Episode 3: Resources and tools for spiritual seekers
Benefiting from all those that came before me I have learned a lot about what are the different mechanisms that I can use to plug into the universe and to feel that sense of wonder or peace. I hope to share some of those gems with you and that they will be helpful to your journey as well.
In episode 3 of “Raising Holy Sparks” I talk about various practices or habits that we can pick up in our religious and spiritual searches. I talk about some ways that shabbat could potentially be meaningful for you, I unpack the awkward relationship between science and religion, and I conclude by emphasizing the importance of nature and how vital it is that we make time to be in it.
“If I'm sitting in San Francisco overlooking the Pacific Ocean, watching the waves come in and out. I realize the vastness of this universe and for some reason a sense of peace comes over me.” - Reb Misha Clebaner
There are so many discoveries that pop up when you least expect them. By trying practices that we have never tried before, or maybe we haven’t heard of before, it provides us with just one more opportunity to bump into those life changing but oh so fleeting moments of deep spiritual insight and connection.
Here are some of the experiences that have contributed to my spiritual journey-ing:
Vipassana - Silent Meditation Retreats (free)
Shabbat (also free) - Here is an article about how to make Shabbat accessible.
Israel - Some of the most awe-inspiring moments that I’ve had in nature have been in Israel. From star-gazing, to craters in the desert, to laying on the beach listening to the waves crash against the rocks. No wonder the Middle East is the birthplace to so many religions. The natural beauty there inspires and enlivens all those walk across the length and breadth of its land to one degree or another. If the cost of travel are currently out of your budget then use that cash of yours to buy a picnic basket and go climb the nearest mountain near you. It’s like going to the gym - seems cumbersome upfront but you won’t regret it afterwards.
Full Transcript - Scroll below to read along:
00:00 "So I think that's one important thing to remember in the spiritual world and in the scientific communities, is that these are two completely separate worlds and people that have degrees in religion should not be commenting on science unless they have another degree in science and people have degrees in science really shouldn't be speaking from a scientific background to say definitively whether there is a God or whether there is a soul."
00:32 Hello and welcome to reasonable holy sparks with Reb Misha Clebaner, the show where we celebrate the beauty in the seemingly mundane. We delve deep into Torah, back to the basics of Judaism one-on-one, give practical tips for building positive habits, both ancient and contemporary techniques. So much wonder out there. Let's get started.
00:56 Hello everyone. Welcome to episode three of Raising Holy Sparks. As I mentioned in episode one, I would love to share some resources and steps and other things that I have done throughout my spiritual journey and to share that with all of you in case you're also interested in more exploration of your own spirituality or other spiritual traditions out there and you would like to learn some more.
01:25 So I hope that me sharing a little bit about where I'm coming from helps you as you think about what's important to you currently and what else is out there that could potentially be exciting and enriching for you as well. So I'd love to start off by kind of framing it in terms of spirituality that helps us by reflecting on our past, on our present and for the future. So let me start off with the past.
01:57 There's a story of the Dalai Lama where students come to him, where they traveled to northern India to visit with him and they come in front of him when they've scheduled an appointment and he takes them in and he's smiling as always and they greet him and they chit chat back and forth for a little bit. And so as the story goes, the Dalai Lama concludes their meeting by saying, well, what is the tradition of your family? And is there anything that you can learn from those wisdoms that your family has passed down to you and first research and explore those questions before you begin to go deep into the Buddhist tradition that I am teaching, said the Dalai Lama.
02:49 And so I think that that's such an important framing that we get excited about fresh and new ideas, something that's completely different than what we grew up with and we want to jump into those things because there's not as much baggage there. But if we strip away the baggage for a moment, there's just as much to learn with.. from the places that were coming from as there is from the places that we're hoping to head to. So as you're in the midst of your spiritual journey, and I'm not sure if folks still do this or if this is just something that people do when they're early on in school. But I am a big fan of doing family stories, family trees, something along those lines where you kind of start with the low hanging fruit. You don't have to Schlep all the way to northern India to learn from people that have wise tales and experiences. You can start easy and save yourself the travel costs and reach out to family members and see where.. what their spiritual stories are? What memories they have from, from holidays or family traditions, and I'm sure you'll be surprised to learn something completely new. And be sure to write down these discoveries that you make so the future generations in your family can learn from the wisdom that has happened in your own family from previous years.
04:28 For instance, in my own family, in speaking with my grandmother, she shared a story with me about how her own grandma used to have these lovely plates that she reserved just for the Passover holiday. And this was such a shocking story for us in our family since in the Soviet Union no religion was allowed. So we were also surprised to hear about this story of these special plates.. special plates reserved for the Jewish holiday of Passover. And so whether or not this story is 100 percent true. If these plates really were dedicated for the families' observance of Passover, who knows, but just the idea of my grandma who was born in the twenties, sharing the story about her grandma and discovering these plates, probably that must have been in the thirties or forties, I learned so much more about kind of the spiritual trajectory of my family and how I can play a role in that story as well.
