Mindfulness does not come easily to me
by Judith Weinstein
When Ellyn [Bank] asked me to write the post for this month’s middah, Kavod (respect/honor), I deferred, not thinking I would be able to do the middah the justice that she and Cantor Katzman have been doing with their informative and inspiring posts. I was also concerned about being able to write a meaningful piece as I knew I would be missing the monthly meeting of the Tikkun Middot group. Studying in pairs, as we know, enhances learning, and that enrichment is multiplied when working with a group, especially one as respectful, intelligent, and safe as the mindful spirituality group of which I am so fortunate to be a part. How could I possibly impart wisdom to others before I had learned from this group and processed it? Moreover, we are only halfway through the Middot; and I am far from being enlightened.
After being granted a pass, if I wanted it, I decided to give it a go. After all, our study of the middot is not just discussed during our monthly two-hour meetings, but set into practices–“kabbalot”–in the weeks intervening until the next meeting. Perhaps, I reasoned, this would help me to live even more in “hitlamdut”– a framework to internalize what I have learned.
I am often thinking of the Tikkun Middot group outside of meetings because I carry the energy and warmth of our discussions into the next week and the week after that. And, conversely, when I become conscious–a veritable awakening–that I have done something “mindfully,” I think of them. I want to go running back to them (which I do, sometimes, via email), to share my mindful moment.
Lest you think this is second nature to me, I can assure you it’s not. Those who know me know that I operate on a rather high frequency. More than one friend has suggested that I’m someone “who might really benefit from meditation.” Mindfulness does not come easy for me. So I knew that when I was asked to join this group that it would be a very good thing for me, personally, probably for my family as well, and a very unique way for me to contribute to our temple community. (My contributions in the past had been in development and event planning, although I did have a brief stint leading a yoga class as part of adult education, I kid you not.)
With this lengthy disclaimer out of the way, I want to share my thoughts, as I segued from chesed/loving kindness (last month’s middah) to kavod/respect or honor. Over the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday I began to interpret the words of Dr. King, being broadcast on the radio throughout the day, through this framework of middot. And I began to despair a bit and wonder, in a world getting seemingly more racist, more violent, more unjust, how can these middot possibly be of help to us? And then I thought about my own work, helping survivors of torture at Heartland Alliance Marjorie Kovler Center. Kovler Center is, for many survivors, the first place where they begin to feel their dignity restored. Clients are treated with respect, and staff, in order to do the challenging, difficult work they do, treat one another with kindness and patience (other middot). I realized that not only are these middot in evidence everywhere, but they are essential to our living humanely and civilly with one another. The mindfulness comes in when we are conscious of their expression, in ourselves and in others, and we integrate them into our everyday practice. The mad world makes living mindfully imperative.
My rather low-gear contemplation of kavod was given a shocking jolt into high gear last Saturday morning when I received a call from my mother who had been hospitalized the night before and was scheduled for emergency surgery. She had also received a very serious diagnosis. There was no discussion with my family, no contemplation; my decision to get on a plane that day was a visceral one. This kind of kavod is part of my DNA. I grabbed my essentials and, with mindfulness, my Tikkun Middot folder.
Kavod: honor. Honor thy mother and father.
Kavod: dignity. I am seeing how difficult it is to maintain dignity in a hospital setting, and yet, I am in awe of the medical and nursing and ancillary staff who do everything possible to ensure this.
Kavod: honor oneself. I am trying to keep myself nourished and well rested in order to be there for my mother.
Kavod: see the holy in one another. My sister and I are mindfully giving one another space to process things differently, so as to be able to come together as a team. I am thinking of kavod when fielding the emails, calls, and texts from our small (but demanding) family and my mother’s 1800 friends.
Today was a slightly better day. I asked my mom if she would like me to read to her about my study of the middot and, in particular, kavod. As I was reading to her, the Jewish hospital chaplain, a rabbinical student, knocked on her room. When we told him what we were studying… well! You can imagine his delight. “What a surprise to enter a patient’s room to find them studying tikkun middot!” He was thrilled. We talked. He asked me to share snippets of kavod. He read a psalm. We took a selfie. Hashtag rabbi.
Tomorrow is another day, hopefully an even better one. But there will be setbacks and new challenges. Mindful Jewish spirituality has helped me to face these challenges, the picayune ones and the crushing ones, and to grow closer to my family, my friends, my Jewish community, and the world.