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Adam Blatner

Revised, November 18, 2012 

A workable philosophy of life may be more understandable if it can be considered not only as described in words (which are processed in the left hemisphere of the brain), but also as a picture, which can then bring in the more intuitive and Gestalt-organizing functions of the right cerebral hemisphere. Diagrams and maps are always partial as the frontiers of our knowledge expand, but they serve as useful tools, nevertheless, always with the understanding that they may need revision.

I have found that one of the most useful maps for considering the relationships not only of conscious mind to the deep unconscious, but also of ordinary life to its more basic metaphysical roots is the "Tree of Life" (Hebrew name, "Etz Khayyim"). This diagram, shown to the right, was developed in the 10th or 11th century, and is used not only in the Jewish mystical tradition called "Kabbalah"–from which it originally arose–, but also in the esoteric and hermetic tradition of Western Europe since the early Renaissance. (Some books on this subject spell it Qabala, Kabala, Qabbalah, etc.). Beginning in the 1960s, when there was a resurgence of interest in a variety of alternative religions and types of spirituality–including the mystical traditions within the mainstream religions–, there has been an increasing number of books also about kabbalah and its related forms. The western neo-pagan tradition, growing in part from the late Rosicrucian, Masonic, and Anglo-European early 20th century theosophical and occult traditions, also makes use of this tree of life diagram, and it figures prominently in a number of modern "new age" and Wiccan books, websites, and so forth.   [For references, see other paper on this website: References on Kabbalistic Tree of Life]

I've found the kabbalistic tree of life to be an especially powerful symbolic diagram, portraying a number of archetypal principles and their relationships. To be practically useful, the number of elements must be somewhat limited–in this case, ten major elements and about twenty-two paths among them (that number referring also, and not coincidentally, to the twenty-two main letters of the Hebrew alphabet and also the twenty-two special, non-numbered Tarot cards called the "major arcana").

Daring to Re-Think Meanings

A problem with all symbols, rituals, doctrines, books, and interpretations is that they reflect the worldview and cultural associations of the time and place of their creation. I confess to being what might seem like an outrageous oxymoron, a postmodernist mystic, with an admixture of mystical pragmatism, creative mythmaking, and perhaps other appellations (Blatner, 2004).

In light of developments in psychology, especially–and more specifically, sub-types such as Jung's analytical psychology, transpersonal psychology, and writings that compare and address the contemporary meanings of the ancient psycho-spiritual traditions of South Asia–it is appropriate to re-think these symbols, to consider what relevance and meaning they may have to people living in our own era.

Thus, I confess also that many of the interpretations which follow are my own, based on a fair amount of reading and contemplation over 35 years, yet not tied to what I've read. Thus, take these ideas as equal parts history, philosophy, and poetry, as I've been willing to bring to the table my own intuitions and inspirations, as well as re-presenting some basic traditional concepts.

Indeed, the purpose of all this is to offer a rough map that will stimulate your own creative imagination, that you will adapt in your own way to the challenges posed: How can you understand the meaning of life, given that you are working through the lenses (and blinders) of culturally-imposed worldviews?  How can you make these meanings relevant to your own personal situation?  (I assure you, "there" is no meaning–in terms of a formulation that could be expressed in a phrase, a paper, a book, or a bookshelf full of books–that will work for everyone at all times. No "out there," objective ultimate truths. It's all a matter of your continuously creating your own mythology, adapted to your own interests, temperament, background, abilities, socio-cultural situation, and other individualized elements. This is how I'm postmodernist.)

Functions of a Map

The problem here is that we're talking about a two-dimensional diagram that speaks to what seems to be a three dimensional world progressing through a fourth dimension of time, in an era of cosmological "string" theory that posits seven other dimensions!  Wow! This makes Plato's parable of the cave both more relevant and yet oversimplified.