05:33 I've seen that written in Sufi mystical traditions that you have to know where you're coming from to know where you're going and of course this is taught in classical texts all across many different traditions, but this idea is so simple and also so true about the fact that we have to do a little bit of digging for treasure underneath our own feet before we go out into the world and start looking for treasure elsewhere as well.
06:03 Okay, so the next step is moving on to focusing on the present. So once you've talked with your family, you've done a little bit of digging to find stories that you didn't know existed beforehand and we're now thinking about what we can learn from other traditions or perhaps this might even be the tradition you already practice. So I'd like to just share a little bit about my experience with Vipassana Meditation, which is a Buddhist practice that utilizes silent meditation for long stretches of time.
06:40 And this is an organization that you can actually participate in for free and they have locations all over the world. Some people like to do a little bit of a meditation just for three.. three days. The first meditation that I did was for, for 10 days. And so just the idea of having the ability to not have to talk, to be in a space where people aren't expecting you to give an opinion or judgment about anything, but for you to kind of decompress and to just focus on your own stuff. This is a great resource for people to look into. And so if you just Google Vipassana or Dharma d, h a, m, m, a, you can find the locations all across the country and all around the world and I encourage you to try whether three or 10, but to experiment with the idea of silent meditation. There's no better way to kind of reflect on the present than to have the ability to just kind of collect yourself and be present to your own thoughts.
07:51 One of the great lessons that I learned from Vipassana is one that I actually carry with me throughout my spiritual journey as a whole and the philosophy of Vipassana meditation is you're sitting there, you're meditating, and then you're going to have something called monkey mind where your mind is jumping around between different thoughts. And so for people that can sometimes meditate at home without any.. any direction, they think that they're currently failing at meditating, they're not focusing on their breath and as a result, they just.. they don't have.. they don't have it down. But Vipassana actually says something differently. It says, observe the monkey mind. See what branch had jumps from from this branch to the other branch, and actually take advantage of this observation opportunity and you'll learn what your mind and what your body needs to hear as a result of which branches your brain begins to cling to.
08:55 So this idea of a generous curiosity where something arises and rather than judging it and thinking, Oh God, I've completely just dropped the ball on this, to instead think.. this is interesting and I wonder if this experience or this idea will pop up again for me in the future. And then to just kind of return to whatever task you're doing. Focus on that and keep moving ahead. And if you return to that same idea as you had beforehand, then you realize, oh, there's some work that I need to be doing around that idea. So actually the monkey mind rather than being a distraction is actually very instructive for us to figure out where are the places in my life that I actually have to slow down and bring.. bring my attention back.
09:51 To another good spiritual tool for reflecting on the present comes from the Jewish tradition and this is the practice of Shabbat. So in the Christian world, the Sabbath is considered Sunday and back in the day when blue.. light laws, I can't remember what they're called.. Blue laws. You couldn't buy alcohol, certain stores were closed. The purpose was to say that this day is dedicated just for kind of good wholesome family time and we're not going to get distracted and do the things that we would do during the regular work week. So the same kind of idea applies on the Shabbat, which is from sundown on Friday and it goes all the way through Saturday up until sundown on Saturday. And so the idea of being together with family without distraction is in the Shabbat practice as well. And so people say that when it comes to observing kosher food laws, it's super easy and it can definitely be perfected. But when it comes to observing Shabbat and getting at the goal of completely releasing expectations or judgment or trying to have a perfectly still or relaxed day, 25 hours, if that's the goal, then actually it's impossible to have that pristine time period of Shabbat and that every single shabbat is going to be an imperfect Shabbat.
11:36 And so I think once we acknowledge that there is no such thing as perfectly unplugging, perfectly stopping to think about work or to do this thing or the other thing, once we have that realistic expectation that things are going to just kind of happened organically and kind of see where the day goes, then I think it's really possible to get into the spirit of Shabbat. And so the other more important thing in addition to setting realistic expectations is also finding a system that works for you. So in Hasidic communities, you'll find folks that are very strict and they say.. and they say, we won't, you know, switch a light off because we don't want to create something that wasn't in the world or.. we want switch a light on because we don't want to create something that wasn't in the world before, since the whole purpose of Shabbat is not creating new things.
12:41 And if we're going to the other side of more lenient observances of Shabbat, you can have someone that says, not only am I going to turn the light switch on and bring light into this room and into the world, but I'm also going to create a painting because that's the way that I decompress and that's the way that I'm able to find rest and relaxation that I didn't have for the rest of the week. So it's really important to figure out, for you personally, what's the system that works best for you? How do you unplug? How do you find some rest into your life? And to just go with a system that works best for you rather than trying to, again going back to that idea of the perfect day of rest or the perfect day of unplugging.
