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What’s Jewish about mindfulness?

Judaism explores the idea of finding inner peace from all the external noise.

Mindfulness image
Participants learn the basics of meditation at a class at the Orot Center for New Jewish Learning.

Mindfulness-the practice of living in the moment-has become a buzzword in society in the last decade. Mainly used to help people decrease stress, mindfulness is offered through classes, apps, yoga, and more. But what's the Jewish angle on mindfulness?

Although many people, including Jews, seek mindfulness resources in Buddhism, you need not look outside the Jewish tradition to delve into the subject.

The Institute for Jewish Spirituality has helped 10,000 people and counting-including rabbis and other Jewish communal leaders-learn about the intersection between Judaism and mindfulness.

"We have resources within our own tradition," said Rabbi Josh Feigelson, executive director of the institute. "In the Hasidic tradition, we have deep roots of Jewish mindfulness practices."

Judaism explores the idea of finding inner peace from all the external noise. "We use the term ' pizzur hanefesh ,' which describes the quality of feeling scattered in your soul," said Rebecca Minkus-Lieberman, co-founder of Orot Center for New Jewish Learning, a JUF Breakthrough Fund grant recipient. "That's how we often live today. In contemporary society, there are a million things to do. What we use mindfulness for at Orot is menuchat hanefesh , [to give] rest to the soul."

Minkus-Lieberman's classes and programs draw heavily from the Hasidic tradition. "Those texts and teachings have so much wisdom about how to tune into the inner landscape of our lives, and that's what mindfulness is really about," she said. "Living a righteous, holy Jewish life is not only about the rituals and mitzvot and external things. If we pay attention to what's underneath the surface, we can move into rituals and observances differently, and they'll have greater meaning, richness, and depth."

For Feigelson, the essence of Judaism in mindfulness starts with tikkun middot -"being aware of character habits and living with greater intention and sense of sacred purpose," he said.

One way to tap into tis intention is through breathing exercises inspired by the Baal Shem Tov's mystical teachings. "We talk about God renewing us with every breath, but what does it feel like to experience that?" After tapping into this feeling for oneself, the next step is interpersonal relations, and the ability to "show up in the world with greater compassion and love."

By using exercises like these, "we use Jewish wisdom and tools to change the world by changing ourselves first," Minkus-Lieberman said.

Mindfulness can be integrated into all parts of Jewish life, from prayer and religious observances to cooking Jewish foods and doing charity work. For people who enjoy meditation, Feigelson recommends focusing on Jewish imagery like Jacob's ladder. During prayer, slowing the breath and focusing on the ideas behind the words instead of speeding through large sections of text can help people feel more connected to their faith.

"For so many of us, Judaism is a lot of knowledge; it's a lot of ideas, words, and rituals," Feigelson said. "A lot of these more embodied practices were put aside and forgotten about. [Mindfulness] is an invitation to meaningful Judaism."

For more information about the Orot Center for New Jewish Learning, visit orotcenter.org/

For more information about the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, visitjewishspirituality.org



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