hands, we can rewrite the script.”
–from “My American Violence” by Robert Birdwell in Tikkun Magazine

It’s well worth asking, ‘Where did all that passionate courage of the movement in the 60’s go?’ As well as, ’Where did all that hateful resistance go?’ Obviously, there are aspects of it in the current scene all around the world. But, perhaps part of the answer is they are both within us, you and me. It’s just a matter of which part we feed.

Love and blessings,

Alan Levin

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You can get Joseph’s book at Amazon here.

The podcast of our conversation is here.

The YouTube is here.

And please check out and subscribe to the series of interesting interviews with fascinating boundary-crossers at YouTube and Buzzsprout podcast.

Spirituality, Global Change, and Psychedelics

Link to my new book: Preparation for a Sacred, Psychedelic Journey
Link to my recent talk at the Gay Buddhist Fellowship: “Psychedelics on the Spiritual Path”

“Who am I?” “What am I doing here?” These are the core questions that focus attention on the spiritual path. I would add that the following questions are also worth asking, even though one could say they are essentially included in the above: “What is all this that appears outside of me?” and “What is my relationship with all that?” The latter questions bring the focus to our relatedness and responsibility to the world in which we live.

I think that if anyone sincerely asks and meditates with these questions, they will find themselves moved to take part in shifting the direction of humanity towards creating a more just and peaceful world, one in which we live in harmony with all life on Earth. In other words, there will be a shift in consciousness such that their thoughts, feelings and motivations
to act will involve a wider and more loving embrace of themselves and everyone and everything. They will care more about creating a loving, global community.

The above thoughts come from the fact that every time I experience (or even get close to) the reality of my own true nature, and tune to the essence of all that is around me, I experience compassion and goodwill. I am moved to help bring about a better world. I don’t, and can’t, arrive at that through just thinking about these questions. It is an experience that comes through spiritual practices that take me beyond my thinking mind and that I feel in my heart and body.

For many years I have believed that it is only through the wider dissemination of experientially based spiritual teachings that we will avert human caused catastrophe and create a better world. As the Dalai Lama and others have proposed, we need a spiritual or consciousness revolution. I still believe that, and it seems to me more urgent than ever.

In this light I am heartened to see that one long suppressed, even demonized, approach to spiritual awakening is surfacing in a positive way in mainstream discourse: psychedelics. This is coming about partly through carefully-worded statements from scientific researchers at university hospitals proving the effectiveness of psychedelic therapies for people with treatment resistant depression, addictions, PTSD, and other clinical problems/disorders. But contained in these reports, somewhat hidden in plain sight, is that the most successful outcomes of these treatments come primarily when the participant has what they deem to be a “spiritual or mystical experience.”

While these relatively recent government approved research findings are being reported in mainstream media, the “underground” network of guides, who have been performing psychedelic ceremonies and rituals for groups and individuals for decades, has grown to where they can no longer be ignored. Knowledge of – and participation in – these ceremonies is  bursting into the mainstream and some forms of legalization are imminent. An aspect of this is the willingness of many participants, including very well respected thought leaders, to share their experiences past and present.

Among people I know, including numerous clients I see as a psychotherapist, many are exploring psychedelics with experienced guides with intentions for psychological healing and spiritual growth. I have witnessed very positive results, often breakthroughs that would involve years of therapy or meditation practice. Because of my own fairly extensive participation in similar ceremonial circles over the past 40-plus years, I am able to support their preparation for these experiences and their integration afterwards.

As the lid is lifted off of prohibition, it will be messy. There will likely be a great deal of misuse and abuse of these very powerful substances. People with very limited experience will set themselves up as guides for others. People will take what are potentially life-transforming sacred medicines and use them in recreational settings, and while some will have fun, others will have problems as a result. And there may be damaging consequences for some people for whom psychedelics are not appropriate. Corporations, especially the pharmaceutical industry, are already seeking to capitalize and control the “psychedelic renaissance.” The dominant culture will tend to desacralize, co-opt and make into a fad what could otherwise be a catalyst for a global shift towards a loving community seeking to protect and sustain all life.

Psychedelics have great promise and yet are not a panacea. They can help bring about experiences that speak deeply to the questions posed at the beginning of this writing. Yet, those benefits come only when the internal intentionality and the surrounding environment (the set and setting) are supportive of psychological and spiritual growth. Lasting change tends to come when the altered-state journey is seen as one part of a lifelong path of inner work, not a single event expected to solve one’s problems.

