Suffering as Retention of the Past: Part 2

If you study Kabbalah carefully, one of the things that becomes immediately apparent is the reality that the Tree of Life, the very structure of our experience of life, is constantly in movement. It’s to be remembered that movement is the sign of life itself. Motion within the Tree of Life is everywhere. The whole structure of life emanates one level from the previous one. The Sefirot are constantly unfolding and then interacting with each other. There are multiple interactions between the levels and within the Sefirot themselves. Time and Space are in constant motion. The Kabbalist Tree of Life, the whole of reality, then, is the continuing experience of the Present.

The Past, from a Kabbalist perspective, is the record of how reality has been experienced already through the actualization of the choices we have made and the repercussions that have emerged from those very decisions. The past is a very vast, rich and important archive of information, which is meant to be used as a tool for learning and for soul development. It is not, however, a living reality and should never be confused with or allowed to interfere with the Present. The present, to be clear, is life experience itself, not the record of how it was lived and what the ramifications of our actions were. 

The great danger in doing so, in being overly fixated on the past, is that you can get overly identified with what was reality at the expense of what is actually happening now. To be caught in the past or worse, to be living in the past, is to be experiencing life through a merciless and unchanging filter.

The Kabbalah teaches that the past is unchangeable as a reality. It functions as a record and its job is simply and effectively to preserve experience and information. It is essentially a closed book, a chronicle and an archive. The Past is to be studied and learned from. It cannot be relived or worse lived in, because it only represent life as it was, not as it is. Therefore if you are overly focused on the past, your perception of life is being filtered through a lens that is projecting onto your life a picture of what has been, not what is. It is doing so at the expense of objectively seeing what is actually transpiring. Your life experience is being colored and distorted by a non-reality.

What one learns from the Kabbalah is that focusing on the Past only perpetuates what was. If you are  living in the past, the problem is often that you are trying to alter or heal negative and damaging experience by dwelling on it. You may be ruminating about it in order to try and effect a meaningful change. The reality here is that you cannot impact or alter the unchangeable. Fixation on the past only reinforces and perpetuates old patterns. So, if the old patterns were painful, damaging and destructive, then by holding on to the past reality only adds energy to the filter and exacerbates matters considerably.

From the Kabbalist perspective, suffering in our lifetime is often caused by this continual distortion of our present life experience due to the imposition of old psycho-emotional patterns from the past. If we are seeing and feeling what was over and over again in our lives, we are not able to see or feel what is truly happening now, in present time. The clear reason is that the past model, being constantly maintained, is overriding much of what could be seen and felt that is generated by current life circumstances.

Stuck or fixated in the past reality totally eclipses being in and experiencing the Now.  You cannot be truly present and creatively, vibrantly alive, if stuck in the immutable past. This is because your energetic focus is tied up, continually recreating and reinforcing what was. All you are doing is regenerating trauma and trying to animate and change a frozen emotional reality by accepting it as the constant.

What picture is in front of the lens is what appears on the screen. If your focus is in the past that is continually what will be on the screen of your life. It will never change. Like a slide in a projector, the past is static. As the Kabbalists

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say, “Consider this point well.”

Suffering as Retention of the Past: Part 1

In Kabbalist thinking, one of the most pervasive means of creating suffering, particularly for oneself, is to become or remain focused in the past. Extensive preoccupation with what was or what has been creates an enormous distortion in our perception of life. We end up seeing the events around us in a way that is generally inappropriate and deceptive; therefore in a manner which can be very destructive.

Just as physically, we cannot be in two places at the same time, on a psychological level the same holds true. The cognitive mind can only be either in one place or another, not in both simultaneously. So, if our primary attention is frequently preoccupied with the past, it is simply not in the present. To be too consciously centered on what was is to be displaced from the reality of present time and experience. This displacement causes great suffering and psycho-emotional anguish from the Kabbalist perspective.

When we think too frequently and too intensely about what has happened to us in our lives, what takes shape subconsciously is the emergence of a specific life picture predicated on the past. This focus on what was, creates within us a fixed way of looking at ourselves and the world, which can become our whole frame of reference in life. By overly focusing on the past, we give more and more energy to creating a specific view of our life based on was rather than what actually is.

