D’var Torah given at Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Havurah
Newton Centre, Massachusetts
October 26, 2019
Today we read our creation story. Its words are so simple, and so familiar, that it can be hard to hear them anew.
God said, let there be light. And there was light.
In our story, the world begins with words. And what are words? Words are thoughts, clothed in sound, or in a visual sign. Words are ideas made sensory and sensible. So our story tells us that the world began when the thought, the wish, the intention of the divine consciousness was spoken—brought into the realm of sound—and that this event produced, as an automatic consequence, the realization of that idea in the realm of sight. God spoke, and there was light.
This idea, that the world is a physical manifestation of an all-encompassing, cosmic consciousness, appears in a number of traditions, including Buddhism and some forms of philosophical idealism. Until recently, it seemed to me interesting but abstract. But some of my recent experiences have suggested to me that it may be literally true.
The last few years, as many of you know, have been tumultuous ones for me. I have had many moments of anxiety and even despair, about my health, my career, my personal relationships, and my living situation. I have also had many moments of extraordinary wonder and transcendent joy. It has been a time of great complexity and deep transformation, which is far from complete. But one of the things that I have received as a tremendous blessing and gift in this period of my life is a set of experiences that a dear friend with whom I have discussed them has taught me to refer to with the word “preternatural.” I find this a more useful term than “supernatural” to describe experiences that seem to violate the laws of science. This is because calling something “supernatural” asserts that it cannot have a naturalistic explanation, while “preternatural” leaves that question open. I personally believe that many of these phenomena could be explained if research into them were conducted properly—and that they would be no less wondrous, amazing and significant for being better understood.
I would like to recount just one of these experiences to explain to you what I mean.
One morning in August of 2016, I was in New York for work, staying in a hotel alone. I had planned to meet for breakfast a close friend I will call “A.” As background, I should tell you two things. One, that I had been close friends with A for about twenty-five years at that point, and two, that throughout that time, A had been in psychoanalysis four times a week with a psychoanalyst I will call “B.” On this morning, as I was preparing to leave my hotel, I began to feel sorrow and longing, and to think of B, whom I had never met.
At first I thought I must be thinking of B because A had told me that B had recently become interested in preternatural phenomena, and this information had encouraged me. I had begun to have anomalous experiences a short time earlier, and felt alone with them. I did not know of many mental health professionals who took these things seriously, and I was glad to know that a person my close friend respected thought they could be real. But by the time I left my hotel room, this explanation for what I was thinking and feeling was becoming inadequate. The feelings of sadness were growing steadily more powerful, developing into full grief and intense longing, of the kind you feel when you deeply miss someone you love very much, and wish you could be with them. As I got into a cab, I began to cry with the strength of these emotions; I also had the extremely clear idea that these feelings were not mine but were coming from outside me, and were directed through me at B (who, I remind you, I had never met). As we drove through Manhattan, I caught a glimpse out the window of some ornamentation on the side of a building that reminded me slightly of a swastika pattern. I had the thought: “This has something to do with World War II and the Holocaust, and B. These are the feelings of someone who loves B intensely, the way I love my daughter. It may not be B’s mother, but it is someone who loves B like a mother. And the person misses B and yearns for B so, so much.”
By the time I got to the coffee shop where A was waiting, I was sobbing. A was of course alarmed, but I explained what had happened, and that I thought this was directed at B. I said I felt sure what I was supposed to do was simply to relate this experience to A, who would in turn tell B, in whatever words she thought appropriate. It was totally clear to me that was what was supposed to happen. And I added, because I felt it at that moment: “Also tell B that ultimately, everything is all right. There is a warm orange shimmering underneath everything, and there is love, and it’s okay.”
A agreed to relay the message, and told me she had an appointment with B that afternoon. That evening I got the text from A that I will circulate because I want you to see it with your own eyes. It said: “Message from B after the session today: ‘I just remembered that today is the anniversary of my father’s death. Kim is pretty good at this.’ ” Later that fall, I went to see B myself. I learned that B’s father had spent World War II in Europe as a soldier in the American army, and was present at the liberation of the camps.
