Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Pausing to Contemplate

I've not blogged for awhile, it always gets busy over the summer and one of the first things to suffer are blog updates. Anyway, the only update is that my working to secure a job have so far yet to bear fruit. I managed to get through four rounds of interview with the first company I applied to, but have had to put the job hunting on pause for a short time due to other priorities.

Not Reacting

I've been thinking about social media recently and how it shapes the way that people interact. Here are few thoughts of social media interactions as seen (by me) through the lens of the Sephirot.

1. Keter (Will)
Have you ever considered why you like certain things? There is a technique in Project Management that is called the “Five Whys” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys). It's meant as a way to drill down to find the root cause of a problem. If you apply it to the question “What is your favourite food?” it often leads to an unsatisfactory answer of “just because I like it”.
The level of Will is above logic, whilst we can rationalise certains biases and prefernces up to a certain extent – there comes a point where logic fails.
Social Media: from this point a person posts what they like or do not like. Arguments that result from these are almost never resolved as we're dealing with a level of consciousness that is not logical. You either believe that kittens are cute or not and no one can convince you otherwise.
2. Chochmah (Knowledge) and Binah (Understanding)
In previous posts I have talked about the concept of oscillating consciousness. Moving like a pendulum from the rational mind to the intuitive mind. By analysing something in detail and then allowing the mind to drift and make connections of it own – a person will often find that they suddenly come across a dpper insight and begin the process of logical analysis all over again. Then allowing the mind to drift again, the intuitive side takes over and the oscillations continue. This article clearly explains how this applies to the Talmud (http://www.koshertorah.com/PDF/mysticaltalmud.pdf).
Social Media: unfortunately it appears to me that the mediums of electronic social exchange do not promote oscillating consciousness. Few articles posted have an indepth analysis of a situation and look at trends and patterns. More often than not people respond emotionally and only later does the analysis get done by which point the moment has passed and something else is dominating the cycle of post-respond-forget.
3. Chesed (Kindness) and Gevurah (Strict Justice)
Chesed means kindsness, but it is also an expansive kindness that makes no room for whatever may be receptive to the kindness. On the other hand Gevurah means strict judgement, the creation of boundaries and holding back that does not take in to account the others it affects. Both Sephirot are overpowering in their own way. Neither are sufficient to keep the process of Creation going without the support of the other.
Social Media: One the one extereme all views are valid, on the other extreme there is only one view that is right. An example of the former is remaining silent when someone posts something racist. An example of the latter is “if you vote for X, please unfriend me”.
4. Tiferet (Harmonius Beauty)
At this point the powers of Chesed and Gevurah can co-exist without one cancelling out the other. But the two powers still do not act in a way that factors in the needs or considerations of the other.
Social Media: To be honest I am not sure what this looks like from a social media point of view. Perhaps it's “the middle ground”, but my view is that this has been disappearing rapidly over the past few years.
5. Netzach and Hod (Eternity and Splendour)
When it comes to Netzach and Hod, they each give and withhold with consideration to the other. These Sephirot do not seek to cancel each other out.
Social Media: At this point the debate is possible, as each side has made sufficient room in their worldview to accommodate the arguments of the other.

6. Yesod (Foundation)
The point on the Tree of Life where all the other Sephirotic energies are channeled through. It's the gateway to the higher worlds, to other states of consciousness and is the realm of time and the imagination.
Social Media: When manifesting in a positive way, it emerges as artistic output in the form of poems, art, etc. A less positive manifestation (IMO) is memes....

7. Malchut (Kingship)
The end point of the frequencies of Divine emanations. What we think of as the real world.
Social Media: This is the domain of selfies.

Note: Please take the above writings with a big pinch of salt. I've written it in a sleep-deprived state and may edit it later...

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Taking Five


In a previous job, I questioned the value of the project manager (PM) role that I was employe to do. Actually I question this every day on my way to work, and plenty of my colleagues also question whether PMs are a necessary evil or a waste of time & money.

But when I saw a project progressing without the coordination and management of a PM - it was obvious what difference having a good PM made to having no PM at all. Nobody knew how the project was prorgessing, issues kept coming up that could have been dealt with easily with a bit of forward focus, and the requirements were constantly being added to resulting in massive cost over-runs.

In some companies that is not a problem. They have the money to keep a project like this going. But in most places where I have worked there is oversight of what is being done, when it needs to be done by, and how much it will cost.


