By Dr. Matthew Budd
Our rabbi, Wesley Gardenswartz, warned us that the week at the Shalom Hartman Institute’s summer Community Leadership Program in Jerusalem would be “transformational,” but as a skeptical Genesis Jew, I heard this as an unlikely prediction. As I leave Israel and this wonderful week, I have a deep sense that the program did in fact change me in ways that will unfold over time.
I am a Jungian psychoanalyst and see human behavior in psychological terms. I was afraid that my participation would activate a parallel competing track in my psyche…religion. This was not the case. Instead the program expanded my understanding of human life in both dimensions, psychological and spiritual, and I had to give up nothing. In fact both paths to the soul are more open for me now.
Over the course of the week I came to appreciate the revolutionary concept of monotheism at a much deeper level. We humans have a tendency to live polytheistic lives in service to many idols. In psychological terms these are complexes and shadow energies; in behavioral terms they are fears, greed, jealousy, aggressions, lust etc., and their accompanying mood states. When these false idols are worshiped or activated, suffering ensues. Micah Goodman showed this brilliantly with his teaching about the life of David. I now see Jewish prayer and ritual practices as components of a time tested system for refocusing human consciousness on one God and loosening the grip of the false idols. Seeing this more clearly helps me to see unity and synergy between the spiritual and psychological paths.
In short, I leave the program not carrying a split between psyche and religion, as I had feared, but feeling more whole, empowered, and with gratitude.
Joseph Campbell once said that myth and legend “are symbolic stories that may never have been literally true, about aspects of life that are eternally true.” I now understand this statement more deeply.
The guided engagement with texts, brilliant teachers, and a passionate community of learners at Hartman did in fact fulfill the rabbi’s promise to me for a “transformational” experience.
Dr. Matthew Budd is a member of Temple Emanuel in Newton, MA. He is a retired Harvard teacher and specialist in internal medicine. He now practices Jungian analytic psychology and specializes in treating cancer patients in groups and individually.