The Kabbalah sees the Tree of Life not only as the structure of creation, but also as the process of creation. The two dimensions, process and structure, are two sides of the same reality. What that means simply is that space-time and movement are all the same thing manifesting simultaneously. Without space-time there is no movement. Without motion, there is no time-space. Reality does not occur otherwise. Reality is the Present, no more no less.

The Kabbalist view is that Creation itself is the Now, the Present as we experience it.

The Tree of Life is the Eternal Moment playing itself out. The past and the future are not reality per se, only aspects of the Now. They are not realities in and of themselves, because our experience of life takes place in the present. Past and Future are just dimensions of that experience.

What we experience in life is not only happening to us, but it is also being recorded and internalized within. That process of storing and preserving our experiences is critical in ordering, evaluating and understanding ourselves and our relationship to life.

The problem arises when we move beyond those boundaries and get fixated mentally and emotionally on what has happened, instead of on what is actually transpiring. In Kabbalah, this shift creates great distortion, because what was does not necessarily constitute what currently is.

The present is reality. The past is merely a segment of a much broader picture. To focus on the past is to be centered on a fragment of reality, rather than on the now, reality itself. To do so produces a displacement of consciousness and with it tremendous distortion, damage and suffering that we are creating for ourselves.

Rabbi Fisdel maintains a Spiritual Counseling practice in Albany, CA  working with individuals of all spiritual backgrounds and traditions, both locally and long distance. Steven has been counseling, teaching and writing for over 30 years.

Suffering as Time Distortion

Essentially, what the Kabbalah teaches us about the reduction of suffering is that if one is truly living in present time, the emotional distortion that produces it is minimized or eliminated. Conversely, living our lives outside of the moment invariably creates suffering.

Being in the present means not being fixated in the past nor tied up with the future. When one is living in the moment effectively, there is little or no space for suffering since suffering is most often generated by emotional bonds to the past and/or future.

The Kabbalists emphasize that God creates and sustains the world moment by moment. They talk about the constant renewal of creation as a continual process coming from the Divine Will. The divine intention is always at work. It is ever-present in the manifestation and operation of the universe, quite consistently, at all times. God wills the universe and the laws that govern it and therefore it is.

So, if God is consciously and continually focused on the creation and sustenance of the universe as a whole, then existence and hence reality is solely a reflection of the moment.

It is not that the universe is and therefore continues to exist and function. But rather, it is the other way around. The divine intention is that the world exist and be operational, therefore it is. When the Kabbalah speaks about the world that is, the “Is” referred to is the experience of time as being in the moment.

In Kabbalah, what is consistent in the universe is the divine focus. God centers attention on producing the patterns within creation inside the context of the moment. In other words, what the Kabbalah is saying is that God creates time and then centers the divine intention within time from moment to moment. Within the moment, the pattern of creation, the laws of the universe, manifest and play themselves out. God’s focus holds the pattern we experience as the world, because the divine intention remains consistent.

The message for us, as humanity, is quite clear. If the world is being created, formed, sustained and influenced by God’s focus and intention in the moment, then we as sentient, self-aware beings with free will need to be operating the exact same way. We should be living our lives in the moment, in present time. For present time is reality.

Reality is none other than what is happening around us right now in the moment. By “moment”, the Kabbalists mean within the conscious cycle of a day. When talking about creation, the book of Genesis keeps repeating the concept that there was evening (night) and then morning (daytime) and that constitutes a day (full cycle of consciousness).

What the Kabbalah understands is that, in actuality, experience can only be handled and comprehended in manageable units. So, we need to connect with reality as units of time that we can concentrate our attention on, process through and absorb into our being. That precious unit is the moment, being centered in present time.

Through intention and focus, we add to the moment the dimension of uniformity that forms our experience of life. This unified approach is what makes reality vibrant, meaningful and of immense value.

If we are living in the present, our being in the world is centered and our life experience is vivid, clear and pertinent. We are completely aware of our reality and therefore, empowered fully to deal with it and work with it. We are fulfilling our lives, because we are immersed in ultimately what is truly real; focus and intention in the present.

