September 15th, 2012 — holidays, musings, stories
During Labor Day I was thinking a lot about the idea of labor and what it means to work. I kept coming back to the fact that we’re in this preparatory period, the month of Elul, leading to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and it’s so much work! This time is all about teshuvah, meaning “to return,” to God, ourselves, each other, the kind of life we want to live. It’s intense.
Before I learned about the month of Elul and about the wind up to the High Holidays that includes time for reflection, accounting of the soul (cheshbon hanefesh), offering and asking for forgiveness, evaluating our missteps and recalibrating our aim, I was always struck by how insane it is to show up to synagogue (for many the only time during the whole year) and try to cram all of this soul searching and prayer and thoughts about life and death into a few hours, communally. Most of us read from a book that often doesn’t speak our language and doesn’t feel relevant. The whole process used to feel lacking. I wanted to believe. I wanted to feel something. And, I never did.
For the past few years, I’ve made it my work to mine my tradition for meaning. A few years ago I read everything I could find about preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, traditional and not, and the practice of kapparot kept popping up. If, like me, you have never heard of it, I’ll explain: the day before Yom Kippur people used to (and apparently lots of people still do in Israel and even in certain areas of Brooklyn) take a live chicken, swing it around their head, and offer it to God in exchange for their own lives, sort of a sacrificial atonement, another kind of scapegoat. After this, the chicken is slaughtered and given to a poor family for their pre-fast Yom Kippur meal.
After reading about this, I started doing some research because I was horrified by my own visions of screeching chickens, blood, and feathers. I knew this wasn’t a practice I would ever do, and I veer towards metaphor when it comes to sacrifices, in general. In my search for more information, I heard a great story. I can’t find a source anywhere, so I’ll just write it as I remember it:
A young student also wants to learn more about kapparot. He goes to the chief Rabbi and asks to watch him perform the ritual, because although he’s heard of it, he’s never seen it done before. “I’m so honored that you want to see me practice this mitzvah,” says the Rabbi, “but to tell you the truth, my practice of kapparot is not that exciting. You should really go see the innkeeper do it.”
The student goes to the innkeeper’s house the day before Yom Kippur and finds the innkeeper sitting in a chair in front of his fireplace. On the table in front of him are two tattered notebooks, each labeled “book of repentance.” The innkeeper opens the first book. He reads it carefully out loud, and begins to weep. The book is filled with mistakes and misdeeds that he committed in the past year. After he finishes reading from the now tear-soaked pages, he swings the book around his head and tosses it into the fire.
He takes a deep breath and picks up the second notebook. The ritual repeats, with him weeping and reading. This time, he reads an even longer list. And this time, he’s reading all of the mistakes and misdeeds hat God had committed in the past year. After reading this list out loud, he continues to cry, and he swings the notebook around his head and throws it into the fire.
Pretty good, minus the chickens, right? I got excited about this story, because this is personal. I love that the Rabbi in the story recognized and shared with his student the power of personal prayer, individual spiritual practice, and truly heartfelt work. It’s a nice reminder that there’s no “right” way to return, to repent, to practice.
Also, this story speaks directly to the fact that we’re not alone in this hard work of returning and repenting. In a poem that I reread all the time (Gods Change, Prayers are Here to Stay), Yehudah Amichai writes that “even solitary prayer takes two,” and it makes sense to me that personal atonement is only part of the whole of teshuvah.
Maybe returning to ourselves isn’t quite complete without acknowledging our own disappointments and sadness about the world, in God, about things that were not even our responsibility. When we fully feel that broken-heartedness, let ourself inhabit that place of disappointment and sorrow, voice it, swing it above our head, and then let it go, something opens up.
