Now is the time for spiritual practice.
Rabbi Lisa Goldstein
Perhaps the author Paul Auster said it the most succinctly: “It occurred to me that the inner and the outer could not be separated except by doing great damage to the truth.”
One of the most radical intuitions that can emerge from contemplative spiritual practice is how profoundly everything is interconnected. There are so many ways we can talk about this experience. Jewish mystical texts discuss how waking up in the lower worlds causes waking up in the upper worlds. The sephirot map Divine qualities out there onto the human body right here. Nachman of Breslov piles metaphor upon metaphor (bechinot) in his teachings to show how seemingly unrelated things are surprisingly aspects of each other. Art Green and others help move vertical symbols into horizontal ones, encouraging us to connect the inside and the outside as one whole, all of which can be an abode for Divine light.
This is particularly important during times like ours. We are seeing clearly what we glimpse in our practice: namely, that the inner life is not actually separate from our outer lives. The conditions and conditioning of our hearts and minds shape our relationships and contribute to shaping our societies. And the opposite is also true. What happens on a national and international scale is not separate from us; we feel their influence in our relationships and in our souls. There is one thing happening on all the levels.
Wherever you are on the political spectrum, we might agree that these are remarkable times. We at the Institute would like to suggest that now more than ever is the time for the wisdom and insights born of spiritual practice.
Over the coming months, in each e-newsletter we will highlight a practice, a middah (way of being in the world), a teaching that we hope will serve as a resource in cultivating a grounded and resilient inner life that helps act us wisely and lovingly in ways that are most aligned with our core values. We will also offer a webinar to further explore the practice or teaching. All these resources will be available on our website.
Our first topic is Difficult Conversations. Rabbi Amy Eilberg will kick off the series with a webinar on “Mindful Engagement in Difficult Conversation: The Art of Tochacha,” Thursday, Feb. 23, from 2-3 pm. EST.
Please contact me with feedback and suggestions. And may we learn to be more and more
Our prayers and love go out to Rabbi Rachel Cowan, who has recently undergone surgery. Those who wish to send messages to Rachel and to receive updates on her journey may do so through www.caringBridge.org
Shmirat haLashon: A Meditation on Mindful Speech
Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg
Elohai Netzor Leshoni MayRa
We are going to use the letters of the aleph bet as objects of our meditation along with the breath. This is a practice to help us settle the mind and see more clearly so that we can chose our words with greater care. May our words heal rather than to hurt. May they be useful and truthful and filled with wisdom.
Please, take your seat for meditation.
Allow your spine to be erect and your face, shoulders and heart to be soft. Allow your belly to be soft and relaxed.
Settle into your body. Notice sensations and sounds. Allow the thoughts to pass like clouds in the open sky.
Now connect to your breath – wherever it is easiest for you – throat, nostrils, back of throat, belly, chest, whole body breathing.
On the next full breath visualize the letter aleph in your mind and softly say the word aleph to yourself, on the second breath visualize the letter bet and softly silently note to yourself bet, on the third breath, visualize gimel and softly note gimel.
Then repeat again and again the sequence of aleph, bet, gimel. Each letter receives a full breath (inhale and exhale). Try to allow the breath to come naturally. Bring your attention to the breath and add the visualization of the letter and the soft note.
Try this for a while. If you get distracted and forget your place, be kind and gentle. Return to the aleph.
If this is very easy you might try going all the way to zayin in the same manner.
Aleph – one inhale and exhale, bet – one full breath, gimel – one breath, dalet – one breath, hay – one breath, vav – one breath, zayin – one breath and return to aleph for another cycle. Include the visualization of the letter and the soft note.
If you have a lot of time and energy you might try the entire aleph – bet, aleph through tav.
Nachman of Breslov on Disagreement and Creation (Likkutei Mohoran, 64:4)
In this teaching, Nachman is building on the Lurianic creation story. In that story, God created the world by drawing back Divine light to leave an empty space in which the world could be created through speech. But the withdrawn light was too powerful and shattered the vessels that were supposed to hold it. This caused “husks,” or broken pieces of the vessels, to come into being, which hide sparks of that Divine light and introduce separation and suffering into the world. Still, Nachman teaches, in an argument there is a precious opportunity to create new realities through speech.
