I had a sort of OK weekend at the meditation retreat, and was reminded of a number of things:
1. I can learn a lot from trees. They stand up straight, are quiet and focused, and never seem to forget who or where they are.
2. A few hours walking alone in the woods can be much more therapeutic than twice that time listening to a rabbi go on and on about emptying one's mind during meditation of obsessive thoughts of self--and who then frames all subsequent advice in terms of his (not terribly interesting) own life.
3. You can call it "[insert your favorite religion] meditation" but it's really just psychology, and all about letting go and learning how to be, one small moment at a time. The message is invaluable, no matter how annoying the messenger.
4. I love that that the rabbis at my synagogue teach as if they have as much to learn from us as we from them, and model a way of sharing knowledge that precludes hollow declarations of humility, disdain for paths different from one's own, and groupies.
5. Despite my heartfelt acceptance of all spiritual practices, my comfort zone is breached by not very good folk guitarists who, in the name of prayer, sway back and forth and grimace in pain like Nora Dunn in that old Saturday Night Live sketch "Make Joan Baez Laugh." I know much of Judaism embraces this style of music and yet (quoting my friend D., who always gets to the point) I dislike it with a passion equal to the heat of a thousand flaming suns.
6. You can make some great friends when bonding over bad teachers and worse music.
All that said, this weekend offered moments of great calm, peace, discovery, and much-needed sounds of birds and rain falling on leaves. It was good to be away from schedules and deadlines and I did, for a few moments, taste eternity like you're supposed to on Shabbat. I need more of this in my life. So my gift to myself this Elul, my acknowledgment that ani l'dodi v'dodi li, I deserve my own compassion, will be long, slow walks--not in woods as lush as the ones I just left, but in a park where the trees will stand equally straight and remind me to keep putting one foot in front of the other, quietly and calmly.