If we can recognize that all of this pain is not ours to hold alone, we figure out that we’re in a partnership within ourselves, with other people, and with God. This knowing that we’re working together to realign and find our place in the world alongside everyone else who’s doing the same thing can be a comfort. The ritual of kapparot is bizarre and interesting, and the innkeeper’s method is a sweet reminder that we can do it our own ways, too. This year, on the day before Yom Kippur, I’m going to sit quietly and reflect on the past year. I’m going to write my own lists, and maybe weep, and then I’m going to swing them above my head, and then let them go. I don’t have a fireplace, so my version will probably include the recycle bin, which feels like a good teshuvah.
April 4th, 2012 — holidays, musings
I have to admit I’ve avoided writing this for a long time. Not because I didn’t want to write about it and not because I don’t love the topic – as a long-time meditator, longer-time Jew, Jewish Meditation Center Board member and sit leader in my local community, I’m pretty involved. It’s just that when it comes to my own process as a Jew, and (eek) writing as a Jew? Let’s say I’m pretty ambivalent.
But I’m also a mom and a birth doula, and when I was asked to write about Jewish meditation and birth, too many of my identities were wrapped up too neatly for me to say no.
So, why the ambivalence? I’d trace it back to my beginnings; as the eldest daughter of a first generation New York Jew and a converted Presbyterian from the Midwest, identity was always a bit fuzzy for me. My mother’s mother is a lifelong church-goer and card-carrying member of the Daughters of the American Revolution; my father’s mother is a Modern Orthodox Holocaust survivor. We took the Christmas tree down and up at least three times one winter when both sets of grandparents happened to be visiting at the same time. It’s not an unusual story these days.
When Jewishness is both of you and not of you, claiming it, speaking for it, is a strange process. I began a meditation practice as a teenager, but have never felt as at home in it as I do in Jewish meditation sits. Yet, even today as I lead JMC-style sits in my home town of Beacon, I don’t have a particularly great response to the persistent question: “So, what makes this meditation Jewish?” Sylvia Boorstein has the best answer I’ve heard yet; at a retreat I attended she said folks would ask her, “Why Jewish meditation? Why not just meditate? Why complicate it with Jewishness?” Her answer: “Because I am complicated with Jewishness.”
So, I am complicated with Jewishness. Complicated being the operative word. Jewishness, it seems, has that affect on many of us.
And what does this all have to do with birth? Nothing? Everything? These are not rhetorical questions. Some more thoughts:
When you’re as obsessed with birth as a person needs to be to work with laboring women, birth metaphors are everywhere. And in many ways, the process of pregnancy, labor, and delivery are the ultimate metaphor, combining so many of humanity’s deepest tropes – the endless patience, sacrifice, and waiting of gestation, the utter lack of control and surrender of it all, the deep adventure into the unknown, the vulnerability. The endurance, strength, power, and struggle of labor and the breakthrough of delivery. The profound transformation of the woman as she becomes a mother, as her body, heart, and mind are changed forever, and the profound transformation of nothingness into everythingness: a new human life.
Because the Jewish calendar operates with the moon, many of our most important holidays fall on the full moon. Many pregnant women also go into labor on the full moon. At 37 weeks, I felt what I thought were my first labor pains on the second night of Passover. As I drove to our community seder, I called my doula to let her know. “Maybe I’ll name my child Moses,” I thought, as I sat through the seder, pretending nothing was happening. I sat with the story of the final plague – the slaying of the first born – in a different way that night, and I giggled as we talked about freedom from mitzrayim: the narrow passage.
As it turned out, my daughter – who is not named Moses – waited for the NEXT full moon, and after a short labor and a long two hours pushing through our own little mitzrayim, she was born on the 31st day of the Omer: Tiferet in Hod. The simple translation of that day would be the inner balance in beauty and multiplicity. Sound familiar?
And what does that have to do with meditation? Nothing? Everything?
