As I shared on Kol Nidre eve in September, “One of the goals I set for my Sabbatical time this summer was to try a new path, to do something out of the box, something out of my own comfort zone. While I always find new things to experience in Israel, by and large, my time in Israel is familiar territory. I knew that part of my time would be spent in the Berkshires so that I could be with Laura, and some of our children, who were spending their summer at our URJ Eisner Camp. But I wasn’t going to be part of “camp” in a formal way. So I set out to find a learning opportunity that might be available. The Berkshires are full of wonderful opportunities. I figured there just had to be something out there for me. With a bit of cyber-exploration back in the Spring I found what I thought might fit the bill – a seminar at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge. . . the time I spent at Kripalu that left me a different person.”As part of the completion of last summer’s sabbatical time I have been blessed take this month of January (since the High Holy days came so early this past year): Some weeks of travel with Laura in Italy — wonderful; A long weekend at camp (as Laura was leading a family retreat) with my brother Mark and his wife Leah (our first extended shared downtime since they moved to Vancouver twelve years ago); and now . . .
I’m back at Kripalu for a 5 1/2 day mindfulness retreat with master teacher, Jack Kornfield. This past summer I had my first serious exposure to Mindfulness meditation. I’ve returned this month for a more intensive look. These winter retreat days have a different flow and intensity from what I experienced back in July. Pretty quickly, we were taken into mindfulness practice by our teacher (who just this morning I discovered was raised in Newton, and who graduated from Newton North High School back in the day.) Long periods of sitting in silence; numerous walking practices; learning to hear the sounds around us with new ears; learning to breathe . . . more deeply, more fully, in a more focused way; more mindfully. The retreat is just past the halfway point and I’ve come to rest my mind with the notion that what I am doing is nothing less than learning a new language. As with my years of learning Hebrew in Ulpan (the intense immersion for learning Hebrew), I have realized that I am at a mindfulness meditation Ulpan. This new language, for which I began learning just a few of the letters of the alphabet back in July, is a language which has grabbed hold of me.Indeed, following upon my summer experience, and with the guidance of some summertime classmates, I found myself devouring some of the literature, both in book and audio form which helped me take baby steps along the way this summer and fall. Now I’m immersed in really learning to speak the language. Just as when I first really learned to speak Hebrew, I wasn’t always comfortable. Just the same, I learned I had to take risks, speak my nascent Hebrew outside of the classroom, take it into the streets and the shops; walk with it, and live it. So often I made mistakes. Indeed, I still do.
So it is with this new language, which I began to speak – at home, in my study at the synagogue, and even from the pulpit while leading services in recent months.For me, learning something new brings exhilaration. It creates excitement. I look forward to continuing my journey into this new “language,” which is mostly spoken in silence and with breath. It might sound hokey, but learning this language is breathing something new into me, even as I take into my heart, mind and soul.