A Bird that Cannot Fly

המאמר מתאר חוויה אישית בלתי רגילה ומעורר מחשבה והכותב מחבר באופן מופלא צירוף מקרים סינכרוניסיטי, משמעות בחיים ולוגותרפיה. 

“…במהלך חיי חוויתי מקרים רבים של צירופי מקרים שנראו כבעלי משמעות. צירופי מקרים משמעותיים כאלה נקראים “סינכרוניות וזו מגדירה את החוויה של שניים או יותר אירועים אשר לכאורה אין קשר סיבתי ביניהם אך הם נצפו או התרחשו בצורה משמעותית לצופה( ד”ר אריה סיגל) ”  

Despite the sense of meaningfulness when experiencing synchronicity, people often doubt the objective veracity of the specific, perceived meaning. People even doubt whether any objective meaning is involved at all. The thought naturally arises: Perhaps I’m imposing meaning on the coincidence. Perhaps it was all by chance after all..

A Bird that Cannot Fly

Throughout my life, I have experienced many cases of “coincidences” that seemed to express a meaning. Such meaningful coincidences are called “synchronicities.” A “synchronicity” can be defined as the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated and that are observed to occur together in a manner meaningful to the observer. An example might be a sudden deep sense of inferiority immediately followed by garbage flying in one’s face.

In the middle of the 20th century, the analytical psychologist Carl Jung originated the psychological concept of synchronicity. This is his oft-quoted example:

 “My example concerns a young woman patient who, in spite of efforts made on both sides, proved to be psychologically inaccessible. The difficulty lay in the fact that she always knew better about everything. Her excellent education had provided her with a weapon ideally suited to this purpose, namely a highly polished Carte[1]sian rationalism with an impeccable “geometrical” idea of reality. After several fruitless attempts to sweeten her rationalism with a somewhat more human understanding, I had to confine myself to the hope that something unexpected and irrational would turn up, something that would burst the intellectual retort into which she had sealed herself. Well, I was sitting opposite her one day, with my back to the window, listening to her flow of rhetoric. She had had an impressive dream the night before, in which someone had given her a golden scarab – a costly piece of jewellery. While she was still telling me this dream, I heard something behind me gently tapping on the window. I turned round and saw that it was a fairly large flying insect that was knocking against the window-pane from outside in the obvious effort to get into the dark room. This seemed to me very strange. I opened the window immediately and caught the insect in the air as it flew in. It was a scarabaeid beetle, or common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), whose gold-green colour most nearly resembles that of a golden scarab. I handed the beetle to my patient with the words, “Here is your scarab.” This experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance. The treatment could now be continued with satisfactory results.”1

Despite the sense of meaningfulness when experiencing synchronicity, people often doubt the objective veracity of the specific, perceived meaning. People even doubt whether any objective meaning is involved at all. The thought naturally arises: Perhaps I’m imposing meaning on the coincidence. Perhaps it was all by chance after all.

The acceptance of the objectivity of synchronicities is a crucial first step towards faith in God. Once we accept the objectivity of the explanation of events in terms of meaning, it only remains to learn the basics of hashkafa and to find the source of meaning in God’s providence. Thus, Viktor Frankl – the founder of the meaning therapy called “Logotherapy” – believed that the religious dimension is the source of the objective meanings discovered within the meaning dimension.2

However, the prevailing physicalist and reductionist culture demeans any non-scientific explanation. This provides a challenging hurdle to the first step toward an existential faith – that is, the acceptance of the objectivity of synchronicity experience. The issue cannot be settled by way of rational demonstration, precisely because the question is whether to accept the existence of a reality beyond our rational comprehension. However, if we witnessed an event such as Israel crossing the Red Sea followed by the Egyptians’ drowning, we could no longer honestly claim to have a doubt regarding the meaningfulness of this synchronicity. (Cf. Ramban, end of parashat Bo)

The following story is an example of a synchronicity in my life whose objectivity I cannot honestly doubt. The story may be interpreted in different ways. Yet the general revelation seems clear – that some intended meaning is directing the “show” of events in our lives. Without committing to a particular content of the intention, I cannot doubt the existence of intention behind the synchronicity. In addition, I am quite convinced of a particular interpretation of the synchronicity.

At first, I thought that this story should be kept secret. The revelation was too great. I could not bear to imagine that its authenticity would be doubted and that the forceful feeling I had experienced would be belittled. But then again, there is a natural desire to share something good. So how could I not share the sense of certainty in divine providence? The story may be entertaining, because it is without doubt an unusual coincidence. But its serious import can be life-changing. For we all experience synchronicities. Perhaps this story will encourage some people to look for the objective meaning in their synchronicities. Perhaps their experiences will thereby guide them to meaningful direction in their lives. That is why I believe this story should be disseminated.

