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with Rabbi Sam Feinsmith
Institute for Jewish Spirituality

“What does it mean to be present?”

We are invited to put away our technology, so I am going to stop documenting here for a while….

I’m back now. I thoroughly appreciated to invitation to become more present by putting away my phone and laptop despite the charge I have to document and share what’s happening here. 

We began the session on mindfulness discussing, first in pairs and then with the larger group, our thoughts on what it means to be present.

Are you here?

We followed this with an activity designed to tap into our own level of presence as well as that of others.  This activity also served as a powerful way to connect the group together in a combined awareness of how present we are, what might be getting in the way of our ability to be totally present and how addressing what might be in the way can help us settle into deeper focus.

We did this simply by having one person at a time ask another person the question, “Are you here?” If the respondent answered with an answer that indicated that he/she was elsewhere, the questioner asked, “What can I/we do to help you become more present?” One thing that I found very interesting was how many people said that just being asked (either and both questions) helped them to become more present.

Physical Literacy/Connecting to the Body

One tool for becoming more present and mindful is to be connected to our bodies. We began with an activity where we took a few minutes to simply look at our own hand as if we had never seen it before. Then we were instructed to close our eyes and think about, “How do you know you have a hand?”

We were introduced to the term “chayut” which refers to bodily sensation, the vital life force that flows through each of us.

We also participated in a text study of a selection from the Sfat Emet which compared Noah’s ark to Shabbat. We discussed the text with a hevruta and then in the larger group, thinking about our own personal “floods” and how we find refuge from those in the ark of Shabbat and the opportunity it provides to “receive new vital life force from the Source of life.” 

Mental Literacy/Cultivating Hitlamdut

Mental literacy refers to cultivating a state of mind that helps us to become mindful, the witness to the highs and lows of own thinking and emotions. From Rabbi David Jaffe, we read that,

The term hitlamdut means to cultivate a stance of curiosity and openness to all of life’s experiences and to internalize what we learn.

We also learned about mochin d’katnut, defined as the immature, small, contracted mind and mochin d’gadlut the mature, expanded mind. Sam referenced “self energy” and the opportunity to notice and “parent” the parts of ourselves that are immature, to give them the attention, love and nurturance that they need.

There was much more to this session than I’m able to convey in this brief post. What a great way to connect this group of heads of small schools and to empower them with strategies and tools to enrich their leadership.