In a previous post, I began talking about the four elements of a sustainable spiritual practice — at least from my perspective. I believe that these do work across any tradition, at least in concept.
It’s important to understand that my system is based, like most, on the foundations of others. So to understand one, you need to have some frame of reference in what it is built on. There are layers and layers and layers that are influencing anyone’s work. The elements seem so simple, and yet, it’s the correspondences around them that give them power as symbols for us. So let me begin by helping you experience my worldview and how the elements fit into it.
Key to my work, is the Sefer Yetzirah, many traditional Jewish sources, and the work of RK’Jill Hammer (whose work is also built from traditional Jewish magick and mysticism). Just to establish that the elements truly are part of Jewish tradition, let me quote a few passages that illustrate this clearly.
In the Sefer Yetzirah it says:
Three mothers are in the year: fire, water, and breath. Fire is for the hot season, water for the cold season, and air for the season of abundance, balances between them. (source)
The Zohar says:
Fire, earth, air and water are the sources and roots of all things above and below, and on them all things are grounded. In each of the four winds these elements are found: Fire in the North, Air the East, Water in the South, Earth in the West. (source)
Abraham Ibn Ezra wrote:
Everything under the sun is composed of four elements, from which all things come forth, and to which all return. These elements are fire, air, water, and earth. (source)
There are four bodies (gufim), and they are fire (eish), air (ruach), water (mayim), and earth (afar). They are the foundation of all that is created beneath the firmament. (source)
RK’Jill uncovered her own unique understanding of the wheel of the year and how the four elements are within it. In an article on her website, she explores the idea that each season has an inner and outer element:
…the Sefer Yetzirah places fire in the summer, water in the winter, and air in the spring and fall. Gershon Winkler places fire in the summer, earth in the autumn, water in the winter, and air in the spring. Contemplating these two systems, I came to feel that there were two wheels of the seasons; an outer one and an inner one. On the inner wheel, which correpsonds to the element we most need at each season, fire (the fire of the hearth) is the spirit of winter and water (the quencher of thirst) the spirit of summer, earth (the spirit of harvest) is the spirit of autumn and air (the freshness of the breeze) the spirit of spring. On the outer wheel, which corresponds to the element we have most abundantly at each season, fire (heat of the sun) is the spirit of summer, air (the call of the shofar, the storm, and the coolness of wind) the spirit of autumn, water (rain, snow and ice) the spirit of winter, and earth (growing and planting) the spirit of spring. This outer wheel matches with the Talmud’s statement that the winter months are the “days of rain” and the summer months are the “days of sun.”
She distills all of this into the following set of seasonal/elemental correspondence found in her book, The Jewish Book of Days:
- Outer Element = Have = Earth
- Inner Element = Need = Air
- Outer Element = Have = Water
- Inner Element = Need = Fire
- Outer Element = Have = Air
- Inner Element = Need = Earth
- Outer Element = Have = Fire
- Inner Element = Need = Water
[update 11/28/2010: The links on the seasons above will take you to the detailed teachings for each season. If there is no link, then check back as we get closer to the season. All will be completed in 2011.]
From all of this I distilled things down to the following four elements of a sustainable spiritual practice:
- Earth = Resources You Consume
- Air = Community
- Fire = Personal Connection to the Divine
- Water = Creative Expression (Creativity)
I’ve already seen others creating their own versions of this, which is very exciting. In Part II, I’ll discuss in more depth the specific thoughts around the elements of a sustainable spiritual practice, as I see them.
I’d love for this to be a discussion, so please share your thoughts!
Elements of Embodied Judaism Series: