Note: This is part of the God in Therapy series. We consistently use the non-PC term “God” and are referring to God in the traditional, Biblical way. This premise has to be laid out in order to build on and explain the following concepts with integrity to the sources, so you hopefully won’t see any equivocation in the language we use—we want to avoid tiptoeing so you don’t have to guess at our meaning.
People are often surprised to learn traditional Jewish meditation, dating from some of the earliest Biblical times, actually stresses concepts usually attributed to Zen. Two of these are nothingness and emptiness. However, there is a major difference between Zen and Jewish mystical teachings.
Zen emptiness and nothingness, might be described as a “full emptiness” and a “something nothingness” which emphasize the unity of all, a plane where differentiation does not exist. From what we understand, this philosophy believes in true nothingness and says there is only energy but no Creator. True nothingness can be an alluring and elegant concept. True nothingness demands nothing from you—except to be what you feel like being. You can learn more on the topic, from an expert, Pavel Somov, PhD, here.
Kabbalah (and we are using the term to embrace all of traditional Jewish mysticism, not just those texts officially in the pantheon), however, offers another view.
Esoteric commentaries frequently have in-depth discussions of the nothingness before the event of Creation, a nothingness that our minds simply cannot grasp—zero doesn’t cover it. However, even the nothingness was Created-by God, who contracted Himself for the purposes of making “space” for Creation.
For the purposes of beginning Kabbalistic meditation, however, this nothingness, while relevant to the human condition, isn’t central. To make it easy, we’ll combine nothingness and emptiness into one. Taken together like this, they are a pretty good translation for an extremely important concept known as “bitul.”
Bitul is often translated as nullification, or more fully, nullification of ego or self, but also can be used to define both nothingness and emptiness. The whole point of cultivating an experience of bitul isn’t to experience a great nothingness or emptiness. The point is to empty oneself in order to make room for God, in a human-sized imitation of the original contractions God made (and keeps on making) in order to make room for us.
More about Bitul soon and how it relates to psychotherapy and 12-Step programs.