A question this week from someone who came to an introductory Kabbalah class four years ago:
I have a “very simple” question for you that came up in a discussion with one of my friends. Is the expansion of consciousness (by that I mean coming to a higher level of awareness of who one is, coming to a more alive state in terms of senses and discernment) a result of some kind of unconscious psychological healing and maturation process or a result of a certain amount of accumulated knowledge that leads to a shift in one’s cognitive schema. The knowledge of facts does not always lead to a transformation, right? Deeper level of my question: What is the force, from your point of view, behind the transformation of human consciousness?
My response: A simple answer: Awareness. Knowledge is power, Awareness is transformation. Cognition can be ‘trained’ to be in the service of awareness.
I met Yohannes Gebregeorgis when he visited my good friend Richard Male in Denver a few years ago. Yohannes at that time was in the United States to attend the CNN Heroes event—he was a nominee for his Donkey Mobile Library which brings books to rural children throughout Ethiopia. Yohannes is a big picture thinker but he is aware that the big picture is made of many tiny pixels. Literacy (of a country) is accomplished one book at a time. Do books transform? Can they move a child or adult to realize their (fuller) potential? At each stage in our knowing more there is also awareness—of a world beyond our own way of thinking. Sometimes this starts with reading itself—the wonderment of discovering letters and language. I remember the moment I discovered that the words “thank you” were words that meant, “I am thanking you” rather than just word sounds.
Inspired by Rodger Kamenetz’s visit and talks on Dreamwork this spring, I offered a class on Kabbalah and Dreams—a topic I had never considered teaching. I have been listening in therapy to people’s dreams for the last thirty years and have an active interest in my own dreams—but it took a book (and its author Kamenetz) to bring me to a new awareness of the importance of dreams to spiritual work. In my therapy office a large red book lays prominently on top of the credenza and the gold letters on its spine proclaim: THE RED BOOK. It was a generous gift to me from a Kabbalah student (thank you Rich!), opened once and perused. Now it was time to read it and take in its images—the illustrated autobiographical dreams of Carl Jung disclosed to the public after nearly a century of remaining a private memoir.
There is a phrase often used in Jewish texts that refers to a person who has knowledge but lacks awareness. The phrase is: A donkey carrying books. For Yohannes Gebregeorgis’ mobile Donkey Library books bring wonderment and literacy. For a person who has much knowledge, but little awareness, it is akin to having the RED BOOK on your shelf and never opening it. Awareness comes to those who look around and see that the book is already there waiting for you to read it.
Reading the book though is not the goal—it is the journey—to awareness. According to Jewish tradition the Messiah will come riding on a donkey—no Kindle, no Nook, no iPad—not even a library card are needed. The Messiah’s only “book” is awareness—what you learn on the back of a donkey bringing books to those who have never held, let alone read, a book.