Tag: Jonathan Slater

Meditation: Unplugging and Seeking the Silence

I just began meditating again, this time with Oprah and Deepak Chopra. They personally invited me to join them for a 21-day meditation experience and I just couldn’t refuse. So daily I have been meditating again, guided by Oprah and Deepak.

The meditation comes at an opportune time. The adventure in daily silence meshes smoothly with my experiences during five recent days of vacation.

Seeking the Silence
After investing an intense summer of synagogue administration focused on the spiritual and administrative growth of my temple, Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA), I knew I needed some time away to retreat and refresh my soul. When it became clear that I was doing this on my own – my wife had a major work project and my friends could not take the time away – I realized that this was a gift just for me. So I checked into a hotel in Long Beach and with Yelp’s help, I set about to renew my soul.

Yelp guided me well – to a yoga studio, to great Oceanside walking locations, and to restaurants that boasted good food, wine and live jazz. With iPad filled with books and articles, I venture off daily in search of non-excitement.

Unplugging
I ignored email. I stopped returning phone calls. I wrote a little and thought a lot. Even when I was in public spaces, I kept to myself, allowing my introverted side to push aside the usual public extroverted persona. I talked to very few people and I actually enjoyed it.

The silence – external and internal – recalled the six silence retreats I attended with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. Recalling the lessons of my teachers Rabbis Sheila Weinberg and Jonathan Slater,

whatever arose in my mind, I noted non-judgmentally, mentally marked it “pleasant” or “unpleasant,” and then pushed it aside. 

Whether overlooking the water, reading my book or breathing in yoga, I allowed nothing to replace that silence. I celebrated and embraced it.

Getting Out of My Head
I confess that every so often I would return in my mind to the synagogue work I left behind. It happened during yoga and meditation, during dinner, and while I was watching blues in a local club. Instead of getting angry or frustrated, I recalled the words of my new teacher Deepak Chopra:

Because we are alive, thoughts, feelings, and sensations in our bodies are a normal part of our human experience—even while meditating. When you have thoughts and sensations during your meditation, just be with them, then notice your breath, and allow your breathing to gently bring you back to center. See your thoughts without judgment—just allow them to drift across your mind much like clouds in the sky. Once you realize that you are involved with your thoughts and no longer repeating the mantra, simply return your awareness to the mantra and continue repeating it, just mentally. As you engage in the practice in this way, after a little bit of time, the mantra and thoughts will begin to cancel each other out.

How freeing it was to let it all go! What stress relieved when I was able to just be.

Feeling Transformed
Soon I will return to the conversations, pressures, joys and noise of regular life. For the moment, I feel transformed. In fact, I feel like our Biblical ancestor Jacob, whose nighttime experience transformed him. So the Torah teaches:

And a man wrestled with [Jacob] until the break of dawn. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But he answered, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” Said the other, “What is your name?” He replied, “Jacob.” Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.” Jacob asked, “Pray tell me your name.” But he said, “You must not ask my name!” And he took leave of him there (Gen. 32:25-30).

My long distance text study teacher Rabbi Larry Bach of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality explains it this way:

Jacob is utterly transformed that night. He is changed physically, his hip strained from the wrestling. The name change is perhaps the deeper transformation. “You shall no longer be Ya’akov, the sneak, the schemer, the supplanter.” As explained in the text itself, the patriarch’s new name, Yisra’el, points to his successful striving with the ish who opposed him.

Yashar El: Straight Path to God
One Hasidic reading (Kedushat Levi on Genesis 32:27) sees the “wrestling” was more of a “settling,” as Jacob learned to let go of distraction and remain attached to the Source. Jacob is able to connect “directly to God” (yashar el, the same letters of yisra’el, but simply re-vocalized).

So I return soon from five days away, transformed (I hope). Able to rise above the noise to remain connected yashar El, directly to the holiness that is life, I look forward to guiding others back onto the straight path to holiness.

And now, shh… It is time to meditate…

Do you meditate? What has your experience with meditation been like?

I’m Starting to Hear Voices and It is Affecting My Sanity

I grew up believing that when people start hearing voices, it’s the sign that they are beginning to go crazy. How much the more so when the person is hearing “religious” voices. Such occurrences often I thought were followed up with medication, hospitalization, or – in a few special cases – a move to Jerusalem where the voice-hearer declares himself the messiah.

I started hearing voices. That should be making me feel nervous, but surprisingly it hasn’t. In fact, as I’m hearing voices, it’s making me feel increasingly sane.

Am I Going Crazy?
It began in a pseudo-religious setting, Yogaworks Tarzana, where I engage in the spiritual practice of yoga. After a long weekend of inspiring teen-led worship services, intense pastoral counseling, awesome adult learning and our heartwarming Mitzvah Day social action project, I arose early to start my week with an energetic 6:30 am class.

Yoga mat spread out – 2 blankets, 2 blocks and a strap by my side – cell phone silenced, I assumed the cross-legged Sukasana pose to begin. I set a practice-guiding intention (that’s English for kavannah) to guide my day’s yoga practice: that I be mindful, becoming aware of the thoughts that arise in my mind, yet simultaneously moving them aside non-judgmentally so I can focus on my yoga practice. Simple enough to declare; challenging to live.

The Voices
That’s when it began. As the yoga increased in purposefulness, I began to lose focus on the poses. At first, thoughts about work – the growing to do list, people I need to call, intriguing new ideas – invaded my mental space. Although I wanted to contemplate each one, I let them go, lest they turn me aside from being present in the yoga flow. “That was good,” I thought to myself.

Then our yogi intensified the practice, leading us into Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose). Stretching along the top side of the body, from the back heel through the raised arm, my body began to complain. My thighs burned in concert with my breathing; my brain kept telling me I couldn’t hold this pose or others for more than a breath to two. I began berating myself for my failure, my inability to do what days ago was so simple and natural. An old story, perhaps, but quite effective in sabotaging my spiritual work.

Along Came New Voices, More Intense
That’s when the voices became quietly insistent. “Listen,” they said. “Listen to yourself, and see the judgments that pervade your mind. Let go. Let go of judgmentalism and just embrace what is. Accept what you can do for today without assigning blame or finding fault.”

“I’m hearing voices,” I thought. And I let it go.

I smiled. I slowed my breathing. I reengaged with the flow. I let go.

I recognize those voices, I realized. And I let that realization flit away. I let them go.

Naming the Voices
Only later, on reflection, could I put names to the voices. The cautionary voices, reminding me that I could choose to let go of judgment, were those of Rabbis Jonathan Slater and Sheila Weinberg, my teachers and spiritual directors from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. I attended a two year rabbinic program with IJS – silent retreats, yoga, meditation, study of chassidic texts – and years of distance learning and Spiritual Direction since.

My teachers engrained within me the need to let go of the stories we spin about good and bad, and success, and more often, failure.

Accept what is without judgment. 
Notice it. 
Name it. 
Move on beyond it.

My teachers had gotten into my head. And yet again, when my practice – and my life – threatened to spin away from me, their voices – implanted within – helped stabilize me until in savasana – the lying on back restorative pose – I was subsumed by silence outside and silence within.

Yes, Today I Heard Voices, and They Kept Me Remarkably Sane.


May you too find voices within that calm you within and without. Thank you Institute for Jewish Spirituality and YogaWorks for the lessons and the mindfulness.