Kabbalah for Schizophrenics (Or: Spending Too Much Time in Atziluth)

Around the beginning of August, after some dabbling in it, I unexpectedly got really into tarot reading. Down various related rabbit holes I went, often trying to generally get (back) in touch with my skeptical spiritual side, with my cultural roots, with the philosophies that had called to me, and maybe add a bit of witchcraft. From sigils to synagogue to Stoicism, I explored.

This month, I landed somewhat close to my cultural origins and, via looking for tarot resources through familiar venues, ended up attending two Zoom classes at least half about Kabbalah.

Kabbalah is an esoteric method, discipline, and school of thought in Jewish mysticism. It’s really fascinating, if kind of mind melting, stuff. Kabbalah’s not really a primary Thing of mine, and I’m far from an expert (I seem to be setting up camp somewhere in witchy Stoicism), but it gave me a new spin on my deck (A. E. Waite) to consider, and other things to ponder. 

Which brings us to the actual subject of this post. 

In Kabbalah, we have the concept of the Four Worlds. Put simply, Atziluth is the world of the divine, the spiritual, of wisdom and the big picture; it is precreation, things not yet taking shape. (In tarot cards, it correlates to the suit of wands.) Briah (in tarot, cups) is the world of feelings and morals, of the first stages of creation, where ideas start to take shape and take up space, just start to ossify. Yetzirah (swords) is the world of planning, thoughts, mental constructs, and refinement of ideas. Assiah (pentacles) is the world of the physical, of primality, of the created, of action, manifestation, of the day to day mundanity we often call reality. 

Each of these worlds has its place. To stay in Assiah all the time would be, well, rather simple, to the point of (dare I say) boring. But to neglect it is to end up impoverished and (eventually) physically die. To never visit Atziluth is to never connect with your highest self, to never gain a divine view and wisdom, to never go beyond

This may sound a lot like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from psychology to some people (and I think you’ll find a lot of spiritual/mystic concepts sound a lot like something from psychology, and as a bit of a skeptic, I like to stick close to those, viewing tarot cards as something like thought prompts). While you can jump around the hierarchy, things tend to go better with first things first: physical needs met now, security in that long term, then the emotional/mental: relationships with others, love, and the security that comes with that, then reaching for achievement and esteem, and finally self actualization.

As I revisited these concepts, I hit on a way of phrasing a large problem of mine: I spend too much time in the world of Atziluth.

This may sound lofty and pretentious, but it’s a real problem, and I think frequently, for me, what sounds pretentious at first is actually a mental illness thing. If you’ve seen the phrase I reject your reality and substitute my own on a coffee mug or tee shirt, it can sound pretentious at first read (and it’s often a joke), or, if it’s a little too true, like a little thing medical professionals like to call schizophrenia. 

In any case, spending too much time in Atziluth. This manifests for me in several different ways. 

I typically feel a large disconnect between my mind (more accurately, all of my nonphysical self) and my body. I feel more at home deep in my thoughts than in my body, and I frequently view having any physical form—being pulled back into Assiah—as a required nuisance. (My ascetic leanings—see Stoicism—don’t always help.) It’s not a matter of appearance or fitness or health—even my idea of the most perfect human form would still make me feel this way. 

Because of this, I unwisely tend to neglect or even abuse my physical self, view it with disdain—why can’t it keep up with what I consider the rest of me capable of? Imagine what I could do, it wasn’t for all this sleeping and eating and drinking water, and what happens when I don’t do those things. In the physical world, this looks a lot like poor self care (though I’ve gotten a lot better on that front), active self harm (same improvement here), and symptoms of anorexia (this is the big one, currently, and it has other roots in my psychosis). 

There’s an irony in this. Oh how wise and intellectual, spending too much time in Atziluth, I ponder, chew-spitting cookies and eyeing the enema kit again because I resent needing calories to manifest my ideas in the physical world. 

My wife and I have had several conversations that contributed to the formation of this post. She basically posited that if Atziluth is where ideas are first conceived and creativity runs limitless, it’s kind of like that’s where your ideas live, and you have to visit to retrieve them. Some people struggle to visit for long, or to find much there, or to bring that back with them. But me—on the bright side—I seem to have an almost unlimited pass, and basically whole books up there ripe for the picking (typically manifesting as dissociative/maladaptive daydreams on the border of hallucination), and after a brief run back through Briah and Yetzirah, (if I’m properly medicated) I manifest them into reality/Assiah with apparently astonishing speed (publishing eight full length books among other writings in the last—less than—two years.) 

I told her a story about when I was a kid. I had an imaginary friend who was a witch. In hindsight, I was a little too old for imaginary friends and a little too convinced of her having some form of existence (hello, early warning signs of schizophrenia?), but in any case, she was a witch, and also a ghost, a wise girl about my age, and she lived with her ghost family under my house. (There was no basement or anything, but, well, they were ghosts, so the fact it was all dirt under there wasn’t an issue for them; they had a ghost house.) She was going to teach me how to be a witch. As part of this, I had to visit a ghost library under her house, and read the appropriate texts on the subject. The way for me to visit was to close my eyes and visit it in my mind. And I did. At night, I’d go down there and read the witchcraft textbook of the week, sometimes writing things down in the morning. (However, my daytime practice results were iffy, and at some point, I stopped engaging with… whatever that was.) 

But I’m in my witchy phase again—and I don’t think it’s just a phase this time—I have schizophrenia, and I still seem to have a library in my head to go visit, so, y’know… yeah, I’m not sure how that sentence ends, either. (Incidentally, due to a frankly royal screwup by a medical professional yet to be determined, I completely missed my last dose of my antipsychotic for the first time in almost two years—hey, have we heard two years recently?—and I am not properly medicated today, so if this post is total nonsense, please bear with me.) 

But, too much time in Atziluth also has some pretty big social effects, that look a lot like what we call negative symptoms of schizophrenia, lack of normal functions. Or, I’m a pretentious space case.

I struggle with spending too much time grounded in the physical world (eventually, my brain will rebel and dissociate, rendering me flat or nonverbal), and struggle to find joy or stay engaged in what most people consider the mundanities of friendship—playing games, watching television together. I prefer extended freeform conversation focused on ideas, or coexisting in the same space as we both engage with our own ideas in some way (the adult version of parallel play, frequently associated with autism, which I also have), visiting Atziluth together, in a way, but most people do not. Relatedly, I also just don’t have much motivation to interact with people (outside of larger groups) I’m not already very close with, who are more compatible with that kind of interaction; I prefer my friends to be more like family, and I want more of that (though I’m grateful for the people I have), but struggle with getting to that phase with new people.

I swear I’m still an extrovert, overall (I used to be an introvert)—I get my energy from the kind of social interaction I prefer—but I’m an atypical and mentally ill extrovert who struggles to get that preference met. So, sometimes, I lack the energy to try to get that need met (have you ever been just too hungry to cook?), or to engage at all, and prefer for the moment to just play with my ideas and visit Atziluth by myself. (Which, incidentally, looks a lot like workaholism, since, when generally properly medicated, I’ve made something resembling a career out of it, instead of getting stuck in Atziluth the whole time and staring into space blankly). 

None of this is a major news flash, just a new connection, a new way of thinking about symptoms (although, reading over this post, I don’t think it’s an explanation suited to casual conversation). 

Schizophrenia can be almost as hard to pin down as Kabbalah, so new explanation frameworks that make any kind of sense to me, at least, are something I always welcome.