Experiences like these have changed my life, because I am unable to seriously entertain the idea that something like this is just coincidence. It seems to me that either a) the spirit of B’s father was communicating with me, which seems like the simplest explanation or b) B’s own unconscious feelings about B’s father and his love for B were somehow transmitted to me through the deep mental connections that both B and I share with A. Either way, this experience strongly suggests that human minds are, or at least can be, far more connected than I ever imagined previously or than mainstream science and psychology acknowledge. I feel compelled to explore as deeply as I can the implications of this and other, related experiences I have had, both because I think doing so will have many practical implications, and because I am convinced it is one of the main purposes of human existence to learn, and to understand what is true.
I also think that we are at a time in history when preternatural phenomena are being far more widely discussed on a popular level, and will soon come into more mainstream scientific discourse as well. We know that the global ecological crisis which is threatening civilization is going to force radical transformations in our business-as-usual ways of dealing with our material world; whether we handle the crisis well or badly, many core assumptions and basic operating principles are going to change dramatically. And there are many people noting that a concurrent shift in consciousness, or a global raising of consciousness, is happening too. This is not usually openly discussed in the highly educated, largely secular, liberal elite circles in which I spend most of my time. But I think it should be, and I feel called to do my part to facilitate that happening.
It is my conviction that preternatural experiences, including telepathy, are not uncommon, but that many people who have them discount the importance of their own experience, and don’t talk about them much. This is both because of the prevailing elite view that these things are impossible (so you must be crazy if you disagree) and because a lot of people think that if something cannot be recreated at will, like a scientific experiment, it is not real. But telepathy, I think—and many people who have studied it agree—often happens most powerfully outside of conscious control, in unconscious levels of the mind. For example, one friend of mine woke up in the middle of the night at the exact minute, she later learned, that her mother died in a nursing home miles away; many other people have had sudden intuitions about events occurring to loved ones at a distance. Indeed, we owe EEG technology to such an event. Its inventor, Hans Berger, decided to study brain waves after his sister experienced a sudden sense that he was in mortal danger at the moment that he was, in fact, at risk of being trampled by a horse-drawn cannon. (She had their father send him a telegram, which documented the experience.) I think these kinds of things are a part of human experience, not restricted to psychics or people with special gifts. Indeed, I suspect that many of you here, if you were to reflect on your lives without censorship, and with a loving acceptance and respect for your own feelings and perceptions, might realize that you have had them too.
I think that in time, physics may come to understand and explain these phenomena. Already, researchers at Princeton have theorized that if consciousness were understood as a wave, many preternatural phenomena would be explicable; and my own experiences suggest that the properties of sound waves, in particular, may be shared by thoughts. I believe it is important for the general public to support exploration and research in this area so that it does not proceed only in secret, under the guidance of governments (which, inevitably, will seek to weaponize any discoveries that are made). And I believe, as I said at the outset, that we need not fear a loss of wonder or amazement as our understanding grows; although it is true that really following where evidence leads may mean the dissolution of some of our long-held concepts, and even some of our notions of the sacred and of God. If that happens, it will be OK: the history of the human intellect shows that beyond every new paradigm shift and increase in knowledge, there lie new mysteries yet to be explored—mysteries whose terms could not even be articulated until the preceding set of questions was answered.
To my mind, the person who articulated best this view that we need not fear to learn deeply from experience was Wilhelm Reich, a pioneering psychoanalyst, biologist, developer of body-centered therapies, and researcher into consciousness. He believed that he had discovered scientific evidence of the cosmic force that unites all living things, and that Eastern traditions call prana or chi. Shortly before his death, he wrote that this discovery had led him to see what he called the “unreality” of what many people embodied in the idea of a personal, father-like God; but that in exchange for this loss, he had gained an awareness of “the great ocean of all being,” and the way we connect to that infinity through the love of one another, and especially of our children, as we watch them grow. The “infinity of future possibilities,” he wrote, “is reborn in every child.” If it can be not feared, but caressingly protected, this sense of infinite possibility “will make Man gather himself into that great effort, the great beginning, from which small souls at present are shrinking away.”
Reich’s words resonate for me because it feels so easy to despair, right now, about the state of our material world. But my experience has also given me the conviction that there are powerful connections among us all that are usually unseen, and that if we can learn to honor and acknowledge them, there’s no telling what could happen. We might be, after all, not on the brink of apocalypse; but at a moment of turning, of transformation into something new. We might be, right now, in the beginning.
So let’s give thanks as we read Bereishit.
~ Kimberly Gladman ~
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