From the Kabbalist perspective, if you are not centered and operating in the moment, where exactly are you? The answer is that you are dealing with non-reality, which is a difficult and often dangerous place to be. When in non-reality, you are forced to endure a false existence that involves the realms of distortion, illusion, fixation and destruction. The underlying constant of these levels is, uniformly, great suffering.

The question then arises; What, exactly, is the non-reality that produces such enormous suffering and damage? The answer is, in modern terms, time distortion.

Then, what is time distortion? The Kabbalist would say that there are two primary dimensions to time distortion. They are being caught in the past and

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being concerned and fixated on the future.


Rabbi Steven Fisdel is a practicing Kabbalist with over 30 years experience in teaching Kabbalah and applying its principles directly to spiritual practice, the expansion of consciousness and psycho-spiritual healing. Rabbi Fisdel maintains a spiritual counseling practice for seekers of diverse backgrounds. (800) 851-2495.

Suffering as An Issue of Focus

The paramount element in the avoidance of suffering from the Kabbalist perspective is being centered in present time. One of the most amazing things about a truly conscious life is the realization that where we focus our attention determines precisely how and what we experience in our life. What we choose to look at creates the reality we become engaged in.

For example, if I am at home with some time on my hands and decide to go over bank statements, balance my checkbook and pay bills, for the next hour or so I am in a specific reality with a certain focus that creates the experience of handling finances. However, if I sit and watch a movie, I find myself transported to a whole other reality with an entirely different feeling and a totally changed experience.

What is the difference? How I have focused my attention. By choosing a different focus, I have shifted the reality I am in. I have moved from one sphere of activity, one world to another.

By selecting or altering my focus, I have placed my awareness, intention and energies into a specific context, be it painting the living room, reading a book, taking a long walk, working on a hobby, etc. Each reality that I focus on has its own purpose, its own rules, it own emotional environment, as well as its own challenges and rewards. Each, in a sense, is a complete world in and of itself.

The way a Kabbalist looks at it, no matter what world you choose to be in, if that is where you are concentrating your energy fully there then you are present. In that case, you will not experience suffering necessarily. Suffering is not normally an automatic part of being actively engaged in something. It is in large part an add-on. 

In Kabbalah, the understanding is that activity and events per se are neutral. However, intention influences events and often affects them considerably. Even more so do our attitudes and our emotional reactions to what is happening. So, our experience of events in life is very much shaped by our thoughts and emotions.

The situations and events of life are objective occurrences. Our experience of life, though, is based on how we respond and focus on them. Kabbalists often see suffering then as a distortion of experience, because it is an element that overlays an event, not the event itself.

Where we choose to center our attention can serious distort our perspective and our emotional response to what is going on with us and around us. What happens, as a Kabbalist would see it, is that our conscious focus can get distracted and pulled away from the immediate present, from the now by an improper focus that creates considerable suffering. Appropriate focus is always in the moment.

What the Kabbalah teaches is that if one is truly living in the moment, suffering, in essence, has little or no room to exist.

Rabbi Steven Fisdel, an author and master teacher of Kabbalah, maintains a Kabbalist based spiritual counseling practice and mentoring program for people of all spiritual backgrounds. Rabbi Fisdel focuses on the application of Kabbalah to the healing of psycho-emotional issues at their spiritual core. Rabbi Fisdel can be reached at

Suffering as External Displacement

In Kabbalah, the essence of a healthy existence on all levels is the maintaining of balance and harmony. This is the function of the middle pillar of the Tree of Life. For any of us to have equilibrium in our lives, we cannot allow ourselves to become too heavily focused either internally or externally. That will throw us out of alignment. To stay balanced, we cannot get too locked into ourselves or conversely too absorbed by the people and events around us. There has to be a balance, an even give and take in both directions.

In discussing the Kabbalist view of some of the primary causes of suffering, I would like to start with the issue of suffering as External Displacement.

External Displacement is when we reference ourselves too much with what is going on around us and it becomes difficult to distinguish who we are from what we are doing and what is happening. The common result of this over-focus on the external is that we lose sight of ourselves and what we are meant to be expressing in our lives. We become over-identified with the drama, with other people’s realities and with the intensity of the energy in general.

It is one thing to be an actor in the play of life and consciously assume a role. It is yet another, to be a member of the audience witnessing and responding to what is taking place. Both of these functions involve balance, when there is parity between inner awareness of self and outer connection with others through self.

However, from the Kabbalist perspective, suffering is induced by imbalance. There is great suffering, if we lose our innate inner sense of our self. Our center of gravity has then shifted to an extreme, if we define ourselves by what is outside of us, what is happening to us. The Kabbalah teaches that neither external reality nor outer events and circumstances is actually us. It is not who we are.

Our external reality constitutes our experience of life, not our being. Neither what we are going through nor what is happening to us is who we are. Who we are has everything to do with our spiritual reality and so; it goes much deeper than the circumstances we have to work with. As the Kabbalah sees it, what happens to us, what we feel about it and how we interpret it are the dimensions of our life experience. Living life is the “what”, not the “who”. The course of our life is the process that the “who” is going through. Who we are is our soul, the divine essence at the core of our being.

The teaching in Kabbalah is that who we are as a soul involves a life purpose. Events on the physical, emotional and psychological levels impact us, but do not constitute who we are. The circumstances and events of our lives are patterns playing themselves out. They are the result of will, not its origin. They may play out our desires and drives, but not always. They may express our life purpose, but often not. Frequently, the events in our life may be expressing a host of other energies and realities being generated by the will and intentions of others.

When we remain connected to our inner sense of self and the integrity of our own uniqueness, then we are rooted spiritually. When so rooted, we can truly express ourselves from a place of purpose. We are then truly and steadfastly balanced. We know exactly who we are and can extend ourselves out into the world from a position of confidence and a place of great joy.

If, on the other hand, we become engrossed and absorbed in the events of our lives, or overly invested in the drama, we are no longer living our lives. We have displaced our conscious existence and have become far too attached and focused on the external; confusing the “who” with the “what”. We have lost our internal frame of reference, forgotten our purpose and surrendered our individuality. In the Kabbalah, this External Displacement is a primary source of pain and anguish that leads directly to tremendous suffering.


Rabbi Steven Fisdel, an active Kabbalist for over 30 years, does spiritual diagnostic and spiritual counseling work professionally with clients from all over the country and from diverse backgrounds. Rabbi Fisdel is a Master Kabbalist author and teacher. He is the director of the Center for Jewish Mystical Studies in Albany, CA.

The Basis of Suffering in Kabbalist Thought

The second significant variant meaning of the verb, SVL which generally means “suffering”, is to transport something. Here suffering is understood to have an important purpose in the course of living one’s life. The Kabbalists see suffering, in its pure form, as the process of moving things in one’s life from one point to the next in order to complete one stage and begin the next. So, suffering has a great deal to do with self-development.

In the view of the Kabbalah, each of us in our lives has specific commitments to work through. Natural suffering, therefore does not involve pain and anguish. Rather, in order to make progress spiritually in our lives, we simply need to assume specific responsibility for all of the different aspects of our life and move them diligently from one phase to the next so as to fulfill our obligations to ourselves and to others.

Suffering, then, takes on the dimensions of pain and anguish when we find ourselves moving around in a circle rather than in a spiral upward. If we are focused on self-development and self-realization,  then we work through the stages of fulfilling our life responsibilities and we progress from level to level in a spiral. That is, one cycle of our life leads immediately to its natural successor. We grow and evolve.

However, if we fixate emotionally on uncertainty, self-doubt or on our fears, we get stuck and move in an endless circle. If we allow others to hand us their issues to solve in order for them to avoid taking responsibility themselves, we are also trapped in a circular movement going nowhere . There is no way to vicariously resolve someone else’s problems or do their work for them.

One way or the other, we end up trapped either within our own inner turmoil or imprisoned in the impossibility of fulfilling another person’s responsibility.