In light of all of the above, I’ve written and self-published a short book, Preparation for a Sacred Psychedelic Journey. In it I offer a series of suggestions for steps and practices that help one to prepare for a safe and fruitful experience. I draw from what I’ve learned over the last 40-plus years of my own explorations. If you or anyone you know is interested in embarking on such a journey, or is already actively working with these substances, I hope this book will be of value. I’ve kept the price as low as possible.

You may also be interested in the podcast recording of a talk I recently gave at the Gay Buddhist Fellowship on this theme: https://gaybuddhist.org/podcast/

Please feel free to pass this invitation on and write a review on Amazon if you like the book.

I offer my blessings for a world that honors the spiritual journey and moves towards harmony amongst humans and all life,


Here’s comments from several folks who’ve read the book:

“In the tradition and lineage of James Fadiman and Ralph Metzner, transpersonal psychotherapist Alan Levin has brought forth an indispensable guidebook for using psychotropic medicines as a vehicle for awakening.”
                     –Joseph Tieger – author of Lately It Occurs To Me: A Memoir of The Civil Rights Movement & The Open Road

The entheogenic journey can help us access elemental aspects of our being and can assist us in growth. It is with proper preparation and guidance that these profound (aspects) are examined. In this book, Alan Levin shares key concepts that are necessary to get ready for the journey. A must read for those who are seeking these essential truths and deep healing.”
                        –JH

I highly recommend Alan Levin’s Preparation for a Sacred Psychedelic Journey book to anyone who is planning on embarking on an altered state journey. Alan’s guidance is invaluable in helping to prepare for a safe and sacred experience. The book is well-organized and covers everything from setting intentions to creating a safe and supportive environment for your journey.

“Alan’s expertise and compassionate approach make this book an essential resource for anyone seeking to explore the potential benefits of psychedelics in a responsible and mindful way. His teachings are rooted in decades of personal experience and research, and he provides practical tools and techniques to help you navigate the journey with confidence and ease.….”
                     
–roseheart

Alan Levin provides a thorough, thoughtful, and clear guide for preparing oneself for embarking on an altered state journey. Levin’s guidance for intention setting, preparatory activities, and practices for navigating consciousness were very helpful and well-articulated.”
–Julia Hume

“This is a small but powerful book? My personal work with Alan Levin has changed my life in a safe and most profound way. I highly recommend it to anyone yearning for deeper love and peace.”
                  –Celeste Simone, Voice Teacher/Performance Coach/Director

Subtle Activism with David Nicol

The old will disappear. Human level consciousness by itself can no longer resolve the complexities it has created.”
–David Spangler

“We are all affecting the world every moment, whether we mean to or not. Our actions and states of mind matter, because we are so deeply interconnected with one another.”
― Ram Dass

Subtle activism is a bridge between the inner world of spirituality and the outer world of activism (as normally conceived) that emphasizes the potential of spiritual practice to exert a subtle but crucial form of social influence.

We have been weaving a multi-strand planetary Web of Light as energetic support and protection for humanity and the Earth as we pass through this global crisis of initiation.”
–David Nicol

How does the intention to wake up spiritually intersect with the intention to serve and make the world a better place?

I write this from 50 plus years of observations and personal experience with both spiritual communities and activist movements. I was initiated into the civil rights and anti-war movements as an angry young man in the Sixties. I withdrew into a disciplined spiritual group for the decade of the Seventies to find inner peace. Over the last forty years I’ve evolved through different approaches to integrating the two paths.*

For several decades now, spiritual teachers and communities have been shifting their emphasis from the individual journey of awakening or enlightenment to focusing on awareness of the inter-relatedness of life and the intention to reduce suffering and make the world a better place. This is, of course, not a new idea. It has been part of the wisdom teachings that come from almost all ancient, traditional religious or spiritual sources. We have been told, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “You are here to heal and repair the earth.)”

But many of us in the last half century who became disenchanted with the religions of our families adopted a very individualistic notion of spirituality. We thought that if we sat and meditated or chanted or prayed long enough, we would become enlightened and that was the goal of life. Over time, those of us who were sincere and paying attention found that this pursuit of individual enlightenment was naive, unfulfilling, and ultimately not bringing about the beauty, goodness and truth we were seeking. It was not in alignment with the calling of their souls. Perhaps more importantly, it was not in keeping with Reality, wherein we are not essentially separate beings.

