Last week I attended a virtual four day Jewish Women’s silent retreat. It was sponsored by Awakened Heart Project and Or HaLev. The leaders were Sheila Katz, Rebecca Schisler and Rabbi Batsheva Meiri. Paige Lincenberg was the retreat manager.
Because it was a mindfulness retreat, there were many opportunities for meditation throughout the day. You can do a formal mindful practice in a variety of postures including walking, sitting, lying down and standing. Yoga can also be a mindful activity. The last day of the retreat, Rebecca led us in a practice, The Five Rhythms, which is contemplative dance. I really enjoyed that.
During the retreat I mostly sat which I found difficult. When one of the leaders guided us and we were all sitting together (via Zoom), I could calm my mind for a more extended period of time. It was harder to sit by myself without any guidance. Now that I am “home”, I am trying to sit for thirty minutes, first thing in the morning.
Overall, the retreat made me want to be more mindful and less reactive in my relationships and in how I lead my life. One of the most liberating and revelatory aspects of the retreat was how it felt to not look at my phone or anywhere on the Internet, except for Zoom for four full days. It was a tremendous relief to not have to deal with email for that period of time.
The sense of relief and ease I experienced not being connected to my phone, the Web or social media has made me rethink my relationship to those platforms. For the first time in over three years, this past month I did not tweet every day. You won’t be surprised to learn the world didn’t fall apart.
Connected to cutting the cord is another aspect of the retreat I am trying to bring into my daily life. A meal should just be a meal without any multitasking, looking up things on the internet or reading things on the phone. Eating silently is actually a lovely way to concentrate. I enjoyed the silence of the retreat and I hope to have more quiet, peaceful time in my day.
My favorite parts of the retreat were the ones with Jewish content. Every morning at 9:30, there was a chanting service which was a beautiful blend of traditional Jewish ritual and contemplative practice. Wednesday night into Thursday was the Jewish holiday Tisha B’Av, the low point of the Jewish year. It commemorates the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple. Over the years, the holiday has also become associated with other Jewish tragedies including the Holocaust.
To observe Tisha B’Av, we chant from Lamentations, one of the books of the Jewish bible. Rabbi Batsheva led the service and Paige, who is a rabbinical student, chanted. Her chanting was beautiful and deeply soulful. I had never really read Lamentations before. It is a raw expression of acute pain and sorrow. The complete bewilderment of the Jewish people about what would come next following the tragedy evoked in me the feeling I have about the pandemic and the situation our country is in.
Observing Jewish rituals throughout the retreat made me grateful that I am a Jew. I came away with a commitment to be more Jewish, which feels like a funny thing to say. The retreat ended on Thursday; I was really excited that the next evening was Shabbat. Built into the Jewish religion is a time every week to be more contemplative and peaceful. Attending a four day silent retreat was a very powerful experience; the power is actually increasing as I process and live with the experience.