Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Many Ways to Mindfulness

When I sit in temple, it is often with a strong sense of hypocrisy. Judaism is a small part of my life, one I am never quite sure I want to focus on at all, mostly because I have a visceral opposition to wholehearted beliefs that often serve to separate people rather than bring them together. These are philosophies, not truths, as no one knows much for sure and no one, surely, should use their beliefs against others.

I am asked often why, then, I have my children in Hebrew School, why I show up on the High Holidays and other times throughout the year, times that I can remember well as important moments in my own childhood. The answer I come to every time is that I feel it is important to carve out time in one's life and in the lives of our children to think and talk about the bigger questions, the ones no textbook can answer, the ones we spend our whole lives figuring if we choose to face them at all.

The student rabbi at Kolot Chayeinu, Molly Kane, spoke on Rosh Hashanah about the coming year, asking us congregants to think hard about what we want from it. She guided us to practice "Mindfulness, not fear" in the face of  God's awesomeness and dread.

I love that. Preaching fearlessness is so crucial. It is this kind of advice that made me choose this particular temple. They are not mired only in the scripture and psalms, but their modern approach mirrors the best in other religions and life practices, their wisdom intended as a way to help one live a more examined, fulfilling life.

As I walked with my children to the family service in the afternoon, the kicking and screaming about going to temple having finally abated but the walk deemed "boring," I spoke of this "mindfulness" Molly had spoken of, about how the commonality between all great thinkers (Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Einstein) was actually never being bored, never taking any little thing for granted but, instead, looking at what is in order to see what could be.

"We have to notice everything, question every little thing in order to learn and create new things," I said.

The rest of the walk was filled with them, somewhat sardonically, pointing out every little thing they saw on the buildings and on the sidewalks as we moved along, like molasses. I began to question my own advice...But, really, paying attention is the greatest skill I can help teach my children, the greatest lesson I myself continue to learn in any way possible.

I am not completely sold on one practice, as no one thing can ever quite do the trick, I'm afraid, and it seems smarter to take a bit of what every culture has created over time to help answer the unanswerable questions. Of late, in addition to temple, I have been splitting my spiritual time between researching my daily Facebook tarot reading on sites including, and taking wisdom from Ayurvedic practices suggested to me by a great bartender we met in London who grew up on the island of Mauritius.

Ayurveda is an amazing intuitive 5,000-year-old Indian practice of balancing one's mind and body through diet, excercise and spiritual meditations, a "Science of Life," the "art of living in harmony with nature," according to Lissa Coffey, a psychotherapist, sociologist and best-selling author who is a pervasive media presence translating the ancient practice into modern lifestyle terms. I took her quiz at despite much ribbing from my brother-in-law, who was himself exploring a highly digestively disruptive cleanse to get back on track himself.

We are all of us seeking if we're smart. I give big gold stars to Ms. Kane, Ms. Coffey and anyone trying to help people figure how best to move forward, how best to manage our lives in a meaningful mindful way.


  1. Like you, I can't buy into just one practice or spiritual approach. I've definitely got more of an eclectic take on spirituality. But slowing down and embracing the smaller moments is definitely something I try to do. And it is hard with a job, a house, 3 kids and a dog! Life never seems slow!

    I actually think your effort with the gold stars is a spiritual practice that I admire. You really notice the efforts and kindness of others and you express gratitude and appreciation for what they do. In turn, you feel better having done that and you've enriched their day, as well. That seems very spiritual to me.

  2. Thank you! It is a spiritual practice in fact, a great reminder to pay attention to others.