On a ten day silent Buddhist retreat in 1996, on an island in the Sea of Thailand, I began learning a Buddhist meditation practice. By honoring a yearning for silence and solitude I have been able to be aware of when my Jewish heart needed uncovering. This awareness has been saving my life by offering me gifts unimagined. I am eternally grateful.
These ancient traditions teach the importance of exploring below the surface; Buddhism’s interdependent origination and Judaism’s curious wandering into the PaRaDiSe of Torah, discovering the secret meanings of Hebrew text.
Traditionally, I would have been at a synagogue, celebrating Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year, asking for forgiveness of myself and of others and dipping apples into honey praying for a sweet year. The ten days end with fasting on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, while repenting for having missed the mark. Erasing all past vows, I would recalculate and return to my pure soul; praying family and friends and I would be placed in the Book of Life for yet another year.
This season was different. I had stepped outside the familiar, beginning a yearlong solo journey around the world.
My first stop was Hiroshima, Japan. Amidst the beauty of Peace Park I was reminded of war, mass destruction and senseless killing. As I cultivated hope for the world I was also unconsciously seeking peace within me. I, like many others, live with a mind desperately seeking to find order to soothe the inner angst and chaos finding home.
The second stop was ten days at the monastery. The time offered me new perspectives and experiences soothing illusions of separateness and hopefulness of enlightenment. I laughed fully when the teacher offered me that thought. A key to my healing was experiencing interconnectedness. I was learning about the universal mind that requires a conscious partner to focus on inner peace, happiness and turning away from suffering.
The 26 strangers sat, walked, listened to our teachers and ate and contributed to the upkeep of the retreat as one body. I washed dirty pots and dishes. We were taught to provide kindness and space through no eye contact. We learned mantras of compassion and loving-kindness. During one walking meditation, I noted a moment of timelessness I now call ‘stepping into Universal Love’.
With time as a friend, I have uncovered many gifts experienced during those ten days. One of those was when in 2008 a friend asked me what I had learned from walking a 7 hours 36 minutes marathon. I spontaneously responded ‘I am never alone’. My response connected the timelessness moment of 1996 to 2008.
I am in deep gratitude for continuing to practice and teach what I learned in those ten days of awe: sitting with solitude and silence is an act of self Love that has ripple affects into the world cultivating sympathetic joy. May all beings be free of suffering. May all beings be happy. May all beings find home.