At the last meditation sit I led, a participant asked, “What’s the goal here?” We talked about the goals each of us bring to our practice, and I closed by reminding us that some meditation teachers would be horrified by the idea of having a goal at all. I’m all about goals for pretty much everything, but it is incredibly important to have the right kind of goal. This is the same advice I give to clients who are preparing for birth. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment with a goal you very well might not achieve, whether it be enlightenment, forgiving a difficult person, or an epic vaginal delivery where all you feel is love in your heart. One of the greatest lessons birth has taught me is that we are not in control of anything but the lens we use to see the world. And one of the greatest lessons meditation has taught me is how to know and use that lens. I’ve always liked the idea of Passover as a birthing story: we labored, the water parted, we passed through, and were born as a people.
May we use this Passover as an invitation to bring the lens of birth and rebirth to the journey from mitzrayim and find liberation.
March 29th, 2012 — parsha reflection
Traditionally, Parsha Tzav (“command”) is read the Shabbat before Passover. Like much of Leviticus, Tzav, which comes from the sixth through eighth books, it can seem a bit arcane. It consists of the instructions for ritual sacrifice to be carried out by Aaron and the priestly class at the ancient Temple. But even rituals that we haven’t practiced for two thousand years can speak to our practice and the thoughts we observe every time we sit.
There are four sacrifices: the burnt offering, olah; the meal offering, mincha; the sin offering, chattat; and the guilt offering, asham. The olah is the only one that is to be completely consumed by the fire, fat and all, and not eaten even by one of the high priests. The passage indicates that the fire burning the olah shall not be allowed to go out; the “kohen shall kindle wood upon it every morning, and upon it, he shall arrange the burnt offering and cause the fats of the peace offerings to go up in smoke upon it.”
What is so special about the olah? Why must all trace of it disappear? The Jerusalem Talmud points to a surprising answer: the olah is for “expiation for thoughts of the heart”. This is surprising because so much of Jewish law covers actions, and not thoughts; only the last of the Ten Commandments (Thou Shalt Not Covet), concerns one’s feelings, and even then, many have interpreted that commandment as proscribing the actions that flow from covetousness more than the desire itself.
So why do unhealthful thoughts require their own sacrifice, the only one from which humans can’t be nourished? The Talmud suggests that controlling emotions and thoughts of sin is “kashe”—more difficult—than controlling sinful actions themselves (Yoma 29a). Rashi added, “Sexual passion is more difficult to contain than the act itself; In accordance with the difficulty is the reward.”
As a meditator, I know this difficulty well: every time I sit, an endless stream of thoughts passes through my head; sometimes, the same handful of thoughts sticks around stubbornly. Either way, I’m constantly reminded that there’s no such thing as an empty mind, and I can count on experiencing thoughts and desires I wish I didn’t have (of course, I’ll also experience pleasant and exciting thoughts as I sit). Gradually, I’m learning to adopt a more compassionate approach to those distractions: label the thought, make peace with it, and simply return to my breath and the experience of being.
The main benefit I’ve received from my meditation practice is in gradually becoming more compassionate with myself when I find myself distracted. I allow the distractions to come and go as they will, and I’ve internalized, at least a bit, that fighting them off—or trying to burn them to metaphorical ashes—is unrealistic and unnecessary. So I struggle with a parsha such as Tzav, and with its suggestion that our “impure” thoughts can be so easily eliminated. I’m not sure I would want my thoughts, even the most shameful ones, to disappear completely, if that was possible. Rather, through meditation I seek the self-control to make space for those thoughts without allowing them to consume me.
Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned in the annual repetition of the olah sacrifice, or the annual reckoning with our transgressions on Yom Kippur: we exalt in the feeling of being cleansed, but predictably, we’ll be back next year to burn the animal fat or beat our chests during the Viddui. What is the tradition telling us, then, about the effectiveness of such drastic measures and self-flagellation?
As we prepare to sit, let us consider how we grapple with our thoughts when they feel difficult, or even immoral. Do we need to eliminate any space for the “bad” in order to keep ourselves whole and “good”? My kavannah, or intention, for this week is that when we experience thoughts that we’d rather not have, instead of trying to sweep them away, we explore what it feels like to simply make room for them.
