Among the many hats I wear is founding member and President of my synagogue, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, an inclusive Reconstructionist and Renewal community that respects and welcomes a wide array of Jewish practice and belief. In order to broaden our community’s horizons, this past weekend, we welcomed Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, a prominent Jewish Renewal rabbi from Boulder, Colorado.
Last Thursday evening, she led a session on Jewish Meditation for Everybody. This intrigued me as I practice mindfulness meditation every morning, but until last week, I had not incorporated anything particularly Jewish into my practice. As I have written previously, daily mindfulness meditation has helped me take stock of the many thoughts constantly swirling in my head, allowing me to sort, prioritize and set them aside for a while, thereby reducing my stress through understanding that both my personal and professional challenges will be solved more readily through patience, teamwork and shared leadership.
Reb Tirzah, as she is affectionately known, led us through 4 different meditation exercises. I arrived late as I was traveling from a political fundraiser for a promising progressive, Mandy Wright, who had been elected to the Wisconsin Assembly previously, but lost her seat due to redistricting, and is now attempting to win it back. While I was glad to co-sponsor that fundraiser, my mind was full of swirling thoughts as I walked into a silent room of about 25 congregants engaged in silent meditation. So, I watched quietly until the first session ended.
One of my challenges in meditation has been focusing on a single word. Until Reb Tirzah introduced the concept of Jewish meditation to me, I simply counted to 1000 with each breath. While that worked fairly well, I also recognized that it did not free my mind completely, as I occasionally got lost in my counting, and tended to rush towards the end of my meditation. During our 3rd exercise, she encouraged us to choose one of the many names for God to meditate upon. I chose Hashem, which means “the name,” as for me God is the nameless connection between every living being, and therefore this word encompasses all names of God. That evening, I returned home and downloaded a meditation timer app on my phone, and have successfully transitioned my meditation to a much less rushed method.
The most pleasant surprise of the evening came during the last exercise. Reb Tirzah included Psalm 139 in our materials, and encouraged us to pick out a word or phrase that attracted our attention. I noticed that this particular psalm opens and closes with the concept of searching. She then asked us to write a poem based on the words that brought meaning to us.
What followed was truly inspiring. My fellow congregants wrote some incredible poetry, which we hope to collect and post on Shaarei Shamayim’s website soon. While I write virtually every day, I have not written a poem since I was required to do so in grade school. But this exercise inspired me to write the following short and simple poem.
As I engage in multi-level systems change, I recognize that I am constantly searching for new and better ways to make the world a better place. The truth is that since the world is an ever evolving place, the work to improve our world is never ending, but as long as the search continues for truth, connection and love, even when we have disappointments, I believe we can and will make progress.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.