The world is profoundly complex in so many ways–geographically, in terms of systems theory or what a great contemporary philosopher, Ken Wilber, calls "holonomically," and with an interpenetration of other dimensions of (and beyond?) mind involving mathematics, music, imagery, and so forth. Equally complex is the mind that perceives and co-creates the world, and the best way to understand the tree of life is as a diagram of the mind, including what has been called the "unconscious."

The unconscious includes not only thoughts that are repressed, as Freud suggested, and even thoughts or ideas that have not yet acquired enough coherence or energy to enter awareness, as Jung noted, but there are yet more fundamental dimensions. There are the structures or habits of thought that are implied in the language process itself, and in the basic instincts that enliven culture–what Jung called the archetypes–and even more basically, the modes of thinking that come with the gifts and limitations of the human nervous system and its development.  As we study subjects such as comparative culture, mythology, religion, psychology, altered states of consciousness, art, and with input from "imagineers" such as the writers of science fiction and fantasy, we begin to glimpse at ways of thinking that stretch our imaginations about what consciousness itself is about. Yet these are still modest exercises in mind-opening compared with the reports of various swamis, gurus, meditators, and other "psycho-nauts" who have plumbed the frontiers of mind-worlds the ways that our nautical explorers probed geographical frontiers four hundred years ago, or the astronauts of a few centuries hence–in the spirit of Star Trek–seek to go where no humans have gone before.

In deep contemplation, Jewish mystics and Western esoteric practitioners contemplated the depths of consciousness. The Western mystics mixed these contemplations with comparable contemplations of alchemy–why do certain substances act in certain ways–seeing the answers as hinting at the nature of spiritual as well as material reality.  Reality, to them, involved both realms–their separation is a side-effect of the overall cultural effort in the 18th through the 21st centuries to become free of superstition and the irrational elements of traditional religion. These "modern" thinkers threw out the figurative baby with the bathwater, making the world purely materialistic and objective. Interestingly, with the emergence of quantum physics, there has been a re-statement of a worldview that saw the attitude of the thinker and observer as playing a significant part of the idea of what is "really" "there."  (Or perhaps we can and should no longer so blithely believe that linguistic structure that implies that there is a there over there that is not what's happening over here, that here and there are different. Stated by a sage over two thousand years ago in the Indian Upanishads, "tat tvam asi," "thou art that." This is known as the doctrine of non-dualism.)

With this as a preamble, further ideas may become more clear by going back and forth between a reference to the "hard data" (an ironic reference to the diagram) and our own commentary. Thus, let's contemplate this diagram. As mentioned, above, the diagram on the left presents the "map." It is intriguing for many reasons. I've written about how it can reflect the roles we play in life, in our imaginations, in culture, and the archetypes that enliven those roles. This paper complements that published discussion, and goes further, in a variety of directions.

Mind, Soul, and Spirit

This map addresses three levels of existence: The bottom sphere is closer to the mind or ego, and parts of the 9th sphere, also. A deeper level of the 9th sphere and aspects of the 8th , 7th, and 6th sphere are more involved with soul, which might be here operationally defined as the individualized form of spirit. A deeper level of the 6th sphere and the higher spheres, 1-5, are truly trans-personal, and express the several aspects of spirit. These aspects also speak to the deeper realities in all life.

The Chakras

Another resonance with this diagram is its having a rough analogy with the Hindu mystical and practical-psycho-spiritual and neo-physiological system of kundalini Yoga. Humans are imagined to operate with seven simultaneous centers of consciousness, reflecting their different types of desire, the different scope of their awareness, correlates in their physical bodies. Ingenious idea that really illuminates one of the problems in modern 20th century psychology: Who was more right–Freud, Jung, or Adler?  Answer: They all were, each one speaking to the psychology of a slightly different chakra!  Others, also, can be appreciated as having their focus more on one or certain combinations of chakra consciousness.

The chakras, incidentally, are generally portrayed as being associated with seven levels of the spinal column, and these have rough associations to the seven vertical positions on the tree. The tree, though, divides three of those levels into two complementary spheres at levels 2-3, 4-5, and 7-8. We'll talk about what that added horizontal dimensionality adds to the picture later.

