by Cantor Florence Friedman
My introduction to Jewish Mindfulness Meditation took place at a five-day retreat sponsored by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. At that time, I had no idea that this practice would radically change the way I looked at the world and ultimately lead to a healthier me. Although there were many times I questioned the benefits of this practice and thought I was wasting my time, I persisted with my meditation exploration and felt its benefits. I learned to ride the vicissitudes of life with less angst, less control and more openness and acceptance. I learned to sit for periods of silence, focus my attention, and with a spacious mind, I have gained more clarity. I also accept that at any moment in time I might not have all the answers I seek.
For those unfamiliar with Mindfulness Meditation, it is a transformative practice that lets us look at our lives through a lens of non-judgment, loving-kindness, compassion, and love. It is accepting change from moment to moment and letting go of control. It ultimately leads to wisdom, equanimity, and freedom. Rabbi Alan Lew, z”l, said that “meditation always moves us from one place to another: from unconsciousness to awareness, from tension to relaxation, from being scattered to being centered, from a shallow relationship with our environment and ourselves to a deeper one, from sleep to wakefulness, from a sense of God’s presence to the sense that God was in this place and I didn’t know.”In Jewish Mindfulness Meditation, Judaism is the yesod, the foundation, and mindfulness meditation is the derech, the path.
While serving for 13 years as the cantor of a suburban New Jersey congregation, I created a weekly Jewish Mindfulness Meditation group within the context of our lifelong learning program. Members of other local synagogues were invited to join our sessions. I was surprised to meet members of my own congregation whom I did not know or had seen only at worship services or other programs. All these people clearly were seeking something different and something Jewish. Some specifically were seeking to better their relationships with themselves and others. Many had no prior experience with meditation. Through our group, they had an opportunity to learn about Judaism while also working toward becoming healthier spiritual, emotional, and physical beings. Many found a sacred place where they could (just) be. One told me, “Meditation feels like a massage for the soul,” while another said, “The sessions at the Temple are an oasis.”
Today, the group continues to meet almost weekly. It is my hope that Jewish Mindfulness Meditation will be a path of healing and wellness for these people — and others — for many years to come!
Cantor Florence Friedman is Cantor Emerita of Temple Sinai in Summit, New Jersey. She continues to study, teach, and deepen her Jewish Mindfulness Meditation practice.