Tag Archives: Lag Baomer

Cognitive Pearl #074 Iyar 18, 5775 May 7, 15

Lag BoOmer BonFire



The dizzying smoke of a million bonfires lingers in the air of Jerusalem. For some Lag BaOmer was a magical evening; for others it was a night of noise, irritation, closed windows, and coughing.

Isn’t that a fitting epitaph for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (you can read more about him and Lag BaOmer here)? An all eclipsing hero to some; a dangerous and tiresome rebel to others.

Counting myself among the former, Lag BaOmer is a quintessential cognitive therapy holiday. Granted that such a statement seems counter-intuitive; after all, cognitive therapy advocates empiricism (the school of philosophy which holds that only that which can be seen can be truly understood) and Lag Baomer is a celebration of the mystical, of the unseen, of the unknowable mystery of the Universe.

For me however empiricism has it limits just like every body of human knowledge. Everything, perhaps with the exception of death, is subject to the law articulated so poetically by another fantastical character of much more recent vintage, Forrest Gump, ‘it happens’. As much as we strut about with our data, statistics, predictions, and all the other synonyms for human hubris we just don’t know.

Lag BaOmer and its mystical traditions remind me that no matter how clever we get, humanity will never fully know the whole score. As close as we get to figuring it all out, the loving Designer of all stays just beyond our grasp. He sprinkles beauty as a leads us deeper and deeper into the cosmos. 

So what then is the place of cognitive therapy when each of us is immersed in a universe so much out of our control?

There are of course many reasons to do what we can to make our lives better. For me, cognitive therapy has offered one unparalleled gift and for this it is supremely relevant. That is is the pure pleasure of clear thought and the joyous life that results. Once I get all of the traps and tricks of misery-making-embodied-pseudo-thinking out of my head the sky turns blue, the universe opens itself, and I’m swept into the mystery of it all.

So pass me a marshmallow and throw another log on the fire. 

Bar Yochai, the holiest oil has anointed you; you’ve ascended to the loftiest of levels; glory encompasses you. 

Cognitive Pearl #069 Iyar 11, 5775 20 April, 15

What You Say 






A bit of a digression.

As I write these post I’m on my way to Meron, the location of the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (you can read about him here). Hoping to skip the crowds next week (it’ll be Lag BaOmer which you can read about here), I decided to make my pilgrimage a week early. While this isn’t the place for a discussion of the mystical dimensions of this pilgrimage (and visits to the burial sites of other saints and sages) it is an opportunity to touch on culture and cognition.

Culture is universal. Wherever you find two humans you’ll find culture. Manifestations of culture are nearly infinite. My pilgrimage to the grave of a culturally designated saint is not unique; people the world over visit similar sites. And there are many other kinds of cultural pilgrimages too: cinco de mayo in Spain and Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland come to mind. Sporting events are also cultural pilgrimages. As are festivals and annual gatherings.

So the question we need to ask is what is all of this culture about? Why do humans have his need to abandon all sense and sensibility, their jobs, their families, and the opprobrium of their normal lives and go nuts?

For me the answer begins with something I heard from Dan Siegal, a developmental psychiatrist, in an interview a few years back on Shrink Rap Radio (an excellent resource which you can find out more about here). Siegal was speaking about the mind as a process (as opposed to a thing) which regulates the flow of information within the organism and with other organisms. At one point he said something that still makes my ears ring:

Yes, I study the way energy and information flow is shared in relationships across generations. That’s what culture is!

The implications of that idea is that culture is what one generation tells another. Culture teaches ideas (we call that indoctrination) that are central to the continuation of that culture. So while pilgrimages to holy sites of every ilk fulfill our needs for belonging, entertainment, and so much more, they are primarily about absorbing the ideals of those who came before us.

And as cognitive therapists who assert that the ideas that we hold are what makes us or break us, our clients’ culture is enormously relevant.