Every culture has a story about a journey. The hero, who we identify with, leaves home and goes on a journey through mythic lands, encountering amazing people and objects along the way, and in the end, after making some kind of accomplishment (slaying the dragon, taking land, marrying the beautiful woman), the hero not only finds whatever she or he set out to discover, but also discovers something about his/herself.
You are on two journeys at once.
One is the journey we call life. It’s traffic jams, gossip with coworkers, phone calls from family, meals out with friends, pushing a child on a swing set, and blobbing on the couch with your favorite TV show. It starts when we leave the womb, and it ends in our death. It’s the stuff that makes up life, when we think about what living a life is day-to-day. That’s the external journey: the things that we find ourselves part of either through our own design, or simply by accident. For the most part, we go through our daily life without thinking about it. If one takes a few deep breaths and looks around, one realizes the world spins without us, that life goes on without our approval, and that-is-that. The journey on the outside is a collection of experiences that come without anything mystical happening.
Then there’s the other life, something private, something internal. This is the journey of our secret nature, or what some call our soul or human spirit. This interior is where the unconscious takes its journey, and the landscape is a bit different from what is outside of ourselves. This stuff on the inside is a stew of every fantasy, every wish fulfilled or unfulfilled, every dream and nightmare.
Our outer journey is about us living in the world. Our inner journey is the world living inside us.
In life we find ourselves navigating two landscapes, the one of the inner life, and one of the outer life. Both have demons and angels, both have heroes and villains, both have victory and defeat.
Every now and then, the two roads that we walk down meet each other. And in that moment, something incredible happens.
Some people call these moments revelations. Some people call these moments terrifying. Some people are so blown away that they can’t even put into words what is going on.
These moments, where the life inside us touches the life outside us, make us say things like “God just talked to me” or “I finally realized what I was searching for” or “I feel like I am home now.” Some people even experience sadness and regret. “If only I had known the truth this whole time, I could have lived such a better life. How sad that I was so misguided for so long.”
We can live lives that are entirely outside of us. We can ignore the hunger pangs of the internal life, because it’s not relevant to where we are and what we are doing. Spirituality does not matter as much as putting food on the table. That’s just the fluffy, self help stuff.
But when we ignore what is inside us, we’re stuck with a lot of mysteries in life that don’t have to be all that mysterious. For example, I once had a boss that terrified the hell out of me. I was convinced that he hated me. I was certain of it — it was obvious. The way he spoke to me, the way he disregarded my ideas, the way he would not give me time to explain what I was working on. I knew, hands down, that the guy did not want anything to do with me. I was expendable.
The odd thing is, we had a lot in common. We both had similar outlooks on life. We both went into the same field of work from an early age (even though I am no longer in it). We both deeply cared about the company that we worked for. We even liked the same kind of music, in spite of having a twenty plus year age difference.
So I changed jobs. And guess what? More bad bosses. And so I changed yet another time. And again, you guessed it, more problems.
So why did this guy, and all the other bosses and coworkers I had freak me out so much? Why did the world align itself against me and my needs as a human beings?
It had nothing to do with the outer journey. I took a wrong turn in my inner journey.
I discovered that I thought of this guy, and others in my life, as bullies. I was picked on a lot as a child, and had developed an internal life of victim hood. My inner journey was about anxiety, fear and doubt. The impressions on my spirit were being the little, the lesser. So I understood the outer part of my world as being the same as my internal world — with those in power being against me. My boss was surely the demon that haunted me.
But when I figured out that I did not have to live that way — that I had taken a wrong turn in my inner journey that I did not realize I was even on, the whole game changed. A weight was lifted off of me. I could move on without the hurt.
This is where it gets tricky. You can spend all your time trying to cultivate a good inner life, yet find yourself in the worst possible situations in your outer life.
It does not make sense, because the way we talk about our inner world is one that guides the outer world — just like the story before, it makes sense that you have some kind of change in your heart, and that leads you to something else. But in reality, you can meditate on mountain tops, journey through deserts in the Middle East, and drink as much peyote as you want, and yet still be stuck in the same rut.
It’s because you are on the wrong outer journey.
Let’s take apart the Abraham/God relationship as an example. Abraham was told by God to leave his father’s house and journey to a land that God would show him. Note that Abraham has no idea what this land is. Apparently God will tell him later when it’s convenient.
Could Abraham have had encounters with melachim (angels) if he stayed home, in his father’s house? I doubt it. Would he have seen the promised land if he stayed put? Absolutely not. He needed to go. Immediately.
To leave one’s father’s house is to leave an inner world: a world of multiple deities that each control a different part of the world, to leave a top-down system where father-knows-best. That’s Abraham’s inner world, and he needed to go away from that so he could experience something else, and therefore find himself.
Abraham may not have had a deep spiritual life. And he was not living where he needed to be. The journey changed his outer frame of reference, and his experiences changed his inner frame of reference as well. It even changed his name and his family.
It’s two journeys at once: and that’s what religion is all about.
Religion provides us a way to have two journeys at once, which is what we need to be fully human.
Judaism has lots of outside journeys: the Jewish calendar with its seasonal holidays, each reflecting a unique understanding of our human condition. We have rituals surrounding the life cycle of birth, growing up, marriage, old age and death. We have community gatherings, a sense of people hood and a shared fate to go with it.
But Judaism also offers the inner journey. When we live the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and all the prophets, archetypes, the sources of good and evil, we are not simply observers of myth, but we are the myth. We are Moses. We are Miriam. We are God. And these spiritual forces live inside us, and we can access them at any time. We are as much wandering through the desert, or conquering Jericho, or suffering at the hands of oppressors in our own personal inner world, as those whom our sacred texts help us learn about.
So when does the inner world and the outer world touch? For mystics, it’s in prayerful connection with God. For academics, it’s in Jewish history and discovering how we are as much a part of history as the past. For people who love social connection, it’s about the “I/Thou” relationship that famous Jewish scholar Martin Buber talked about.
There are ways for Judaism, and all religions, to bring our outer and our inner worlds together. And when they are not coming together, if one journey is going down a seriously wrong path, so too does religion have a way to realign us, to take us down a better road.
What road are you on now, both inside your heart and in your world? And how can we at PunkTorah help your outer and inner lives be better aligned toward moments of spiritual ecstasy?
Written by Rabbi Patrick Aleph