More and more spiritual teachers, even those whose primary focus is on “non-duality,” have been pointing attention to the need for those on a spiritual path to address the problems of the world. It is clear that the primary causes of human suffering (racial and economic injustice, poverty and hunger, the threat of nuclear war, the poisoning of the Earth, climate change and a host of related issues) stem from a terribly imbalanced collective human consciousness. Rather than simply sitting and meditating, a spiritual life means recognizing ones relationship and responsibility to these issues and the people and other life forms who are suffering.

The question then becomes how does one integrate or harmonize these seemingly opposite directions of attention. On the one hand there is the inward focus on acceptance, stillness, presence and being. On the other is the outward focus on resistance and confrontation with injustice and action to right what is wrong.

What I find most spiritual teachers suggesting is a process of alternating between the two. That is, take time to meditate or go inward to experience and merge with the refreshing flow of life energy from Source or Higher Consciousness, then participate in traditional actions of advocacy or protest, then come back to your meditation practice to recenter yourself. This provides a solution to the “burnout” often experienced in the frustrating work of political and social activism. It also helps avoid the tendency to react with anger and competition-based consciousness which are poisons that infect many activist movements. We develop the ability to take action with compassion, a loving heart, and a spirit of collaboration.

Additionallly, there is a very interesting alternative: subtle activism. This is the work advocated by David Nicol, (among others) applying the methods of spiritual practices to directly influence the currents of change in the world. I invite you to watch my recent conversation with David in which we explore his personal journey to understanding, practicing and teaching this approach. (Or if you prefer, you can listen to the podcast.) As he’s written, “Subtle activism is a bridge between the inner world of spirituality and the outer world of activism (as normally conceived) that emphasizes the potential of spiritual practice to exert a subtle but crucial form of social influence.” David elaborates the theory and practice of his ideas in his book, Subtle Activism – The Inner Dimensions of Social and planetary Transformation. He has founded several projects bringing together tens of thousands of people from all over the world for worldwide meditations dedicated to social change.

It does seem to me that the old ways of bringing about social change are very limited in our current environment of mass misinformation and polarization. The subtle activism approach, which draws from ancient understandings from indigenous spirituality and uses modern technology, may be a vital ingredient in the mix of what will bring about the necessary change in our collective human consciousness.

For more information on David’s work and ways to learn more about and participate in subtle activist projects, see: The Gaiafield Project – https://gaiafield.net/

Youtube link for interview with David Nicol: https://youtu.be/EEF0cws-pk4

Podcast link: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1827447/10630045

Learning from COVID

Covid InspirationsJust now·6 min read

“If I succeed in loving you, I will be able to love everyone and all species on Earth… This is the real message of love.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh

“The bullets fired by a crazed gunman only travel
a distance measured in feet;
the hatred generated by that gunman’s subtle energy field of
thought and emotion can travel around the world.
So can the energies of love.”

–David Spangler

“There’s a disturbance in the Force!”
–Obi-wan Kenobi

When I started the site on Medium, Covid Inspirations, like many other folks, I thought the pandemic would run its course fairly quickly. Wrong, at least insofar as “quickly” meant a year or so. I also thought that perhaps this visitation from the micro-organismic earth intelligence would serve to unify humanity in a collective effort to respond. Wrong again.

There were signs in the early days of the pandemic that a spirit of goodwill and cooperation was being fostered. It was noted that this was the first time in human history that people in all parts of the world were focused on dealing with the same sense of threat. Also, people were being asked to make sacrifices to keep themselves and their community safe and they were finding creative ways to do this, to help their neighbors, to make music across the streets in lockdown, to wash their hands as rituals for all of humanity. Most of the posts in Covid Inspirations had reflected this hope.

But it soon became clear that the strategies for responding to the pandemic became just another dividing and militantly polarizing issue in a humanity already at war with itself. This division about the response has compounded the stress of the physical aspects of the pandemic exponentially. Truthfully, I’ve found it hard not to contribute to the divisiveness myself in words and in my heart. It seems clear that the unifying lessons of the pandemic are not easy ones. Listen to the words of the Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, “Land of the Free — Home of the Self-Centered.

