In the last decade or so, meditation and psychology have discovered a peaceful co-existence. Psychologists like Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach and psychiatrist Daniel Siegel have presented mindfulness and vipassana meditation in a way that satisfies the spiritually and scientifically minded. Additionally, research has shown that meditation creates an actual “shift”–a restructuring of the brain. One particular Harvard study found increased gray matter concentration within brain regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, sense of self and perspective taking.
Meditation is also linked to Judaism according to community rabbi and author Elie Kaplan Spitz, and technology makes it even more accessible by allowing readers to be participants. Whether you read the hard copy and download the QR code or read it on your iPad and have a direct link–you will have an entirely new experience with his book.
What was the impetus for the book?
My seeking for inner calm and peace, and as a congregational rabbi, the conversations I have had with congregants and their own search for inner peace and calm. Part of the foundation [for the book] is my harvesting experiences and teachers who have given me awareness of inner life and tools to gain inner awareness.
The premise is that our own wisdom emerges from within ourselves rather than what we have simply heard. The key metaphor [used in the book] is the making of a cup of tea. The making of a cup takes tea leaves, a cup, and time. However, to get a satisfying tea you cannot just lick tea leaves. One needs hot water, a vessel, and time to allow the leaves to steep. We cannot simply read or hear instruction, we need to bring our life experience – the hot water – to create a tea to our liking.
It is the choice of doing the exercises in the book that create enduring lessons. There are 30 “Youtubes” embedded in the book to allow readers to let go of the analytic mind and enter intuitively with guidance. You experience the book, you do not just read it. I like to refer to “participants rather than just readers.”
As a rabbi it must have been important to weave Torah and Tanach into the book. How were you able to do this?
Yes, as a rabbi and as someone who finds depth in Jewish tradition, it was natural to draw on our community’s sages. I do so by drawing on body, heart, mind, and spirit. This is an insight of our Jewish mystical tradition that refers to creation as composed of four worlds: Asiyah, Yetzirah, Beriah, Atzilut (doing, forming, creating, and illumination). The goal of the book is not only to create a calming, strengthening, and integrating of these four dimensions of soul, but to enable – to allow each of us–to become more effective in connecting with others and serving to act with greater kindness and justice. For our own joy is a direct product of that kind of generosity and gratitude; and yet our ability to reach out that emerges is from a place of inner balance.
Ed. – Psychology also refers to four dimensions that allow us as humans to be complete. Carl Jung referred to these similar four units of the soul as archetypes.
As a modern person I find depth in being a serious student of the Jewish tradition, and at the same time drawing from an array of traditions of world religious leaders.
The approach of the book is the need to engage and balance the analytic mind and the creative mind. Think of it as the difference between the Picasso drawing of a woman and a photograph of the same woman. Often times when looking at the same item one faculty is emphasized at the expense of the other. [When we look at the woman, do we see the Picasso drawing or a photograph?] To be fully human is to use both analytic and creative mind; the rational and intuitive. The exercises [in the book] allow the participant to go inwardly to the more intuitive creative space, which is then balanced with the analytic mind for reality testing.
As a psychologist I know the positive psychological results of meditation. How do you see them from a Jewish / spiritual perspective?
Meditation is the art of focused attention that leads to inner calm, peacefulness and an opening to the inner intuitive. That practice of focused attention is an intricate part of Judaism. In Judaism when we pray familiar words they are mantra like and potent partly due to the familiarity. The Mishna records that the early pious ones would prepare for one hour before reciting the Amidah prayer. The Code of Jewish Law says they would chant the Amidah for one hour. Chanting the Amidah [for one hour] is at the rate of seven seconds a word. To chant with that level of concentration is an intense meditation. The repeating of a musical melody in Hebrew called Inigun, was a popular device for growing close to G-D. Many of the exercises in the book draw from Jewish and larger religious traditions focusing on breath as awareness. What most great religions share is a focus on the breath as a resource for achieving that kind of altered state. Psalms is composed of 150 poems written to G-d expressing a range of emotions. The very last line states, “May every breath or soul praise G-d, praise G-d.” Our breath is our link to life and our link to awareness.
The book is written in a way that I see as being adaptable to anyone who reads it. What do you hope readers glean from reading this book?
In addition to the analytic perspective, this book allows readers to actually experience the book. That is, they have technology available that makes the book a tool for inner growth and greater happiness.
The book reflects who I am: deeply embedded in Jewish life, and going back to balance, living in a bigger world that I fully embrace.
What would you like our Jewish community to know?
The book is available. And that the goal of our Jewish tradition is to become more fully alive, more fully human, more fully connected to the world around us. This is an essential path to cultivate inner balance.
Cultivating the mindful pause is at the core of Judaism and religious practice. It is my hope that with the aid of this book the participant will be better prepared to pause to both appreciate and to act with thoughtful purpose.
You can find “Increasing Wholeness: Jewish Wisdom & Guided Meditations to Strengthen & Calm Body, Heart, Mind & Spirit” at Jewish Lites Publishing or on amazon.com. The book is also available electronically on kindle, nook, iBook, and kobo.
Once a month, at Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin, Rabbi Spitz leads a session in guided meditation. Go to cbi18.org to find out times and dates
Download a QR reader app to activate codes in the book. Click on “Try this” to see on Youtube!
Lisa Grajewski, Psy.D. Is a licensed psychologist with JFFS and an adjunct instructor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She has been a contributing writer for Jlife Magazine since 2004.