(Re)Reading Leviticus 18:22
Anticipating sleep deprivation

Morning practices

Two ideas are starting to collide in my head. One is the notion of opening oneself to Judaism; the other is about Judaism as a discipline.

The first comes from Hasidism, Tradition, and Spiritual Freedom, in which Roger Gottlieb reviews books by Adin Steinsaltz and Zalman Shachter-Shalomi. Gottlieb does an excellent job of explicating each man's work and showing it in the context of his life. I'm intrigued by Gottlieb's statement that "[Steinsaltz] does not want to make it [the tradition] accessible to us, but to make us accessible to it." When I read that, I thought, 'What would it mean to make myself accessible to the tradition?'

The second comes from a conversation I had this morning, about first conscious thoughts upon awakening. One of my fellow meditators expressed envy that Jeff, our rabbi, is "naturally" inclined to wake up with the מדה אני/modeh ani on his lips. Jeff responded that it wasn't a natural inclination; it's something he's ingrained in himself through practice. Which led to a conversation about how Judaism, like meditation, is a practice we impose on ourselves. Because we believe God has commanded us to do so, or because it enriches our lives, or both. Regardless, observance isn't a question of nature; it's a question of discipline.

Putting these two ideas together: I think developing a regular practice -- whether of study, prayer, meditation, or simply saying blessings -- is what makes us accessible to the tradition. It creates an openness in us where the tradition can fit. (At the same time, of course, I think we need to work on making the tradition accessible to the unschooled. Half of the process is personal; the other half has to happen on a larger scale.)

I like the feeling of alignment which comes when I manage to start my morning this way. My fantasy version of myself (the one who's always wise and mature, does everything right, takes good care of herself and everyone else, writes like a dream, can touch her toes without wincing, calls her mother regularly, and spreads joy wherever she goes ;-) starts every day with some kind of spiritual practice. In reality, I manage it once or twice a week, which I figure is better than nothing! If this interests you, you might enjoy Reb Goldie Milgram's guide to finding your own Jewish morning spiritual practices.