Jewish Meditation

Sheila Weinberg

We are confronted with a world filled with problems and crises. It is not uncommon to wonder, “How are things going to change?” “What is the role of one person in making positive change happen in the world?”

Jewish teachers and students have asked these questions thousands of years. They have come up with a tradition rich in guidance, wisdom, and inspiration. We are heirs to an approach that realizes the human being is created in the Divine image, possessing enormous potential to realize values of holiness, kindness, justice and peace. Yet, despite, our best efforts, we are sometimes hampered in our ability to act from the wells of goodness that each of us possesses.

We, at the Institute, have been introduced to mindfulness meditation as a path that can support and sustain our Jewish lives and the fulfillment of our Jewish values. We are dedicated to introducing this practice into the Jewish world for several reasons:

  1. to enliven and enhance Jewish prayer, celebration, ritual and community;
  2. to be part of working for the betterment of our fragile and vulnerable planet;
  3. to recognize the true and deep sources of happiness in a world filled with seductive, competing and ultimately unsatisfying short-term fixes.

How can mindfulness meditation help?

Mindfulness meditation is training the mind. Just as we go to the gym to make our bodies stronger and more flexible, so mind training helps make our minds more spacious, perceptive and most of all free.

We train our capacity to pay attention by turning our attention, like a flashlight, on our own minds. This helps us see more clearly the nature of our own minds. We become aware of the patterns and habits that run our lives but have not been previously visible. We begin to realize that these patterns and habits may serve our goals, desires, and purposes – but often they do not. We start to realize that there actually is a “pause button” built into our system. This pause button can be activated when we become triggered by an event outside ourselves and are tempted to act in reactive, patterned and unskillful ways.

The “pause button” wakes us up, creates a space in our mind where we can ask the question: ”What is the skillful, wholesome, wise, goal oriented action I need to take in this moment?” “What are my choices here?” The development of this capacity for inner freedom is why we train in mindfulness. This can be profoundly useful in our lives, especially in our relationships, and in any task we undertake to realize our dreams or express our creativity.

By cultivating attention, we are also able to feel more satisfied with each moment of our experience.

We learn to rest in this moment as it unfolds.

We learn to bring our awareness to the flow of energy in the body which is the very miracle of our aliveness. We learn to be more receptive to the fullness of each moment, rather than resisting what has already occurred or projecting what is not yet here. We learn to notice the arising and passing of all experience, recognizing how short and precious this life is.

We learn to treasure each day for the miracle it is. This is itself a source of happiness. According to modern neuroscience, the mind is a dynamic flow of experiences rather than a fixed state. When we experience this for ourselves, we feel less isolated, less caught in judgment and adversity, and more open to the mystery and majesty of this very life.