Another anecdote from retreat.
One of the teachers described his meditation practice as tending his little plot in the world's garden. In this way, the whole of who we are is connected across time and place, and we have inherited this little plot of existence to care for. I love this image because it connects me to the fact that some of my least favorite parts of myself are not necessarily the product of my doing. They come from a wider context of which I am a part. Even more so, when I imagine my anxious mind and stiff hips as a garden plot, I really soften to my own suffering. I can begin to appreciate the many reasons why these aspects once served me. And in an effort to transform, I found myself on retreat expressing appreciation for and towards my own pain (both physical and emotional).
Recent studies by positive psychologists have unearthed a truth long understood by many religious traditions. Expressing gratitude is fundamentally beneficial to us. This is precisely what the psalter meant in Mizmor Shir L'Yom HaShabbat when it says, "Tov L'Hodot...It is good to be grateful." Whether that gratitude is directed externally to something beyond yourself - anything from the sky to a friend to the Holy One, or whether it is directed toward yourself, appreciating some part of yourself. It is good to be grateful.
Recent studies have shown that a person who keep a daily journal noting five things they are grateful for is 20% more likely to achieve their goals. When I heard that I immediately thought of Muslim prayer which happens five times daily. And then I thought of Jewish prayer, which begins each day with "Modeh Ani..." expressing gratitude for the breath and the new day. And then Amidah, which we are instructed to pray three times a day. As we say, "Modim Anachnu Lach...We offer gratitude..." If, perhaps, for no other reason than to note what we are grateful for.
It is my own experience that when I feel stuck, when I feel tense or stubborn or angry, expressing gratitude softens me, brings me back to center. Perhaps this is why my teacher Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum insists that gratitude is the beginning of prayer. I invite you to join me this summer in keeping a gratitude journal. To note down three or five things a day for which you are grateful, without any expectation.
This is my final Friday blog post before I am on vacation for the month of July. As I enter this time off, I am filled with gratitude. For each of you and the conversations we have shared. For the honor of getting to do such meaningful work. For the joy that we create together. And for the unknown of what's to come.
Earlier today I had the joy of watching a live stream of Dan Blackbserg playing music in Krakow, Poland at the Jewish Culture Festival. The person who introduced it began by saying, "We must get going, because the time is short and the most important Jewish holiday is fast approaching - Shabbat!"
So too here!
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom and a Happy Summer!
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.