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Revelation Where You Least Expect It: Kabbalah Meets T’ai Chi

I felt totally in my body, my mind quiet, connected to the tree, nature, and the Oneness of the Universe. I felt rooted between Heaven and Earth.

After completing four years as Sisterhood President at my synagogue, I needed some downtime to transition to whatever was coming next. I needed to take in all that I’d accomplished and then to let go of the identity of a lay leader and open to new possibilities. The period that we’re now in—from Pesakh to Shavuot—is that same kind of transition, from the known to the unknown, from the structure of Mitzrayim, through the wandering in the desert, to the Revelation at Sinai. As a retired acupuncturist and t’ai chi teacher, I was also tuned into the “letting go” of the fall, the waiting through the winter, and the arising of something new in the spring.

After my adult bat mitzvah in 2001, I began to study Judaism more deeply, especially our mystical tradition. In Kabbalah, there are Four Elements—earth, water, air, and fire—which correspond to the Four Worlds and the Four Seasons. In Chinese medicine, there are Five Elements—earth, water, air/metal, fire, and wood—which correspond to the Five Seasons (the usual four plus late summer). Intuitively, I felt these models were congruent with each other; I just couldn’t figure out where the wood element fit into the Jewish system.

One morning, I was practicing t’ai chi in front of a huge pine tree in a posture called “Standing like a Tree.” I felt totally in my body, my mind quiet, connected to the tree, nature, and the Oneness of the Universe. I felt rooted between Heaven and Earth.

All of a sudden, images started flowing: the Torah is called Etz Chayim, “A Tree of Life.” In Deuteronomy 20:19 we are told that “Humans are like trees of the field,” and in Psalms 1:3 we read that if you observe God’s commandments, you will be like “a tree planted beside flowing water” and you will prosper.

I realized in a flash of awareness that wood was an integral component of the Jewish mystical tradition. Now I saw correspondences everywhere! The posture I was standing in—weight balanced on both feet, aligned through the spine, arms relaxed with palms facing the lower abdomen—is called “wu wei,” meaning emptiness. This same stance embodies the kabbalistic Tree of Life with its central column and right/left aspects, grounded in the Earth and reaching toward the Heavens.

T’ai chi focuses on keeping the legs, spine, arms, and head in alignment and Kabbalah designates these four parts of the body as centers of the Four Worlds, Four Elements, and the 10 sefirot. Practitioners of both systems aspire to move through the world keeping these centers aligned and in balance. I realized that I could come to know Kabbalah through my body by combining Jewish visualizations with t’ai chi movements, which enhance the flow of energy through my being. At that moment, Moving Through the Tree of Life: Where T’ai Chi Meets Kabbalah was born.

As we journey toward Sinai, day by day and step by step, make room to receive whatever revelation is coming into your life—and discover new ways to deepen your own connection to the Divine.

Sue Gurland runs Jewish healing circles in Boca Raton, and is the creator of Moving Through the Tree of Life. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Yale University, a Master of Acupuncture degree from the Traditional Acupuncture Institute, and a Certificate of Completion in Jewish Spiritual Direction from the Lev Shomea Institute. 

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