On the far other end of the spectrum, Robert Kennedy, Jr often references the holocaust and Nazi Germany in describing the vaccine and the mandates.

Perhaps it’s time to step back and revisit the question of what the virus itself may be telling us. David Spangler’s essay (the most read piece on Covid Inspirations), does this in reporting a message from a ‘subtle, wise entity’ that communicated with him about the pandemic. https://medium.com/@covid.inspirations/message-from-david-spangler-7ce7a700a665 . Spangler received the following suggestions from his non-physical friend:

“In this pandemic, you look upon the microbial realm as an enemy. This can only add to the imbalance. Please send love into this realm.

“There has been a cry for help from many sources in the natural world and the beings that serve it, and this virus is responding to this cry. You can build a civilization that serves your needs and aspirations while also serving the harmony and well-being of the world around you. You will need to make changes, but this is within your capacity. You need to see yourselves as citizens of a planetary, Gaian community. This virus reminds you of this.”

Dr. Carroy Ferguson, president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology does something similar. Dr. Ferguson calls attention to the ideas of quantum physicist, David Bohm, that there is an implicate order in the universe within which we can commune and communicate with other intelligent life forms. He “wondered what would happen if I opened my mind to see what would emerge from the implicate order in a dialogue with COVID-19.” The full text is here: https://www.academia.edu/68031590/An_Inner_Dialogue_and_Message_From_COVID_19_Carroy_Cuf_Ferguson_Ph_D_President_Association_for_Humanistic_Psychology_Professor_University_of_Massachusetts_Boston. Some excerpts:

“As I understand it, your Collective Consciousness as a species is seeking to become a more mature Collective Consciousness that understands its connection to All That Is consciously. It is why you are here at this time in human history, and why I am here…

”I also want you to know that just like all aspects of All That Is, I too have consciousness and purpose….

“My message is a simple, yet broad reminder message. That message is: It is time to change how you think about and act toward one another; it is time for each of you to get in touch with who you truly are as souls on the planet at individual and collective levels and to embrace your power as a creator of your reality. At individual and collective levels, it is important that you recognize and understand the true nature of your interdependence with one another as souls, your Group Soul-Linked Consciousness as a species, and your interdependence with the Soul of the planet that you inhabit. Your consciousness, like my consciousness, therefore, is very much linked to the Consciousness of All That Is and to the Consciousness of what you know as Mother Earth or Gaia….

“You know and call me a virus and you currently view me as an enemy against which you must fight. I am not your enemy, although I understand that I appear to be. As strange as it may sound to you, I am here as a collaborative teacher and learner with you at individual and collective levels. I learn and adapt just like you do….

“My mutations are my expressions of what I learn about how best to live with you, how to communicate more effectively and efficiently with you and your body consciousness so that I can do less harm and co-exist with you. Likewise, your vaccines are your expressions of what you learn about how best to live with me. Your vaccines, in other words, are the methods you have developed to learn how best to communicate more effectively and efficiently with me and my consciousness. You see, we are both engaged in a collaborative and cooperative learning process to figure out how to more effectively and efficiently communicate with one another so that we can co-exist together…

“So, why am I here? My role, my broad purpose, is to assist in the evolution of your Collective Consciousness as a species…..

“While my origin may be scientifically interesting, what is more important is that for the first time in human history, as you understand it, you are now engaged in the same global conversation. This external condition, which you call a pandemic, is a necessary context to assist you in the evolution of your Collective Consciousness as a species. Through this kind of global, external conversation, opportunities have been, are, and will continue to open up…

So does any of that resolve the questions about whether the vaccines are a good thing? Whether we should have mandates for mask wearing in public venues? Whether any particular medical intervention is worthwhile? Whether the public health measures that have been adopted have caused more suffering than the virus or saved us from a enormously greater toll of illness and death? I don’t think they answer any of these questions.

Whether or not you believe the source of these ideas is anything other than a human attempt at wise counsel is not really the point. There is no denying that humanity is in peril as a result of it’s failure to respect and live in harmony with the web of life of which we are a part, from the micro to the macro. It’s clear that this lack of an attitude of respect and empathy is in full expression in human-to-human relations, making it almost impossible to address any of our problems with a spirit of trust.

Einstein is often quoted as saying “A problem can’t be solved from the mindset that created it.” These “voices from beyond” are telling us to shift our consciousness, to expand our consciousness They tell us that only from a state of mind that loves and includes all beings will we find our direction not only with COVID, but with all the much greater challenges coming our way.