Other Correlations

There are significant contemplations of the tree as a geometric design, in terms of the numerological associations of each sphere, from one through ten–considering the esoteric meaning of, say, "three-ness," and how it differs from "four-ness." There are astrological correspondences that can similarly be illuminating. These are discussed in an associated paper (web-page), which you can access if you are interested.

We see this in mathematics, and perhaps music: A fundamental idea can be expressed in numbers, algebraic symbols, often in graphic form, and perhaps even elaborated as a drawing that has a fair degree of aesthetic interest.  It is as if instead of the mythic idea of God having an idea that is by will manifest fully and completely, the image is closer to an act of improvisation. A general gesture may through a process of continual refinement–and it can happen quite rapidly– emerge as a movement in a dance, or in music, a jazz riff. Close inspection of the gesture may reveal a series of steps of increasing elaboration or variation–and that is what is reflected in the Tree of Life diagram. A will toward becoming emerges into the field of mind as pre-form, deep tendencies that reflect a dance of opposites, an elaboration into greater degrees of complexity, and a gradual assumption of greater specificity and clothing in material form and action. It can all unfold in the time-breadth of a moment.

Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi, a scholar of Western Kabbalah, has noted certain similarities to a variety of systems:
Sefira (Sphere)
Economics Time
 Sefira Number

Spirit of Nation
Concept of Exchange
Principles of Finance
Resources and Capital
Banking and Stock Exchange
One Life
Unit of Money
Day / Night
Circulation and Industry
Civil Servants
Personal Assets / Wealth
Passing Time
Material World

It certainly isn't required that you believe any of this, or even agree with it. The above is presented just to suggest the sequence, the holonomy of the systems, and how they include not just matter, or social organization, but closer to the way systems operate in general.

Contemplating "Upwards" and "Downwards"

There are so many aspects of this wonderful diagram, so many different ways to look at it. Let's briefly note a major one: Beginning with bringing more attention to everyday life, sphere number 10, at the bottom of the diagram, practitioners of kabbalah meditate on successively higher spheres: The explore the nature of imagination and self-reflection, the ability to look at their lives, from sphere number 9, one step up. Then the go deeper, ever deeper, exploring mentally, contemplating, meditating, letting the symbols speak through their subconscious mind and into their awareness. They "rise" to "higher levels of awareness." So the diagram is a map for deep contemplation. Shulman's 2004 book is especially enlightening in this regard.

From the opposite direction, the kabbalistic tree of life serves as a kind of map of how existence is operating, just so folks can find some orientation within the vast complexities of the cosmos. Are we just a bundle of different anatomical components working together while we, as organisms, crash our way through the brambled forest of the world?  The key word in such existential expressions of angst is "just."  But this map cuts through and cuts out the "just"-- we become part of a glorious unfolding, both over the eons, the centuries, the years and weeks and in the moment. And using this map, we remain connected.

For example, imagine that you are the god of your body's cells: If your cells needed reassurance, a sort of mission statement, what could you tell them so that they could keep their morale up, so that they just didn't let go and fall apart into a big puddle of protoplasm? This is what William Blake meant by saying that "If the sun should ever doubt, it would most certainly go out."  Now, imagine that you could show them this map, and that you could (with divine inspiration) explain to them in language that those little cells could understand, how what they're doing is playing key roles in the maintenance of a cosmic organism! (To ask them to go further and ask those little cells to realize that you, in turn are also playing a role in the maintenance of an analogously vaster cosmic organism may be too much even for their mind-expanded little minds.)

Blessedly, our cells contain more wisdom in this regard than we in our human consciousness do–they know of the love of life, they feel the Life Urge, they relish the nutrients and oxygen being given to them by the grace of what to them seems an un-knowable super-organism. They play their parts joyfully, loving us in return. Can we learn to do the same for the great mythic (but in its own way, real) "organism" that we are a part of?  (Only recognize that with mind, we open to other dimensions. This allows us to in fact be parts of many collectives, many different organisms operating in different dimensions.)

