Monday, January 20, 2014

Wading in the Pool of Mindfulness

A few weeks ago I was talking with Rabbi Jill Zimmerman about how psycho-busy this time in my life is. She stopped me and said, "you have to come to this mindfulness retreat I'm doing in a few weeks."

"No way," I responded. "I've got X on my plate and Y on my plate, I've got this thing and that thing and then I've got to think about W and Z. And oh, don't forget about A, B, and C!"

"Exactly." she said. "You need this. Now more than ever."

So, begrudgingly, I agreed to think about it. When I mentioned it to my mother, she jumped. "Let's do it together," she said.

And so, on Saturday morning I found myself at Leo Baeck Temple in yoga pants. I came with few expectations, an open mind, and declaration to myself, mom, and husband that I would take a day to root myself in myself. I promised I would learn a little bit about this mindfulness and spirituality movement. I brought a recently-acquired journal to take notes. I was as prepared as I could be.

And the day went something like this:

I hadn't planned on bringing a watch, so I already felt naked when I walked out the door. It wasn't until I was in the car about a block away from our apartment that the Bluetooth failed to connect and I realized I'd left my cell phone on my nightstand.

Some colorful language ran through my head. And then I said, No! This is good! This is good! I shouldn't have my cell phone anyway! I resisted the urge to turn around and grab my phone. And I gently scolded myself for being so dependent on that thing.

When I arrived, it became clear to me very quickly that the whole day would be out of my comfort zone. And that's okay! I thought cheerfully. It's just one day! One day of discomfort, Jaclyn! You can do it! You might learn something! Be open! 

My mother and I sat down in the sanctuary and prepared to pray. It was Shabbat morning, after all. We donned our tallitot - both of which were made by yours truly on the occasion of each of our B'not Mitzvah - and sat together, prepared for a different kind of prayer experience.

It was slow and deliberate and gentle, focusing on breath and pause and reflection and awareness. It was very pretty - the beautiful voice of Cantor Linda Kates was our guide, as were the teachings of the extraordinary Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg - but it was also very hard.

I am so accustomed to a style of worship that is very different: one where the sh'lichei tzibbur (prayer leaders) are engaged and engaging, where prayer and song are stimulating and powerful, and where gentleness often doesn't really show itself. So to sit and pray for two and a half hours at about half-speed, listening to the soothing voices of these women ... it was just so different. It was challenging. Not impossible, but definitely challenging.

Following prayer we had about forty-five minutes of yoga. My favorite part was looking around at a room filled with older Jews curled into balls with blankets wrapped around themselves. It looked like a giant slumber party. I wish I'd been able to take a picture! The yoga itself was fine; it wasn't the stretch-out-your-body kind of yoga with a name I can't pronounce; it was more of a thinking yoga class with lots of breathing and mentions of intention.

Lunch was held in silence, which was probably the hardest part of the day. A natural extrovert, having to turn inward and meditate on the food I was eating and its path to my mouth was a challenge. However - it was catered by Chipotle. And Chipotle, my friends, is one of my favorites. To be able to slow myself down and actually savor the flavor was a very different experience. I appreciated it. It was nice.

(I also learned that I am an abnormally loud chewer of tortilla chips)

By the time we left the retreat later that day, mom and I were both ready to re-engage with the world we know. We took from the retreat some really solid tools on mindfulness and being present. We had a different appreciation for Chipotle. (Or, at least I had it; mom doesn't do Mexican food, so it was good she brought her own lunch!)

The most important message I gleaned from this experience was the act of being mindful. Mindfulness takes a whole lot of different forms, but it's also quite simple. As Rabbi Peltz Weinberg stated, the idea of mindfulness falls into three categories: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. As she guided us through this teaching, she spoke of the difference between reaction and response, developing compassion for our thoughts, and recognizing the hindrances or blockages that keep us from doing or being our best. She also made a really brilliant link with parshat Yitro and the giving of the Ten Commandments, speaking to the dark cloud in which the divine resides.

All in all, I walked away from the retreat grateful that I was able to participate in it and take away a few tools. I'm proud I made it through the better part of the day without my cell phone. I'm thrilled that I never eat my lunch in silence because, honestly, I think eating is an opportunity for connection, not reflection.

All in all, being out of my comfort zone ain't exactly a bad place to be, especially now.

And you know what else? I'm glad I listened to Rav Jill. Even though I resisted at first, throwing every excuse of "busy-ness" at her, I ultimately realized that being mindful and present and aware is exactly what I need for myself going into this next phase of my life; this transition from rabbinical student to rabbi.

Looking forward to the next adventure!


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