They say life has its ups and downs. It’s not true. Life is ups and downs.

Let’s start with breathing. Pretty central to life, right? All the major classes of structural molecules in living organisms need oxygen, so you gotta breathe.

So here’s Breathing 101:

Start by creating a vacuum inside. At that point, you become weaker, somewhat helpless. You don’t want to take a punch when you’re inhaling. But it’s that vacuum that pulls in the oxygen—vital oxygen, which your hemoglobin will carry from your lungs to every cell in your body. That’s how you recharge—by becoming weaker.

Next, for that oxygen and every other vital substance to get around your body, your heart needs to pump. It also does this by creating a vacuum—a hydraulic vacuum—so it can pull in the old blood and pump out the new.

Then there’s your neurons, firing in a harmonious rhythm conducted by the field marshal of your brain, the thalamus: positive charge—fire; negative charge—receive; marching at about 20 times per second when you’re active, mellowing to a soft 10 or so when you relax. Without the negative charges, nothing happens. Without the mellowing sessions, nothing’s worth happening.

As soon as any particle would cease this dance of life, it would disappear into the void of zero energy.

Those aren’t the only rhythms drumming away in your body and your environs. You may have noticed that even your money works this way: You spend in order to get. You invest in order to earn. Even money joins in the cosmic dance, the song of being, that resonates through every participant of existence in the universe. Everything is in constant pulse, because everything is energy, and all energy oscillates in waves. No crest is not preceded by a trough, no positive without first a negative; everything is constantly oscillating, vibrating, pulsating with the very act of existence. Because as soon as any particle would cease this dance of life and retreat to stillness, it would disappear into the void of zero energy.

The Kabbalah describes the songs of the angels in constant “running and return.” The Midrash speaks of the song each creature sings, the song by which it achieves life, those rhythms, those vibrations of life. Time itself is simply the grand pulse of the entire universe in a cycle of millennia, years, days and moments.

The Energy Problem

So, you ask, why must the universe do a song and dance to earn its right to exist? Here’s what the Kabbalah has to say:

Everything that exists is projected onto the four-dimensional stage of space and time by a boundless, transcendent source of energy, a.k.a. the Infinite Light. Every moment, every galaxy, every star, every critter and every subatomic particle must be sustained by that light, or it will return to the void. Just like the stuff in Rabbi Infinity’s Isifier.

Problem is, the Infinite Light (as the sharp ones among you may well have realized) is infinite. The stuff that it’s sustaining is decidedly finite. So how do you funnel infinite energy into finite stuff?

This is not just a problem that the Energy Commission would like to solve. This is the Big Problem.

From the perspective of the truly infinite, we simply are not here.

The Big Problem isn’t just that infinite is too big to fit into finite. It’s that, from the perspective of the truly infinite, finite things simply don’t exist. How could they? What significance could their existence have within the context of unlimited time, space, energy, matter, and everything else that’s possible and impossible as well?

So if you would break the membrane between the Infinite Light and the finite creation, the whole caboodle would just be gone. No fizz. No pop-bang-zap burnout. Just gone, like it never was. Because from the Infinite’s perspective, this whole reality of ours was never really there to begin with.

And yet, as we said, everything is continuously sustained, energized and licensed to exist by the current that streams from that Infinite Light.

So here’s the trick: For each thing in the universe to be a something, it has to first dip back into a place where it is nothing. That’s when it receives its vitality and can become a something again. Then, returning to somethingness, it finds itself orphaned, cut off from its source. So it returns to nothingness once again, and becomes revitalized, in an endless loop.

That’s how energy works: The trough of a wave is the return to nothingness; the crest is the retreat to somethingness. The more something you want to be, the more nothing you have to first become. There’s just no other way to receive.

And that’s how it happens in life on earth as well. If you just want to move along step by incremental step, you can be satisfied with the regular cycle of dips and bounces through life. But when it’s time for you to make a major leap in life, to reach to something that was previously way out of your bounds—that’s when you find yourself dipping into an all-time low. That’s the crouch before the jump, the kvetch of a spring before its release, the compression of gases before a big kaboom.

How To Squeeze a Lemon

Of course, not every retreat leads to victory, just as not every seed that rots under the ground will break through and blossom. For us human beings, it’s a matter of choice: You could choose to remain cramped within that crouch, and eventually just collapse. Or just trudge on as though being crouched is a natural state of being. Or even just stand up and get over it. But what a shame! What a waste of a good depression!

Or you could exploit that depression to your advantage. You could be like the child on a swing, pumping her feet just as she reaches the peak of her backward climb. Go with the flow, play along with the game, take advantage of your sour state to make lemon juice, saying, “Hey, I’m not the ultimate center of the universe after all. In fact, I’m pitifully far from where I really want to be.”

Why waste a good depression?

In case you didn’t know, every act of life pulls energy from somewhere. Either from the supernal channels of light, or from the dark matter of Otherness; from the sweet springs of divine life, or the sewer of the cosmic parasites; in harmony with the transcendental symphony, or totally out of tune in the wrong key and meter; sitting at lunch with the Master of All Things, or reaching to the dregs of His refuse containers out back.

So you start asking, “Where am I connected? Look at all the stupid fantasies playing incessantly in my mental MeTube. What kind of a crazy channel are they tuned into? The words that come out of me, the habits I can’t break—what station am I on?”

The depression turns to bitter, seething resentment. That’s good. Depression is death; bitterness is the resurrection of the dead, where Dr. Life meets Mr. Death and performs CPR. There is anger, a kind of internal fury as the soul begins to catch fire. Like the Zohar says in the name of the Dean of the Academy of the Garden of Eden, “When you want a log to catch fire, you break it up. When you want to catch fire, you also need to break yourself up, to shatter your old self and start again.”

If you want to catch fire, you need to shatter your old self.

Out of the ashes, a new self emerges. You hear a small voice whisper, “There are a lot of things about me that need to be jettisoned, like a lizard sheds its skin, or a crustacean abandons its shell in order to grow. Inside me lies a G‑dly soul, with infinite power. If only I could let go of my self-infatuation, my nutty fantasies and dumb habits, perhaps then the light of that divine soul could shine through.”

It’s in that broken state that you are able to receive, to open up to the light within you, and thereby tap into the unlimited power source from which that light extends. Finally liberated from that cumbersome backpack of artificial ego, unhindered by the baggage of false self-concept, now you can really start to fly, carry-on only.

Beyond Success

Sometimes, it’s time for not just a major leap, but a quantum leap. Not just from little bear to big bear, but metamorphosis, from creepy-crawly bug to beautiful butterfly. From dinky little seed to big strong oak.

This may sound crazy, but the only way to totally break out of who you are and become something entirely new is through failure. “The tzaddik,” wrote Solomon the Wise, “falls and stands seven times.” Nothing can get you greater success than failure.

Nothing can get you greater success than failure.

Everything we talked about until now is part of the natural order. Failure is not within the natural order. True failure is when you mess up and dip beneath your capabilities, beneath your nature. True failure is not just being incompetent. It’s when you are capable of being great and you let the world down. That’s when you’re having a real bad day.

That’s how we explain that failure is also part of The Plan. Because dipping below nature is the only way a being can soar beyond it. Only once broken are we able to put the pieces back together and build something totally new.

The moon is darkest when closest to the sun.

Become small, receive and then shine.

For more on failure and transformation, see Broken & Whole.