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Jewish Mindfulness Meditation Session Summaries

Being, Becoming, Freedom, and Divine Spark (Va-eyra)

Session - January 11, 2018

Where is the chai, being, freedom and the divine spark right here right now? R. Shefa Gold writes that God says, “I am Being itself…Freedom is the key to knowing Me… Through this process I will bring you to fulfillment… which is the knowledge of the divine spark at your core.”

How do we experience freedom? If you were completely free right here right now, what would that look like? In speech and action, in silence and stillness, how do we remove blocks to freedom? Though we are designed for communication, we may struggle to express ourselves, to speak what is difficult, and someone else might not want to talk or even listen. Freedom requires security (a relative reference point against which to measure). Consider liberty and safety. Too much freedom or too much security can ruin the experience. Consider chaos and slavery. Although we have myriad default ways of opening portals to freedom, such as -- dancing, meditating, retreats, Netflix, chanting prayer, hiking in summer, good novels/memoirs, sex, theatre, writing, eating, drinking, great conversation, work -- is it possible to teach ourselves new ways of opening our hearts for multi-channel access to being, freedom, divine spark to enlarge our experience? How can we keep our heart open when things get rough?

At the center of our liturgy is the prayer, “Listen! Sh’ma!” R. Shefa Gold lists two obstacles to deep listening:

1. Patience One must patiently BE (distinct, defined, launching pad)… in order to BECOME. Busy-ness can cloud our ability to deeply listen.

2. Stillness and spaciousness. Listening is only possible when there is a degree of peace, stillness and spaciousness. When life is experienced as a constant struggle, the barrage of stress prevents us from receiving the flow of grace that might move us out of bondage. (prevents freedom, creativity, spontaneity)

May we all open to being, becoming, being free, and to accessing the divine spark within us.


Session - October 12, 2017

We’ve completed the spiritual hygiene services of Rosh Hashanah, Days of Awe and Yom Kippur, and clicked our metaphoric spiritual reset button. The day after Yom Kippur, life hits us squarely in the face. How can we manage our busy, sometimes overwhelming, lives? Paradoxically, resting more comfortably with stillness, the uncertainty of not-doing, not-speaking, not-knowing, can flex our mental resilience muscles and help us cope with ambiguities.

The practice of mindfulness is a way to inject moments of stillness, peace, or active rest into our lives. Jon Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as paying attention, in a certain way, in the moment, nonjudgementally. There are references to mindfulness meditation in the Torah, Talmud, and Prophets.

Types of Jewish meditation include stillness and silence, chanting, God’s names, guided visualizations, movement, emptiness, no-state, and focusing. Zalman Schachter-Shalomi describes a merging with God during the Amidah where we engage with a higher wisdom self, both sending and receiving prayer with a perspective of self-observation without judgement. Elijah’s encounter with That Which is Becoming is an example of Focusing when he creates a safe space to clear his mind and let a felt sense come and speak with the subtle still small voice within. Rav Kook wrote, “the soul is always active, communicating, we just aren’t listening to it.” The Zohar describes no-state and emptiness practice. We imitate these on Purim in our inebriation: we can’t tell the difference between blessing and curse. In daily life, healthier practices to achieve similar results are recommended! A renaissance of Jewish spirituality is recognizing the power of ritual, meditation, prayer and spiritual discipline in our own roots.

After Yom Kippur comes Bereshit: God creates the world. After Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, they are banished from the Garden of Eden. Later Cain kills Abel. God then considers destroying all of Creation.

Like Adam and Eve, we are faced with stark realities. We spend the rest of the Jewish year journeying back to the Garden. May we find some stillness along the way.

Resources: (Shefa Gold)

Schachter-Shalomi, Zalman. Gate to the Heart, A Manual of Contemplative Jewish Practice, Albion, 2013. Pp 59-61, 66-7.

Frankel, Estelle, in Seeking & Soaring: Jewish Approaches to Spiritual Guidance and Development, G Milgram and SH Wiener, eds. Reclaiming Judaism Press, 2014. (Goldie Milgram)

Veils in Judaism

Session - March 9, 2017

The story of Esther is a tale of strategic concealment and revealment. Esther risks her life in her endeavor to save her people. At the critical moment in the story, she reveals a previously unknown part of her identity to the King. Esther unmasks herself. She has been depicted wearing a chiffon veil during this encounter.

Veils in Judaism are used for modesty, mourning, propriety, masks or enticement. The first mention of veils in the Torah is when Rebecca first sees Isaac, and veils herself as enticement. (1) When Yehudah encounters his daughter-in-law, Tamar, at the crossroads, he mistakes her for a prostitute since she covered her face with a veil. (2) Moses veiled himself when he descended from Sinai to attenuate the Divine radiance emanating from his face after his encounter with God. (3) Similarly, Jewish brides wear veils to mute the glow of the Divine feminine: Shehinah.

