“Mindful Jewish Living: Compassionate Practice” by Jonathan P. Slater
In this popular introduction to Jewish mindfulness practice, Rabbi Jonathan P. Slater examines Jewish sources and applies their teachings to the practices of mindfulness and meditation. Drawing from Hasidic texts, as well as liturgical, talmudic, and midrashic sources, the author demonstrates how Jewish teachings can make us aware of the spiritual essence of our lives.
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Meditation and Jewish prayer “do speak to each other,” Slater said in a recent telephone interview. “The experience that I have with meditation helps me to stay awake when I’m davening and maintain a more consistent awareness of what I’m doing and be able to recognize when I’ve wandered more quickly.”
Conversely, he said, his meditation practice has made his experience in synagogue that much richer.
Slater, a Conservative rabbi who left the Bay Area in 2001, now lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., and is on the faculty of the Massachusetts-based Institute for Jewish Spirituality, which runs programs for Jewish professionals and lay leaders to support them in developing their spiritual life.
“How far back should I look to find the point in my life from which this book emerges?” Slater writes in his preface. “Where do its origins lie? How have I moved from ‘Who knows?’ to ‘Here I am?’ Now, having concluded the process of writing it, I sense that there is nothing else I could have done instead.”
Slater said that his work at the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center was instrumental in introducing him to Chassidic texts, which made him aware of the centrality of meditation to mystical Judaism. And he cites his friendship with his congregant Sylvia Boorstein as highly influential. The Buddhist meditation teacher, observant Jew and author writes the foreword to his book.
Slater spends much of the book on the concept of mindfulness, the practice of being completely in the moment, aware and finely attuned to one’s thoughts and actions.
“Mindfulness is a practice that we do all the time,” he said. “It is supported by meditation, but is not what happens in meditation.”
And in applying that concept to Judaism, he said, “The study of Chassidic texts with the orientation of mindfulness opened me up toward experiencing God in my life and really making clear what the nature of relationships with other people are supposed to be.”
Slater said he wrote the book for the Jewish seeker, or “somebody who has a fluency in their own experience with a seeking for God and a desire to live a life that is informed with a spiritual awareness, to offer to them a Jewish language for that.”
He also hopes clergy and lay people will be interested, as a way “to expand what they’re doing in their Jewish lives.”
He concluded, “Spirituality isn’t accomplished by doing certain things, but by connection and awareness.”