A couple of weekends ago, I did something totally beyond my comfort zone. Along with 20 other Jewish activists, I attended a contemplative, mostly silent, meditation retreat through the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. Throughout the whole experience, I felt myself growing and exploring so much about myself and how I show up and exist in the world.
But before going into my takeaways from the experience, it’s important for you to know the structure of the retreat. Over the course of 4 days, we were silent for about 90% of the experience. All of our meditation sessions and meals were silent (except for the first and last meal), but we were allowed to sing during prayer services. Beginning on Saturday night, we began debriefing (talking time!) our experience with other participants, helping us all to take these new thoughts and feelings with us into the “real world.”
So, what did this experience teach me? Here are some major takeaways:
- Before coming on this retreat, I thought of meditation as something that I should do to clear my head and be more productive. Now I see the power of meditation for exactly what it is – a way to center my whole self (mind, body, soul) into alignment with one another.
- During meditation, our minds will naturally wander – from what we had for breakfast, our next task at work, or the next trip we’re taking. Being on this retreat, I learned that this phenomenon is totally natural, and that the power of meditation is all about recognizing that my mind has wandered, and gently bringing it back to focusing on my breathing and intention. This was a game-changer for me and keeps me patient when my mind does wander during my meditation time.
- Speaking of wandering, I found my brain come back to some of the same things time and time again. Through these patterns, I was able to really see the people and things in my life that are the most important to me. In just sitting with myself and my thoughts for so many silent hours, my priorities in life became clearer. I need to interrogate these patterns more, but I love that meditation brought me closer to understanding myself by untangling the pieces of my life.
- This retreat in particular was for Jewish activists, and through prayer and our debriefing it was clear why this retreat was so important for Jews that are working toward a better world – we need this meditation to stay in this messy, hard work for the long haul. And so that we can make this work that we care about sustainable for ourselves and our community and create the World As It Should Be.
- We learned a “blessing meditation” that we could repeat in our minds as we were meditating that is truly beautiful:
“May I feel safe
May I feel happy
May my body be strong
May my life unfold with ease”
I loved this meditation because I not only want these things for myself, but also for every single person in the world. And if we want these things for everyone, then we need to change so many parts of our communities, country, and world.
Spending all of this time listening to my still, small voice for justice was refreshing and inspiring in so many ways. If you have the opportunity to go on a meditation retreat (they’re kind of expensive and I’m grateful this one was highly subsidized), I highly recommend it. We’ve got so much work to do in this world and that work often starts by listening to the still, small voice that we all have within us.