Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld sent out a powerful holiday message to the group I went to Israel with. In it, he talked about Maimonides and his notion that the blast of the Shofar is a wake up call. Shlomo said that it is a call “to awaken something within us.”
This is an idea we should really focus on during these vital ten days. Let us hear the Shofar and wake up from the slumber that life can sometimes become. Let us truly listen to our soul… and let us grow and return to who we want to be.
Shlomo also wrote: “But sometimes we simply need to sit still and listen to the sound of our soul. The Shofar is the instrument that orchestrates this hearing. It helps us access our purest and most honest selves and it subliminally conveys the life-energizing message of deeper purpose.”
“… Sit still and listen to the sound of our soul.”
Profound! And this is what meditation is, in its purest form. Sitting still and letting our soul speak to us… guide us… without any push or outside force. This is also what prayer is, or should be… and if you’ve ever had an emotional release or that incredible moment of connection while you pray, you know exactly what I mean. It can be a burst of tears, a moment of pure joy, a bonding or the power of clarity and understanding.
I have cried hysterically during prayer… have laughed… smiled… felt my body get warm and calm… and while it does not happen always… or sadly, often enough… when it does, it is divine.
We already have everything we need deep within us. Hashem has made sure of that. All we need to do is discover the best and most productive way to let it out. And as Shlomo told us, and as I now understand it, this holy period is about RETURNING to who we already are, or who we were… and who we want to truly be.
My ideal morning involves both Davening and Meditating. There are immense benefits in doing both… and one always feeds into the other, so sometimes, depending on where I’m at mentally and what I need, I’ll switch up what I do first.
They are both part of an idea… a word that has become a bit of a cliché… and a bit… well… trendy…
Mindfulness is a huge “thing” right now. And even though mediation has been around for years… Judaism (Yes, there IS a very specific Jewish meditation) and Buddhism (Probably what most of us think of)… The practice of meditating and becoming more aware and mindful is the movement du jour.
And believe me, this is a good thing… a VERY good thing.
But like so many things in life… what is new, is old… and one need only read Kabbalah and Pirkei Avos to see that so much of what is being taught today has been around, in some form, for thousands of years.
The other Rabbi I study with, Avi Rabin, is fascinated with it, too and is reading about mindfulness since so many of his congregants talk about it and embrace it. I love that he is so genuinely curious and so willing to explore and learn. The kind of dialogue we have… the desire and openness to learn from each other, is Judaism at its best. Thanks also to my friend Julian, who not only opens his home, but opens his brilliant mind and heart with some deep and profound thinking. To all of my teachers… Rabbis, friends and peers… I thank you for your knowledge, passion and patience.
So what is mindfulness exactly? And how does it, and can it fit into and add to Judaism?
Mindfulness is a constant awareness of our thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and surrounding environment, like noise or temperature.
It is accepting these things, without judging them, and always being in the present moment.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Pema Chodron and Peter Russell are all great resources to start with. So is Deepak Chopra. And here’s the thing… All of these people, and their ideas and teachings, are gifts from Hashem. Even though they are coming from the “secular world” and coming from non-Jewish sources… they exist… they have been created… they are magnificent… and they can help us come closer to ourselves and Hashem.
If you want to read Aryeh Kaplan, he has a great book on Jewish Meditation, and there are fantastic articles and audio files on Chabad.org and Aish.com.
Way too often we move through life half asleep… in a daze… not fully present. Sometimes in life we actually fall asleep at the wheel… and it takes the blast of a horn to wake us up… to jolt us back into our lane… away from crashing into a tree or another car…
The jarring sound pulls us back into the moment…
Though it need not be loud and scary… sudden and shocking. Sometimes that sound can be pleasant… like leaves rustling in the gentle breeze… a bird chirping… a dog barking… waves rolling onto the shore… a baby laughing…
We must be open to hearing these things, because sometimes the other noises of life get in the way… the clutter and clattering hides what we really need to hear.
Be still. Embrace the silence. Don’t feel the need to fill every moment with words or sounds. Yes, let us hear the blast of the Shofar… but let us open ourselves completely… with our ears… with our eyes… with our mind and soul… Let it awaken every one of our senses.
And then do the same thing with the sounds of silence. Let that awaken our mind and our hearts… our spirit…
“Sit still and listen to the sound of our soul.”
May we all have a meaningful fast, and an enlightening and fulfilling holiday.