The veil itself is a remarkable device; it is able to simultaneously conceal and reveal. Moments of holiness are experienced as separate and unique from what is regular and everyday. The Torah uses the veil as a device to note such separations in the lives of biblical characters. While the veil symbolizes duality-hiding and revealing-it is also a symbol of the separateness of that which is kadosh, holy. We are complicated beings made up of contradictions and dualities. In our world, holy and profane will always exist side by side. Sometimes we clearly see the holiness of the separate, and sometimes we mistake it for the everyday. In our lives, it may be only the sheerest of fabrics that separates what is holy from what is profane. (4)

We choose to reveal some parts of ourselves and conceal others. We may consciously conceal human cruelty and violence from our children or remain ignorant of traumatic world events. Judaism is intensely aware of the power of speech and of the harm that can befall unwise words. The tongue is an instrument so dangerous that it must be kept hidden from view. (5)

The boundaries between public and private information have changed. Boundaries for any information have become moving targets. Where is your comfort level with personal boundaries and what are the factors that play a role in determining this?

  1. Genesis 24:63-65
  2. Genesis 38:15
  3. Exodus 34:29-35
  4. Elizabeth Dunsker

Being Mortal

Session - February 9, 2017

Summary and supplemental materials.

New Balance

Session - January 12, 2017

"All of life is a narrow bridge and the essential thing is not to fear at all.” - R. Nachman of Breslov.

Finding a new sense of balance and security in a rapidly changing world is our challenge. If we can’t eliminate fear, can we not be consumed by it, resist fully inhabiting it, refuse to follow it, and coach ourselves to stay with the task despite the fear. Courage is acting in fear’s presence. As we walk the narrow bridge of our lives, we gradually move towards our goal in staccado irregular spurts, as in growth and learning.

Vayechi is the account of Jacob’s blessings to his sons before his death. Jacob dies in body, yet the word vayechi means “and he lived.” Jacob was “gathered into his people” as a thread is woven into a cloth. Our knowledge and experience carries with it the gifts of our ancestors. Grieving the loss of loved ones and embodying their spirit in the present alive moment is a universal experience. How do we invoke presence from absence?

Jacob had wrestled through the night with an angel and received a new name, Yisrael, from his spiritual transformation. However, he maintained both names for the rest of his life. We wrestle with forces in our lives for days, weeks, months or years and grow to more fully inhabit ourselves. Yet, our earlier selves still occupy us: our teenage, 28, 47, or 64 year old self. As we gain strength with life experience, we recognize our rash, selfish or cowardly behaviors, acknowledge them without necessarily engaging or following them, and look to our expanded consciousness for wisdom, passion, courage, and restraint. We say “Mah Tovu!” (How Good) to our mishkan (eternal spiritual source) and we say “Mah Tovu!” (How Good) to our previous portable selves. No matter what our age, we all have the potential to change and grow. - Joyce


Rabbi Shefa Gold

Naomi Levy, “To Begin Again, The journey toward comfort, strength, and faith in difficult times” Ballantine Books, 1998.

Joanna Macy on Dealing with Despair, Fear and Outrage

Session - December 8, 2016

How do we live with the fact that we are destroying our world? What do we make of the loss of glaciers, the melting Arctic, island nations swamped by the sea, widening deserts, and drying farmlands?

Because of social taboos, despair at the state of our world and fear for our future are rarely acknowledged. The suppression of despair, like that of any deep recurring response, contributes to the numbing of the psyche. Expressions of anguish or outrage are muted, deadened as if a nerve had been cut. This refusal to feel impoverishes our emotional and sensory life. Flowers are dimmer and less fragrant, our loves less ecstatic. We create diversions for ourselves as individuals and as nations, in the fights we pick, the aims we pursue, and the stuff we buy.

Of all the dangers we face, from climate chaos to permanent war, none is so great as this deadening of our response. For psychic numbing impedes our capacity to process and respond to information. The energy expended in pushing down despair is diverted from more crucial uses, depleting the resilience and imagination needed for fresh visions and strategies.

Zen poet Thich Nhat Hanh was asked, “what do we most need to do to save our world?” His answer was this: “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying.”

This is the gift of the Great Turning. When we open our eyes to what is happening, even when it breaks our hearts, we discover our true size; for our heart, when it breaks open, can hold the whole universe. We discover how speaking the truth of our anguish for the world brings down the walls between us, drawing us into deep solidarity. That solidarity, with our neighbors and all that lives, is all the more real for the uncertainty we face.

