How many times have you heard the word ‘unprecedented’ recently? Personally, I’ve lost count. Some politicians have been using the word frequently, even within the same speech. I would say we are collectively overwhelmed by a tsunami of anxiety and fear, except ‘tsunami’ is also being used rather a lot as well.
The pulse of life
There is an old story about a Chinese sage who fell into a tumultuous, rushing river. His disciples were in a state of shock. Their wise master had left them to fend for themselves. Some time later, while they were still grieving, the sage arrived back in the village, looking happy and healthy. The disciples were astounded. Their teacher was alive and back in action. They asked, “How did this come about? You were swept away by the raging water, we truly believed you would be lost to us forever.” The sage answered them, smiling. “When you fall into the river, you go with the flow. You allow yourself to go up with up-flow. Then go down with the down-flow. With such surrender, the river’s power will not harm you.”
The Hebrew word shefa means ‘everflow’, and it is also often called or, meaning ‘light’. But this is not static light, fixed like the glow from a light bulb. It is a living light energy that flows through Creation, pulsing, almost like electricity. Sometimes pushy or forceful, dynamic and yang; sometimes soft or gentle, receptive and yin. Its rhythmical flow can be likened to a stream, or a river, that can fill every corner of life. We often identify those two contrasting energetic qualities as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. The pulse of shefa is the ‘rhythm of life’, moving between creative and active, then back to receptive and passive.
Tools we use to see the flow
The classic Chinese oracle, I Ching, is a powerful divinatory tool that uses traditional stories to describe the movement of time. The varying qualities of time are delineated by a series of sixty-four hexagrams (figures made up of six lines each) that describe the wide variety of qualities of the time, when you ask a question. Here are all sixty-four:
In the same way, the ancient tradition of horary astrology also identifies the quality of the time, using the mythological language of the planetary gods and the signs of the zodiac. Using divination – consulting the oracle – isn’t so much about accurately predicting what will happen, but indicating what the ‘weather’ – the overall state of the energetic flow – will be like. Then, like a sailor consulting tide tables, you can make wiser choices when faced with significant decisions.The Chinese sage identified the up-flow and the down-flow, the yang and the yin of the river, then he surrendered to it. He didn’t resist or wrestle with it, but allowed the river’s energy to deliver him at the end of his roller-coaster ride, still happy and laughing.
Flow through the Tree of Life
In Jewish kabbalah – the wisdom received by generations of mystics who certainly did want to wrestle with the flow – we find a dynamic map called the Tree of Life. Here we find a description of the way the living light – shefa – flows through channels and pathways that could be seen to resemble a plumbing system. The mystics tell us that all living processes are underpinned by the same structure, which allows the flow to move easily and harmoniously in Creation. This includes our physical body. Here is the basic map:
Think of the circles as reservoirs, or tanks in a water system – in Hebrew they are called sefira (plural). The flow comes from an invisible, limitless Source outside, above and beyond the top sefirot (singular). In Jewish mystical literature the sefira are also described as ‘gates of light’. Each gate has an Archangelic guardian. (If you want to learn more about the Archangels of the Tree of Life, check out my book, Working with Archangels). The flow moves from one pillar to the next, crossing the central pillar at certain points. If the flow is harmonious, with no resistance, then all will be comfortable and well. It is only when blockages occur in the ‘plumbing’ that tensions, anxieties, or stresses arise, leading to ill-health, individual and collective panic and, quite often to war. When we trust this flow is benevolent, seeking our overall good, then we can allow it to move freely and easily, knowing that…
all will be well, all manner of things will be well.
— Julian of Norwich (late 1342 until after 1416).
Each sefirot is named as one of the Divine qualities. Sometimes they are called the ‘faces of God’, or ‘the hands of God’. None of the qualities is set against us. Even ‘the severity of God’ is a necessary quality for our life-learning and spiritual growth. The sefira are also described as blossoms or jewels on the Tree, which is full of radiant light. The living light comes from a single source, which comes into your life fragmented, like light through a prism:
The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven’s light forever shines, Earth’s shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-colour’d glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
— Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
Light and shadow
The Romantic poet Shelley wrote these words after the death of another poet, John Keats, who was only twenty-five when he died of tuberculosis. Shelley himself died in a drowning accident, just before his thirtieth birthday. In the Ode on the death of John Keats, Shelley describes how we live in a shadowy world but, when we die, we will see beyond the dream-like shadowy perceptions and find ourselves back in ‘Heaven’s light’.
The ‘shadows’ are significant for us while we are incarnated. The Ancient Greek philosopher Plato likened our everyday lives to those of prisoners, chained in a cave, who could only see shadows on a wall in front of them. These shadows were cast by a fire behind them, a fire they couldn’t see because their chains held them in such a position that they could not turn their heads. In our kabbalistic Tree of Life map, the light moves through structures in order to create the dance of life, which necessarily casts shadows. They are not ‘evil’ or ‘negative’ in any way. When we ‘go with the flow’ we understand that ‘up’ is not always the best way forward, and that ‘down’ is not always ‘bad’.
Introvert and extrovert
Being isolated was a choice made by mystics like Julian of Norwich. She had lost her family in a time of plague, but she kept her faith. She understood that a personal, life-time retreat would give her the opportunity to commune with God and gain more spiritual insights. (Although so many pictures show her with a cat, so I’m sure she did have someone else to talk to as well!)
The artist Michaelangelo was an extreme introvert. Likely he would have been classed as autistic in today’s world. People who knew him complained about his anti-social behavior, to which he replied: “Unless I have time alone, I cannot hear what God is telling me.”
Take time to listen to your inner voice. There is so much inner wisdom we miss out on when we engage in a constant round of socialising. Don’t even think, “How can I fill my time with more Netflix movies, or catch up with books I’ve been meaning to read?” Use at least some of your time to dive deep and converse with your personal guide, daimon, angel – whatever word you like to use. They are waiting for you and will help you go with the flow.