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Jewish Mindfulness: Turning in for the High Holidays

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ראיה מביאה לידי זכירה ,זכירה מביאה לידי עשיה
"Looking upon leads to awareness. Awareness leads to action." --Talmud, Menachot 43b

What do you get when you bring together 40 Jews and a handful of rabbis for five hours on a fall Sunday afternoon? The last thing that might come to mind is "silence." Jews cherish a long tradition of wrestling with tradition through lively discussion and insightful argument. But perhaps that is all about to change.

I had the incredible blessing of being a part of a High Holiday workshop this past weekend offered by the Center for Jewish Mindfulness in the northern suburbs of Chicago. CJM is a new endeavor competently spearheaded by Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell and director Jacob Kaufman. I look forward to being part of CJM's effort to connect Chicago Jews, regardless of their affiliation, to the reservoir of possibility that Jewish mindfulness practices have to offer.

Like many, my spiritual journey led me away from Judaism at an early age to explore the more contemplative practices of the East. I loved the connection I felt as I cultivated an awareness of the breath simply moving in and out of my body. The idea that I was somehow "being breathed" was a palpable spiritual awakening and an easy entry into seeing the Divine expression in both the world and within my own heart. The study and practice of yoga over the past 21 years has further grounded me in the understanding that I am undeniably alive, that I am partnered with this "Breath of Life," and that our dance together is -- as the Torah offers -- tov, good.

To know this goodness -- to be reminded of it even and especially as it is concealed by the messiness of life -- is the practice of mindfulness in any tradition. We sit, we breathe, we move with inner eyes wide open to the sensations of the body and the fluctuations of the mind. With practice we come to know the space in-between, and its ability to strengthen, comfort, nurture and encourage us to move back into our lives committed to a life of meaning. For Bendat-Appell, the mindfulness practice is about "facing the truth of our experience with honesty and wakefulness and then harnessing that awareness towards engaged, ethical action." I couldn't agree more.

Jewish mindfulness practices have deep roots in 18th century Hasidism and Kabbalistic practices, and are being reclaimed and reconstructed to engage the hearts and minds of 21st century Jews. Rabbi Art Green discusses this in his important new book, "Radical Judaism: Rethinking God and Tradition," where he offers that an "underlying oneness of being is accessible to human experience and reveals itself to humans -- indeed, it reveals itself everywhere, always -- as the deeper levels of the human mind become open to it. Access to it requires a lifting of veils, a shifting of attention to those inner realms of human consciousness where mystics, and not a few poets, have always chosen to abide."

For me, doing this type of inner work in a Jewish community setting is truly another coming home, a return -- a teshuvah -- so appropriate at this season of our turning. Although I have been active in the Jewish community for many years now, the Center for Jewish Mindfulness is a weaving together of the varied experiences of my life that I have long only imagined. And I am certain that I am not alone.

My rabbi, Brant Rosen, of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Ill.,
has been known to point out that we Jews are quite a communal people who do
"very little alone, and even less in silence." Yet a growing number of Jewish spiritual seekers are coming to realize that the still, small voice within has much to say to us in our search for connection to God, to life and toward living as Jews.

At Yom Kippur this year I will be leading a discussion group on mindfulness practice at our synagogue. I don't know where this will lead, or what place mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga will have in the practice of Judaism moving forward, but I do know that now is the time not to be silent about the possibilities!

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