By Catherine Solyom, The Gazette
Google “Soul Maps” and you’ll get a self-help book published by the Anglican Church of Canada, an analysis of Karl Jung’s human psychology and a question: Did you mean “Seoul Maps?” But you’ll also be directed to a new course right here, right now in Montreal based on the Kabbalah, about how to map your own soul to find the road to spiritual happiness.
Originally brought to mainstream audiences by Madonna – who credits the ancient Hebrew teachings with helping her quash the material girl within – the Kabbalah is a set of spiritual lessons to achieve inner peace.
Unlike Madonna’s kind of Kabbalah, however, there are no expensive red strings, fancy candles or soul-cleansing water to boost one’s chances of fulfillment here.
At the Chabad Queen Mary in Snowdon – one of nine Jewish Learning Institute locations giving the course in Montreal – only Naya water was served, and Rabbi Ronnie Fine offered no short cuts to enlightenment.
“If you feel that all the relationships in your life are wunderbar and everything in your spiritual life couldn’t be finer, then please stand over here,” Fine told a group of about 30 students Thursday at the beginning of the six-week, $100 course. (70 in a total attended the three classes that day – COLlive).
“But if you feel there are things to improve … this course will make a supreme transformative difference in your life.” Soul Maps is based on the book of Tanya, an 18th-century text that made the previously esoteric teachings of the Kabbalah practical, relevant and accessible.
The crash course in the Tanya, taught simultaneously in 300 locations around the world, began yesterday with a number of disclaimers.
This course will not teach you about astrology or how to win the 6/49, said Fine, who also runs the Project Pride crisis centre for drug addicts down the street.
The course will not address creation or faith in God – both givens to this crowd of mostly, but not all, Jewish disciples.
It will provide tools, however, to use every day to resolve guilt, conflict and confusion, and find joy, purpose and direction in everyday life, Fine says.
Not an easy task in a world of chaos and alienation, but definitely a “mission possible.” “People struggle every day to understand themselves and find inner peace,” Fine says. “They’ve been through every book in the self-help aisle and they visit their therapist or confide in friends to sort through their feelings.
“What people really need is a guide to help them navigate their own complexity, and the Kabbalah has provided these tools for centuries.” Why do we make resolutions and then break them? Why do some of us feel the cup is half-empty, while others feel it’s half-full? Why is it relatively easy to give up chocolate for a year, but next to impossible to make yourself hate it? Those were some of the questions raised with the first instalment in the series, called Soul Words.
The answer, or at least the beginning of the answer, according to the Tanya, is that we have two souls – an animal soul and a godly soul – that act with different motivations.
It is the “second soul” that must take precedence if we are to think positively and find meaning in life.
“Yes, we can!” Fine said repeatedly yesterday, borrowing the phrase from U.S. president-elect Barack Obama, as he urged students to do their homework and master their animal souls at least in small ways.
It’s hard work, Fine says, and that’s what differentiates the Chabad’s lessons from the spiritual snake oil sold to celebrities like Madonna, Demi Moore and Roseanne Barr.
“The kind of Kabbalah they do is feel-good – take the holy water and put on a string. There, it’s ‘What’s in it for me?’ Here, it’s ‘You do it.’ “(Theirs) is a quick fix and this is no quick fix. … This is about real people and real change.” Each week, about 50,000 students, at least half of whom aren’t Jewish, flock to seminars and programs at the Kabbalah Centre run by Madonna’s mentor, Rabbi Philip Berg.
It has 50 branches worldwide, a hotline – 1-800-kabbalah – for student support, and a Kabbalah store, selling books, candles, posters and, of course, the red string to ward off the evil eye – for $26.
The Jewish Learning Institute, for its part, has a video on YouTube for Soul Maps. “Get to know yourself – Coming November 2008.” For more information or to join the six-week course, call 514-342-3554.