“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

Posts Tagged: social justice

Threefold Path of Action

Even before the horrific massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh this past Shabbat, it was easy to feel overwhelmed by the state of the world. The forces at play are so huge and the stakes are so high. How do we muster the courage to act? How do we even discern what actions to take?

Following the teaching of Joanna Macy, we might consider three different paths: holding and taking care of those who urgently need our care; developing new life-sustaining structures for a better world; and cultivating a shift in consciousness, the ability to deeply take in and know how profoundly interconnected we all are.

These three paths themselves are interconnected, of course, and there is extraordinary work happening in all three areas. The goal of IJS’s teaching is rooted in the third path. Our practices, whether they are meditation, prayer, text study, middot work or body awareness, are all for the sake of opening our eyes to the underlying unity that is the hidden fabric of the universe. This is an essential knowing that can also inspire and support those who are immediately engaged in taking care of others and in leading us out of the darkness that is all around us.

And what a blessing to know that there are others on this path with us. Last week we held a retreat for our Kivvun cohort at the Trinity Retreat Center. We had frequently used this retreat center for our east coast retreats, enjoying the beautiful setting on the Housatonic River and the famously fantastic food, until they closed in the fall of 2013. But they recently reopened their doors and we went back, trying not to bring a comparing mind with us.

What we found was the highest standard of loving hospitality. Hakima, the Algerian women at the front desk, had boned up on her Hebrew and greeted us with a joyful, “Boker tov!” Julia and Heidi in the kitchen offered simple meals that were fresh, healthy, delightfully seasoned and absolutely delicious. But it was more than that. Without us asking, the staff removed the Christian iconography from the chapel so we could pray there for Kabbalat Shabbat without being uncomfortable. And on Sunday morning as they gathered for their own prayer, they sounded the church bell eleven times, one for each precious life that was violently ended during worship the day before in Pittsburgh.

Our Christian hosts embodied that loving unity for us, so that our experience of that interconnectedness could help us strengthen our own capacity to embody it and offer it to others. That is a profound action. As we go out and take care of others, build new structures, and yes, vote, let’s not forget the importance of cultivating that new sense of knowing as the loving ground for it all.

[image credit: CATHARINE MACBRIDE/GETTY IMAGES]

Repair the World

Recently, I had the opportunity to test out a pet theory of mine and to see if it held any water.  I was excited and nervous:  what if this whole idea just sounded nice in my head but didn’t have any traction on the ground?

For the past three years or so, I have been interested in the juxtaposition of justice work and contemplative practices.  I had been leading a variety of service-learning trips, mostly with college students in the Global South, and also doing local volunteer work, helping a family of refugees from Burma start to make a new life for themselves in the US.  I had also been teaching meditation.  I wondered:  could there be a connection between these two worlds?

Perhaps combining social justice with contemplative practice could help make sure that meditation and prayer and learning don’t turn into self-indulgent, self-satisfied activities that are only about personal fulfillment.  And perhaps bringing contemplative practices to justice work could help ensure that activism is more creative, more sustainable and more grounded in the values it endeavors to hold.

At our Jewish Meditation Teacher Training retreat in November, I had the first opportunity to share some of my ideas and I was pleased with the positive reception.  But in some ways, I felt like I was preaching to the proverbial choir.  Many of the participants in the program are already involved in various forms of social change and all of them have a strong meditation practice.  All I had to do was connect the dots.

But this winter I had the opportunity to be the scholar in residence for Repair the World’s Fellow program.  This training was for twelve outstanding professionals who are leading service learning programs across the country.  They came to the training without any a priori interest in contemplative practices.  They were looking for tools to be more effective teachers, activists and organizers.

To my great delight, they got it right away.  They understood that, in the words of Paul Auster, “the inner and the outer could not be separated except by doing great damage to the truth.”  Paying attention to our inner lives – to what is difficult, to our own inner shadow, to the process of reflection – is the same thing as paying attention to the areas that need fixing out in the world, just on a different level.  And bringing a loving, gentle awareness to the areas of brokenness, both inner and outer, can open possibilities of healing and transformation in beautiful and surprising ways.

This is just the beginning.  Stay tuned for more…