Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rethinking evil (part II)

In part one of this article, we considered the roots of evil and how they affect our health and well-being. But practically, how are we to look at horrific world events, massacres, atrocities, and acts of cruelty? Judaism teaches that every action and event that occurs in the universe whether global or microscopic is directly supervised by the A-lmighty, Who is good, and does only good. The Kabbalistic and Chassidic masters teach us that the more we train ourselves to involve Him in our lives, the more we sensitize ourselves to his presence, and the more aware we are of his abundant kindness, the sweeter life becomes. It is with this vision, that we need to view every event that occurs both personally and globally. Easy to say, but so hard to put into practice. Yet, as the Rambam tells us in hilchos deyos, any bad habit or behavioral tendency can be uprooted and changed through humility, perseverence and repetition.

So what are the alternatives? If one comes to the teleological conclusion that our world is chaotic and random, and is not directed towards a higher harmony, then it is easy to come to the colloquial understanding of evil as inexplicable. Some choose to view events with negativity and disbelief, sticking their heads in the sand and living in constant fear and dysfunction. Others try to explain inscrutable event by different approaches of philosophical determinism, as Nietsche, Darwin and Marx did. Yet, though these ideas might make sense in theory, in practice they are flawed, and not only deprive people of their dignity and freedom of choice, but also lead to depression. Still others choose a perspective not unsimilar to Greek mythology or paganism, idealists looking for heros, to rescue the world from infamy and destruction. But unfortunately, though it might work on the stage or screen, in real life, there are never idyllic, happy endings, because people are people, and any man-made morality will be ultimately lead to disappointment, disallusionment and corruption. So in the larger scheme of things,and in the real world, no human logic can explain the unexplainable, and no man-made value system can redeem mankind.

What we are left with are choices of either attributing phenomena to the absurd, acknowledging our limitations and declaring that we just don't know, or trusting that though we recognize that we are limited in our ability to perceive the entire tapestry of space and time, The One who created space and time is absolutely good and can never be flawed or imperfect. And so, again, I would contend that our perception of evil comes from short-sightedness and unfulfilled potential, the two etymologies that I referred to in part one.

There is one more element, though that I did not speak about: Jewish mysticism recognizes that the hand which perpetrates evil is nothing but a "stick" which is used to affect correction. Nonetheless, that stick, which is actually the instrument to surgically bring about correction, is really an object of evil, and in the grand scheme of things, all instruments which deliver pain and destruction ultimately need to be destroyed, in order to perfect the world. This is, of course, a macro-presentation of how Judaism views the world stage. But from a micro-perspective, as a clinician and practitioner, my job is to empower my patient to remove the evil which is imbalance, in body, emotion, mind and spirit, and to educate him or her to always look at things in the larger context, to consider the pathogenesis of their illness, to educate them , and to make every effort to not impose my values on them. Judaism believes that ultimately justice will be done and the perpetrator, the "stick" that inflicted this vicious behavior will be destroyed.

