For those who would like to try meditating, Paula Schwartz, together with Paula Donahue and Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld, has been leading a monthly meditation annually during the fall and winter as a parallel Saturday morning Shabbat service, starting at 10:30, at Congregation Albert in Albuquerque. The next scheduled dates in 2013-14 are October 19, December 14, February 15, March 21, and May 17.
Schwartz says that "an inner Shabbat is the practice of mindful Jewish meditation. All are welcome, advanced as well as novice meditators, practicing as well as non-practicing Jews."
In every culture, in every religion, there is the inner tradition and the outer tradition, the way that the individual connects to the spiritual within themselves, and the outer forms of tradition by which we are connected to the social community at large and which may be directed or mediated by a teacher or leader who has studied or been further initiated into the traditions that have been carried forward over generations.
Throughout my life, I have sought answers in various cultures and practices. During periods when the traditional forms of prayer do not speak to me, I turn to meditation. While meditation sounds like a mysterious practice that requires special training, it can be as simple as really paying attention to my breathing, taking a long deep breath in, holding it for a few seconds, and then exhaling, and repeating this. Combining this with picturing a relaxing scene gives me a refreshing break at any time or place. A meditation for calming the mind, recommended to me by Rabbi Gershon Winkler of Walkingstick Foundation: Aboriginal Judaic Spirituality, is to picture following a river upstream to its source.
Another simple meditation, suggested to me by lifelong meditation practitioner Schwartz, is to go for a walk in nature, clearing the mind of chatter, to pay attention to the sights, sounds, and smells of the natural world. Schwartz explained that, “All meditation, in every spiritual tradition, begins with awareness of nature and its beauty, gratitude for life, and focus. In a world that touts the value of multi-tasking, meditation is an antidote, encouraging a deepened awareness.”
Schwartz, who is about to turn 80, also talks about what meditation has meant for her personally in a recently published book by Pat Shapiro, “The Privilege of Aging,” Gaon Books, Santa Fe, where she says, “It allows me to tune in to something that’s larger than myself and that gives me a sense of humility. It helps me realize that everything that happens is not of my doing. . . If we think we’re directing life, we’re mistaken. . .”
While some may think of meditation as a withdrawal from the world, Schwartz has seen it as a practice of developing a sense of gratitude. In the book she continues, “Look around you. See the children. See the mountains. See the ocean. Be aware of the apples on the tree. Notice the sound of the wind in the aspen leaves. Awareness of the gifts of the world is the first step toward gratitude.
“Traditional Judaism is actually a practice of awareness; there is a blessing for seeing the first fruit on the tree, for seeing a rainbow, and for meeting a scholar or leader. There is a blessing for everything, and when there is not a blessing, there is the Shehecheyanu, which praises the Eternal One for keeping us alive, sustaining us, and allowing us to reach this moment of awareness. Once the awareness emerges, gratitude follows.”
Then there are those times when, late at night facing down a deadline for a column and desperate for a new insight or synthesis of ideas, I have been rescued by turning to “The Spiritual Alchemist: Working with the Voice of Your Soul,” a book of guided meditations with an audio CD by internationally recognized Albuquerque-based author Natalie Reid. Reid, who also spent years studying in Israel, said that the book grew out of a ten-year struggle with her own writing blocks. It was recently featured in New Mexico Magazine, is gaining traction with writing groups throughout the U.S., is available online through her website www.thespiritualalchemist.com, and can also be found locally at independent bookstores Page One and Crystal Dove in Albuquerque.
We caught up with Reid, who was lecturing to social scientists at the University of California at Berkeley and who spends most of the year in Europe and Russia teaching academics how to think and write in English with her latest book, “Getting Published in International Journals: Writing Strategies for European Social Scientists,” and asked her what it means to build a connection to the inner self:
Reid says, “We need to realize that listening and self-love are intricately connected. The more we begin to love ourselves, the more we can listen—and listen well, without interference—to the voice of our own soul. Loving ourselves, of course, involves recognizing and accepting all the inner pairs of opposites, the so-called 'bad' with the good.” ### This is an updated version of the second part of the essay, "Creating a sanctuary within" which first appeared in the Gallup Independent and the September 2013 NM Jewish Link. Please scroll down to the bottom of the page to add comments, and be sociable, Subscribe!