January 19th, 2012 — musings
This week’s parsha, or weekly Torah portion, Va’era, is the second parsha in Exodus, the book detailing the Israelites’ exodus from slavery under Pharaoh to freedom. “Va’era” means “I appeared” or “I let Myself be seen.” God says “Va’era” to Moses, as in, “I let Myself be seen by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” and by this, God means something along the lines of: “I revealed Myself to them so they know I am the real deal.” God explains that the distress of the Israelites who are living in bondage under Pharaoh led God to remember the covenant God had made with the patriarchs to give their descendants the land of Canaan. According to God, it is now also time for the Israelites to fully understand the limitlessness of God’s power.
God tells Moses, the recently-appointed leader of the Israelites (who has a speech impediment), that he and his brother Aaron, who has been speaking to the Israelites on Moses’s and therefore God’s behalf, should get ready for a hard fight with Pharaoh regarding the Israelites’ freedom. God also decides to “harden Pharaoh’s heart” so that God will get to have several opportunities to show off divine strength and power. God decides that if Pharaoh doesn’t relent, the best plan of action will be plagues that afflict the Egyptians and not the Israelites. Of course, Pharaoh puts up a fight, and the plagues of the Passover story begin. Then Pharaoh tells Moses that the Israelites can at the very least go on a brief journey to sacrifice to God, but quickly changes his mind. More plagues to come next week.
So much happens in this parsha, and I felt overwhelmed as I read it. But ultimately I found myself coming back to the age-old question of why not just select Aaron instead of Moses? Why this game of telephone? What could be the benefit of a leader with a speech impediment?
Thinking about this reminded me of completely losing my voice. This would not have been such a problem except that I am a high school teacher, and 99% of my job, or so I thought, involves talking. At school, all I could was whisper. I whispered my instructions to a student who would repeat them to the class. “Please take out your homework,” translated to “Yo! Homework out now or Ms. Cohen won’t be happy.” I did my best to say as few words as possible, and this meant that I had to keep instructions clear and to the point. Minor infractions had to be ignored or handled using the infamous teacher look. I had to pick my words, and battles, carefully, because someone else was going to repeat them and I didn’t want to be misinterpreted, and because I had a limited capacity for speech and needed to conserve energy. Amazingly, my classes ran smoothly.
According to one commentator, Moses’ “slow tongue” was his strength. Because speaking was a challenge, he would mindfully select his words, and what Aaron was told to repeat to the Israelites would be the true essence of what God wanted conveyed.
What would it mean if we could only say one-fourth or one-fifth of the words we say daily? What would we decide was superfluous? Would we become better listeners? How often have I thought to myself, I wish I had not said that, right after speaking quickly and mindlessly? In an era of fast-talking and multi-tasking, how would our interactions change if we said less and, in doing so, said more?
Though I was thrilled to get my voice back, I realized that losing it had been a kind of blessing. If you had no choice but to cut out a chunk of your daily words, phrases, or communication, what would you select to let go of and why? These could be words you say to yourself or to others. On the other hand, which speech would you come to view as essential? My kavanah, or intention, for this week is to ask ourselves how mindful awareness of our speech can help us improve the quality of our lives and the lives of others.
December 23rd, 2011 — holidays
From the JMC Archives:
Chanukah – 5771 – 8 days of practice by Yael Levy
Honoring Two Sides of the Same Moon with Faith by Brian Kaye
Come Light the Menorah... by Alison Laichter
JMC’s Getting in the Mood… for ChanukahWritingMeditation
From around the web:
Defining Hanukkah: Spiritual vs Political
Seeking inner light at the darkest time of the year
G-dcast does Chanukah!
Tablet reviews Hanukkah recipe books
Hanukkah and the Olive Harvest
The holiday’s secret “roots” as a harvest festival. We apologize for the pun.