Understand that a disagreement is a kind of creation of the world. For the essence of the creation of the world was that it required an empty space, since without it, everything would be the infinite presence of God and there wouldn’t be any place for the creation of the world. So God pulled the light back to the sides and the empty space was created and in it God created everything – days and measures – using speech, as it is said, “By the word of God the heavens were made (Ps. 33:6).” Similarly, this is the nature of disagreement. If the sages were united, there wouldn’t be a place for the creation of the world, which only happens through the disagreements between them. They move away from each other, each one pulling back towards a different side. Thus a kind of empty space is created between them, which is like pulling back the light to the sides. This is where the creation can happen through speech.
Everything that they say is only for the sake of creating the world which is done by them in the empty space between them, for the sages create everything with their words, as it is written, “Saying to Zion, you are My people (Is. 51:16).” Instead of “My people” (ammi), read it “with Me” (immi). Just as I create heaven and earth with words, you do the same (cf. Zohar I, Introduction: 5a). But you must be careful not to speak too much; say only what is needed for creating the world and not more. In the original moment of creation, the vessels could not contain the greatness of the light and they shattered. That there was too much light and the shattering of the vessels led to the existence of husks that mask the Divine in the world. If one sage talks too much he causes husks to come into existence. It is like too much light that leads to the breaking of the vessels which leads to the existence of the husks that mask the Divine.
ספר ליקוטי מוהר”ן – מהדורא קמא סימן סד
]ד] ודע, כי מחלקת היא בחינות בריאת העולם. כי עקר בריאת העולם, על-ידי חלל הפנוי כנ”ל, כי בלא זה היה הכל אין סוף, ולא היה מקום לבריאת העולם כנ”ל. ועל-כן צמצם האור לצדדין, ונעשה חלל הפנוי, ובתוכו ברא את כל הבריאה, הינו הימים והמדות, על-ידי הדבור כנ”ל, “בדבר ה’ שמים נעשו” וכו’. וכן הוא בחינת המחלוקות, כי אלו היו כל התלמידי-חכמים אחד, לא היה מקום לבריאת העולם. רק על ידי המחלקת שביניהם, והם נחלקים זה מזה, וכל אחד מושך עצמו לצד אחר, על ידי זה נעשה ביניהם בחינות חלל הפנוי, שהוא בחינות צמצום האור לצדדין, שבו הוא בריאת העולם על ידי הדבור כנ”ל:
כי כל הדברים שכל אחד מהם מדבר, הכל הם רק בשביל בריאת העולם שנעשה על ידם בתוך החלל הפנוי שביניהם. כי התלמידי – חכמים בוראים את הכל על ידי דבריהם. כמו שכתוב (ישעיה נ”א): “ולאמר לציון עמי אתה” ‘אל תקרי עמי אלא עמי, מה אנא עבדי שמיא וארעא במלולי אף אתם כן’ (כמו שכתוב בזהר בהקדמה דף ה): אך צריך לזהר שלא לדבר יותר מדי, רק כפי צרך בריאת העולם לא יותר. כי על ידי רבוי האור, שלא היו הכלים יכולים לסבל רבוי האור, נשתברו, ומשבירת הכלים היה התהוות הקלפות. כן אם אחד מרבה לדבר, מזה גורם התהוות הקלפות. כי הוא בחינת d:רבוי האור, שעל-ידי-זה היו שבירת הכלים, שעל-ידי-זה התהוות הקלפות
Mindful Activism in Action
Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg
Like many of you, I imagine, I subscribe to email action alerts from various advocacy organizations. As my mindfulness practice has become a stronger thread in my life, I have noticed how these action alerts arouse a whole range of thoughts, sensations and emotions. A couple of organizations in particular regularly send out alerts that seem to be designed to arouse either a panicky fear or potent anger in the reader. These feelings often energize and move me to act, but I have unsubscribed from these emails. When I’m asked the reason for stopping my subscription, I explain that I prefer to be motivated by compassion and faith than by anger and fear.