When we stop distracting ourselves by trying to figure the chances of success or failure, our minds and hearts are liberated into the present moment. This moment then becomes alive, charged with possibilities, as we realize how lucky we are to be alive now, to take part in this planetary adventure.

Read the full article:


One Heart Grace
By Norman Fischer

As we make ready to eat this food
we remember with gratitude
the many people, tools, animals and plants,
air and water, sky and earth,
turned in the wheel of living and dying,
whose joyful exertion
provide our sustenance this day.

May we with the blessing of this food
join our hearts
to the one heart of the world
in awareness and love,
and may we together with everyone
realize the path of awakening,
and never stop making effort
for the benefit of others.

Exploring Parsha Lekh Lekha

Session  - November 10, 2016


Additional Documents: Walking Meditation

Period of the Dark Moon

Session - October 13, 2016

On this first day post Yom Kippur,  at-onement, we return attention to living with integrity.  We have completed our two month urban retreat when we pressed the pause button, paid attention to what works and what doesn’t, released what no longer serves us by recycling it, as well as our struggles and heartbreaks, into something beautiful and alive (tashlich), gathered in community for prayer and  apology, and acknowledged the love that is always present.

We are here, hineini, but we haven’t lived enough yet to have grown into our new selves and don’t exist yet in our reinvented form.  This is a period after the end of something and before the next beginning starts; a darkness, a hibernation, which looks like sleep but when activity beneath our level of awareness is happening.  This period is filled with potential energy before something new is created.  How can you create something when life simultaneously holds fullness and emptiness?

How do we make change?  A five-point process summarizes key aspects:  (1) make room for change, (2) use this time as an opportunity, (3) map out the space, (4) set a time frame, (5) trouble shoot.

  1. Make room for change:  Follow God’s example:  God created the world by contracting, tzimtzum, in order to make space for new creations to grow.  Initiate personal tzimtzum by downsizing or simplifying.  Practice saying no.
  2. Regard this part of the Jewish spiritual cycle as a rich opportunity to connect with Earth’s seasonal cycle and celestial environment.  This Dark Moon period denotes a healing part of the life cycle for rest, withdrawal, and regeneration.  It occurs between death and rebirth, metaphorically, and literally.  Time is regarded as cyclic rather than linear. 
  3. Map out your spiritual territory with selected Mussar (universal) virtues. Anything is possible except that which lies beyond the Ten Commandments.
  4. Plan a time frame for short, medium and longer term goals.  Acute reboot habit busters may benefit from a 30-day solo or buddied program. 
  5. Troubleshoot the journey for slipping, sliding, or stumbling.  When you HALT, ( hungry, angry, lonely, tired, triggered, bored), get back on track:  WALK (walk/shift attitude, allow alternatives, live with them, keep going)


Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, Saying No and Letting Go
Naomi Levy, To Begin Again
Karen Kedar, The Bridge to Forgiveness
OrH: Learning/Jewish Mindfulness Meditation/Chevruta Buddy
Demetra George, Mysteries of the Dark Moon

A Focus on Compassion

Session April 14, 2016


Additional Documents:

A Prayer for Compassion

Coming Home

Session - March 10, 2016
How do we create a home and what does it mean to enter a place of sanctuary?  Ideas of “home” may include a physical structure, an emotional tone, an intellectual framework, a spiritual blueprint.  An outer environment: social networks, the natural world, inanimate elements; and an inner environment: attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, knowledge.  Translating our vision of “home” into living details of daily life, with the inevitable gap between dream and reality, is a life practice.  We are blessed in our engagement to explore, learn, and struggle in that calling. 
The Torah devotes significant parchment space, 13 chapters, to elaborate instructions for building the Mishkan – the sanctuary the Israelites were charged to create and recreate in the desert following the Exodus.  As a metaphor for our life’s journey, we refine a sanctuary receptive to our presence and serving our needs and desires.  Free to be our complete uncensored selves, we become fully seen and heard, our hearts open, we let ourselves out, and simultaneously let others in, including the divine.  Creative expression of self results in us more fully inhabiting our lives. 
In our personal “mini-Mishkan,” mindfulness can sensitize heart and mind and train flexibility in responding in our relationships, life events and circumstances.  Cultivating awakened qualities such as generosity, compassion, patience, concentration, wisdom, etc2-6 is our charge.  The Torah’s metaphoric mirrors at the entrance to the Mishkan remind us of the value of reflection for spiritual growth through contemplation and relationships.  Transformation from self-oriented intentions to mensch-hood occurs with commitments into overarching intentions toward tikkun-olam, repairing the world.              


