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Why would I want to spend time sitting and focusing on my breath? I’m not the type…”
When I remember that version of myself, five years ago—someone who was not the “type” to meditate—I smile and am filled with gratitude. Gratitude toward my former self, for staying curious, which enabled me to follow a deeper yearning for connection. And, gratitude to the Institute for providing a safe space for inner work, and teachers who inspired me to explore Jewish contemplative practices.
The change in my life is palpable: more joy, less worry, more appreciation for all the blessings around me—blessings which I now am able to notice in their fullness and beauty. One very vivid example is my experience of aging. Yes, I worry about growing older and losing my physical vitality or mental acuity. But while I have never felt more vulnerable, I have learned to embrace it; I ask God for strength and in the stillness and spaciousness of my breath, I am at ease.
— Terry Rosenberg, West Newton, MA (Incoming Board Chair, Kivvun)
how do you remain open to learning?
who are your teachers?
Have you learned anything unexpected from an every day experience?
a challenging experience?
Learning about and practicing anavah (humility) could not have come at a better time; it saved me by helping me to reevaluate my life and escape the pressures of needing to prove myself. I was so used to defining my value solely by my successes, as opposed to by my passions or relationships. Tikkun middot practice helped me realize that what I accomplish—and don’t accomplish—does not define my worth.
— Madeline Dolgin, NYU student (Tikkun Middot Project)
Tell us in the comments below!
An interview with Rabbi Nancy Flam on the power of meaningful prayer is the featured story of the Fall 2014 issue of Reform Judaism magazine, and can be found at www.reformjudaism.org/revitalizing-prayer.
A new movement is emerging to transform prayer into a more powerful and compelling practice, building upon our ancestors’ recognition that we truly can effect change through prayer.
You have said, “We risk losing a core of Jewish religious life if we do not discover better ways to pray.” Why is discovering better ways to pray so important?
I believe that prayer is a fundamental, defining human need. When our hearts are full or empty, when we feel deep longing, gratitude, humility, awe, love, or devotion, many of us—even those who don’t relate to liturgical prayer in a formal service—instinctively turn toward prayer, just as a flower turns toward the sun.
One woman told me how she took a certain route each week when driving to an appointment in order to pass a beautiful field bathed in late afternoon sunlight—the sight always uplifted her. “I noticed the beauty and was grateful for it,” she told me. “Then I was grateful for eyes that could see, a heart that could understand, the happenstance of this incarnation….I’ve come to realize that my noticing is a prayer.”
Click here to read the interview in its entirety, and join in the conversation below!
By Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg
This transition in my life from full time to part time work and toward retirement and old age is reflected in the season. It is a dappled time. It is a golden time.
Bright golden leaves
I move toward acceptance and wisdom, deeply wanting to give myself away, but in a different way. I want to enjoy life, feel nurtured, and truly embrace the love in my life.
Dappled dry leaves
Crunching under my foot
As I kiss the ground
I want the spiritual awareness that I have unearthed to be realized fully so it can serve as a beacon, a witness to God and others – a witness to my purpose and my legacy.
The oldest tree in Pennsylvania
We have one mother.
And there are challenges – like strength and energy and especially balance. Also just remembering. And getting so tired. And habitual striving. Habitual good girl. And the pain in my face, my jaw. Frustration and fear are still here.
Amazing standing log
Upright on three legs,
A face but no roots.
There’s only change.
Roots, yes, I have them. Some are crumbling, being questioned. Still I have Torah, Jewish community, the world of mysticism, wisdom literature, poetry, music. There is so much to draw upon. NO reason to despair.
Many trees with split trunks
Divided in two,
How well I know.
In many ways less divided now, clearer, knowing when to say yes and no, not needing a face anymore, not wanting to appear as anything or anyone. The time is urgent. The tasks are immense. I want to recall to call upon the Source of All.
Every leaf and nut
Knows it is the season
To return in love.
Returning to the Source of faith and love. What else gave birth to everything and what else awaits us at the end? Miracle of miracles. No matter who you are.
Super large magnolia leaves
Fallen, dried and brown,
Size no safe haven.
Neither size nor accomplishment, brilliance, cleverness, wit, not even friendliness, lovability.
We all return to the earth like the leaves in autumn.
And there still is plenty to unfold, perhaps. Who knows? Staying open. New teachers, new friends, new students, children, learning, all blessings. New struggles, new campaigns, losses and victories – who knows?
Delicate mini oak leaves
Still perfectly green
This time of year.
Yom Iyyun is currently SOLD OUT!
I am privileged to lead two meditations during the High Holidays this year at my synagogue. One will be during the Shofarot section of Mussaf on Rosh Hashanah and the other during the Avodah Service on Yom Kippur. This is largely a result of my participation in Jewish Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Training II, and the good work of my teachers Jeff Roth and Sheila Weinberg in preparing me to teach.
Each meditation will start with a discussion of mindfulness but for this article let me get to the heart of the matter. Imagine that you are sitting in services on Yom Kippur in the early afternoon:
Our tradition teaches that in the time of the Temple, on Yom Kippur the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, would enter the Holy of Hollies to pray on behalf of the people of Israel and seek forgiveness. He would prepare himself for this moment through prayer and fasting. We are told that The Ark of the Covenant was originally inside the Holy of Hollies, but by the time of the second temple, the space inside was empty. Holy space. He would enter into the space in silence but when inside, would utter the ineffable and secret name of God, that only he knew.
We have no record of that name from any of the High Priests We only have an image of a holy man entering a holy space in silence to connect with the divine. However, I like imagining a different scenario.
The High Priest prepared himself with fasting and prayer, both spoken and silent. He was prepared to connect with the divine on his own behalf and that of the people of Israel. It was an awesome responsibility and perhaps the sound of a voice would have taken him out of his concentration and the holiness of the moment. Imagine instead that the High Priest entered in silence and stayed in silence. Imagine that his connection to the Divine was just his breath, his essential ruach.
I invite you now to enter into your personal holy of holies. So just sit up, in a dignified posture and gently let your eyes close.
Notice your breath as it enters and leaves the body. You don’t have to do anything special, just notice the breath either at the nostril or in the chest or in the diaphragm. As you follow your breath, let it lead you inward. Your fasting, prayer and song have brought you to this holy moment. Allow your breath to usher you into this holy space.
As you notice a thought cross your mind, gently return your attention to the breath. This is not about clearing your mind of thoughts. Minds don’t work that way. This is about noticing our thoughts and directing our attention to this holy moment, to this holy breath.