As a psycho-spiritual therapist I feel a need to add that expanding consciousness does not mean avoiding or suppressing the fear and anger that are a natural human response to behaviors that are hateful and abusive. While we need to recognize, accept and honor these feelings, we don’t need to feed them. We can learn to transmute their energy into the fuel for action with compassion in service to Mother Earth.

The very recent passing of the venerable zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, brings to mind his explanation of the essential Buddhist teaching called “inter-dependent co-arising.” Nhat Hanh tells us that this means “that everything arises in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions; nothing exists as a singular, independent entity.” To paraphrase Rumi, “There is a field — a unified web of inter-dependent beings, co-arising — I’ll meet you there.”

Starhawk and Allyson Grey

The best part of writing my book, Crossing the Boundary, was meeting and learning from the amazing spiritual teachers I interviewed and being able to stay in touch with them. I recently had the opportunity to bring Starhawk to the Stony Point Center near where I live and introduce her to a very adoring crowd of folks. People were eager to hear her talk about a wide range of issues including her new book, City of Refuge, which is a sequel to her best selling The Fifth Sacred Thing. A great many of the people in the audience spoke of being inspired on their spiritual path by Starhawk’s earlier work, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religions of the Goddess, which helped launch the modern feminist spirituality movement.

photo credit: Photo by Myles Aronowitz/LUSH Photography

photo credit: Photo by Myles Aronowitz/LUSH Photography

Starhawk is a true boundary crosser, not only in her choosing to shift from being a practicing Jew to  Pagan witch, but in her consistent activism, challenging our political and social norms and awakening others through her writings, teachings and actions that a different, more loving and cooperative world is possible. She spoke of her current work leading eco-activist and permaculture workshops and answered questions on a very wide range of issues including the dynamics of our current political options in the U.S.

Coming up on March 25th, I’ll have the opportunity to speak with another woman I interviewed for Crossing the Boundary, Allyson Grey. We’ll be doing a panel at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, CoSM, which she and her husband, renowned visionary artist, Alex Grey have developed. If you’ve never been to CoSM, and you live anywhere close enough to Wappinger Falls, NY, along the Hudson River, you are in for a wonderful experience to just see what is happening there. The basic mission of CoSM is “to build an enduring sanctuary of visionary art to inspire a global community.” Please take some time to tour around their website to get a taste of the art and inspiring work that is being done there. I’m looking forward to talking with Allyson about the many themes in Crossing the Boundary.Allyson no text

 

In attending the event on March 25th, you can come early for a tasty vegan dinner at 6 or just come for the panel and discussion at 7 PM. There’s always a very interesting group of people who come to CoSM events.

CoSM event page: http://cosm.org/events/friday-nights-crossing-boundaries/

Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1029748750405085/

In my own teaching work, I continue to integrate mindfulness meditation, Agni (light-fire) Yoga, and shamanism at Tree of Life Meditations retreats. See: http://www.sacredriverhealing.org/april-2-2016-flyer.pdf for the next retreat on April 2nd, and the Tree of Life Meditations Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TreeOfLifeMeditations/.

Meanwhile folks who have read Crossing the Boundary continue to tell me they are enjoying and finding themselves inspired by what they find in there.

Please share any or all of this message.

With blessings and love,

Alan

 

Crossing the Ultra-Orthodox Boundary

When modern Jews cross the boundary to other spiritual paths, there is often little resistance from family and friends. There are exceptions. Of the fourteen I interviewed for Crossing the Boundary, three had families with strong objections who made attempts to intervene. Psychiatrists were hired and in one case a deprogrammer, to change the direction of the spiritual seeker. Generally, the more Orthodox the family, the more resistance. When it comes to boundaries, the Orthodox have strong ones, and the ultra-Orthodox, the Haredi or Hasidic,* have ultra-strong ones.

I just finished reading the memoir of Shulem Deen, All Who Go Do Not Return.*  Deen tells the chilling story of life in the ultra-Orthodox community of New Square, NY, where the Skverer Jews make their home. He goes on to share his slow but steady awakening to the completely alien world of modern America and his growing doubts about the rules and beliefs of his people. The children of New Square are raised in the most insular of the insular, where even the practices and choices of the ultra-Orthodox neighboring areas are frowned upon. The schools barely teach English, let alone any skills that might enable employment outside their community. Connections to the wider society, computers, TV, etc. are taboo. As with cults in general, those outside the group are viewed with suspicion and believed to “hate us.”

