On Mindfulness and Jewish Meditation, By Frumma Rosenberg-Gottlieb

There are lots of baby-boomer life narratives that have been popping up. I pay attention to the ones that describe spiritual journeys. This is by Frumma Gottlieb, who once published a long, beautiful, and very personal Jungian meditation on Judaism called Lamp Of God (Jason Aronson, 1996). Among other tidbits about her is that she originally produced organic foods in Colorado and she is Aviva Zorenberg’s sister. Here she describes the change from her organic crunchy life in Colorado and her transition to Chabad, she also describes her views of meditation. I posted about half of it. Notice how she describes what she sees as the function of meditation as dealing with stress and its role in insights. On the Rebbe and Meditation, it was one of my early posts.

On Mindfulness and Jewish Meditation, Part I
By Frumma Rosenberg-Gottlieb

In the early 1970s I left my farm on the western slope of the Colorado Rockies to come to New York and study Torah. It was not easy to leave the crisp autumn mornings, the quaking aspens, the summer meadows filled with wildflowers and the snowcapped mountains. It was harder still to leave my fifty acres of organic fruit trees, the bees buzzing in the apricot blossoms, and my powerfully graceful chestnut quarter-horse, Flash. Most difficult of all was leaving a community where everyone was a meditator, where the vibration in my hundred-year-old log cabin was one of calm awareness and serenity. I kissed the ground, and I cried.

Most difficult of all was leaving a community where everyone was a meditator. When I arrived at my spiritual destination, a religious community in New York, I found that I was not unique. I was one of many truth-seekers who had made this pilgrimage from a world where the cultivation of consciousness had been a core value, yet we had felt something lacking. Some of us had lived on communes in Vermont and Oregon, or on sloops in Costa Rica and Nova Scotia; others had left graduate programs at Harvard, Berkeley, and MIT in search of the secrets of inner peace possessed by the holy men of antiquity. Upon realizing that a pastoral lifestyle and exotic Eastern meditation techniques were simply fast foods for our hungry Jewish souls, we had turned toward the nourishing wisdom of our abandoned birthright. We had chosen a Torah life.

Though the teachings were elevating, the family life was inspiring, and the mitzvahs were an everyday source of meaning and joy, I must confess that I didn’t feel the calm. Where was the tranquility? Is mindfulness, I wondered, an ingredient in a Torah life? I rarely heard my Torah teachers speak of cultivating inner awareness. Over time, however, as I became more sophisticated in my understanding of Torah, I realized that mindfulness and a peaceful, balanced soul is indeed an objective in Jewish life, and that the tools for attaining it are subtly woven into the tapestry of Torah knowledge. I learned, for example, that the Hebrew word “shalom” implies not just peace, but also completion, perfection, wholeness. We bless one another with peace; our daily prayers culminate in a request for peace.

As my Torah knowledge expanded, my curiosity deepened. I eagerly devoured any information that dealt with the intersection of Torah and psychology, focusing especially on how a Torah lifestyle enriches inner experience as well as outer behaviors and relationships. On subtle levels, the introspection and the refinement of values that form the core of a Torah life foster an experience of shalom in both senses of the word—a peaceful spirit, and a sense of wholeness. Chassidic philosophy demonstrates how inner turmoil is reduced when we have a clear understanding of our goals, and how the cultivation of trust, faith, awareness, and freedom from doubt enriches our lives with joy. I began to discover that Jewish tradition deeply addresses topics that many of us first encountered in other ancient cultures, or in practices and perspectives currently referred to as “New Age.”

One of the principal techniques for achieving a peaceful soul is establishing regular times for meditation. While “meditation” suggests an image of someone sitting in cross-legged lotus position with eyes closed and incense burning, meditation in a general sense comprises a wide variety of practices. All of them involve harnessing the dynamics of the mind in order to think in a more intentional, less random or accidental manner. Most also entail a certain quietude of mind, a sense of surrender to a higher or deeper aspect of the mind.

In his pioneering spirit, the Rebbe urged us to develop acceptable meditation methodologies that would serve as tools for overcoming stress and anxiety. In 1977 the Rebbe began a push to make a kosher form of meditation available to the public. The Rebbe specifically mentioned the efficacy of meditation as an antidote to stress and anxiety; he was concerned, however, that many of the more popular teachings were not consistent with Torah values. He reached out personally to a number of religious psychologists and medical professionals, as well as to others known to be versed in meditative practices, including my husband and me. In his pioneering spirit, the Rebbe urged us to develop acceptable meditation methodologies that would serve as tools for overcoming stress and anxiety, thereby replacing negative emotions with feelings of internal peace.

As I observe an increasing number of friends, family and acquaintances taking anti–anxiety or antidepressant medications, or struggling to keep an even keel in times of great economic and political turmoil, I feel compelled to re-examine this call from the Rebbe. More than ever, it has become crucial to help people learn appropriate techniques for stress reduction, and to explain why and how such practices are relevant to our lives. And it’s not just about overcoming negativity. Within these challenges lie thinly veiled opportunities to dramatically enhance the quality of our lives.

Human beings are endowed by their Creator with a spectacular and elaborate defense mechanism called the fight-or-flight response…

Many of us feel as though we are constantly under pressure…

When faced with chronic stress and an overactive limbic system… sooner or later we begin to see physical symptoms…

According to the Ramchal, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, rushing is the close ally of the yetzer hara (our negative, self-sabotaging inclination)…

How is it possible to survive, let alone thrive, in the midst of this sense of constant pressure? To gain access to our own abilities, to activate the best of ourselves rather than act from our least functional, habitual patterns of response, we first need to alter our perception and our perspective. Meditation—or perhaps mindfulness exercises that may not look like “meditation” per se—can put us on that path.

Meditation can help make those adjustments in our minds, our hearts, our nervous and endocrine systems, our emotions, our thoughts, and ultimately our souls. Meditation can be like a powerful telephoto lens that brings us closer to that which previously appeared distant and unknowable; by the same token, it can function like a wide-angle lens that affords us the perspective to see the cosmic connections in our universe. Read the Rest Here

One response to “On Mindfulness and Jewish Meditation, By Frumma Rosenberg-Gottlieb

  1. So far, what I see is meditation-as-healthy. I’m a bit surprised. What about meditation as a tool/path for enlightenment? As part of a continuum of prayer-meditation-prophecy? As part of the mitzvah of prayer, and its own goal (ala Rav Y.M. Harlop); not just a means to something?

    How did she view meditation before becoming a Chabadnikit?

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