I recently did a little research on the concept of the Vision of Sorrow, an attribute of the Sephirot Binah in Kabbalah.
Admittedly, it isn’t something I’ve studied much, but it came up in a conversation with a friend who is big on Kabbalah, and the description is pretty much like what I went through when I remembered John’s life and understood just how bad things could get and began to feel entirely apart from the presence of any sort of divinity. The source I used was Colin Low’s Introduction to the Kabbalah.
In in the section dealing with Binah, I found a passage that perfectly describes why I don’t follow any set path any more and why I felt totally alienated from the Wiccan path I was on when my first memories of past lives broke through and showed me how little comfort there could be when facing ultimate reality:
Lastly, it is worth asking “what is God?”. What does the Kabbalistic trinity of Kether, Chokmah and Binah represent in reality? I have deliberately avoided mentioning an enormous amount of Kabbalistic material on these three sephiroth because it is not clear whether it contributes to a genuine understanding. How useful, for example, is it to know that the name Binah (BINH) contains not only IH (Yod, He), the letters representing Chokmah and Binah, but also BN, Ben, the son? There is a level of understanding Kabbalah which is intellectual, and capable of almost inifinite elaboration, but it leads nowhere. What experience or perception does the word “God” denote? If there is nothing which is not God, why are so many people searching for God? Why do so many people feel apart from God? I quoted D.H. Lawrence’s poem “Only Man” because of his deeply intuitive view of the Fall from God and the abyss of separation.
I was browsing in my local occult bookshop recently, a shop which contains a catholic selection of books covering Eastern religions, astrology, Tarot, shamanism, crystals, theosophy, magick, Celtic and Grail traditions, mythology, Kabbalah, witchcraft, and so on. I am not sure what I was looking for, but despite a couple of hours of browsing I certainly did not find it. What did strike me was the extent to which so many of these books were written to make human beings feel good about themselves. There is a smug view permeating so much occult literature that “spiritual” human beings are a little bit more “advanced” or “developed” than the pack, that they are “moving along the Path” towards some kind of “enlightenment”, “cosmic consciousness”, “union with God”, “divine love”, or one of many more fantastic and utterly sublime goals. It is all so empowering and affirming and cosy. Even in the less starry-eyed and gushy works the view is predominantly, almost exclusively human-centred, and I found it difficult to avoid the impression that the universe was designed as a foam-padded playground for human souls to romp around in. There is more than a little truth in Marx’s statement that religion is the opium of the people, and a cynic could justify a claim that occultism and esoteric religion are little more than a security blanket for unfortunate people who cannot look reality in the face. Where are the books which say “you are an insignificant speck of flyshit in a universe so vast you cannot even begin to comprehend its scale; your occult pretensions amount to nothing and are carefully designed to protect you from any experience of reality; all human experience and knowledge is parochial, insignificant and largely irrelevant on a universal scale, and your personal contribution even more so; there are no Masters or Powers, no Secret Chiefs, no Inner Plane Adepti, no Messiahs, and God does not love you; the only thing you possess is your life, and the joy and mystery of living in a universe filled to the brim with life, where little is known and much remains to be discovered; when you die, you are dead.” I do not concur with this position in its entirity, but it is a valid position to adopt, and one which is not strongly represented in esoteric and occult literature. Why not? Perhaps people do not want to buy books which say this. I will venture an opinion which reflects my own experience; as such it has no general validity, but it is worth recording nevertheless.
I believe that many religious, esoteric and occult traditions currently extant are unconsciously designed to protect human beings from experiencing God and lead towards experiences which are valid in themselves but which are biased towards feelings of love, protection, peace, safety, personal growth, community and empowerment, all wrapped up in a strongly human-centred value system where positive human feelings and experiences are emphasised. I believe that people are apart from God by choice, that they cannot find God because they do not want to.
It is difficult to justify this statement without resorting to an onion-skin model of the psyche; underneath the surface, unsuspected and virtually inaccessible, is a layer which does its best to protect us from the existential terror of confronting things as they really are. As a child I was terrified of the dark; the dark itself was not malign, but I was deeply afraid, and in this case it was fear which determined my relationship with the dark, not any quality of the dark itself. So it is with God – it is our deeply buried and unrecognised fear which determines our relationship with God. We read books, go to the cinema and theatre, argue, invent, throw parties, play games, search for God, live and love together, and bury ourselves in all the distractions of human society in a frenetic and unceasing effort to avoid the layers of fear – fear of solitude, fear of rejection, fear of disease and decay and disintregration, fear of madness, fear of meaninglessness, arbitrariness and futility, fear of death and personal annihilation. Like an audience in a cinema, we can live in a fantasy for a time and forget that it is dark, cold and raining outside, but sooner or later we have to leave our seats. And underneath all the fears is the fear of opening the door which conceals the awful truth: that we have wilfully, and with great energy and persistence, chosen not to know.
I came to a point where I had knowledge of things I had no desire to know about come rushing in, and saw an endless string of life after life with no obvious or apparent stamp of the divine on the process of death and rebirth. After that, dancing naked around trees in the woods and invoking gods I’d never once felt the presence of never felt the same again. But thinking back, it wasn’t anything but my own expectations of achieving a union with the divine and total fulfillment from an easy and pleasurable path that set me up for that disappointment.
That’s the abyss: finding out just how little grip you actually have on everything when the vastness of time and space yawns before you. It nearly destroyed me and now I see clearly how little I was prepared for the place I found myself in my life, but now I feel like I’ve made peace with it and begun to see the beauty of ultimate reality, or what little I concede to know of it.