The aim of this learning programme is personal spiritual development for bringing the learner closer to the Divine. It consists of a guide book and CD; the emphasis is on teaching through experience rather than written words. The author makes it clear that following a spiritual path is a way of life rather than a goal to be achieved. The 'Ecstasy' of the title refers to vocal, breathing & visualization techniques with the potential of raising one's everyday consciousness to a higher level. Refining one's nature includes cultivating empathy, forgiveness and tenderness. In chapter two he explains the intention of these practices to promote serenity, clarity and peace of mind; this chapter also illumines concepts like the Tree of Life, the Sefirot, the Chakras & meditative exercises. The background to Track One of the CD: Meditation on Harmony, is provided here. This chant consists of five vowel sounds, each of which is associated with a specific chakra.
The great mystic Abraham Abulafia lived in 13th century Spain, the country that was home to amongst others the great philosopher of reason Maimonides and Solomon ibn Gabirol who wrote such sublime devotional poetry. Abulafia, who was nearly forgotten until Gershom Scholem rescued his work from obscurity, developed a specific system of contemplative practice based on Hebrew letters, words & sounds. Chapter three concludes with a fascinating look at the structure or levels of the soul and the function of the Pure Soul Mantra (Neshama) which is Track Two. The next chapter provides an overview of Abulafia's contemplative practices with detailed exposition on certain sounds & their associated head movements as well as the Shiviti Chant.
The concept of 'boundlessness' underlies the Names of the Divine which Rabbi Cooper explores in great detail. These include 'El' and its many variations & combinations, the Tetragrammaton, the Shekhina and all the others that are found in the Talmud. The chant of Ahavat Olam, a mantra celebrating love without measure, is elucidated. Invoking the Presence is achieved by breathing & visualization practices as demonstrated on Track Seven. In chapter eight, the author deals with the concept of expanded consciousness as reflected in the Magic Mirror Exercise and the Shema (Track Nine). The Shema is analyzed with reference to its individual sounds, its meaning of unity & its purpose of emphasizing oneness.
The final chapter investigates the thirteen attributes of the Divine; it includes discussions of the terms 'tzaddik' (righteous) & 'tikkun' (restoration) and the work of Moses Cordovero. The Appendix provides further information on vocal & silent chanting and the various permutations of Abulafia's sound & breath practices. Illustrations of the Tree of Life, the top 5 Chakras on the human body, the levels of the soul, the aforementioned head movements & the letter Aleph enhance the text; the book concludes with a short note and bibliography of works by the author. The ten tracks on the CD are: Meditation on harmony/Elohai neshama/Abulafia basic chants/Abulafia doublets/Shiviti/Ahavat olam/Y-W meditation/Magic mirror exercise/Shema/The thirteen attributes.
I highly recommend Ecstatic Kabbalah for its clarity, accessibility and the particular issues it addresses. A similar helpful combination of book & CD in the Sanskrit tradition is Healing Mantras by Thomas Ashley-Farrand. Two thought-provoking works on music therapy & sound healing include Sacred Sounds by Ted Andrews and Healing Sounds by Jonathan Goldman whose albums Chakra Chants, Ultimate Om and Holy Harmony are masterpieces of sacred healing sound.