Today’s pop-culture “spirituality” is marketed in a variety of ways that make it attractive and accessible. We flock to these opportunities to center ourselves and connect. Meditation sits, yoga, and other movement practices as a pathway to “zen,” do not strike many of us as “Jewish.” Yet, resident in the traditions, texts and practices of Judaism’s deep spiritual well, you will find oceans of just such wisdom. The mayim chayim/living waters of our tradition provide nourishment for the hungry mind and heart and refreshment for the thirsty body and soul. To connect, we need only to be aware and willing to access these gifts of spiritual practice from our ancestors.
We seek to connect with our surroundings … environmental and human relationships provide us with roots. Wisdom from Torah, Pirkei Avot, Rambam, Reb Nachman, and Abraham Joshua Heschel, to name only a few, provides encouragement and tools of engagement with the mystery of creation – the earth, water, land, flora and fauna. Myriad prompts for natural connection occur in our liturgy. Similarly, varied instructions – recipes for creating sacred community and relationships – are shared by our sages.
During this month of Av, associated with Aaron’s death, the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temple and other calamitous times in Jewish history, and in the coming month of Elul, as we begin our annual spiritual cleansing and t’shuvah/re-aiming, we are particularly thirsty for spiritual nourishment. It seems fitting to turn to Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (one of the late Hasidim of 20th century Europe known as the Piaseczner rebbe). A man known for his great compassion, intellect, and mystical connection, the Piaseczner was known as an outstanding and creative teacher of both Torah and spiritual technique. Through exercises of guided imagery and practices of self-control, he shared practical wisdom for achieving fuller connectedness with the Source of Life.
Even in the midst of great tragedy, destruction, and despair, Reb Kalonymus was inspired to write a treatise on how to cultivate consciousness. ”If we try to begin by increasing our sense of holiness and elevation, the process will not work,” he says. “Rather, our method is to start right where we are now and to rise up from there.” Later he encourages the reader, “… learn how to observe. Whatever transpires within you and around you, learn how to see what it is. Visual watching is not the essence!” His very practical suggestions read like a modern-day meditation practice, but infused with citations and pearls of wisdom from that deep well of Judaic knowledge. Although he lost his family and eventually his life as one of the millions of victims of the Shoah, his writings, which he buried in the Warsaw Ghetto, were discovered after the war and published.
May we continue to be inspired and nourished by our heritage!