The way that I put my knowledge of Sefer Yetzirah in practice is a layered approach. Psalms, letter permutation, prayer, studying certain tracts of oral law, visionary approaches, letter permutation with Divine names, etc.

But sometimes it's hard to know if adding or removing techniques is having a measurable effect. Perhaps it would help if I kept a better diary and to be honest I am starting to question whether or not I have developed an over-inflated perception of the effects of any of my practices.

So I'm going to stop all practies that relate to certain areas of focus for a period of time (6 months) and see what effects, if any, I may have had. It's a slightly complicated way of saying "I'm not going to do magic in area X and see what is different"**.

** - In no event will Trainee Golem Builder author(s) be liable for any loss or damage including without limitation, indirect or consequential loss or damage, or any loss or damage whatsoever arising from loss of life or money arising out of, or in connection with, the the cessation of magic in maintaining stability in this corner of the globe.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Education of Golems: Part 2

5 Tools for Cultivating Golem Builders

In the previous post I highlighted some sources that expain the origins of the word golem. Another couple of sources were brought to show the guide-posts for creating an education plan for one’s children and students.

The things that I would like to cover next are the additions that I have made to the more formal elements of the education plan to help turn my children from golems (in the sense of being (uncultivated / uneducated) to more rounded individuals.

Here is my 5 point plan:

1. Patience
2. Self-Awareness
3. Focus
4, Problem solving
5, Curiosity

1. Patience

I have devised a game based on the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment that teaches patience and enhances delayed gratification. Quite simply I place a marshmallow in front of them and ask the kids to sit still and in silence for X number of minutes. If they succeed then at the end they get a second marshmallow.

I ran the game each Sunday morning (whilst my wife was out) and built them up from 1 minute to over 6 minutes. Considering that my kids were five and three at the time, sitting still for that long at those ages seems like an eternity.

Two side benefits of the game have been an improvement in behaviour of one of my kids who is very wriggly and finds it hard to sit still in school. The other is that I use the term “marshmallow game” to either get them to sit still for a short time or to help explain why they need to wait for a better reward.

2. Self-Awareness

Time-outs… they’re not much fun for parents or kids. I’m not a huge fan of them, but they do succeed in interrupting the behaviour pattern that the parents wants to adjust. The problem that I found was that whilst I could get my kids to sit on the step for the count of ten or twenty (depending on the severity of their actions), they often said “sorry” and then began to repeat the same behaviour patterns.

So I started sitting next to them and asking them to slow down their breathing a bit. We counted our breaths and this seemed to have a significant impact. My kids and I would still talk about how we felt but with more depths. The act of focusing on our breathing proved to be a great way for each of us to exert some influence on our emotional states.

Nowadays I just say “breathe deeply” as a shorthand for saying “be conscious of how you are feeling so that you can make a better informed choice about how you want to behave/respond”.

3. Focus

Some kids can focus for hours from a young age and some can’t. Well that is not exactly true, it’s really very much dependant on what is happening in that child’s life at that time and what it is that they are being asked to concentrate on.

To help stimulate my kids ability to focus we do a variety of activities. Painting, obstacle courses in the house and garden (my wife prefers the latter), building projects involving Lego, marble-runs, etc.

I also insist on playing “daddy’s favourite game” with them which involves lying on the floor on our backs and staring upwards. As you can imagine it’s not very interesting to start off with. But after a bit of “focus on breathing”, our minds settle and we start to observe all kinds of details that would otherwise pass us by.

Out in the garden we can imaging shapes in clouds, spot birds and insects that we would normally miss and indoors we watch the way that the shadows and light shape our view of the ceiling. OK, I know it sounds a bit boring and we don’t play it often but it’s helpful for learning to concentrate even when it seems pointless or we lack the desire to do so.

4, Problem solving

My kids fight from time to time, it;’s a natural sibling thing to do. One of the things that I have tried to stop myself from doing is solving their conflicts for them. Instead I ask them about creative ways that they can resolve their own conflicts. Taking turns, making it in to a game, joke competitions, etc are all ways that they have solved conflicts.

The trouble with trying to find a problem for kids/students is that the problem has to not be too hard and not be too easy – a Goldilocks problem. Creating these is quite challenging, hence I don’t make too many of these. But instead help them to think about other ways to approach a problem.

