“The rabbi who led prayers was outstanding…felt extremely inspired in regard to praying and appreciating the meanings of the prayers and the music.”

— Lay Retreat participant Winter 2012

August 2017 Newsletter

Lisa GoldsteinPraying with Our Feet

Rabbi Lisa Goldstein

The other day I got together with a friend who is one of the wise advisors in my life.  I told her about a particular issue I was grappling with.  She shared a meditation instruction of bringing attention to the sensation of my feet on the floor and really focusing on the way gravity presses the feet down into the support of floor.  As I practiced with this instruction, I felt a kind of stability that opened up a clarity that helped me understand what steps to take next.

The very next day I was learning a text from Likkutei Halachot with my study partner.  The topic was about how to find eitzot amiti’ot shleimot, wise advice, the kind that can lead you where you really need to go, not just in the short term, but for long term attainment.  This book was written by Nachman of Breslov’s beloved disciple, Nathan, and—as is usual for Nachman teachings—there were lots of metaphors for the wise advice that we all seek.

Given my experience the day before, I was astonished to see that one of the metaphors for wise advice was raglayim, the legs and feet!  Nathan explains that this is because the legs and feet symbolize the lower levels of a spiritual journey, when we are in the depths and really need that wise advice.  That is when we are most receptive to hear the council of true tzadikim and to understand the guidance of the sages who can make the wisdom of Torah alive to us.

These are days when many of us are, in the memorable words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, “praying with our feet.” Sometimes it seems like there isn’t time to do things like meditation or setting aside an hour to learn with my study partner.  But this is precisely the time for those practices.  They help me pay more attention to the wisdom of my own body and the wisdom of the sages who lived before me.  These practices help me see more clearly.  They remind me that I am not separate from the rest of the world, and that keeping myself grounded and clear is adding more groundedness and clarity into the world.  They help me take better care of other selves that I encounter, in my family, on the subway, as I react to the headlines.

Grounding.  Support.  Clarity.  True advice that brings greater wholeness and opens a door to the next right steps.  As we enter into Elul and take true stock of our lives, we hope some of these offerings will help us do just that.


A Moment of Mindfulness is a Moment of Compassion – Either Way, is a Blessing

by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg

Coming home to this moment.
Recognizing we are alive. And that is good.
Let’s take a moment to receive what is here.
I invite everyone to take a conscious breath and just  feel. Whatever feeling feels like to you.
Breathing in. breathing out.
Feeling sensations. Warmth. Coolness. Tingling, Pulsing, Vibration… Hearing sounds as they arise and pass.
Seeing colors and shapes.
Our benevolent awareness is blessing each moment.
Receiving each moment just as it is.
Like a clear mirror.
We rest in the light that is within us, within each other.
In this moment feeling beautiful.
Just for a moment
setting critique, judgment, comparing aside.
Practicing blessing just what is right now.

In a world; in a mind – of frantic striving to know, make and have,
Just to be, to attend, to wait, to receive in stillness
Is healing; is loving; is freeing; is sacred.
In our world; in our mind
Stillness is radical.
Stillness is wild.
Breathing in, breathing out. Saying to ourselves; I am alive. Alive.
In good company.
Happy. Peaceful. At ease.
Blessing what is right now.
I relax.
Breathing in. I am alive
Breathing out. I am blessed
I soften.
I receive.
This moment as it is.
We are blessing and being blessed.

(This poem has been reproduced from Sheila’s new book, God Loves the Strangera collection of essays and poems about finding peace and harmony in an unsettled world. Learn more at sheilapeltzweinberg.com.)