Anger and fear are not sustainable motivations for activism. Of course, aversion will arise, as we contemplate what is happening in our country. But as we discern how we are going to engage in social justice work for the long haul, we should turn to the wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh, who taught that meeting anger with more anger only makes matters worse, creating more suffering for ourselves and others. With practice, we can tune in to our suffering – the anxiety, anger and disgust as they arise. We can lovingly sit with these feelings, breathe into them, softening the body around any constriction we feel, wishing ourselves well, and then turn to our work from a more balanced, loving place.
Rooting our social justice work in compassion for ourselves helps prevent burn-out. Another teaching from Thich Nhat Hanh:
[I]f we don’t maintain a balance between our work and the nourishment we need, we won’t be very successful. The practice of walking meditation, mindful breathing, allowing our body and mind to rest, and getting in touch with the refreshing and healing elements inside and around us is crucial for our survival.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that living in New York City, I could attend a demonstration almost every day of the week. Lately I’ve set an intention to choose more carefully how often I’m in the streets, in order to conserve my physical and emotional resources for when they are most needed.
This intention not only comes from that compassion for myself, but from a growing awareness of an unhelpful motivation behind my activism ever since the elections. I began to notice that upon seeing yet another Facebook invitation to a demonstration, my mind would loudly declare, “I MUST GO TO THIS DEMONSTRATION!” I became curious about this loud story. I had initially believed that since the story was loud, it must be true. But when I sat with it, I saw that this story sprouts from a delusion – that if I personally didn’t show up for every action, our democracy – the world itself – would fall apart. I realized that some humility was called for here – I personally am not responsible for holding the world together all by myself. I do not carry this burden alone – others will go to this demonstration, and I can go to the next one, and I’m still a good person.
A few weeks ago, I was grateful for this new intention. I had purposefully not attended a mid-week rally the last week of January. That Shabbat, the Executive Order came out, suspending the refugee program and blocking immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries. When I learned that people were heading out to JFK airport to demonstrate, it was clear that this was a time to act. My 12-year old daughter and I went out in the cold for what was a powerful experience of solidarity and love for the refugees who were being prevented from entering our country. Within hours we learned that a Brooklyn judge had issued a stay, blocking implementation of the Executive Order. The next day I was physically and emotionally spent, but I felt whole and joyful for having gone.
Our mindfulness practice and our Judaism both bid us to be engaged in bringing love and justice to our world. Staying up close with our own experience of suffering and bringing ourselves the same compassion we wish to see in the world, we can sustain this work and sustain ourselves.
2017 Summer Retreat and Training
for Hevraya and Community Members
Are you a professional or a lay leader in a Jewish community? This summer, the Institute will offer a retreat/training program just for leaders like you, who will be immersed in contemplative practice and receive training in implementing either our Tikkun Middot Project or Wise Aging Project. Those who are interested must apply to participate.
The Tikkun Middot Project infuses mindfulness practice throughout communities, cultivating attention to core middot (spiritual/ethical qualities). Participation in the Tikkun Middot Project is limited to alumni of Institute leadership programs (Hevraya, Kivvun, JMMTT, or Wise Aging) attending with one or more partners from their community. Participants will learn to develop their own Tikkun Middot practice, learn to facilitate groups, and develop strategies to infuse their communities with this practice, helping their members cultivate their character through practice.
The Wise Aging track will train participants as facilitators in Wise Aging and is open to those who have experience with group facilitation and familiarity with mindfulness practice. Training will focus on issues of aging, understanding the methodology and pedagogy underlying the leading of Wise Aging peer groups, such as study of Jewish texts and other sources of spiritual wisdom, active listening, contemplative practice and journaling. We will also offer an additional advanced track for those who have previously completed a Wise Aging facilitator training, in order to deepen your work.
For more information about this retreat/training please contact Rabbi Marc Margolius: firstname.lastname@example.org, 610-724-1901.