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Guest Blogger: Estelle Frankel
Posted: 1/31/2013 | Guest Bloggers Comments
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Estelle Frankel MFT will be joining us on A Conscious Life Radio February 6th to discuss her book: Sacred Therapy:  Jewish Spiritual Teachings on Emotional Healing and Inner Wholeness , please join us. Estelle has also shared the following blog post.

Estelle is a practicing psychotherapist and spiritual advisor who blends the healing wisdom and spiritual practices of Kabbalah with depth psychology.  She is the author of numerous essays and the award winning book:  Sacred Therapy:  Jewish Spiritual Teachings on Emotional Healing and Inner Wholeness.

Excerpt adapted from Estelle's book Sacred Therapy:  Jewish Spiritual Teachings on Emotional Healing and Inner Wholeness

More and more in my own work as a healer, I find myself venturing off the beaten track of psychodynamic psychotherapy and talking to my clients about their spiritual journeys.

For many years I was reluctant, as a clinician, to come out of the closet as a religious person. Though the words of ancient sacred text would often echo between the lines of my clients’ narratives, in the service of maintaining therapeutic neutrality, I kept these personal musings to myself. Over time, as I gained confidence and perhaps a bit of chutzpah as a clinician, I began selectively sharing spiritual teachings from the Jewish mystical tradition with my clients. Almost invariably, these occasions have lead to a deepening of insight and occasionally to a therapeutic breakthrough. The spiritual perspective offered by Jewish mysticism seems to open up new possibilities for healing.

I also began to realize that by sharing some of the spiritual teachings that had inspired my own spiritual awakening and healing, I was enabling my clients to explore their own spiritual development. And as they became more focused on their own spiritual formation, many of the problems with which they had previously struggled, began to resolve.

Each time my work as a therapist crosses over into the spiritual realm and focuses on the quest for meaning and true identity, I find that a subtle shift occurs. Instead of focusing solely on healing their individual selves, people begin to focus on letting go of identifying with that very self in order to make room for a relationship with Spirit. As they shift from being “self-centered” to “ God-” or “Spirit-centered,” transformational possibilities seem to open up.

A good deal of what goes on in the work of spiritual healing is that our notion of who we think we are begins to expand. In a sense we are given new eyes, the ability to see ourselves from God’s perspective, as it were; from the vantage point of the Infinite. Though we may only be able to hold that expanded vision of ourselves for brief moments at a time, even so, it can have a profound effect on our identity. Instead of being overly identified with our problems and pathologies, we can also begin to appreciate our perfection and purpose. Instead of feeling isolated and alone in our pain, we can begin to experience ourselves as part of a larger whole in which our individual stories and lives reflect the larger story of which all people are a part.

An important part of Jewish spiritual healing involves locating ourselves within Jewish myth and metaphor. Jewish mystics of old understood that the stories contained in the were not just meant to be taken as historical accounts of what happened to our ancestors, but mythic renderings of what each and every one of us undergoes as we embark on the healing journey of awakening. For the Hasidic masters, the entire cast of Biblical characters lives within each and every one of us, representing dimensions of the human soul.

Many of the Hasidic masters were, themselves, known to be great psychic and spiritual healers. The Ba’al Shem Tov (1700-1760), founder of the mystical movement, was adept in both herbal medicine and shamanistic healing techniques. Stories abound of his clairvoyant and healing powers, as well as his ability to heal souls through storytelling, prayer, and the mystical power of love. The Ba’al Shem Tov, or Besht, as he is often called for short, brought about a spiritual revolution among the masses of Eastern Europe’s Jews. Emphasizing the importance of love, joy, simple faith, and mystical devotion in serving God, his teachings and those of his many disciples, offered an appealing alternative to the stringent, disciplined path of Orthodox Judaism where strict adherence to religious law was the focus of religious life.

As a psychotherapist who has spent the past thirty years immersed in the study of Jewish myth and metaphor, I have learned that when we go beyond our personal predicaments and locate ourselves within the larger story, we open doors to the sacred dimension and our lives become pregnant with meaning, living embodiments of Torah. We come to experience our lives as resonant to a much greater matrix of meaning in which any transition we undergo, whether it be a death, divorce, illness, or disability, may initiate us into the larger mysteries of life.

As we find reflections of our individual lives in sacred myth, we tend to feel less alone in our suffering; our personal struggles shift from being simply personal struggles, and instead are seen as mirroring a sacred process that occurs in all levels of creation, at all times, And by locating ourselves within the crucible of the great myth we are mid-wifed on our journey of transformation by the archetypal forces embedded within the myth. Carl Jung once said that modern man’s tendency to “pathologize” stemmed from the fact that we had forgotten how to mythologize. The gods live on in us in as symptoms rather than as living archetypes. In Jewish spiritual healing we relearn the sacred art of mythologizing. We learn to embody and live our sacred stories, as Elie Wiesel once said: “People become the stories they hear and the stories they tell.”

In my work I draw extensively on the mystical teachings and spiritual practices of the Kabbalah and Hasidism. Jewish mystics throughout the ages understood biblical tales to be stories about healing.  The study of scriptures served as a sacred narrative therapy, of sorts. Hasidism popularized the Kabbalah’s notion that all of life is in need of healing and fixing, not just those who are ill. It affirmed the Kabbalah’s deeply optimistic view that, however broken and fragmented things may seem, all of life is in fact evolving towards a state of wholeness and that we humans have an active role and responsibility in furthering this evolutionary healing process. Each of us, taught the hasidic masters, has the power to become a “holy fixer” or healer.

Jewish mysticism teaches that we participate in this sacred work of healing in two ways: through our acts of tikkun olom - healing and fixing the world, and through tikkun hanefesh - healing and perfecting our own individual souls. These two expressions of the work of tikkun are actually deeply connected, for it is not possible to perfect one’s own soul without also becoming deeply committed to the work of healing the planet and since each individual is a microcosm of the entire world, every act of tikkun ha’nefesh is of great, if not, cosmic importance.

In my work as a healer, Jewish mysticism and psychology flow as two currents in a single stream, creating a synergistic healing power. Though I find myself using one or the other lens more extensively at different times with different people, one without the other has always seemed insufficient in trying to explain the mysteries that comprise our lives. Healing, from a Jewish mystical perspective does not necessarily involve a complete recovery from symptoms. Instead, it explores how we might actually be healed by, or in spite of whatever illnesses and difficulties we face in our lives. Though recovery is a welcome part of any healing, it is possible to be healed in spite of the persistence and even the worsening of one’s physical symptoms, for even when a healing of body is not possible, one can always find a healing of soul.

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