While there are definitely times I struggle with what to write each week, there are times, like today, when so many ideas are flooding into my brain. It can be overwhelming, and picking one over the other is a daunting task.
I want to talk about the situation in Israel, the growth and seeming power of the BDS, the exile, not only of Jews around the world, but also of the exile within Judaism… the dysfunction and brokenness that seems to be dividing us along religious lines… political lines… and how and if we support Israel…
But what I would like to focus on today is something that seemed disparate and without connection. The irony, of course, is that it is ALL connected… WE are ALL connected… And these ideas never needed to be separate to begin with, and that is key.
We are the world… Sure, cue the music if you want… but we really are! We are connected to each other… connected to the Earth and nature… connected to Hashem… and I believe this is the true meaning of Echad… One… Unity and undivided.
I attended a seminar called Evolving Out Loud With Kyle Cease last month, and today marks my 31st day in a row of meditating. My goal is to get to an hour a day… and while my longest has been 36 minutes… yes, Double Chai… my shortest has been 5-10. The key is to be consistent, which I am working on. I find the morning to be the best and most important time, either before or after Shacharis, as it starts things off on a superior foot and truly carries over into the day!
The chatter in my brain was so loud to begin with… remembering all the things I had to do… ideas I wished to work on… wanting to open my eyes and stop… this was silly, etc.
Now I find I can ease into a true state of quiet so much more easily.
Pema Chödrön, an American-born teacher of Buddhism, helped immensely… Her audiobook How To Meditate gave me tips on how to deal with and dismiss those thoughts. The goal is not to fight them, but to get to a true state of quiet and bliss.
I am also reading Aryeh Kaplan’s book called Jewish Meditation.
I can tell you unequivocally, the transformation has been dramatic. I am calmer, happier and more aware of everything around me… and thus, I am more connected to Hashem.
They call this practice Mindfulness… and it is all over the place these days… Books, seminars, you name it. Deepak Chopra and Oprah have a 21-day Meditation Challenge… so you know it’s big.
There are many techniques and ways to meditate, and I suggest exploring and learning as much as you can to find what works for you. The simplest is to sit upright… in a chair or on the floor with your legs crossed, in the classic pose… Close your eyes… breathe and concentrate on the breaths… and let your mind go quiet. Start with five minutes and build up to what you can.
So where does Judaism fit into all of this?
A I sat in the seminar, and listened to quotes from Kyle, as well as other famous and well-known “self-help” and “motivational” experts, I could not help but realize that so much of what they were saying came directly from Torah… or Pirkei Avos… or Kabbalah. I would not have known this, of course, if I hadn’t been studying Torah… and Pirkei Avos… and Kabbalah and Tanya.
The realization excited me and put a huge smile on my face. The Judaism of “rules” and the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments) showed me just how spiritual, practical and remarkable Judaism actually was. The true beauty of Judaism became viscerally apparent to me… and that continues to be revealed on a daily basis.
Judaism is all over modern psychology. Just look at Freud… and while there is some debate over whether or not he was anti-Semitic, there is Judaism in the thoughts and philosophy of Jung.
In a letter to Reverend Erastus Evans, written on the 17th of February 1954, Jung wrote:
“In a tract of the Lurianic Kabbalah, the remarkable idea is developed that man is destined to become God’s helper in the attempt to restore the vessels which were broken when God thought to create a world. Only a few weeks ago, I came across this impressive doctrine which gives meaning to man’s status exalted by the incarnation.”
Hilel (b. 110 BCE) has two astoundingly brilliant quotes that seem to make their way into almost all self-help/self-improvement/self-empowerment teachings… in some form or shape…
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”
Stand up for yourself… seize the day… live in the moment… treat others as you would treat yourself… be a Mensch…
Have you heard any of those ideas before? Lots of people are making lots of money with lots of best sellers touting those notions!
In the amazing book Kabbalah 365, Gershon Winkler gives us daily doses and lessons and “Daily fruit from the Tree Of Life.”
On Day 48 he talks about the power of quieting the mind and opening space… and being open to teachings and the world, and not being a know-it-all:
“No wisdom comes to us when we are filled with it. Wisdom only comes when we are void of it, when we have hollowed out a clear space in our selves, and created room for experience and for what experience teaches us.”
On Day 71, he talks about true Mindfulness and quotes Rabbi Nachman Of Beslov:
“When you take your next stroll in the woods, or peer out the window at your lawn try to hear the chanting that resounds around you. All is singing every moment. “How good and how beautiful is it when one is able to hear the song of the grasses.”
This all came together in the most powerful way when I heard Rabbi Doniel Katz speak this past Saturday night. This is a whole other post, so come back next week to see how the power of each of our brains is immense and remarkable… and can truly help change the world and bring Torah back from Exile!
In the meantime, and I will leave you with this… According to Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, and I will paraphrase and add my own spice…
The most important thing we can do as Jews… beyond study and Torah and anything else… is to be a Mensch… to live your life well… and always do the right thing. We must live with kindness and integrity.