The result of this circular movement is that we are held hostage. We are confined internally by fear and hopelessness. In the prison of such movement, we are not in a position to extend our true inner being out into the world. We, therefore, experience suffering not as the spiral of accomplishment and fulfillment, but rather as pain and torment; neither of which is a necessary component of suffering.

If you understand suffering as integral to self development, as the process of transporting some meaningful part of your life from one important juncture to another, it becomes clear that if one is stuck inside oneself ruminating, you cannot extend yourself to the outside world. There is no forward movement. You cannot, therefore, effectively express your potential, if at all. The denial of potential is the absence of self-fulfillment and that is extremely painful and anxiety producing.

The key to experiencing suffering as the process of personal growth rather than as pain is found in the Kabbalist interpretation of the third related definition of the Hebrew verb, SVL. The verb also has the meaning, “to tolerate”. What the Kabbalah infers at this point is that toleration is not enough if you want to carry your responsibilities forward  and not create anguish and burden. The concept here is that if you are only tolerating something, you are not fully accepting it.

To fully accept something, you must be open to it. You need to be happy with it or excited about it. To be tolerant just means you are willing to acknowledge something, but not necessarily embrace it.

If one simply complies with a commitment and does it perfunctorily, the obligation is met, but there is not necessarily any emotional connection or any spiritual component. There is simply no joy, without which no possibility exists for full self-expression, satisfaction or contentment. The lack of complete acceptance when assuming the legitimate responsibilities of life and the resulting joy of making gradual, tangible progress is recognized by the Kabbalah as another central factor in turning suffering from a process of personal growth into one of constriction and pain instead.




Rabbi Steven Fisdel is  an experienced, practicing Kabbalist for over 30 years, who specializes in Spiritual Diagnosis and Counseling, Life Reading and Life Direction. He works with seekers of all spiritual backgrounds and is the founder of the Center for Jewish Mystical Studies in Albany, CA.

How the Kabbalah Understands Suffering 2

Rabbi Steven Fisdel, Practicing Kabbalist

The Basis of Suffering: Perspective One

In the approach taken by the Kabbalah, a couple of primary conceptions underlie the basic reality of suffering and they are not what we usually identify suffering as.

One very important element in Kabbalist thought has always been the Hebrew language itself. The Kabbalah draws conclusions and concepts from an analysis of specifically how the Hebrew language understands verbs.  For action is the very basis of life experience.

The verb root for suffering, in Hebrew, is SVL. Besides meaning suffering, this verb root has several additional meanings. The first of these is that of “bearing a burden” and “carrying a weight’.

So, in the view of the Kabbalah suffering involves being burdened by something heavy that you are carrying around. The most common connotation here is that this burden is often something that has been handed to you and you are obligated to carry it on behalf of another person. The idea is that suffering is not so much pain as it is a weight on one’s shoulders that has been imparted to us or that we have taken on voluntarily.

One way of understanding suffering from the Kabbalist perspective is that it is a natural and vital part of life that needs to be recognized for what it is and subsequently handled correctly. Suffering, in the view of the Kabbalah, has to do primarily with responsibility and spiritual growth. We all need to take on responsibility in our life and carry the important things forward, whether we have made the personal decision to do so or we have undertaken it on behalf of another.

However, taking on responsibility is not synonymous with being burdened with or by something. Suffering, as we think of it, ensues a couple of ways. Firstly, when we are saddled with and made to carry something that is not necessarily our responsibility. Secondly, when we directly assume responsibility for something that is not appropriate or warranted and yet continually carry it around with us anyway.

The first implication from understanding the idea of suffering from a Kabbalist standpoint is that agony is the distortion of suffering. It is the experience of being saddled with that which makes life a burden, when in its essence suffering is the positive act of carrying on, moving forward and accepting appropriate levels of responsibility.


Rabbi Steven Fisdel is  an experienced, practicing Kabbalist for over 30 years, who specializes in Spiritual Diagnosis and Counseling, Life Reading and Life Direction. He works with seekers of all spiritual backgrounds and is the founder of the Center for Jewish Mystical Studies in Albany, CA.