Here is the background to the synchronicity:

I began to visit J when he was about 55 years old, two or three years after doctors had amputated his left leg above the knee. I think it was in May 2009. J had been a champion weightlifter and a defender of Jews on the streets of New York. He entertained many guests on Shabbat, who benefited from his great joy in Torah and love of the Jewish people and their land. He was an outstanding Israeli soldier, who demonstrated his courage and strength in challenging and adventurous missions. J worked as a financial advisor.

He also hosted politicians and discussed with them how he could support them. Effie Eitam related to J the story of how a white dove had followed him from Syria until he returned to Israel where it landed on his shoulder. And it continued to follow him around wherever he went in Israel. He saw it as a sign from God.

Even prior to the amputation, J had kidney trouble, and one of his kidneys was replaced with a kidney from his wife. Diabetes, anemia, arteriosclerosis, and various infections also had become a constant issue during the few years before we met.

Concerned that J was feeling down, his wife turned to a friend in search of psychological support for him. This friend was the administrator of the logotherapy course in which I participated, so she suggested that I contact J. I originally introduced myself as someone interested in learning Torah with him, since his wife had indicated that J would probably reject the idea of explicitly receiving psychological support.

In any event, I am not a licensed therapist and was content to visit J in the context of the double mitzvah of learning Torah and doing so with someone who could use a friendly visit. So on my visits, we indeed often learned Torah or just talked on a friendly basis, while I continued to recognize and express J’s many strengths and clarify his values. In the light of those strengths and values, we could then reflect on the meaning of his situation.

The Torah learning framework was useful, since issues continually arise in understanding the stories in the Torah that relate to the “meaning of the moment”. That is, during the process of deciphering the meanings behind the Torah’s words, we often find that the Torah is addressing emotional issues that are affecting us at precisely the time we perceive these meanings. In this way, we can find guidance via the inner meaning of the Torah. Since I am a follower of the teachings of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (known as “Baal Hasulam”), I particularly enjoyed reading with J the essay “The Giving of the Torah” written by Baal Hasulam. We studied together while bringing up messages and meaning relating to his condition as an amputee, etc. His enthusiasm for life seemed to be increasing as we explored possible meaningful goals. But he was still very concerned about medical issues.

At this point, I began to feel a need to be more explicit about our searching together for meaning and to concentrate on this without distractions. Since J knew that I was participating in the logotherapy course, I suggested that we shift our relationship to be one of client and therapist, with me transcribing sessions and receiving feedback from the supervisor of the course. J agreed to give it a try, and then we conducted several “sessions” which often took place in J’s bedroom. J sat up in his bed, kept warm by a tightly-closed fleece jacket and a large room heater at the foot of the bed, near where I was seated on a chair.

Our Logotherapy supervisor and mentor often said that the client’s first statement has a lot of meaning in it. When J said “I’m not doing enough with my life,” I felt I had to stop there. That was the big meaning cue

I tried to help him get over how large the loss of the leg loomed. I sought to enable him to see it was not as big and not as obstructive as he thought – that there were ways over and around it. One of the ways around it was a prosthetic leg, and one of the ways over it was for him to give Torah classes. J really had many talents that he could employ, and he had a lot of possibilities for meaningful, new directions in life.

I was working on my project “Synchronicity in Logotherapy” for Diplomate certification as a logotherapy lecturer. So I was looking for examples of synchronicity in my discussions with J. I would pray before our sessions; get in touch with what was going on within me; and then look for illustrations of synchronicity in the issues that would come up, what was said and when, etc. Eventually I would publish the article “The Place for Synchronicity in Logotherapy” in the International Forum for Logotherapy (Autumn 2013).

On the last day of Passover 2010, I was sitting in the Chabad House in our town, celebrating the “feast of the messiah.” I was feeling trapped behind the table in their cramped basement venue. It occurred to me that if I had to sit in a wheelchair the way J does, I would probably feel claustrophobic a lot of the time. Squeezing past the chairs around the table, I managed to escape. But the claustrophobic feeling stayed with me in conjunction with thoughts of J.

The next morning I got the news that J had passed away due to medical complications.

It hit me like a rock. I was stunned. I could think of nothing else. I was present at the funeral while in emotional lockdown. His wife’s eulogy was strong and impressive. Otherwise I remember little.

So much for background. The story really began during the evening after the funeral. Before going to bed, I began to reflect on my feeling of claustrophobia in the Chabad House, and how I had connected that to J. Then the thought occurred to me that it must be awful to be a bird that cannot fly. J wanted to continue to be a soldier defending his beloved people. But his body was no longer able to fight in the way he had done all his life – the way he was “meant” to fight. A bird that cannot fly cannot do what it was “meant” to do. How sad. How hard to go on living. With J in mind, I sank deeper in the sadness of a bird that cannot fly.

