It’s just over two years since I first ventured into the realm of Mindfulness meditation. At the outset, I didn’t really know that’s where I was headed. I’d signed up for a 5-day Retreat at Kripalu in Stockbridge entitled Whole Self Well-Being. One important component turned out to be meditation. It opened a door through which I have continued to walk ever since. Though I’d never have anticipated it, I found myself drawn to return to Kripalu for two more 5-day retreats, each specifically focusing on meditation. My first year found me doing lots of “reading about” with sporadic, occasionally consistent practice. Since my third retreat in August, I find that hardly a day goes by in which I do not “sit.” Sometimes it’s just for a few minutes. At other times I sit for 20-30 minutes. In so many ways, it’s a surprise to me that this practice speaks to me. But it’s a most welcome surprise.
One of the lessons that my various teachers have shared has to do with allowing your focus to return again and again to the breath. Both Jack Kornfield (January 2014), and Jonathan Foust (August 2015) reminded us again and again, thinking will happen. Notice it, and let it go. I get that. Sometimes I am even able to do it.
One morning, earlier this week, I was sitting on my cushion, listening to the recorded voice guide me through my morning sit. As often happens, my mind does drift into thinking. Most often the focus is on the day ahead and what I have to accomplish. I try to let it go in the moment and return to my breath. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. On this occasion my thinking drifted to our Torah portion for this Shabbat, Parshat Vayera (Genesis 18-22). Without a doubt, it’s one of the most pregnant of Torah portions, with story after story clamoring for our attention. I was even wondering what I might share in this post. “Eric,” I reminded myself – “breath. Thinking and writing is for later.” Then it happened. My mind locked on a single word from our portion, Hineini.
Hineini is among the most potent words in our library of stories we call Torah. Hineini – “here I am” (if you prefer, “I am here.) It’s the word Abraham speaks to God in response to God’s call at the opening of Genesis 22, surely one of the most challenging chapters in all of Torah, what tradition knows as Akeidat Yitzchak– ”the Binding of Isaac.” Abraham’s Hineini is understood by generation after generation of readers and commentators as a sign of our Patriarch’s commitment and preparedness to respond to God’s call, “Some time afterward, God put Abraham to the test. God said, “Abraham,” and he answered, “Hineini – Here I am.” God said, “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah . . .” (Gen. 22:1-2)
As I sat on my cushion, my mind was not focused on Abraham. My mind locked onto the power of Hineini, how that single word, which time and again, draws our attention to one or another Biblical character’s “aha” moment of presence and response. My teacher, Rabbi Norman J. Cohen has written an incredibly powerful book, Hineini In Our Lives (Jewish Lights, 2003) in which he unpacks the fourteen instances in which there is a Hineini moment/response in Torah. He also invites a host of contemporary leaders to share something about the meaning of Hineini from their experience. It’s a great read!
I have had my share of Hineini moments. Sitting on my cushion one morning this week, such a moment came. It was not because of some powerful experience or event. It wasn’t from study of a text and a breakthrough. It wasn’t a powerful life moment such as the birth of a child or the like. It was simply my awakening, my awareness, my breathing. I realized that Hineini is the ultimate in mindfulness focus. I am here! Here I am! I am present . . . in this moment. The sitting, the breathing, and the pause between the notes of my life help me be better prepared to present in whatever my day will bring. Shabbat is upon us – Hineini!