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Living In Awe

Early on in my quest, I turned to my ancestral religion for answers.

Raised as a mostly non-religious culturally identified Jew, I chose to step into the world of Orthodox Judaism cautiously, initially spending time learning from a woman some fifteen years my senior. Rivkah was not raised Orthodox, but had chosen the religious life in her twenties and was married with five children — and a sixth on the way — when we met. We spent one evening each week studying together, reading from the kabbalistic texts of the ancient Jews.

Rivkah was fluent in Hebrew and had a deep grasp of the esoteric teachings. **She understood both my longing for truth and my reticence to join what I called the Jewish cult, as she had wrestled with these tensions inside herself.** I gradually began to spend most Saturdays with her family, marinating in the Sabbath of my people — lighting candles, studying the Torah, and welcoming the upcoming week via the ritual of havdalah.

One year after meeting Rivkah, I moved to Monsey, New York to attend a yeshiva for women. While there, I substantially deepened my immersion in the lineage, taking on all of the 613 commandments that religious Jews all over the world follow.

One of my favorite learnings from that time is this.

In Hebrew the word for awe is yeer-ah. The etymology of this word has its root in a word meaning to see. Thus, the rabbis teach, when we are truly seeing the world, the only possible response is awe.

Nowadays we tend to throw around the word awesome recklessly, when describing material stuff or experiences where no real seeing is involved. Yet, our capacity to see has never left us. We can always look again.

I bring this up because, when it comes to being the artists of our lives, it’s important to remember that our ability to wonder, to not know, to be curious, and to stand in awe is integral to our success as artists.

My three years living as an Orthodox Jew brought me much joy. But also significant heartache. Though much of what Judaism prescribes for living a meaningful life felt right, so much of it did not.

I soldiered on through my aversion, considering the possibility that my resistance was due to having been raised too westernized.

Like many of my generation, our relationship to the religion of our parents or grandparents has been fraught. The quality of life they claimed was ours for the taking was no longer available to us through the unchecked enactment of the religious protocols handed down to us. The religious injunctions felt empty and outdated — especially compared to the daily assault of messages telling us to apply our will towards success in the form of wealth, beauty, power, and fame.

Somewhere between the extremes of blindly going through the motions of an established religion and forging one’s own path to some illusive fame and fortune at the expense of others, is a sane approach to this business of living a meaningful life. I now know where that reliable road is and what constitutes it.

The qualities that felt so right about living as an Orthodox Jew show up within the essence of each of the Three Realms in Selfistry. The core elements are, firstly, an appreciation of full individual self expression without limits — but with an engaged and objective self-awareness and ongoing self-reflection. Next is the freedom to commune with the holy in whatever ways feels right. And finally comes the engagement of this personal self fulfillment within the context of community for support, collaboration, and service.

When the individual is healthy in mind and body, the entire web of life receives the benefits. And when a community is built around creating the conditions for self-expression within the context of a shared ecosystem, the entire web thrives.

All that felt so wrong in Judaism can be distilled to three features of all the monotheistic religions as they exist today: a staunch self-righteous stance that their religion and their God are the truest and best, the relegation of women into submissive roles, and the fear of allowing for unbridled self expression.

I had to walk away from that path.

These days, I have my own ways to commune with the divine and tend to my morality. Every now and then I will light the Shabbat candles on a Friday at sunset and offer a prayer of gratitude to my ancestors for all they did so that I might be here today. I also sit and just look at the flames, resting in awe for a while.

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