As we move forward from Tishrei, filled with Jewish holidays bringing renewal and beginning again, into the month of Cheshvan, empty of Jewish festival dates, I've been working on a number of new activities that point to the potential of emptiness and simplicity as the doorway into deeper spiritual awareness in our everyday lives. I've been teaching mindfulness meditation to a group of teenagers at our cross-communal Jewish high school program, Merkaz, and I've also been bringing a brief introduction to meditative practices to our 5th and 6th graders before we pray our abridged evening service together at Religious School. Next month I am launching a new meditation and chanting hour at a local holistic healing center, the Soma Center for Well-Being, with a member of our congregation, Andrea Rudolph. And this Shabbat, a group of 21 women from the congregation are joining me for our 2nd one day retreat, this year on the theme of Interactive meditation - how mindfulness practices impact on our everyday activities and interactions with others and the world around us.
There are many venues for practicing meditation, and they do not necessarily have to sit within a religious or spiritual framework. However, different frameworks emphasize different dimensions of the practice and, for me, the spiritual connection is an extremely important and powerful aspect of mindfulness.
Many people are drawn to mindfulness meditation as a relaxation technique - a way of creating space and silence, to just breathe, and take a break from the stress and hectic nature of the rest of their lives. There is no question that meditation practice can be deeply relaxing. In fact, it is not unusual for some people to fall asleep during a meditation practice, so calming can it be to tune in to the rhythm of your breathing, or chant a mantra over and over. But, from a spiritual perspective, meditation is not about tuning out and falling asleep... its about waking up! Mindfulness is about becoming aware of this moment. You might think that you are always present in this moment... where else would you be? But when we sit quietly and do something as 'simple' as just noticing our breath coming in and going out, most of us soon notice how hard it is to stay focused on that one thing. And when we begin to notice what our mind is doing, we notice that we spend a great deal of time in the past or in the future, but very little time actually being fully present to right now.
I'd like to share some insights and practices from a Jewish approach to mindfulness meditation in coming posts because, in addition to the awareness and growth that can come to each of us as individuals when we engage in mindfulness meditation practices, there are mindfulness practices and teachings that come from our Jewish wisdom traditions that show us that it is through our presence - to this moment, to our deepest selves, to our planet, and to each other - that we can access an experience of The Presence. Bringing this awareness into our lives not only helps us to walk through our lives being more awake, but can infuse the rituals and practices that have been handed down to us through Jewish communities and families with a power that can reawaken our passion for meaningful engagement with Jewish living and celebration.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz