One of my personal passions is practicing and teaching meditation. In plain English, this means choosing to concentrate on one thing, and trying to stick with it for a fixed length of time. This may sound remarkably simple, but experience reveals it to be very difficult, as our minds have evolved a distinct preference for multitasking. That is not an inherently bad thing, but remaining permanently in our usual task-oriented state of mind is similar to using our bodies only for fast movements, never for slow ones, or for stillness. In using our minds only in this way, we’re missing out on important experiences that are part of being human, and as well as risking imbalance and exhaustion.
When we practice focusing on one thing, we learn a great deal about our own minds, by gradually learning to notice the many ways our mind tries to distract us from calmness. Eventually, we can not only watch our own inner processes, but begin to exercise a greater degree of agency over them, choosing whether or not to succumb to boredom, restlessness, anxiety, anger etc. In time, this yields a quality of concentration and presence that is altogether different from our usual task-oriented state. It brings us to a heightened state of awareness of our being, and the profound significance of what it means to be, to exist. We become more deeply aware both of ourselves, and of our interconnectedness with all life.
Meditation has been very important in my own spiritual journey. It helped me to discover that Judaism is an existential spiritual path with a very strong emphasis on the experience of being in each moment. Unfortunately, Jewish rituals and practices are often taught by rote, or as if they are antiquated burdens to be merely tolerated, at best. But when explored through the lens of deliberate intention, they are revealed as masterpieces of psychological and spiritual technology, sacred opportunities for greater connection to ourselves and others. Simply put, they help us to be more fully ourselves.
Since arriving at Stanford a few months ago, I have enjoyed teaching meditation at Hillel’s own weekly educational event – Think.Pair.Share., but also around the campus. Every Tuesday, I lead ‘Meditation For All’ for a diverse group of students in the university’s interfaith sanctuary (in the Old Union building). I have also been invited to facilitate classes for the Roble dorm and the African American sorority on campus, Alpha Kappa Alpha, in the Windhover Contemplative Center. As well as a chance to teach something I love, these sessions are a valuable opportunity to connect with students from a diverse array of backgrounds, and build understanding about Jewish identity and values. If you are interested in learning more about Jewish meditation in general, or any of these sessions, please be in touch!