Anyway, the tree suggest the way that God unifies and also gives birth and re-birth, every instant, through the lightning flash from 1 to 10, of successive levels of becoming into what we experience as three-dimensional space-time-matter-energy reality. And thus the tree operates as that kind of icon–a sort of reminder of the big picture.

Even if we can't understand it very well, it's nice to know that there are folks for hundreds of years–and legend has it that many of these ideas trace back thousands of years before that–who have contemplated and envisioned our proper role in the cosmos, not based on revelation from the outside or the past, but from deep contemplation into the depths of their reality. And they all find essentially the same general underlying pattern–that's what's so great about this diagram.

Aspects of Divinity

Although Judaism emphasizes the unity of God, it's obvious that there are different aspects through which divinity may be expressed. There's the "word of God," the Torah, which is studied as a source of revelation. There is nature, and there is spirit, and the Old Testament speaks of angels and archangels, seraphim and cherubim. The problem of the one and the many is pervasive in philosophy, metaphysics, and so forth.

In Taoism, we see the sign of the interacting Yin-Yang, and the recognition, in turn, that this cosmic duality somehow expresses an underlying unity. There is also a recognition of five elements and eight principles–again expressing the idea that the one Divine operates in different realms.

Many religions have many "gods," and have been condemned as polytheistic heathens, ignorant of the great truth of the one God. Hinduism has been especially condemned as flagrant in this regard, with thousands, perhaps millions of deities being described, but it's partly a problem of the ethnocentricity of European languages. First, Hindus recognize a monotheistic reality, Brahman, but also recognize with greater insight than those in the West, that there are qualitative differences that require the expression of divinity to fit the situation–giving birth, having sex, being romantically attracted–and that's not "just" sexual, either–or rather, Sex as a greater principle is far more encompassing than just the genital-orgasm-centered activity–, working, being a warrior, and so forth. Their deities sort of are angels, but in the West, angels aren't imagined to specialize that much; what if they did, though, and what the Indians meant by small-g gods or deities are analogous to an insight that different activities deserve individualized angels that speak to that activity?  A mathematician's inspiring angel-muse might be different, very different indeed, from a farmer's.

The Christian religion recognizes that God's presence in the cosmos operates through more than a single aspect of the father role. There is a "son" role or function, and another, subtly different one, of "holy ghost," or "holy spirit." Many books address the need for and subtle differences among these.  The Roman Catholic Church also recognizes the function of saints, who again often specialize in certain domains of activity–at least in the past–such as this saint for travelers, that one for sailors, especially, this one for Frenchmen, that one for Englishmen.

The Muslims have a tradition of having ninety-nine names of God, again expressing the sensibility that it is fitting to appreciate the many ways that divinity acts in the world, and in the soul of individuals.

So, those within the seemingly monotheistic tradition of Judaism who contemplate deeply are able to appreciate the idea that it is fitting that there might be many types, levels of divine expression in the cosmos, and the ten spheres thus represent ten of these. Esoteric scholars have traced this number, by the way, to Jewish scholars who have counted ten different names for God in the Old Testament. Sometimes He's called "elohim," sometimes (in common English translation) "Jehova," and sometimes "Adonai," Lord–plus other names. Since everything in the Torah has meaning, there must have been meaning in these inconsistencies–and this was the approach, long before there was any tradition of historical-textual criticism. What if the different terms were alluding at a deep level to different aspects?

In a more contemporary view, it is useful to allow this concept of "aspects" or "domains" to enrich our concept of divinity. It breaks down the patriarchial image of father or king, for one thing, inviting us to look into the depths of certain processes, to wonder about such realms of being as the "archetypes," for example. Jung believed that they were more than just expressions of the personal psychology of individuals, that they were "psych-oid," meaning that they were like mind, but possibly having qualities that went beyond what we could know or describe about human minds.  He suggested that they might have a kind of existence apart from the mind of the person experiencing them–which made them a bit more like the Greek gods and muses.

