The Sefer Yetzirah enjoins us to both run and return and Ari Kaplan rephrases that in a useful fashion, pointing out that to run is to swing into the mystical and visionary state while to return is to come back to our critical and analytical framework and to subject what we experienced in the visionary state to disciplined contemplation. What we extract from that disciplined contemplation is what we will use to run forth again, to push more deeply into the mystical and visionary.
Run and return. I don’t know how to meaningfully share the running forth, especially not in a medium like this, one that presumes a certain distance between reader and author. I’ve tried here and there to share some of the visionary fragments, to incorporate them into the disciplined return as gently symbolic elements and leitmotifs, but I would say my success in those departments is middling. I suspect that even the truly spectacular successes others have achieved in that domain must be heavily qualified by the distance inherent in aesthetic production, by the distance implied in there being an audience.
Art and ritual meet each other going opposite directions. Ritual cannot presume the distance of art, and in ritual the participants run in unison if not precisely together. All art is part of the returning, though it may transpire at various points in the return, in varying degrees of proximity to the limit reached by the vision. We can dwell comfortably in the return, forget about the running forth, we can play with the pieces of our retun, but until we set out to run again, we’re just resting, neither running nor returning.
To dwell in the return and prepare to run forth demands that we build up momentum even while at rest, that we rock the swing, preparing to push off. It demands that we tug and push and tear to see how we can better shape the vehicle, ourselves, to dwell in the going forth. To dwell in the return is to practice micromovements toward running forth.
This requires having a vessel that we can push, a boat rather than a monument. The temptation on the return is to set up cultus to an insight or an encounter, to settle ourselves within it. That just delays our opportunity to run forth again. The critical mode of return is necessary so that we can widdle the weighty vision into a moveable frame.
The theoretical exploration and discussion that I am undertaking around the Sefer Yetzirah and the Tree of Life diagram are precisely about building that boat. It is likely to be a small boat rather than a big boat, a vessel for a few rather than the many, but as with all small boats, the hope is that the journeys it enables for the few ripple outward to impact and benefit the many, but in the end it is as individuals and not as groups that we take our most important journeys.
All running participates in that final running. To run forth and return is to develop a relationship with that death. This relationship can turn to grim nihilism and despair, but that reflects a collapse in the cycle of run and return, a slippage into a ‘black hole’ as Gilles Deleuze and Guattari would describe it in Thousand Plateaus. Without the collapse, or saved from that collapse, the work becomes the transfiguration of death, the revelation of a life within it, of a generative and productive dimension to our limited and constrained human life. It is in that transformation that the mighty dead are able to pass on as guiding lights, as light-giving passages through which we are able to navigate our own running and return, until we, too, might run without the return.
☆ ★ ☆