Hanukkah meditation from Ritualwell
For when eating chocolate money just doesn’t cut it
The Unbearable Dumbness of Dreidel
Tablet’s reconsideration of the philosophical, aesthetic, and moral underpinnings of the ancient past time
A Mystical Message about Hanukkah from Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi
Tuning in to the miraculous order
Hanukkah 2011: Dates, Customs, History
HuffPost’s Hanukkah slide show
Rabbi Zachary Shapiro at RJ.org helps interfaith families navigate the holidays
Is There a Right Way to Spell Hanukkah? Chanukah? Hannukah?
Inquiring minds demand an answer!
Bonus link: TheLeeVees exist.
Trust us on this one.
November 25th, 2011 — parsha reflection
This week, we read Parshat Toldot (“descendants”), and learn about Jacob and Esau. We all know the story: before Jacob and Esau are born, Rebecca learns that “one brother will be mightier than the other,” and “the elder will serve the younger.” Jacob emerges clutching Esau’s heel, foreshadowing his later attempts to overtake and outwit his brother. Years later, Jacob takes advantage of a faint and exhausted Esau by selling him a stew for the price of his birthright. And at their father’s deathbed, Jacob tricks Isaac into giving him a blessing intended for Esau.
Rebecca has one of the most striking lines in the parshat. She feels her twin sons fighting in utero and asks God: “If it is so, why am I like this?” God’s response – the prophecy about the older brother serving the younger – seems to be an attempt to reassure her that her pains are serving a higher purpose. This answer addresses Rebecca as if she is questioning the reason for such a painful pregnancy. But is that what she is asking? I imagine that she was regretting both her painful pregnancy and that the pain seemed to add insult to the injury of so many childless decades. Did she think that the universe was conspiring against her? Was she questioning the wisdom of her life choices? Ramban’s take on the text reflects an underlying existential angst – interpreting her cry as a question of why she must endure such pain.
With this latter interpretation, the response she receives presents not so much an answer as a challenge, and Rebecca becomes an active participant in the story. She would have preferred to give birth as a younger woman to children who loved each other as much as she loved them. But when life did not meet her expectations, she made the best of the situation. We can see Rebecca’s preference for Jacob over Esau as a choice guided by her understanding of the potential of each child. Indeed, recall that it is Rebecca who engineered the plot for Jacob to receive the blessing intended for Esau. Jacob’s dominance over Esau was not a preordained decree; it was the consequence of Rebecca’s parenting.
We have all asked ourselves why our reality, despite our best efforts, does not conform to our desires and expectations. Why didn’t I get that job? Why didn’t that relationship work out? Why do I always argue with my parents and siblings? We create narratives about how we would like our life to turn out, we endeavor to realize those narratives, and we get frustrated and confused when the results fail to comply with our wishes. Too often, we forget that some of the best things in our lives are the result not of careful planning and deliberation, but of accident, of happenstance, and of our own adaptation to changed circumstances.
I remember entering law school intent on pursuing a career in international development, and realizing after a summer abroad that there was a fundamental tension between the role of a development lawyer on one hand, and my basic values and expectations about life on the other. Indeed, it took the rest of law school to reconcile my fascination with the world with my understanding of what an American lawyer can actually achieve in a place where he barely understands the language and culture. I am now excited to pursue a career concentrating on issues involving New York City and State, but the transition from an international focus to a local focus was difficult.
With meditation, we can learn to accept the moments in life when we make a plan and pursue it to completion, only to find that the result brings us pain. This week’s portion teaches us to take these hiccups as opportunities – to value the joy that comes only because something else did not work out. When we refuse to submit ourselves to fate, we become active participants in our own lives. For this week’s meditation, let us ask, “If this is so, why are we like this?” Put differently: now that we see that our plans have not exactly met our expectations, how must we move forward? We will then be prepared for Thanksgiving, an opportunity to reflect on the unexpected happinesses and the accidental fortunes.
