Posted on February 4, 2019 by Charles Marder
I want to attempt to describe an experience that words cannot adequately do justice. When my daughter Laura suggested I come join her on her third time attending Awakening the Divine: The Pardes Spirituality retreat co-sponsored by Or HaLev: Center for Jewish Spirituality and Meditation and NYU, I said “I think so”, but I already knew I was saying “YES”. What greater gift of love and confidence could a parent receive. Though I was well versed in mindfulness from my career as a psychologist, this was my first immersive retreat experience. A large part of my daughter Laura’s world is woven with Pardes, Jewish learning, teaching, feeling and practice. For those of you who don’t know my daughter Laura Marder, her greatness and amazement also cannot be adequately described with words. I realized into the retreat that she had been preparing me all along with books, emails, links and talks.
Going into this experience is an act of love and bravery on both of our parts. You and your ‘child’ are both making a big commitment. So big that once you sign up your child might have moments of doubt and worry, “What if he hates it?”. I can proudly say that I did not have those doubts because I know Laura. I did however worry about “What if I’m not good enough and let her down”?
For me one thing the retreat did was allow me to look at myself and others with less judgment and with more appreciation, confidence and love. Participants at the retreat had time to talk and connect with others out of silence. Surprisingly the silence and communal prayer options and meditative sitting allowed me to connect on a much deeper, stronger level with myself, my daughter and those around me (At the retreat and in my family, community and world.). The mindful walking was amazing. I became more aware of my body in space, and the powerful senses of nature, other creatures, colors, sound, temperature and a sign pointing out that I was 5,900 miles from Jerusalem. The text study (I also never formally studied Jewish text before.) was an opportunity for mindful talking. It was directed by the teachers and topic. Signs on the walls reminded us;
“Pause – Relax – Open
Another poster read:
“Be with Your Body
as You Speak &
as You Listen”
I must be honest with you. Parts were very very hard emotionally, physically and spiritually. I thought about those times on a walk I took after I returned home. An interesting metaphor came to my mind. Even though I never gave birth to a child; the difficult and emotional parts of the retreat felt as if I had. Yes, something Divine Awakened within me. I not only felt my emotions strongly, but everyone else’s. I felt their pain and their joy. My senses were heightened. At times the tears flowed uncontrollably. One night I was inspired to write a poem about an experience I had leaning over a little wooden bridge, looking down at the beautiful rapid flowing river below.
River of Tears
I stand on a bridge looking down on a River of tears.
I drop a leaf. A trembling leaf being shaken by the rapids
and holding on to a twig.
I am that leaf.
A calm leaf rests on the bottom of the River.
My tears rain down.
The River becomes deeper.
I now rest on the bottom too.
I may turn into the soil of the River’s bed,
or be carried away to be part of something bigger.
The River decides.
By Ami Marder 2019
Now that I am back home. I want, I Need to preserve the beauty and knowledge of the retreat. I am so grateful that Pardes and Or HaLev provide the resources to do this. After all, you don’t go through something so moving without wanting to practice some continuation. This spiritual retreat and my daughter have given me ideas that I want to continue in my personal life. Yes, it is likely different for each participant, but the Ruach (spirit) is infectious. The Universe provides such Awe. The staff and teachers put so much into every detail. The natural beauty and luxury of the setting does the rest!
I write this in both reflective gratitude as well as in hope that it will inspire others to share a retreat with their loved ones. Be brave, act with love.