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.