November 11th, 2011 — parsha reflection
Parsha Vayera describes perhaps one of the most renowned narratives in the Torah – the “Akedah,” the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham, as its conclusion. Vayera also contains many important and valuable stories – the birth of Isaac, the casting out of Hagar and Ishmael, Abraham attempting to convince G-d not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the saving of Lot and his family. While preparing this kavanah, I decided to focus on the Akedah. I came across a poem by Rabbi Steven Pik-Nathan that spoke me, and I want to share some of its perspective on this story. Drawing from this poem, I was inspired to focus my kavanah on the journey that meditation provides and how my practice brings more joy to the world and myself.
Isaac’s name, in Hebrew, is a verb – he shall laugh, a cruel thought when I think that Isaac was to be sacrificed by his father, Abraham. While his name expresses action, Isaac chooses inaction and consents to his father sacrificing his life for G-d.
When Isaac acceded not to act, this was in fact, action, and he faced his own mortality. The poem linked above suggests that with this decision, he truly became a verb, realized that he must use his time on this earth to make a difference, and live fully without knowledge of how long his life in this world will last. Isaac learns that he must seek joy for himself and the world by doing good with his life and therefore. Because of this experience, he shall express the beauty of life with joy which he can express through laughter, his namesake.
Fundamentally, Isaac realized that life is tenuous and uncertain and he must begin his journey, on his own, without the guidance of his father and not knowing where it will lead him and how long it will be, to value each moment for what it is. I see this awakening as the paramount emphasis of the journey, not a destination. My practice of meditation is mindful of the journey, as I will never know where it will take me nor how it will end. This knowledge frees me to appreciate each step I take, because it is where I am meant to be. Each thought that appears is the place I am delivered to in that moment; one thought leads to another, the end of one is the beginning of another, and I need to simply observe the process. The opportunity to bind myself to G-d and others is present within each place I am delivered. This is the essence of the sacrifice of the journey of being alive: not knowing where I will be led nor when and how it will end, but simply, to savor the moment.
How does your contemplative practice allow you to appreciate the journey, devoid of a destination, to be one with this moment and each moment daily?
October 25th, 2011 — musings
The JMC has been named by Slingshot ’11-’12 as one of the 50 most inspiring Jewish nonprofits in North America!
This is super exciting news that we wanted to share with everyone. Slingshot was created by a team of young funders as a guidebook to the most innovative and effective organizations and programs in North America. The guide, now in its 7th edition, has proven to be a catalyst for next generation funding, and it’s an incredible honor (check out the other groups included in this year’s guide- so awesome!) to be included for a second year in a row.
Check out the JMC page in Slingshot here!
Here’s some of what Slingshot had to say about the JMC:
At JMC, participants meditate together and then have thoughtful discussions about the weekly parsha and upcoming holidays. JMC offers weekly sitting meditation and has also added guest teachers and holiday workshops. JMC programs span denominations by bringing together unaffiliated Jews who reconnect to Judaism through JMC, with ritually observant Jews who feel JMC adds a meaningful component to spirituality….
JMC also works with a variety of partners, including synagogues, to weave meditation into Jewish communal life. In addition to establishing itself as a Jewish community in New York and promoting the use of meditation in Jewish life, JMC seeks to inspire or seed the creation of Jewish meditation communities across the country. JMC has begun to train leaders to return to their communities to launch groups in a variety of settings. JMC is also creating a set of best practices and resources to share with emerging communities.
Evaluators are encouraged by the early waves JMC is making in the community. “No other organization is working to bring spirituality to young Jews in this way,” one evaluator says. A Slingshot Fund member who has attended a “Beginner Sit” reports, “I was impressed how the meditation infused Judaism and framed it in a Jewish context. It was a warm, inviting space.” Another evaluator shares, “The organization is definitely hip, and I have no problem imagining this work opening the door to a whole new cadre of Jews.”
Can you imagine a thriving, grassroots Jewish Meditation Center of Brooklyn that acts as a replicable model and can usher in the next generation of Jewish meditation, provide resources and training, and help to create a national network of Jewish meditation communities? We can. And that’s exactly what we’re building, with your practice and support.