As I reflected, my body became heavy, as though my blood had turned to lead. I felt pinned to my bed, unable to raise my head. An inner gravitational force weighed on my heart and mind as my stony body transitioned to sleep. I remember the precise posture of my body at that time, and the obsessive, sad thought: How hard to be a bird that cannot fly.

I awoke early the next morning to pray and then travel to work before the traffic jams would begin. Immediately – after I thanked God for my return from sleep – I thought again and again: How hard to be a bird that cannot fly. How hard it must have been for J to feel he could not do what he was meant to do.

And this thought was rehearsed over and over as I walked home after the morning prayers. Also, the heaviness had not left me. I stood on the sidewalk before my home and still could not raise my head as I thought: How hard to be a bird that cannot fly. I walked up the outside stairway, two flights to my home, and still the thought weighed on my heart and mind.

And then I saw a strange sight. On the ground about a meter from the entrance to my home, lay a bird. At first, I was sure a bird had fallen and died, or perhaps had been attacked by a cat, so I approached to see how I could dispose of this dead animal in front of my door.

And then it raised its head a couple of times. It hit me: This is a bird that cannot fly! No. C’mon. I’ve never seen a bird that cannot fly. Never had I found a bird lying in front of my door. I had been constantly thinking about a bird that cannot fly, and now God puts one in front of my door! I spoke to God in my mind: Isn’t this being a little too obvious?

I entered my home to call my wife to see the bird. I shared with her the enormity of this synchronicity. How could this bird be right in front of our door while I’ve been aching from the sadness of a bird that cannot fly? Getting down to business, we wondered how we could help the bird. We even called a veterinarian at 6:30am, but of course we got no answer.

I recalled how I had wondered how to help J, but we never settled on a clear answer. Like the bird, I saw J as he lay with his stomach protruding in the air. As the bird raised its head – apparently its only ability to move – so J had raised his head to speak to me.

What does this all mean? With that question in mind, I went down to my car with the intention of taking off for work and leaving my wife to find a way to help the bird. But I needed a towel to wipe the car windows, so I came back up to find…that the bird was gone. There was no sign of feathers, so we assumed it flew away. I thought: J is gone. He’s flown away to heaven.

So what does it mean? Does this synchronicity indeed mean something? Was God communicating a message to me?

These questions revolved in my head for quite some time. One thing is clear: At the time, I felt physically weighed down by an extraordinarily strong emotion. This was an unusual state of consciousness in which I empathized with J while meditating on the feeling of a bird that cannot fly. Then a bird that could not fly appeared in front of the door to my home. I cannot doubt that there is meaning to the synchronicity. This is an intuition, not a rationally demonstrable fact. But here’s the point: I know that I would be lying to myself if I were to say that I don’t believe that this was meaningful.

And what is my intuition with regard to the specific meaning? Perhaps you have already guessed. That J had “solved” the problem of his situation; or God solved it for him. Apparently, he’s ok, and this was just the right time to end his life story. The fighter that could no longer fight the way he knew…flew away.

As for myself, the message seems to be that sometimes you cannot physically help. God will do the work. You can only feel.

1Jung, C.G. Synchronicity, translated by R.F.C. Hull, Princeton University Press 1973, pp. 109-110.

2Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, Basic Books 2000, pp.60-61.

Aryeh Siegel is a Logotherapy Diplomate (Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy) with a Ph.D. in philosophy of logic and metaphysics (M.I.T.). Having studied 20+ years the Kabbalah of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag from Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Gottlieb, he writes and speaks on the philosophy of Kabbalah and Logotherapy. He has published the book “Giving: The Essential Teaching of the Kabbalah,” a translation of essays by Baal Hasulam with commentary by Rabbi Gottlieb (Urim Publications).

Image by spirit1955 from Pixabay 

נכתב ע"י ד"ר אריה סיגל

ד"ר אריה סיגל, בעל הסמכת Logotherapy Diplomate ודוקטור בפילוסופיה של הלוגיקה והמטאפיזיקה מאוניברסיטת M.I.T . מתעמק מעל 20 שנים בתכנים מעולם הקבלה על פי הרב יהודה אשלג והיה מתלמידיו של הרב אברהם מרדכי גוטליב. כותב ומרצה בנושאי הפילוסופיה של הקבלה, בנושאי משמעות בחיים ולוגותרפיה ומתרגם מאמרים מאת בעל הסולם. מחבר הספר : Giving: The Essential Teaching of the Kabbalah by Baal Hasulam

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