Polytheistic approaches have also had their contemporary advocates, seeking to break down the mind–numbing habit-ness of thinking of God, indivisible.  What if God just loves to be divided, loves to divide into an infinity of new ways, at an infinity of different levels and sub-types? What if God loves to be appreciated at both her in-divisible level or nature and also as expressing herself through humming-bird-ness, and breathing-ness, and typing on a computer-keyboard-ness?

Levels of Energy

Here's another way of thinking: One of the realities brought to our attention through science in the last several centuries is the awareness of different levels of energy existing in the cosmos. The sun is billions of times more energetic than the most energetic things on earth–earthquakes, for example–and they in turn are more energetic than volcanoes, and hurricanes, and tsunamis, which are more energetic than hydrogen bombs, and so on down the line. The electricity coming out of the turbines at a great hydroelectric dam may be at, say, hundreds of thousands of volts, and these are then reduced at a series transformers, distributed more widely, diluted, if you will, so that what comes through your home sockets doesn't blow out your little machines or burn down your house.   What if essential spiritual energy similarly needed to be reduced in stages so that the God of the Universe was also expressed as the Cherub of the Galaxy, the Seraph of the galactic sector, the archangel of the solar system, the sub-archangel of the planet earth, and then a whole series of regional and sub-regional angels–all of whom were God, as much as you are your organs, tissues, cells, and cell components, and finally your atoms.

What if human minds couldn't handle the vastness and depth of consciousness of the greater beings–it would figuratively short out, fry, sizzle? What if it is a natural act of grace, charity, and limitation that we can only perceive and cogitate on just maybe one or two or three–but not ten–levels beyond our own?


What if we can't begin to know the whole picture, and we couldn't manage it if we did glimpse even a moderately big picture. Do we really need to satisfy the illusion that if we knew we could manage our lives better?  Who said that, and why should we think it's true?  Perhaps it's enough to just stretch and enlighten a little bit, to the next step or two of the evolution of our humanity. That itself should be very satisfying, and it's not at all clear that we're going to do this.

Thus, this map need not pretend to be a final answer, nor even one that would be useful to a being from another planet. It expresses to some degree a function as a guide and source of inspiration and ideas for our lives–that is enough. More, it is as useful as you can use it. For many, it's not even interesting. For others, not their vocabulary, not their channel. So this diagram may be more like a type or even piece of music. Still, if it clicks, then it's a useful tool for furthering your imaginative, psychological, and spiritual growth.

Hebrew Names, Rough Translations

Traditionally, the kabbalistic tree of life is an expression of ten spheres of divine activity, or one might say, aspects of divinity. The term for the spheres is "sefirot," (singular = sefira). Sphere is not the official translation, but as it has come to refer to the name of a general category, as in the phrase, "sphere of influence," it has moved linguistically beyond its technical meaning as a geometric figure.

My translations reflect an attempt to express the underlying idea in light of contemporary thinking. We must realize more vividly that our present intellectual climate has been profoundly influenced by developments in psychology, the impact of new media and the shifts in thinking that brings about new metaphors, all require a shift also in general worldview. We know about distances, galaxies, atoms and sub-atomic particles, mechanisms of the human body's function, and a million other things that weren't known to the folks two or three hundred years ago.

Divine Categories

One reason we might find the Tree a more accessible symbol is that we now have in the mainstream of culture a greater familiarity with the concept of categories, the idea that there can be underlying dynamics and patterns that are not always directly ascertainable by quick visual inspection.

In the realm of biology, and human function, only in the last two hundred years have we been able to elucidate the many levels of human physiology and microscopic anatomy. In the realms of chemistry and physics, similarly, increasingly subtle patterns of interaction have been revealed, which then generate the conceptual structures of atoms, sub-atomic particles, and their dynamic forces. Even within mathematics there have been shifts that reveal the sets of assumptions that generate our most familiar patterns, and in so doing, suggest alternative possibilities that then open our minds to new perceptions, in the realms of imaginary numbers, dimensionality, fractals and chaos theory, topology, and so forth. The point here is that there is a growing awareness of a kind of "systems" theory, of actual recognition of dynamics and structures that are not always fully material, yet operate within a hierarchy of inclusive structures. The contemporary philosopher, Ken Wilber, notes these hierarchies even in the realms of individual consciousness and interpersonal and social arrangements.