1. Ira Stone, A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path of Mussar
2. Mussar – qualities of character that strengthen wakefulness of the soul and help resist falling asleep.
3. Kabbala sephirot – attributes/emanations the invoke flow between material and spiritual worlds
4. Mindfulness – many books, see Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are, and Thich Nhat Hahn, The Miracle of Mindfulness
5. Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection and others
6. Phil Stutz & Barry Michels, The Tools
7. Norman Fischer, various writings

Bo Keeping Faith

Session - January 14, 2016

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
T. S. Eliot

Is it possible to have spiritual practice without including all of mind, body, spirit, and feeling? Some intellectual preparation is crucial for Jewish practice, but growth can’t happen only "from the neck up." Moses said, "Intentions alone, without any actions connected to them, aren’t important, aren’t anything!” The main thing is real action, and thus intentions depend on actions and are deepened through them. When our whole being is invested in the quest, our actions in every realm become aligned with our higher goals. "It’s easier to act your way into right thinking than think your way into right acting." Rab Steven Nathan (Recon)

During the ninth plague, a darkness could actually be felt that touched the core of their being. Not simply depression, uncertainty or fear, this was also the realization that everything on which they’d built hopes and dreams ceased to exist. All that they believed was real was an illusion.

Life is about not knowing the future. Life is about simply acknowledging and living in the present. Some of us come to this realization easily and early. However, most of us plunge into darkness and experience the death of dreams and fantasies of the future upon which we have obsessed and built our lives. Once we realize this truth, we are relieved. We can stop being Mitzrim – constricted ones – and instead become B’nai Yisrael, those content to struggle with forces Divine and human. - Joyce

“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought.”
T.S. Eliot

KOLEL–The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning

Binding of Isaac

Session - October 2014

For those with faith, no explanation is necessary. For those without, no explanation is possible. –Thomas Aquinas

The story of the binding of Isaac raises themes of faith and doubt, sacrifice, betrayal, abuse, and divine inspiration.

Faith needs doubt to challenge it or it risks becoming fanaticism. Struggling with faith, doubt and God is a quintessentially Jewish activity. Extremists of any stripe are similar in their absolute belief in the righteousness of their position, their inflexibility, their absence of doubt. How does faith shift when events don’t coincide with our plans? Do you tend to orient from a perspective of mostly faith or mostly doubt?

Though it helps to have clear guidelines like the 10 commandments, real life plays out between the lines. Is this another example of divine inspiration/hearing voices or was this a moment of awakening for Abraham, when his sense of justice or decency kicked in and he exercised free will? How far have you drifted from the plumb line of your core values and beliefs that previously kept you in balance?

I am not moved by what I see. I am not moved by what I feel. I am moved only by what I believe. --Smith Wigglesworth

Was Isaac sacrificed or did he run away? How has child sacrifice been practiced in ancient and modern history? If your parent or someone you trusted took you on a nice hike and then tied you up to kill you, then stopped at the last minute, would you stay with them, or run away? Under what circumstances, if any, would you trust this person again? How much of ourselves do we sacrifice for the benefit of another or the greater good? How far are our boundaries crossed, be they spiritual, emotional, mental or physical, before we’re deadened or dead? - Joyce

Blessing Practice

Transitions and Impermanence

Session - February 2014

“If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But, if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you”.
– R’Mendel of

Everything is changing all the time, perceptibly or imperceptibly. We call periods of slow or imperceptible transition, “stability” and periods of rapid change “chaos”. We’re mostly aware when chaos is happening in our lives. It may be more difficult to detect changes occurring during what we call “stability” because change is something we notice only after it happened. Even though we know that everything is changing all the time, most of us need a certain amount of stability and predictability in order to function with confidence and peace. Periods of rapid change are more difficult and stressful to navigate. We love and need an illusion of permanence or stability to function well in life.When transitions are intense or rapid, we can focus on what seems stable and predictable to counteract the stress of change. When we’re in a period of relative stability, we have the liberty of contemplating what may be in flux.

The Talmud says: “We see the world not as it is but as we are.”

How do we navigate periods of rapid transition? One way is by cultivating trust.

A Meditation to Cultivate Trust (Rabbi N of Bratlav)
Breathe – a few conscious inhales and exhales.
Now pause after the third or fourth exhale and wait for the next breath to arise.
Trust this miracle – that the next breath will arrive.
Today. Now. Again and again.
So it is in our lives: one breath, one step, one challenge after another.
We rest in the narrow place of waiting and we learn to trust.

- Joyce

Institute of Jewish Spirituality:
Rabbi David Cooper


Thu, June 4 2020 12 Sivan 5780