Read about us in Slingshot and click on over to www.jmcbrooklyn.org/donate.html to invest in the JMC today!
September 22nd, 2011 — parsha reflection
This week’s Torah portions, Nitzavim (standing) and Vayelech (and he went) detail the covenant G-d makes with the people of Israel before Moses passes along his leadership prior to his death. When looking at these portions in the context of the Jewish calendar and the upcoming High Holidays, we can glean some inspiration for our self-reflective work as we plan to “stand” before G-d, our community, and ourselves.
The text describes a warning: when the people of Israel are aligned with their covenant with G-d, there will be blessings, and when they turn away from their covenant, there will be curses. The text uses different versions of the Hebrew root word “shuv,” which translates as “turn” or “return” – an interesting coincidence in light of the approaching holiday. At this time of year, we are asked to do “teshuva.” While this is typically is interpreted as “repentence” the word originates in the same root word this portion uses: to turn/return.
When G-d addresses the nation, the text details the diverse members of the larger community that are being addressed: from leaders and officers, considered highly ranked in the group, to the woodcutters and water-drawers, the lowest rung of society. It has highlighted by commentators that not one person is left out of this covenant, regardless of their social standing or assumed worth.
In reading this, I thought about how when I started a meditation practice, I was hoping it would foster my higher self and help me get rid of sides of myself I disliked. I wanted the “leader” in me to step forward and the “woodcutter” in me to go away. As I practiced, I realized that I spent a lot of energy running away from parts of myself that could not be separated from the whole of who I am. My attempts at turning away again and again from the parts of me I didn’t like just fueled my frustrations and intolerance of who I am in comparison to who I wanted to be. After some time, my practice took on a different focus that is much more in line with the description this portion offers: whatever and whoever is within me, I make space for it all. I do not distract myself or avoid the parts I dislike in favor of the things I prefer: I am dedicating my practice to include all sides of myself. In doing this, I have found much healing and compassion within myself.
We spend so much of our energy trying to prop up those sides of ourselves we value while ignoring or avoiding the parts that we dislike. What if we took the time this holiday season to re-establish a covenant with all parts of ourselves? What if we turned to address and acknowledge each part of the whole package of who we are? Perhaps this type of teshuva or returning would bring us closer to atONEment and make space for blessings and peace in return. My kavanah (intention) for practice is to sit in openness for all parts of ourselves. We can gather up the pieces of ourselves that we love as well as what we dislike and stand together in one-ness, recognizing that all of our selves are necessary, from the high priests to the water gatherers.
September 7th, 2011 — holidays, musings
When I was a teenager, I read every book I could find on meditation. Almost all of the books talked about enlightenment, which fascinated me. I thought it meant that if I meditated enough, something would suddenly change. I would see things differently, bend spoons, maybe even glow.
As my meditation practice grew and deepened, I found myself uninterested in Judaism and fell in love with Buddhism. Still inspired by the idea of enlightenment, my understanding of it matured and changed to include more kindness and compassion and less about telekinesis.
While spending a summer in India, I took daily Buddhist philosophy classes. Along with everyone else in the class, I always bowed and prostrated to the ground when the teacher walked into the room. One day, after weeks of classes, we were about to begin, and the teacher entered. I stood, and as everyone around me began to bow and prostrate, I froze. It felt like a light went on inside my heart, like my Jewish soul, aching for connection, was not comfortable bowing in that context.
That was the beginning of my journey to connect my meditation practice to my Judaism and when I began to seek out teachers and teachings of Jewish meditation. My search for enlightenment brought me to a Jewish meditation practice that I now see as a path of cultivating tikkun olam (repairing the world) from the inside out, which feels pretty enlightened to me.
Alison Laichter is a teacher, urban planner, Brooklynite, and the Executive Director of the Jewish Meditation Center. www.jmcbrooklyn.org
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