How the Kabbalah Understands Suffering 1

The General Nature of Suffering

In order to deal effectively with the reality of suffering, it is very important to get a clear perspective on what suffering actually is from a spiritual vantage point.

The true root of suffering is, in essence, a disruption of the soul’s ability to express itself fully and to live out its purpose in being present in life.

The main purpose of existence from the Kabbalah’s perspective is the evolution of the soul, which occurs through using our innate ability to manifest continually the infinite creativity each of us possesses as unique expressions of the Divine. This process can, however, be impeded, thereby creating suffering.

The soul is in a state of discomfort, anguish or pain, if its capacity to manifest fully in the world is disturbed, hindered or blocked. Moreover, the greater the disruption, the greater the distress one experiences and hence the more difficult the process is of living a fulfilling and joyful life.

The contention in Kabbalist thought is that the soul knows exactly what its life purpose is and is always intent on manifesting it through all aspects of life. The Kabbalah teaches that when we experience joy, satisfaction and contentment in whatever we are doing, we are in alignment with the soul, with the divine within ourselves.

However, because we as human beings are endowed with free will we can make positive choices or negative ones. This, in and of itself, is not a problem. Rather it is a gift. We learn and grow through the process of experiencing what works and what does not. We evolve as we come to understand and internalize what is truly beneficial and what is decidedly destructive. This learning is absolutely essential to soul growth.

So what engenders suffering?

The emergence of suffering arrives when we become fixated on the negative and begin giving it exaggerated significance. By overemphasizing our experiences and focusing on our subjective reactions, the effect is uniformly negative. We automatically impart a concentration of energy to our relationship with our life events that is disruptive, distorting and ultimately painful.

What is important to understand here is that a large part of our suffering in life is self-induced. Under such circumstances, we need to take responsibility and consciously take steps to either prevent or reverse such torment through conscious choice and mindful action.

When we are faced with suffering, the disruptions producing it take place on the lower three levels of our experience, the intellectual, emotional and physical planes, not on the spiritual per se. As incarnated beings, we are present in the world, though not “of the world”. The soul operates on the material plane via these three extensions of itself, through the three dimensions of our consciousness. That is, the soul experiences life and expresses itself through mind, emotion and physicality, which are extended modalities of spirit into the world.

Rabbi Steven Fisdel

What causes suffering at it root is distortion of the natural flow of our spiritual energy and the disruption of its ability therefore to manifest fully and effectively in our lives. So, if we become aware of how some of suffering’s primary causes commonly manifest, we are then in a position to rectify the problem and move forward with our lives purposefully and joyfully.

Suffering Is Optional

Difficulty, challenge and struggle are very much part of the fabric of our life experience.

Rabbi Steven Fisdel -KabbalistExistence itself is composed of an ebb and flow. There is a constant push and pull in life, caused by the fact that the world is based on polarity. There is a dualism that clearly underlies creation. There are continual ups and downs, twists and turns in the process of living life, because the tension produced by dualism is what constitutes the very energy that keeps things moving.

There is expansion and there is contraction. There is growth and there is decay. There is strength and there is weakness. Everything in life is a duality. That is how creation is structured. Light and dark both follow each other and contend with one another as well. So does effort and rest, happiness and sadness, success and disappointment; everything that exists in the world.

Therefore, whenever there is movement there is also resistance. Friction and obstruction are simply part of the process of development. They are not aberrations. They are not errors. They are not the enemy. Struggling with difficulty and subsequently having to endure hard times is vital to the process of living life. It is the prerequisite to growth. Suffering, however, is absolutely not.

Suffering is a negative response to difficult circumstances. It is not the substance of what we are going through. It is the modality by which we handling it. When we are suffering from something physically, if we emotionally identify with the illness or injury we create suffering. The pain and the malfunction or disability we are experiencing are the symptoms and the effects of a difficulty the body is experiencing. Often, the pain and discomfort are actually part of the healing process.

In a similar manner, psychologically, if external circumstances in one’s life become very difficult and constrictive, one is out of work, a relationship is strained, one has experienced a serious loss, etc. pain and anguish will emerge as a natural part of the accompanying emotional process. That is normal.