He describes with clarity and honesty his feelings and inner thought processes as a child giving vivid testimony to what happens to the natural questioning mind when the prime directive is, “Obey.” Obey the commandments; obey the rabbi’s interpretation of the commandments; obey the rules and codes of the community. And he shares what happens to those who don’t, including ostracism, harassment, violence and excommunication. Yet, year after year, his questions grew and his doubts mounted to where he no longer believed any of it, not even the fundamental belief of Judaism: that there is a God.

Deen ultimately crossed the boundary to secular American life. His experiences in the Haredi world led him to be an unbeliever, a heretic, an apostate, and yet it took a great deal of courage to leave the familiar world in which he grew up and face the uncertainty of life outside the protective physical and psychic walls of the Skverer community. The price he paid was to lose his family and almost his mind. It’s a powerful story and very well told. Like the stories in Crossing the Boundary, it has relevance to all of us, Jews and non-Jews, religious, spiritual or secular.

While the boundaries of the ultra-Orthodox are extremely intense, they are also quite clear. Most of us deal with boundaries that are more difficult to see and therefore are often more hidden from awareness. We may scoff at those with extremely rigid religious beliefs, but still be unable to hear or open to understandings and experiences of reality that challenge our own. It’s always struck me as ironic that the so-called “new atheists” have such a strong belief in the denial of any reported experiences that might point beyond a strict materialist view of the universe. While some religious people deny empirical science that contradicts a literal reading of their scriptures, these atheists will discount all reports of esp phenomena, near-death and out-of-body experiences, energy healing, etc. because those observations contradict the theory that consciousness arises from matter, human brain matter.

At the end of his book, Shulem tells us that he is still on his journey of discovery. I wish him the best in opening to the many threads of human wisdom, including the spiritual lineages, for their gifts. He will find that this can be done freely, without having to buy into the patriarchal and coercive group pressures of the hierarchical institutions that make claim to these teachings and distort them.

Notes: The terms ultra-Orthodox and Haredi are non-judgmental terms used to describe Orthodox Jews who dress and seek to maintain the very strict ways of religious Jews from the specific areas of Europe from which they emigrated. Chasidic (or Hasidic) Jews are one branch of the Haredi. The Skverer are as well. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haredi_Judaism

All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir, by Shulem Deen, Graywolf Press, Minn. 2015

Rethinking Heresy

One of the core issues that I sought to explore in Crossing the Boundary is the nature of heresy. In fact, I originally wanted to call the book “The Way of the Jewish Heretic,” and I wanted to put forth the idea that what some call heresy, others call creative adaptation. In other words, though it generally has a negative connotation, heresy is often the source of a positive turn in thinking and experience. However, the negative association was felt to be too strong, even for some of the book participants, so I chose to make the case about heresy within the book (and here) instead of in the title.

The issue came to mind recently when I found a very interesting blog post on the internet by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin entitled, “I’m Proud To Be A Heretic.” Rabbi Salkin writes in response to an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who recently made the claim that not only the Reform and Conservative movements of Judaism, but the modern Orthodox movement itself is “steeped in apikorsos – filled with apikorsim, (heretics).”

A bit of history can help here. The word “heresy” comes from the Greek hairetikos, meaning, “able to choose” (from the New Testament Greek Lexicon). From Plato’s time, the word heresies was used to describe the teachings of particular schools without any negativity implied. Jews in the first century (C.E) referred to their various sects, the Pharisees, Essenes and Sadducees as heresies. This was also the term for the “sect of the Nazarenes” (the early Jewish Christians). It wasn’t until the second century that the term heresy came to be seen negatively, as it is now, implying a deviation from the true path or beliefs.(1)

The term apikoros is also taken from the Greek, and according to Rabbi Salkin originates with the philosopher Epicurus (regarding his philosophy). Salkin argues that the early Jews changed the meaning of the term to refer to “someone who mocks or scoffs at the tradition of Torah,” giving it the negative understanding it now has in the Jewish world. He then points out the irony that some of the most influential Jewish philosophers and visionaries, including Maimonides, Spinoza, Marx, Freud and Einstein, were seen by some as apikoris. Not bad company.