Kabbalah might then be understood as a similar progression. I see this as sets or categories of phenomena, progressively more abstract, beginning with the 10th sefira at the bottom of the Tree– the most material and manifest phenomena, and moving "upward" or "inward" to illuminate the living contexts that underlie the outward modality.

The first jump, upward on the tree to the 9th sefira, is to the sphere of imagination, which, if you think about it, is far vaster than what can be actually realized. For example, while a person might be able to live a number of roles, constrained by certain realistic demands–and thus not be able to fly like Superman–, that person can indeed imagine himself flying. People experience far more alternatives, "what if..." possibilities, "roads not chosen," than what they actually end up living out.

This 9th sphere is made possible through the complexities of the mind to reflect and consider alternative possibilities, to make associations that include intuition and inspiration as well as rational thought–and even to enjoy imagining that which is not rationally possible. Less well developed in animals or plants, the 9th sphere operates in a more rudimentary fashion, carrying the instincts.

Aristotle's Four Causes

The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, astutely challenged the oversimplified term, "cause," noting four different ways that events are influenced.
  – The "material" cause refers to the kinds of actual physical materials that must be available for the event to proceed. This is the bricks, mortar, timbers, and other things needed to build a house.

  – The "efficient" cause refers to the non-material energy needed to accomplish some task. Admittedly, it may be channeled by a material tractor, or at a higher level, through the diesel oil that drives its engines, but–and here, too, there are increasing levels of subtlety–it involves the higher states of potential energy that are liberated when hydro-carbons are burned with oxygen.
It deals more with ideas like "agent" or "force."

  – The "formal" cause refers to the "information" in the system, the map or blueprint, the description of how the process works. It deals more with ideas like "mechanism."

  – The "final" cause refers to the purpose, the anticipated outcome of the activity.

So when someone asks "why" something is so, or how it works, a measure of dialog is needed to clarify which aspect of causality is not apparent. It may be that, in asking "why?," she's asking "what is the purpose of doing this?" or, sensing and perhaps agreeing with the purpose, she may be asking, "what's the mechanism that's driving this?" or "what is the source of the drive to do this? Who wants it?"

Applied to the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, these elements operate in a not-so-distinct fashion. The 10th sefira is closer to the material cause, though it must be imagined to some degree in the 9th and 8th sefirot, also. The efficient cause may be more noticeable in the 7th sefira, but has roots in the 4th and 2nd.  The formal cause is distributed through factors or dynamics operating at all levels, while the final cause, the purpose, has its major roots again in 7th, 4th, and 2nd. At another level, the 6th sefira also has its own purpose, which is to balance and harmonize the other purposes.

Practical Implications

Let's just pick a simple grouping for starters:

  1. Recognize the source, and intuit into the unity of all existence. The idea that we can win at the expense of them is, in the long term, illusory. We're all in this together. Ecology. An expanded sense of identity. Also, this source points to the great mystery of creation, and what lies beyond our knowledge.

   2. Celebrate creativity. It's a mythically grounded idea. There's a tradition in many religions to imitate God, however the Divine is imagined: The most useful way to do this in our own time is to recognize the prolific process of creativity–not just through the "Big Bang," but in the present moment, through the imaginations and inspirations–literally, in- spirit- ations – of all sentient beings.
      Corollary: Question authority. Accept nothing as the final solution. Dare to re-evaluate, revise, re-negotiate, imagine new possibilities. Obedience, in this view of the meaning of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, is no longer operative–there's a move from the medieval tone of unquestioning acceptance to the modern and postmodern worldview that supports responsibility, an alert consideration of the needs of the moment in light of continuing developments, discoveries, new technologies, etc.

