Have you heard the joke about the holy meditation teacher who is visiting midtown Manhattan for the first time and gets asked abruptly by an impatient street vendor selling roasted chestnuts, hot dogs, soft pretzels, and other quick foods.
The vendor slices open an empty bun and calls out, "Hey, you! Next! Hurry up. What d'ya want?"
The experienced meditation teacher breathes in and out calmly and says mindfully, "What do I want? Make me one with everything."
Is that something you have ever experienced: to be one with everything? Have you ever found a way to go beyond the anxious mind and become connected to the infinite or the unity of all that exists?
THE VARIETIES OF JEWISH MEDITATION
Most people don't know that Judaism has a long tradition of meditation and various methods for transcending the noise and stress of daily life. Even in the Torah, there are descriptions of moments of "Hitbodedut" (which has been translated by various writers as "oneness with HaShem," "isolating oneself," "aloneness with the Divine Presence," or "sitting with God.")
In the Hasidic tradition, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (the great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov who founded the Hasidic movement) and many others have described the health and wellness aspects of moments of quiet meditation. Reb Nachman described it as "the centerpiece of the way to God" and "the way to reach your highest level."
During the past 30 years, Jewish meditation has begun to grow and flourish as a daily practice in many parts of the Jewish community. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, an acclaimed physicist, rabbi and meditation teacher, wrote his classic book JEWISH MEDITATION in 1982. In the 1990's, Rabbi Nan Fink Geffen of Berkeley, California wrote her guidebook DISCOVERING JEWISH MEDITATION. In 2009, Rabbi Jeff Roth of the Elat Chayyim retreat center on the east coast, wrote another useful guide entitled JEWISH MEDITATION PRACTICES FOR EVERYDAY LIFE.
A GROWING INTEREST LOCALLY
At Ahavat Torah Congregation in Brentwood (near the 405 Freeway between Sunset Blvd. and Montana Avenue), meditation classes and discussion groups have become an activity of growing interest in the past few years. During 2009 there was a much enjoyed class on Jewish meditation taught by Rinat Amir, who has many years of experience teaching and practicing contemplative Jewish meditation techniques. During the mid-afternoon portion of Yom Kippur day services in the Fall of 2009, Rabbi Malka Mittelman led a gathering of "Jewish Yoga" that combined soulful Hebrew music and chanting with relaxing postures and a chance to connect deeply with the extraordinary spiritual energies of the holiest day of the year.
AN OPPORTUNITY TO MEDITATE
On Tuesday February 9th, 2010 and Tuesday February 16, 2010 there will be a two-part experiential class in how to meditate, taught by Jane Best. Jane has been meditating for 30 years and she joined Ahavat Torah during the 2008-2009 year.
I asked her what the class will be like and she explained, "I intend to keep it simple. It's open to everyone; for anyone who has never meditated and for anyone who has meditated and wants to go deeper into the experience of oneness. The group support can be very helpful for deeper meditation. The class will also be about integrating this experience in our daily lives."
In a relaxed environment the class will practice different meditation techniques as well as address:
--how to prepare ourselves for meditation.
--how to discover what style works best for each of us personally.
--how to welcome and embrace the divine experience.
If you are curious, or even if you are skeptical, you are welcome to join this class. Please plan to attend both sessions as it will support the momentum and depth of the group. Please wear comfortable clothes.
The class begins at 7:30 on both evenings, Tuesday February 9th and Tuesday February 16th. The location will be announced in the Ahavat Torah newsletter.
For more information about Ahavat Torah Congregation, visit http://www.ahavattorahcongregation.org/ or explore the weblog articles at http://www.creatingsacredcommunity.blogspot.com/.