The spiritual teachers in Crossing the Boundary all chose paths of belief and practice that could easily fit with the definition of heretic or apikoros. As seen in the book, they all made a conscious choice (the original meaning of heresy) as to the way in which they access the divine and creatively practice living in harmony with life. It was a choice that was different, in some cases radically different, from their family tradition. Though the words and rituals they use may sometimes be alien to the Jewish religious worldview, they see themselves (appropriately in my view) as contributing to the well-being of humanity, including their Jewish brothers and sisters.

As I say in Crossing the Boundary, “Abraham was a heretic to those who maintained the old ways, but he became the heroic founder of a new religious path for his followers and descendants, who now include Jews, Christians and Muslims. He heard an inner voice and broke with the path of his family and community. Jews honor him as the father of their people and universally accept the idea that he found the true God and left behind the superstitious, idol-worshipping pagan beliefs of many gods and goddesses. Ironically, now some Jews, (such as myself), have the heretical idea that the early indigenous, animistic and shamanistic traditions hold wisdom we need for our lives today. We don’t think of statues of gods and goddesses (which Abe is reputed to have smashed) as idols to be worshiped, but as windows to the spirits of higher consciousness.”

Today, those who choose the path of peace in times of war, who choose non-violent activism as a means to bring about social change, who enter non-ordinary realms of consciousness for healing or vision, are the heretics of modern time. While they are mocked by the media and attacked for their thoughts and actions, it is my view that they (we) hold the keys to transforming the catastrophic direction of humanity’s more destructive impulses.

-Alan Levin

1. 1 See “Orthodoxy – Just Another Heresy,” by Peter Nathan: http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/article.aspx?id=145

Welcome to Crossing the Boundary

This is to welcome and introduce you to Crossing the Boundary blog and website. The site is designed to focus on the book, Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths. Here, you can learn more about the background of the book and read short passages from the chapters on each of the fourteen teachers interviewed for it. I’ve added some descriptive information about each of these men and women and links to their websites, books, and schedules for their teaching activities and workshops. You can find all this under the People of the Book menu.

This project began from an experience I had on a vision quest in the desert of Southern California in 1983. Wandering and fasting in the desert, I realized that after many years of denying it to myself, I was a Jewish man. It opened up for me a quest to understand what that meant and deepened my spiritual explorations into the nature of identity and reality itself. If it is true that I am a Jewish man, what does that mean for how I live my life? Do I need to begin observing and practicing Jewish rituals and ceremonies? Further, where do the notions of who I am and what is real come from? How much choice do I have in the matter of what I think or believe, what I feel and experience, of who I am?

As I explain in my autobiographical chapter in the book, I tried for a number of years following that vision quest to incorporate Jewish religious practices in my life. But it never felt comfortable, it didn’t fit. I continue to honor Jewish spiritual teachings, especially the mystical aspects such as Kabbalah, and I open to what they bring to me and the world. But as a daily practice, I have for over 45 years been meditating with methods drawn from Agni (light-fire) Yoga and Buddhism, and exploring the many realms of consciousness through shamanism. Jewish spirituality is one of a number of streams of wisdom from which I drink.

However, Jewish identity is more than observing religious practices. A large number of Jews, if not a majority, are non-observant (of Jewish religious rituals) yet see themselves as spiritual, or consider themselves atheists. How does the sense of Jewish identity inform their lives? Is there something in the  DNA of Jews that unfolds as a way of being in the world, as a set of inherent values? How does the connection to a common ancestry and mythical story influence the way Jews see the world? How do these issues operate in the other tribal peoples that inhabit this planet? These questions and others are themes in my interviews with the fourteen spiritual teachers of the book, Crossing the Boundary, and I continue to explore them here in a form that invites your participation.

For some folks, being on a spiritual path that is dramatically different from that of one’s family is an act of heresy. But, as I say in the description of the book, “We are walking on the precipice of a massive catastrophe coming about due to human ignorance and greed and masked by the ethnocentric blinders that pit us against each other. It is my hope that the stories and wisdom of the “heretics” gathered in this book provide keys for our collective awakening, and lead us towards not only tolerance for others, but eagerness to encounter and learn from the ways of all peoples.” My vision is that through this awakening, we will find the wisdom, courage and strength to live through these times with grace and do what needs to be done.

~Alan Levin