How We Make for Safety

The Institute for Jewish Spirituality

At every Institute retreat, we work to create a space where everyone – regardless of where they are coming from, what they bring with them, and and what might arise for them on retreat – can feel safe, held, welcomed, and able to express themselves without fear of judgment or rebuke.
For those of you who may be running groups of your own, participating in groups that you may like to see change, or even looking to see informal spaces such as family or friend dynamics change, we wish to share with you the Institute’s guidelines of How We Make for Safety, presented to all participants at each Institute retreat.
How We Make for Safety
  1. Presume and extend welcome. It is almost always challenging, in one way or another, to be part of a group. Good news: there is no “inside” and no “outside” to this group! Be aware, though, of such sensitivities in ourselves and in each other.
  2. Know that there is genuine freedom in this circle. We do not engage in “forced sharing.” Every invitation to speak and participate is just that: an invitation. Passing or staying quiet is perfectly acceptable.
  3. We do not engage in “fixing, advising, saving or correcting” (Parker Palmer). Each of us is here to refine our ability to listen to the still, small voice inside. Trust that we will all find our own way.
  4. When in a group, whether a small group or the group as a whole, give your full attention to the person speaking. Do not engage in side conversations. Use “I” statements when speaking. Be aware of how much space you are taking up.
  5. Respect difference. We are a truly diverse group. Notice judgment and practice experiencing it with compassion rather than conviction. (Remind yourself that other people are not failed attempts at being you!) Cultivate curiosity.
  6. Each person in the circle commits to both conventional and “double” confidentiality. Conventional confidentiality means that we do not speak to anyone outside the group about what is shared in this group. “Double” confidentiality means that when a person shares a confidence that we sense makes them vulnerable, we do not raise the issue again with that person or anyone else in the group, without the invitation of the person in question.
  7. Make every effort to respect the group container. Please follow rules about silence and speech, and come to all programs (punctually!), unless they are marked as optional. If you cannot make a program, please let the person running the program know that you will not be there (or inform another member of the faculty).

To download a PDF of these guidelines, click here.

Waters of Repose (Psalm 23): Restorative Yoga for Stressful Times

by Rabbi Myriam Klotz

Restorative yoga involves gentle, passive stretching, allowing the nervous system to quiet down and experience deep rest. In this guided practice, explore how, in stressful times, we can find our ways to the waters of quiet and repose, restoring the soul to a place of ease and well being. Find renewal in slowing down, letting the body rest in stillness and quiet – experience a deep place of rest in the body and the breath.

Love After Love

by Derek Walcott

Treating ourselves gently can be one of the hardest parts of self-care. This poem might serve as a kavvanah before a lovingkindness meditation, or you might use a line or two as a focus phrase to remind you to treat yourself with love. 

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

To download this poem in PDF, click here.

Birchot HaShachar in Movement

by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg

I have taught this combination of Qi Gong at many retreats. Feel free to improvise. It is most valuable to coordinate the movement with the breath and not to strive for perfection. As one of my teachers said, “Underdo.”

Use in and out breath with each movement, allowing your hands to rise in front of your body, to shoulder level, hands in front (in breath) – Baruch; extend your fingers (out breath) ata; pull arms into chest – wrists toward shoulder (in breath) ado or yud hay; let hands float down (out breath) nai or vav hay; move arms all the way over head (in breath) elohaynuu; arms open and down to sides (out breath) ruach ha-olam.

Allow the breath to move the body. Feel the sensations moving through the body

Feel life, breath, ruach, energy of aliveness, light flowing through body; pay attention to hands and arms.

For each blessing, make a micro movement – a small shift, contraction, expansion, or adjustment – to sense or draw attention to the part of the body that is mentioned.

Blessing is a call to us to be mindful, pay attention to the now, the life force, the breath, the present movement as we sense it in our bodies.

Tzalmo: Breath

Yisrael (Shma Yisrael): Hip Socket or Ears

Bat Chorin: Joints

Pokayach Ivrim: Eyes

Malbish Arumim: Clothing Touching the Body

Mateer Asurim: Contract-Expand

Zokayf K’fufim: Neck, Back, Straightening

Roka HaAretz al HaMayim: Bottom of Feet

Kol Tzorki: Full-Body Scan

Mitzaday Gaver: Tiny Step Forward

Gevura: Middle; Power Source

Tifara: Crown of Head or Face

Koach: Entire Body Breath