Who are you, Lord my God, and who am I? 2


As a child Jacob Needleman had been exposed to different definitions of God – on his father’s side God was a severe and punitive tyrant and for his mother God was a just but distant king. And yet, one evening looking up the night sky – when for a few moments millions of stars seemed to appear – Needleman heard his father say in an unusual voice: ‘That’s God’. It was at that moment that the boy had a sense that the question of God was linked to a question about himself – who am I? and why do I exist?

Growing older he put the idea of God out of his mind, but as he realized later, part of him – his ‘I’ his fragile sense of identity – was fighting and despite his ego, for the existence of God and the sacred in his life.

Gradually Needleman tried to put the disappointment of what had felt like a disastrous meeting with Suzuki (described last week), out of his mind – focusing instead on academic success, and what he describes as ‘the establishment of originality and influence and recognition and …despair? Under it all, nearly always, there was this faint bitter taste’.

Suddenly awakening one night he made a great insight – what Suzuki had said was intentional – it was an event –– ‘Who am I?’ was something Needleman had to find out for himself as indeed we surely all do. He calls this ‘indirect communication’ that can take place between people and lead to an awakening. From Suzuki it was an action of love and respect

‘ …from someone who looked at me, and no doubt at all human beings, as essentially awakened consciousness and not as the ego I felt myself to be.  And not only would it gradually become clear to me that the question, “what is God?” is the same question as “who am I?” but something else would become clear, something that I never imagined I would even take seriously. The phrase, “God is love,” had always seemed fairylike and sentimental and, well incomprehensible. Dimly, without my knowing it then, sitting up in my bed in the middle of the night, I was stepping through a door onto a long road that led to the direct understanding of this most mysterious and unfathomable and yet obvious definition of the word, God: God is love.’

Needleman describes how over many years in his adult life, God was moving on a labyrinthine way. Despite steeped in religious philosophy and studies in Jewish mysticism, the teachings of St Paul, and the writings of the early Christian Fathers, it was through re-reading the teachings of Gurdjieff that Needleman became certain of a recurring pattern in his life and from this intense realization of the existence of God.

The experience was in his body:

Without any warning at all, a column of intense, fine energy suddenly descends down the centre of my body from my head to my abdomen. I am riveted to my chair, not knowing what to make of this column of vibrating energy, unlike anything I had ever experienced in my life. … I saw, dimly but powerfully, that I had been living and thinking all these years only on the surface of my life and my mind. …The question of Dr Suzuki appeared again, but far more deeply. And who have I been all my life? Had all of my life been lived in a dream?