For example, one of my kids had some issues with not being included in some games at school. We role-played it a couple of times and found that “inviting other to join us” or “asking to be invited to join them” was a good way to resolve it sometimes.

Seth Godin’s “The Dip” talks about how people get good at something and then get stuck, unable to become really awesome at something. I think that this in part due to a lack of creativity in finding different approaches in how to overcome obstacles.

5, Curiosity

Kids come with their own sense of curiosity. There are lots of ways to enhance and nurture this. One game that I play with the kids is “spot the trickseter”. In our house we have a small toy figure of one of the famous princesses. One day I decided that she would “borrow” some of the toys and hide them around the house with the princess standing next to her ill-gotten gains.

This game of spot-the princess really took off and when she disappeared for a year, we all missed her. It turns out one of my relatives joined in and then left the country. Luckily we found her again and now the game of spot the princess has begun again, and she has been busy causing all kinds of minor mischief in our home.

One recent example of her little schemes is the appearance of two identical princesses. When one of my kids asked why there were suddenly two, I replied “she has been stealing the secrets of the Lego Sith toys and figured out how to clone herself”. My kids face went from amazement to horror to amusement as they realised that I had bought a second toy. But for a brief moment, their minds were opened to a possible world in which things happen that are quite outside their normal expectations of everyday life.

In summary, the shaping of a child’s education is a monumental undertaking that makes conventional golem building look simple in terms of time, resource, and patience. Combining traditional religious education with the curriculum from Maimonides and a toolbox of: patience, self-awareness, focus, problem soling and curiosity will hopefully build a new well-rounded future generation of golem builders.

EDIT:  Everything that I have learned about parenting has come via my wife. Everything that I get wrong about being a parent is from me alone.

Education of Golems: Part 1

Golem: Unformed

Ethics of the Fathers 5:9
“Seven traits characterize an uncultivated person and seven a learned one. A learned person does not begin speaking before one who is greater than he is in wisdom or in years; he does not interrupt the words of his fellow; he does not answer impetuously; he questions with relevance to the subject and he replies accurately; he discusses first things first and last things last; about something he has not heard he says, ‘I have not heard’; and he acknowledges the truth. And the reverse of these characterize an uncultivated person.”
The word that has been translated by Artscroll to mean “uncultivated person” above is golem in Hebrew. It comes from the word used in Psalm 139:16:
“Your eyes saw my unshaped form and in Your book all were recorded; though they will be fashioned through many days to Him they are one...”
The words for ‘raw’ and ‘cocoon’ in moden Hebrew are also golem. So we can see that the word refers to something that is a state which is transitional to another. Uncultivated to cultivated, unshaped to shaped, raw to processed and cocoon to butterfly.

Education: Formal

The reasons for mentioning the above is that whilst this blog has referred to golems almost exclusively in terms of a mystical android created through the permutation of Hebrew letters and Divine names – it can also refer to the transformation of someone via education.

So what is the Jewish guidance on eduction? There is a lot written on the subject of Chinuch, education, but for now I just want to quote two sources.

Ethics of the Fathers 5:25:
“He used to say: a five-year-old begins Scripture, a ten-year-old begins Mishnah, a thirteen-year-old becomes obliged to observe the commandments, a fifteen-year-old begins to study Gemara, an eighteen-year-old goes to the marriage canopy, a twenty-year-old begins a pursuit of a livelihood, a thirty-year-old attains full strength, a forty-year-old attains understanding, a fifty-year-old can offer counsel, a sixty-year-old attains seniority, a seventy-year-old attains a ripe old age, an eighty-year-old shows strength, a ninety-year-old becomes stooped over, hundred-year-old is as if he were dead, passed away and ceased from the world.”
Which covers the education of Jewish law, customers, history, etc. Secular studies are recommended by Maimonides in “Guide to the Perplexed” to be taken up in the following order:
“Consequently he who wishes to attain to human perfection, must therefore first study Logic, next the various branches of Mathematics in their proper order, then Physics, and lastly Metaphysics. We find that many who have advanced to a certain point in the study of these disciplines become weary, and stop: that others, who are endowed with sufficient capacity, are interrupted in their studies by death, which surprises them while still engaged with the preliminary course.”
The above two sources are the basis on which I am structuring the education of my children, First a focus on the natural world by visiting farms, zoos, and the countryside. Next comes the study of logic and Scripture that helps them gain critical analytical skills and story-telling – forming a balance of scientific and artistic thinking.