However, if we react to the pain, be it physical or psycho-emotional by identifying with it, by becoming upset, frustrated or resentful, we are creating suffering for ourselves. Our approach is manufacturing an element that does not have to exist in the experience. Suffering is not a natural part of the process of coming to terms with difficult situations. It is a choice being made in the way the reality being faced is approached and handled.

Suffering is pain inducing, but not the pain itself. Nor is it the malady per se. Rather, suffering is a reactive mode that is negatively identifying with the problem. Difficult circumstances and the pain they generate are part of the contractive side of nature and central to human experience. Suffering, however, is an add-on and often an unconscious default position.

It’s one thing to say you are sick. It is quite another to say that you are dealing with working through an illness. There is a big difference between these views. In the first instance, you are not making a distinction between you and your circumstances. The distinction between you and what you are going through has been blurred or obscured.

By identifying with the difficult circumstances you are facing, you are bringing about emotional distress. That is suffering and it is unnecessary.

There is another route to take. You can remain calm, centered and simply keep in mind that what is happening to you is merely something you are going through. It will not last forever. It is your circumstances and your condition at the moment. It is absolutely not you per se. You will exist long after all your current situation is gone.

In taking a non-reactive approach, suffering does not show up. How is this so?

In Kabbalah, the right and left pillars of the Tree of Life are the forces of expansion and contraction. The right pillar is drive, excitement and experience. The left pillar is that of taking in, processing and assimilating. There is a push-pull reality that is a primal element in their relationship. The energy of creativity and development is generated by their interaction. Through this pulsation of energy, everything is given life, meaning and definition. In other words, the entire learning process is based on the tension between our experience of expansiveness and restriction.

The way the Kabbalah sees it, difficulty and challenge are the natural result of the friction, the push-pull of how life is set up. It is critical for our growth and development. Suffering, however, is an imbalance that upsets the system and weighs us down. It is a burden to the experience of life, not an essential element.

Negative emotions, such as anger, fear, grief, regret etc. in their natural state serve enormously important psychological functions. However, if we indulge in holding and dwelling on them, they devolve into dark emotions which are forms of suffering.  This type of suffering would include forms such as desperation and despair, rage and recrimination, confusion and doubt, guilt and humiliation, fear and paralysis, just to name a few.

The Kabbalah sees suffering as excessive emotional fixation. That is, suffering is understood as one being too focused on a set of difficulties. When that happens, one’s perspective is lost in a vortex of intensifying emotion. The difficulty being faced becomes the center of one’s emotional life. The effect of which causes one’s experience to become constricted, heavy and subsequently painful. The sense of feeling trapped, helpless and overwhelmed is the result.

From the Kabbalist perspective there is a way to transmute this reality. What the Kabbalah teaches is that any energy has different ways it can manifest. All energy is subject to the laws of polarity, differentiation and balance. Generally, energy can be  formed initially into any of a number of diverse expressions and any specific energy that is already defined can be reshaped and redirected.

In other words, any emotional reality one is working with can be refocused and then re-manifest itself in an alternate form.  For example, fear can be transformed into determination. Anger can be reconstituted into courage and fortitude. Grief can be reformatted into acceptance. There are a lot of possible permutations.

Energy per se is neutral. It is our intention that gives energy a shape and a specific, discreet reality. How we approach something is what it will be or what it will become. We must be very aware of how we are holding any given situation emotionally. Do we want to hold on to hurt and remain angry or are we willing to forgive, to release and become compassionate? If one holds anger, there is suffering. If one transforms the hurt to understanding, compassion emerges. Then, there is no suffering. Suffering does not exist within the realm of compassion.

It is very important to remember that energy is malleable. It can manifest in multiple ways. The process of living our lives, by its very nature, constantly presents us with challenges of different magnitudes.

There are two alternatives to life’s difficulties. If we regard life’s issues as burdens, obstructions and impositions, we will endure suffering. If on the other hand, we can handle challenges no matter how difficult as tasks, responsibilities and opportunities, then life opens up to us as an amazing vista for experience, growth and learning. The choice is ours. The energy is the same. It is the suffering that is optional.

Rabbi Steven Fisdel