The Kabbalistic Resilience of Community and Shadow Work

A new article by Ohad Pele

One of the things I have learned from the ancient wisdom of Kabbalah as well as from my experience of more than 30 years¹ in the world of conscious communities, is the need to design flexible structures.

“A person should be as flexible as a bamboo and not as rigid as the cedar tree”, said the Talmud, “so when a storm wind comes it bends over like a bamboo instead of being uprooted and crashed down like the cedar tree”.

In Kabbalah the Cedar tree is taken as a symbol². It symbolises a personality structure that is single minded and arrogant, very proud and sure of itself. It can be very strong, but its weakness is actually in its strength, as it doesn’t know how to bend down and make itself flexible. The bamboo knows this secret and therefore finds its amazing power and resilience in its humility. 

Modernity increased the importance of the individual, and most of us therefore live as individuals in little private concrete boxes, trying to pay the bills and bring the kids to school in time. We stand alone and build our world like a cedar tree, not being dependent on community. Until a storm shakes the world, and reminds us of the power of community.

A healthy community develops itself in a way that each one person is backed up by several others. No one stands alone in front of the storm, we all lean in to help each other, and this process of leaning in is symbolised by the Bamboo ability to bend and bow down.

Many of us are yearning for a healthy community life, but very little do we know of how to create a healthy community that will not break. In my eyes it has to do with humbleness, or as we call it in Hebrew ANAVAH. It is the Anavah of the individuals in the community as well as the Anava of the community as a hole. Not being too rigid, not think that you (or your community)  knows it all, being able to humble your ego to receive different opinions that contradict yours and respect diversity — all these are crucial to the resilience of life. 

One of the ways I learned to receive opinions that are opposite to mine is by doing my own Shadow Work: 

I have learned that if I have a certain “take” on things, and especially when I am very identified with this “take”, than it is not the whole truth, not even MY whole truth: the opposite point of view, especially if it’s annoying me, is actually a hidden voice that I too have, but I keep this voice in the shadows.

Therefore, when my friend expresses this opposite point of view, he or she are actually giving voice to my own shadows. Sometimes I want to fight those “stupid opinions”, but that is just because the fight resides inside me, and I wish to project it outward.

By owning every opposite opinion as mine, I learn to not take myself too seriously, and more important: to love the people that are here to show me those shadows. By listening to them I start to check where in me that are theses voices but I do not let them speak? Then I go to do my inner work, that usually results in a more refined approach than the one I had before.

This is not a compromise! This is a different process. It is a process of listening to the hidden truth in something I feel is not the truth, owning the fact that I too do not hold the whole truth, stop struggling and use it to wider my point of view and refine it. 

In Kabbalistic terms this is the process of finding the hidden secret ( רז RAZ) witting what appears to me as foreign ( זר ZAR) and including the “other” (אחר Acher) into the greater One (אחד Echad). Between the writing of those last two words in Hebrew there is just a little difference: a back tag on the back of the last letter. This back tag represents our awareness to the shadows. 

Many people crash in stormy times. Many communities collapse because of inner strangles, and the secret is doing our SHADOW WORK that results in the expansion of our ability to contain the wind by being flexible and humble — therefore resilient and unbreakable like a bamboo.  

Ohad Pele, May 2020