In modern culture, there is a lot of talk about mindfulness and how it can help our physical and mental health in general. Can mindfulness be integrated into our Jewish holiday experience? In thinking about it, there might be two questions:
- Can mindfulness help us stay more present with our own experience during the holidays?
- Can mindfulness help us feel more connected with the the holiday experience?
After all, the high holiday services are long and many of us
- Find it hard to spiritually and psychologically connect to the Rosh Hashanah prayers
- Struggle to turn the act of reading words into a spiritual experience
- Experience some moments of ambivalence, mental and emotional boredom and/or other difficult emotions.
After the holiday, it is easy to feel that you completed a lot of reading, but missed the spiritual experience of the holiday.
These days, the term ‘mindfulness’ is so common (and overused) that it might be helpful to revisit its definition. American professor and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Jon Kabat-Zinn states,
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, it’s about knowing what is on your mind.”
Last year, I created Rosh Hashanah centering prayer cards (think of them as pretty and sweet spiritual flashcards) to help us stay connected.
Helping ourselves connect to this theme, here are 7 ways to add more mindfulness to your Jewish holiday experience:
Include Your Own Reflections and Vision
Before the high holidays, schedule some time to prepare. Here is a downloadable worksheet to help us reflect on the past year and create a vision for the upcoming year before Rosh Hashanah begins.
Daydream (just a little bit)
Our mind wanders during prayers naturally and it can feel difficult to stay focused. Sometimes you may feel that your mind is distracted and wandering all the time. You could give yourself some leeway to daydream and then return to prayers. According to neuroscientist Amishi Jha, giving yourself a little space to daydream, is “[the] capacity to let the mind engage in spontaneous thought…Positive mood increases. Creativity increases. And the key is that we have the space to do that.”
Breathing To Relax
It would be nice if the holidays gave us some feelings of physical and mental relaxation. I am not talking about the type of relaxation we feel when we are almost alseep or zoning out in front of the TV. I am talking about the type of relaxation where our body and mind feels calm and open. One way to do that during the holidays is to breathe deeply when you notice your breathing is shallow and you feel tired or bored.
One paradoxical way to connect more to your own experience is to be curious about another person. It is funny how listening to another person allows us to connect more deeply to ourselves. Take the time to ask someone about their experience of the holidays.
Focus on the environment around you
Beyond reading prayers during the holidays, we can also focus on the environment as a way to connect to the holidays. We can close our eyes and listen to the sounds in the synagogue and we can look around and notice others as a way of connecting more deeply with the present moment.
Some Jewish food wisdom: “Eating is the best of prayers.” -Avrunin (you can find more Jewish food quotes here for your inspiration and reflection).
We can incorporate the principles of mindful eating into for our holiday meals. My two favorites are:
- Respect your inner wisdom and select and prepare food in a way that feels positive and nurturing for your bodies, minds and spirits.
- Tune in to the sensations of physical hunger and satiety and let them guide your decisions to begin and end eating.
Wishing you a happy, healthy, and mindful new year!
Your turn: Do you have a mindfulness tip to share with us.