“The questioning allows us to dig deep into the Torah portion and make the aliyot personal. Excellent strategy to include everyone.”

— Lay retreat participant Winter 2012

Posts Tagged: spiritual practice

The July Retreat Season Begins with Cultivating Gratitude

Housatonic River

 

Our July retreat season is underway and what a pleasure it is to gather together in person with our far-flung community at the Trinity Conference Center in beautiful West Cornwall, Connecticut!  Our first retreat, which was an open retreat, focused on cultivating gratitude, and our second retreat, which is happening now, is for our seventh cohort of rabbis.  Here are a few highlights of the retreat on gratitude:

  • An early morning walk by the Housatonic River with banks of orange lilies, sightings of herons and a beaver waddling between the rocks at the river edge.
  • Observing how the process of asking questions about the Torah portion – and not answering them – transformed a strange fairy tale with a talking donkey and things happening in threes into profound insights about experiencing Divine guidance and skillful responses to obstacles and ambivalence.
  • Watching a whole roomful of people from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds open their hearts in song.
  • Exploring real obstacles to gratitude, such as being uncomfortable with receiving from others or confronting challenging situations, and how we and Jews in ages past have tried to overcome these obstacles.Housatonic River
  • Savoring trout that was caught that same morning, along with cold mint pea soup, fresh local tomatoes with pesto, salad with raspberries and walnuts, seitan with a ginger sauce, roasted carrots and “white chocolate blackberry dream” (which is exactly what it sounds like).
  • Welcoming our beloved Shabbat with radiance and joy.
  • Learning that the Hebrew work for “thanking” (lehodot) can also mean “acknowledging” and practicing saying “thank you” or “Yes, this too” to whatever arises, through prayer, yoga, meditation and traditional texts.
  • Using freshly picked rosemary, thyme and sage as the spices for Havdallah.

If you were at this retreat (or if you have been at other retreats at Trinity), what have been some of your highlights?

Remembering

subway

It was cool and drizzly when I left my apartment one morning last week, wearing my spring raincoat, but by mid-afternoon, it was sunny and warm.  At the end of the day, I walked out of the office, leaving my coat on the rack outside my office door.  I rode the crowded subway to my stop, dropped in at the grocery story to pick up a couple of things, and as I started to cross the street to my apartment, all of a sudden, I knew.

Lisa's coat

The keys to my apartment were not in my bag.  They were in the pocket of my raincoat, hanging on the coat rack outside my office door.

I know that moment so well, that mental click from forgetting to remembering.  It’s a cold, jarring sensation.  It’s the jolt that accompanies waking up in meditation or suddenly knowing the right word for the crossword puzzle.  In American Sign Language, it’s the popping up of the index finger in the sign for “understanding.”  I think it must be related to the burst of the sephirah chochmah, the flash of creative insight that wasn’t there a moment ago.

The stories that accompany remembering can vary.  It can be the exasperation and self-judgment that focuses on the forgetting.  (“I am such an idiot!  Now I have to get back on the subway, go all the way back to the office and then retrace my steps again!”)  Or it can be marveling at the mind’s ability to wake up, even when it used to be asleep.  (“How amazing that I remembered before I actually reached into my bag to find my keys!”)   It can even be compassion.  (“Our poor brains!  Think of all the things that bombard us day in and day out!  No wonder we forget so much.  How else would we survive?”)

For me, the small, inconvenient act of forgetting and remembering spurred me to consider:  what else have I forgotten?  Have I remembered to be grateful for owning a key and a raincoat, for having the physical strength to get back on the subway, for having an office and a job, for walking through the early evening light in New York City with the thousands of other people, each with their own hopes and disappointments and stories?

So much of spiritual practice is about remembering to remember.