What a remarkable experience, sharing my favorite bits & pieces from Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older over on Rx for Caregivers, then adding my responses to them over here. Rabbi Dayle Friedman’s words are the best sort of friends, ones who are always with me.
Same old – same old ~ ~ ~ Rabbi Friedman’s words are in italics, mine are in plain type.
Rabbi Friedman talks about her friend, Cherie, who is coping with several serious challenges yet manages “remain vibrantly engaged in her work and to give her kids enough of whatever they need. … When I asked her how she finds resiliency in this time of immense difficulty, she says, “The only way to get through this is to have an inner life.” For Cherie, having an inner life includes spiritual practices such as meditation and yoga, which offer her solace and grounding. – – This would not have resounded with me on the first reading, because I’ve only started developing my own spiritual practices over the past seven months. My head would have understood the potential of their power, but now my heart soul spirit do, too. I am more capable of BEing, thanks to my daily namaste & meditation practices. Even on this read, this hit me as, “Cherie made space for herself,” but it’s so much more – she made space for emptiness. She made space for no-thing. THAT is where the power lies.
In the complex experience of growing older, we can draw on spiritual practice as a wellspring of resiliency. Developing regular practices can support us as we encounter pain. Practice can serve as an anchor to ground us as so much changes in and around us. – – An envisioning how prayer & meditation & other mindfulness practices support us in challenged moments. Developing regular practices support us because we first supported ourselves by developing them. That self-care karma rebounds back.
In Jewish tradition, the practice of blessings offers a way to elevate the mundane, to draw our attention to the present moment, and to connect us to ourselves and to others. Here we will focus on three specific spiritual practices related to blessings ~ ~ SAYING blessings to mark and give thanks for the experiences we have; SENDING blessings in meditation to develop heightened compassion for ourselves and others; OFFERING blessings to others to invoke goodness and deepen connection. – – Amen!
Like Jacob (who struggled move a heavy stone covering a well) we often find ourselves blocked from accessing that which can sustain us. … It feels difficult to carve out time for spiritual practice. … It is challenging to put aside our mobile phones and computers, to step away from the incessant stream of news, social networking, e-mails, and external distractions. – – For years, decades, I knew in my bones that meditation would make an incredible difference in my life, which might be the reason I never gave it a whack. A couple months ago, I decided to not overthink, just give it a try. Now, I meditate twice a day, morning & evening. Clearing out provides space for whatever to be whatever. Impossible to explain.
Busyness and distraction are powerful barriers to engaging in life-giving spiritual practice. – – They are powerful & determined. With good cause – when we embrace a whole, healthy balance of spiritual practices, there is suddenly room for the wondrous.
Researcher Brene Brown observes … that we are terrified by vulnerability, which she defines as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Paradoxically, she notes, it is precisely by recognizing and sharing vulnerability that we can forge connection to others and live most fully. … – – For most of her adult life, my mother did whatever she could to keep the feeling of vulnerability at bay. At 88, she finally put & left herself at risk of being hurt & was shocked to discover that she WAS hurt -and- she was able to handle it, to feel all the emotions & didn’t crumple, that she could feel churned up emotions toward others & remain emotionally intact. One of the first things I shared with John when we fell in love was my fear of vulnerability; fifteen years later, teaching biology to at-risk high school kids, I learned that a cell HAS to be vulnerable to survive.
Through spiritual practices, such as blessings, we can touch and use our vulnerability to make greater wholeness. – – They bring things together.
Gratitude is the opposite of taking life for granted. Intensifying our sense of gratitude draws us more and more into the here and now. … Gratitude draws our attention to what is good, right, and dear. It guides us away from boredom, dissatisfaction, and despair. – – It opens our eyes & hearts to what IS.
Gratitude is cultivated through the practice of saying blessings throughout the day’s activities and experiences. – – I love this! Consciously give blessings throughout the day. Can see the power in this.
We often are so caught up in the stuff of our lives that we don’t actually notice what we are doing or experiencing. … Pausing to offer a blessing draws our attention to the fact that we are eating, or seeing a flowering tree. … We become more aware, more aware, more present, more grateful. – – Moments of expressing gratitude provides space & light to see what is around us, rather than being blind & clueless because it’s all crushing up around us.
Reciting blessings directs our attention to goodness, even in the midst of challenge or struggle. – – Two blessings that help me in such times are “This is the day the Lord has made; rejoice & be glad in in it.” -and- “But for me & my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that our souls long to feel grateful: “Gratitude rejoices with her sister, joy, and is always ready to light a candle and have a party.” – – Great line & visual!
Loving-kindness is understood as boundless, overflowing love, unfettered by conditions or restraints. … Our aim in this world – and maybe even beyond – is to grow love and compassion … expanding our hearts, making more room for kindness. – – It is a pity that some people feel loving-kindness leaves them at risk. To me, it is the greatest of empowerers.
Sending blessings to ourselves and to others can deepen the well-spring of compassion within us. – – A blessing practice is astonishing in how it benefits us as much or more than it does the objects of our blessings.
Wishing another well, even someone whom you find difficult, can soften the heart and awaken understanding. – – It is the ultimate in liberation.
Rabbi Friedman has an extensive section describing the steps of a Buddhist metta practice – something I was taught to call tonglen – which takes a person through extending a blessing to a person who is unambiguously good to us, to a neutral person, to a dear friend or family member, to someone with whom we are currently in confict. Check out pages 130 & 131. Don’t worry about whether this blessing is entirely sincere. Just try your best for this person’s well-being. Doing this regularly may help you feel more kindly toward this person. Out of this warm sensibility may emerge greater understanding and even forgiveness. – – A powerful practice.
When I worked as a chaplain in an eldercare community, I noticed over time that my congregants almost always offered me beautiful wishes as we parted after a visit. I came to treasure these spontaneous blessings, which were varied and abundant: God should let you live to be my age, and well. ~ I wish you everything you wish yourself. ~ May God grant you all the happiness I have known. ~ May we live and be well and be here together next year. – – This practice needs to be revived! Win-win-win!
Some elders used the language of faith, others simply offered loving, sincere hopes. However they were articulated, these blessings were powerful. They made our encounters explicitly reciprocal; we were each giving to each other in a holy way. These elders fulfilled a precious dimension of aging, the capacity to be a source of blessings. – – “They made our encounters explicitly reciprocal.” Beautiful. Will be pondering – and using – a parting blessing. Could be as simple as “Peace be with you.” Swept away by the power of such a practice.