Finally, no discussion of evil would be complete, without exploring validity of spiritual powers, energetic healing, and the occult. I do not discount in any way the validity or effectiveness of any of these approaches. However, my clinical approach is guided by the following principles: 1. I do not believe that it is constructive to engage in or access energies or forces. I believe that it is neither spiritually nor physically healthy to do so. (as to whether one is even allowed to engage in them is yet another issue, and presents serious halachic problems) Yet there is a big difference between engaging in energetic practices and connecting with a patient, in order to be aware of the status of his or her Qi,(for a brief explanation of Qi, see the glossary on my website) in order to help he or she unblock themselves. (see the story below.) I also, for the same reason, am against giving blood (unless the volunteer is in vigorous health with strong, robust blood, which is rare for most women due to menstruation, childbearing, nursing and menopause) 2. Whatever healing therapies I am engaged in, acting as a diligent messenger to heal my patient, I must do so to the best of my ability and knowledge, I must acknowledge that if I am not successful as a messenger for healing my patient, that it is not the A-lmighty's will, and I must never second guess a decision that I made. The gemara in Avoda Zara tells us that every sick person has a specific messenger and a specific time when they will be healed, and if I am not successful, then either it is not the right time, or I am not the right messenger. And yet, because as the Rambam says, that it is impossible to serve Ha-Shem when one is sick, hungry or in pain, for every patient, I say a special prayer, asking Ha-Shem to help me be successful, not for my own glory or satisfaction, but rather to free my patient from the shackles of illness that block his or her ability to reach their potential. 3. I try to talk to G-d daily, out loud, literally, reviewing the days events, in order to understand what I did wrong, and what I could do differently next time, asking Him for guidance to direct my paths. 4. Judaism teaches us of the necessity to remove that which blocks our hearts from perceiving truth, and feeling compassion. We are told to remove the "foreskin" from our hearts. It is this insensitivity and blockage, that we identify as the orla (foreskin), as tuma (impurity) or as "Klipa" (shell or peel), and again this is completely consistant to the concept that I presented previously, that evil is either that which is crooked or that which is superficial. Once we remove this klipa, this "energy cyst" which blocks us from feeling and from knowing ourselves, we can truly heal, and it is that klipa which blocks us from having clear vision and connectivity. I want to share with you a wonderful yet very sad story: I had a patient six years ago who I had previously treated while as a student in clinic. She called me in April from Cedars Sinai hospital, where she was receiving chemo and radiation for breast cancer that had metastasized to her liver. Though she was formerly a hearty 5'6" mother of 6, now she weighed under 90 lbs. I started worked with her twice a week, using the modalities of acupuncture, Chinese medicine, diet therapy, craniosacral therapy, somato-emotional release, and bioset allergy desensitization. In August of that year, my wife and I went to Israel for our son's wedding and were to be gone for 2 month. In July, a month before we left, during a session, she commented that if she would be successful in connecting her heart to her occiput, she would have a complete healing. When we left a month later, she had regained most of her weight, was actively running her household, appeared to be in remission, and was definitely on the road to recovery. When we returned in October, I called her back, and asked how she was doing and if she would like to continue working together. She answered that she wasn't feeling that good, but would that she would not be able to continue treatments. She explained that her decision was in order to honor her husband who felt that the work was just too intimate, both physically, and emotionally. Tragically, the next time I saw him was at her funeral 3 month later.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Rethinking Evil

I would like to share with you today a different perspective on the second principle of Traditional Jewish medicine (TJM). This principle, Sur Me'ra Va'ase Tov,(turn away from Evil and Do good) teaches us that in order for a patient to get well, before embarking upon new innovative therapies to renew and invigorate the tired and out of balance patient, the physician first needs to carefully evaluate, and eliminate from his patient's diet and lifestyle, foods and behaviors that can undermine his health and cause him harm. Yet before we are able to eliminate that which is evil, we should consider first exactly what evil means from a TJM perspective. Our sages tell us, that once Adam and Chava ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the clear distinction between good and evil became blurred and relativistic. We, as their descendents are given the task of repairing this damage, by working to clarify their distinction. But what exactly does evil really mean?

I would suggest that much can be learned of the real essence of what something is, by examining its root in various languages. I find it fascinating that when we analyze two different respective "roots" of the word evil: the Chinese character "xie" and the Hebrew word רוע, we gain a broader understanding as to what evil really is. Scholars that I have spoken to tell me that the character "xie" connotes that which is crooked, as in a tree growing crooked and bent over, implying imbalance and disharmony. The Hebrew word "רוע," (pronounced ro'ah) consists of the same letters as the word עור (ohr) meaning skin, and implying that evil is that which is superficial, fake, "skin-deep". (In contrast, English I generally find to be a more linear, adaptive language, mostly single faceted, complementing the Western (shall I say, American?) tendency toward reductionism and oversimplification. Though translation is important, I believe that it is more important to understand the use of language in its context and spirit rather than only its precise, limiting definition.)

The thinking, G-d fearing person needs to go beyond that which is simple and obvious. Our task should always be, to view our lives from a higher perspective, to vigilantly be aware of the constant threats of superficiality and imbalance. When we integrate the awareness that what we do does matter, we become more whole, and better vessels of holiness in order to bring the Mashiach that much closer.