East meets West

Why you’ll never get anywhere by only being in the present

They say life is a journey, not a destination. But maybe, it’s both? Eastern culture focuses on the journey, or the process, Western culture on the destination or the goal, either scenario has its drawbacks. Think of the West as an arrow pointing upward. Think of New York City, with its high rise buildings. It’s full of the energy of striving, of going places, of winning, acquiring and getting ahead. But this energy also gives it a coldness, an edge, a sense of aggression. Like the Baz Luhrmann Sunscreen Song lyrics, “Live in New York City once but leave before it makes you hard.” 

New York vs Nepal

The West, in its breathtaking projectile upwards, inspires us all. But there are casualties of this rocket-light ascent. Think of anyone working around the clock at any corporate firm that pressures them to give up everything for that job. A lot of important things are sacrificed when we only look at the goal, the destination, the future. Things like the process, the journey and the present. Relationships may suffer, values may be sacrificed, all in the name of getting somewhere. 

The East may have the opposite problem.Think of the East as a circle, it sits there round and complete, at peace and in harmony – but static. In certain Eastern communities progress is slow, if it exists at all. There is little drive to repair society, eliminate suffering or improve one’s lot in life. Time is spent in meditation and acceptance, in the ever-present, present moment. Sounds wonderful to a busy, stressed-out Westerner, and this is the huge appeal of Eastern philosophies. The process and the present is sacred, it’s all there is and all there needs to be. But this lifestyle also has its drawbacks. The poor stay poor, no one is advocating for change, there is little to no drive to make things better for the next person and the next generation. 

A brief history of time

East and West also have very different conceptions of time and human life. The West sees time as linear, (think of the arrow) starting with the Big Bang and ending with when the sun burns out. Things move inexorably forward, with a cold finality ending in death. In Eastern wisdom, time is circular, birth, death, reincarnation, birth, death, reincarnation forever. Time is only now. This present moment. 

Circle meets arrow

Enter Judaism. Arrow and circle combine to create a spiral. The spiral moves upwards but unlike an arrow it is round and inclusive. Each ascending unit of the spiral moves upwards, at the same time it maintains the wholeness of the circle. This is the balance of East and West. The ideal is to constantly ascend but to take all of ourselves with us for the ride, not stepping on where and who we are to get ahead, not leaving parts of ourselves behind. To have awareness of what needs to be changed as well as the awareness of what is good about now. 

Synthesis of East and West

Born at Mount Sinai, and developed in Israel over thousands of years, Judaism physically and philosophically stands at the juncture between East and West. Judaism sees time as a spiral. As we move forward, we also have the opportunity to rise upward. As we commemorate our past through the festivals, we tap into each one’s unique spiritual energy that is present and available for the taking at that time. For example Passover remembers the Exodus, while year after year, offering us the energy of freedom to break through our own limitations. Time does not pass passively, it’s there to propel our journey higher.

Repairing ourselves and the world

The end game is creating a better world, a healed world and for our souls to achieve ever higher levels of consciousness. Judaism is a combination of the future and the present, the awareness of what is good about now as well as the drive for excellence and for progress and for change; the search for harmony and wholeness and unity, that will create the symbiotic relationship of health. Gathering all the parts before we move forward may slow our progress, but ultimately, it’s what will bring us to holistic growth and whole human beings.

Ideas and excerpts based on “Circle, Arrow and Spiral” by Miriam Kosman

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