These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

What’s Meaningful to Me

Posted on March 14, 2012 by Heligman

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Last December I attended the first of a series of Meditation Retreats in Hannaton (co-led by Pardes faculty member James Jacobson-Maisels).  It’s been about 2 months now since experiencing the awakened state of being that defines “Retreat”. I call it an awakened state because the sensitivity you develop during these retreats can be described in no other words. Retreat provides an environment to wake up to life. What an experience! What an opportunity! But the environment is so extreme and exact that it would be impossible to recreate into every day life. What one is left with after Retreat (other than a smile that lasts for weeks) are tools. You are left with a collection of memories, feelings, and experiences that might drop into your mind at any moment and your heart suddenly cracks at seeing the light shine on a blade of grass. And you are also empowered to start a meditation practice and this is what I want to talk about briefly – my daily meditation practice.

My practice has evolved since I first started sitting and I think this is important because life is a wave of ups and downs and at different points in the year, different months, we each crave different healings in our life. Right now, all I want is to feel a closeness to God and his creations.  My first steps outside I make sure to open up completely to the fluttering of all my senses. Noticing the cool breeze as it first hits my face, noticing the very real sound of the birds chirping, noticing the white morning light and the colors of nature all around me.  I acknowledge each of these and thank God for my beautiful life and letting Modeh Ani (“thankful I am”) spill out of my mouth.

I slowly start to walk to Pardes my focus now directly in tune with my legs. Letting myself feel my left leg lift and move, my toes and then the ball of my foot touching the ground, the shift of my body weight and then my back leg instinctively lifting itself for the next step.  Step – by step – by step, I open up and pay attention.

I begin to walk normally and let my voice open to the morning blessings. I start chanting Elohai Neshama, then Birchot Hashachar stopping to feel each bracha: closing my eyes at “pokeach ivrim” and then opening them amazed as color and security reenters my body. When I finish I just want to scream halleluyah and so I do. I let my hands move and the complexity of it all baffles me – “Halleluyah” I sing. I see a face I have never seen before and the reality that every moment there is something completely unique to see fills me with thanks. I sing even louder “Halleluyah”. I arrive at Pardes without even thinking about it, completely dressed, my bag on my back to start a day of learning and I think about how I got to be living in Israel studying Torah and the complete mystery of it all makes me laugh. I hear myself singing the wonder “how did I get here? This is crazy? I am a trained accountant! How did I get here? Must be Hashem. Must be Hashem. Thank you Hashem”. I walk up the stairs because I have legs. They have brought me this far. I get to the top tired. But still breathing. Thank you Hashem. I am ready to pray.

I put on my Tefillin slowly. Seeing the shin form on my bicep and so I chant to God about all that I want to strap into my day: “ahava, rachamim, chessed, shalom”, and as the words come out of my mouth I let myself feel the memory of love, the memory of compassion, of kindness and of peace. I slowly put on my head tefillin feeling the weight of the box on my head and the responsibility I am accepting. I feel as I am being coroneted each day with the responsibility to notice God in my life and share that with others.  Lastly I tie the straps around my hand and I make a promise to Hashem “I bind you to me forever, I bind you to me in righteousness and justice, kindness and compassion, I bind you to me in faith – to know Hashem.”

This is my morning practice. I am writing this because David asked me to, but also I hope that for those reading this it will be helpful in someway and maybe this can be a place where people can share that which makes them feel most alive and most thankful.