   3. Recognize the Other-ness of people, their differences, of the environment, and of the Divine. On one hand, we may be expressions of the Divine flow, and at some level, as claimed by Yogis and other mystics, "one" with It, yet that doesn't mean that the world is there for the gratification of your ego-narcissistic desires. Respect, reverence, humility, and a valuing of the needs of others and the whole all are implied here.

   4. Cultivate Generosity and Purpose. The life force is innately generous, but in states of fear, can contract to mere life-sustenance. In today's complex culture, there are tendencies towards stinginess of spirit, and this must be balanced, in wisdom, by the joy and need for an extra bit of giving of oneself to the world. Seek to clarify your talents and abilities and turn them toward this task, at least to some significant degree, lest you die having lived selfishly, pettily.

   5. Realize Limitations. Much of human life is a process of dis-illusionment, which is a process of dissolving childish feelings of omnipotence. This need not be tragic. Much of it is simply adjusting to the realities of physical and social constraints, learning to think and work politically, seeking a more refined and less impetuous mode of action in the world. It's a one-step-down form of humility, more practically applied.

Realize, also, that as shown in the diagram of the Tree, the lessons play off of each other, and especially there is the ongoing play of 2 and 3, 4 and 5, and 7 and 8, while 6 is to some degree, the player, the juggler, the dancer.

  6. Exercise Balance, seek to harmonize the many different needs, desires, inspirations, ideals, and other complexes that seek expression through your own mixture of temperament and interests. One of the beauties of our time-bound lives is that we can choose how to diversify, focus, take turns, and thus have some existential responsibility for how we live our lives.

  7. Identify your passions, what the comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell called, "following your bliss." What tickles your fancy?  Instead of pursuing what is merely fashionable, liking or disliking largely to garner approval or to be included in the "in group"–which is an in-authentic reason–, get in touch with what more genuinely interests or appeals to you. This can take many years, even into late adulthood.  Often you'll find it correlates with what you have at least some moderate ability to do. Have the courage to pursue it. (And this can be tremendously varied in the world, different folks liking different strokes.)

   8. Recognize and work within the cultural matrix you live in. If not, then either be a smart revolutionary–to change or expand it–or pay the price of changing cultures, emigrating, and becoming acculturated into a different culture. Lots of people do this, too. The point is to deal responsibly with the social context you find yourself in, rather than simply sulking, withdrawing, giving up, mindlessly conforming, or numbing yourself.

   9. Cultivate Imagination, in many ways–the arts, drama, mythmaking. Note that much of ordinary education and life neglects, distracts, and sometimes actively suppresses this human potential. Refuse to be tempted by vicarious imaginary experiences offered by the media, in video games, television, movies, etc. Take responsibility to use those elements like small stimuli, like appetizers or dessert, but not your main meal. Become a person who imagines your own life!

  10. Manifest your life. Avoid the temptations to become preoccupied with the seductions of spectatorship, or living in "what if" (either in past or future). Deeds, projects, action. The world is no illusion. You have an opportunity for authentic enjoyment, for adding your own creativity to helping the world be a better place. In can be in as small a way as an act of kindness or generosity.

Lest these points seem like mere platitudes, rather obvious, consider that many if not most people do not live these principles out in their lives. Nor are these ten points the only lessons you can gather from studying the tree. They just show what can come to mind–that the principles noted are by no means mere abstractions.

