Mindfulness, a form of meditation, seems to be quite popular lately. With its benefits now widely acknowledged including that it combat stress and helps us to become happier, this practice of being aware of each moment is being taught in classrooms, prisons and workplaces. “Being in the moment” or mindfulness is actually a major part of Jewish practices. One could even say that the observance of Judaism is in itself mindfulness.
The ancient rabbis have given us many tools to practice mindfulness including the recommendation that we recite 100 blessings a day. This fits in perfectly with the secular notion of mindfulness as gratitude is a major component. This approach of the ancient rabbis happens to be one of my favorite practices as it is easy to teach and follow. Each blessing of gratitude gives us the chance to pause, take a breath and appreciate the little things in life. In our busy, rushing, hectic world where there never seems to be “enough time” what an easy way to gift ourselves with “pauses.” It gives us the opportunity to develop a different perspective and appreciate everything around us, our life, our friends, family, things we enjoy doing. When life becomes hectic we tend to take the small details of our life for granted and have limited appreciation for them.
Assuming being awake an average of 16 hours every day, if we commit to 100 blessings a day that translates to one blessing every 10 minutes of our waking hours! While many of the blessings are prescribed and are recited together as part of the daily morning service, there is room for many other blessings to appreciate the small events of the day. In fact, Judaism has formulated blessings for many seemingly mundane as well as rare daily personal and natural occurrences. But we are also told to develop our own blessings.
The significance of this kind of constant awareness goes far beyond the personal level. It leads to other biblical teaching of interpersonal relationships such as love your neighbor as yourself, pursue peace, protect the earth, and to always practice compassion and justice.
In Hebrew School we have been having some fun with practicing mindfulness with the older children by having them eat their challah blindfolded. We begin by asking them to visualize how the challah began as seeds of wheat, recite the blessing and then continue with how it smells, feels on the fingers, on their teeth, when chewed, swallowed etc. Not only are the children integrating a major Jewish value but they are receiving the additional benefit of practicing focusing techniques which aid in the learning of Hebrew.
Judaism asks us to always pause before eating by reciting a blessing with the intent to not only appreciate but enjoy our food. In fact the table where we eat is considered to be a mini altar modeled after the altar in the Holy Temple.
As we continue to instill in our children and also remind ourselves of this beautiful core Jewish value to be in a state of appreciation for our life and everything around us, nothing will symbolize this state of mind more profoundly than the Thanksgiving holiday which we will be celebrating shortly.
Now I wonder what it will be like to eat turkey blindfolded….
May we all be blessed with much to appreciate! And may we all remember to laugh!