Another way to view the tree is in terms of how it can reassure and remind you: That you are part of a great, unified "becoming" of the cosmos (1); that this is a creative process and your life creativity is an integral part of the great becoming (2); that the cosmos is here, a matrix (related to the Latin word root for mother) for you, a setting, playground, stage, for you (3); that you can choose a direction, many directions, in fact, and your choices add to your story–and indeed, you may be assured that your life is a story (4); part of that story involves the way you've coped with  limitations–your body's structure, illnesses, dis-abilities, areas of no-talent, the weakness and deficiencies of your family, region, and historical era, and the many other obstacles that life presents–and indeed, that which makes your story a good piece of drama! (5); the creative way you've balanced your strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and limitations, etc.(6); the many lines of interest and ability, the archetypes, the mythic resonances with the spirit of (whatever dimension you channel)–all set you into stage in which you play many parts in a unique fashion (7); the cultural forms all this enactment takes, and how you are a carrier of certain cultural values, and a challenge to others that you don't agree with–these, too, make your life good theatre and also part of the great unfolding myth of that culture!(8); the richness of your imagination as you assemble these many threads into a meaningful story, embellishing it also with all the other what-if-dramas you can fantasize, thickening your existence (9); and, finally, how you actually play out your unique life, your actual achievements, your deeds. You might be surprised how far many of your actions have reached (10).

The point of this rhapsody is to enjoy the depth of your mythic embeddedness in the Divine Process of Unfolding. This is the way God works, through your individuality (and everyone else's, also, of course)!  Envision it as an infinite symphony, improvised, incredibly rich, which, if perceived from enough distance and time, expresses amazing harmonies (in spite of a surprising amount of what in the moment may seem like mere noise, or as Shakespeare called it, "sound and fury."  On a micro-scale, it may "signify nothing," but in the big picture, this is how we all grow, evolve as a species, groping, going up blind alleys, turning back, trying another way.


The relevance and value of the Tree of Life as a useful symbol is that it provides a mythic grounding, offering a rich set of associations to a wide range of phenomena and traditions. You can see more vividly how your physical life is an expression of your imaginative life, and how your mind is vaster than what can actually be played out. Still, as an artist, you do what you can.
Because of the Tree of Life, you can glimpse at how your life is an expression of your culture, even if in a number of ways you seek to revise and refine that culture. You see, through deeper contemplation, that your life is also a nexus, a point of convergence of a number of instinctual desires:
Seeking Security
Desiring Status
Aspiring to Virtue
Desiring Sex
Wanting Kids & to Parent Well
Skill Mastery in Vocation
Advocate for Selected Causes
Fan of Certain Artists

Appreciator of Nature
Home Maintenance
Health Maintenance
Creative Outlets

Student of Life
Seeking Belonging & Roots
Seeking Meaning
Seeking Wealth / Luxury

You begin to realize that you not only channel, more or less, these different dimensions of beings–the Graeco-Roman view might be that you live out the spirit of the various gods–, but more, you have learned--again, more or less–to balance, focus, diversify, and find ways to do this in socio-culturally constructive ways. This is the challenge of the higher archetype of the harmonizer, the juggler, the magus.

With deeper contemplation, you become aware of several other levels of Divine manifestation, pouring through the uniqueness that is you, and celebrating that individuality: The currents of Yin and Yang, of Jupiter and Saturn, of primal dualities, all expressing the paradoxical nature of The One, the Life Force at many levels of becoming. Your being is indeed wonder-filled, filled with these underlying patterns, forces, purposes.

Some use this map to find their way "back" to their identification with the One, the Source, and to rediscover the bliss of non-dual awareness. (This is a major path of Yoga and to some degree, of Buddhism). Others use this map as a guide for a richer grounding for doing the work, of helping the Cosmos be re-born in ever-new ways, reaching for Value. (And some may find this entire exercise irrelevant. Well, there are myriad paths towards wisdom, and if this essay acts as a catalyst to some, that is enough.)

Please feel free to email me and tell me how you'd add to this, suggest cross-links to your website or weblog, make comments, etc. If they're interesting to me, I may (with your permission) post them, perhaps with my comments, on a related webpage.

Related Webpages:
    1. References on Kabbalah and especially, The Tree of Life diagram
    2. Further Correlations and Contemplations: Geometry, Numerology, Astrology, etc.
    3. Drawings related to the Tree of Life,  illustrations, geometry...
     4.  Another paper on the Tree of Life (Sept. 2004)
    4. Related papers by me on this website:
Blatner, A. (2004). Creative mythmaking. Retrieved from website:
   Http:// ....

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