13:32 There are also tons of smaller systems in place that people can try those smaller systems as a way of kind of creating a habit of Shabbat. One system that I learned from a teacher of mine in California is the "rule of two" for Shabbat. So the "rule of two" is as follows. So over the course of the 25 hour period of Shabbat, you should spend time with two friends, you should unplug from technology for two hours, and you should come across two good questions in one way or the other. Whether it's from reading a book from going on the walk. But try to come up with two good observations that you wouldn't necessarily have had if you weren't intentionally trying to think of two new questions. So that's the rule of two. And that's just one small way in order to have a more peaceful, relaxing Shabbat without all of the larger frameworks of rules about light switches or creating or not creating, but just the simple easy access way into having a nice easy relaxing Shabbat.
14:53 And this idea of the "rule of two" actually kind of connects to the third structure that I want us to explore, which is how spiritual practice can help us reflect and plan for the future. So I think the main way that spiritual practices help us prepare for the future is by engaging in a relationship with texts. So when we read a text, it helps us figure out what's the direction that we're currently going, and what is the goal or direction that I seek to be going in the near future and long term future? So what's lovely about being in this modern day.. age is that we have access to ideas and all sorts of forms. So whether it's concepts that you can find in a book or in a podcast or at a museum, but there's just all sorts of ways to engage in relationships with ideas. To have an ongoing conversation with those ideas and return to old ideas you have experienced and to see, well how does this idea sit with me now? And so this is an ongoing process and as a result you're constantly creating new goals of where you'd like to go. And the benefit of that is we're constantly growing. Okay, I want to take a short break for a musical interlude and then we'll come right back with a conversation about religion and science.
16:50 Okay. And we are back. So I would be remiss if we were talking about spirituality and the path there and I didn't mention science. So it can be pretty tricky to engage in spirituality in this modern day of hyper-scientific thought that we live in. If you can't put something under a microscope, people tend to think that it's not worth your attention. Why bother meditating, everyone thought, until they were able to put it under a microscope and they said it enhances your gray space. Okay. So now meditating is more popular. What about things like prayer? You can't really put that under a microscope and so people still write it off all the time. So there are so many things, tools and practices within the spiritual world that you can't really measure or replicate. And so as a result, it doesn't feel as important. Where it feels like we're wasting our time or people say that we're being silly and this is just a coping mechanism, religion is, and it helps people through hard times perhaps.
18:16 Or maybe there is something to the journey and the process aside from achieving tangible results, such as coping or what have you. Maybe there's something else there in the spiritual process. So I think that's one important thing to remember in the spiritual world and in the scientific communities is that these are two completely separate worlds and people that have degrees in religion should not be commenting on science unless they have another degree in science. And people that have degrees in science really shouldn't be speaking from a scientific background to say definitively whether there is a God or whether there is a soul. So I think that when we have these very strict boundaries between the spiritual world and the scientific community, then each community is able to do its thing that it's great at and we can help one another through our expertise, but rather we should not try to minimize the other when we are not coming from a place of expertise in that world.
19:28 So I hope that these two communities can supplement one another, but they can't overtake one another. I hope that idea helps us as we stick it out in this religious and the spiritual process. And we can feel as though we're getting somewhere because we're not measuring our success through the scientific or material world's definition of what means "success".
19:58 So with that being said, I'd like to conclude this episode of resources and suggestions and food for thought about spiritual journeys with a reflection on the importance of nature. So whenever I'm in places that have huge expanses of nature, for instance, in southern Israel, there's kind of like a mini Grand Canyon, or if I'm sitting in San Francisco overlooking the Pacific Ocean, watching the waves come in and out. I realize the vastness of this universe and for some reason a sense of peace comes over me. So these peaceful moments in nature should not be overlooked.
20:50 There's such a strong connection between the natural world and being inspired and moved spiritually and that shouldn't be ignored. Religion can't just be confined between the four walls of a prayer space of a church or synagogue and what have you. We have to come back to the roots of where all religions were started and it's in these vast natural environments. You can't really have inspiration or sense of humility without having that sense of scale of we're just this tiny little dot in the big beautiful world around us.
21:34 So if there's one final word I can leave about a tool in a spiritual search, I'd say try to schedule in some time for some sort of radical wonder of the natural world around us. Whether it's star gazing, going on the walk and watching the trees rustle in the wind, what have you, but that should always be on the periphery, on our side, on.. in our side pocket as we are in the spiritual journey. And that we should never forget the humble roots of all of the world's religious traditions as coming from a place of inspiration from the world around them.
22:19 Okay, so that concludes this week's episode, episode number three of Raising Holy Sparks. I hope that some of these ideas or resources were helpful for you. If you have further questions about anything I mentioned, please feel free to reach out at hello at [mishaclebaner] dot com. If you enjoyed the show, give us a five star review. If you really enjoyed the show, subscribe, I look forward to being on this journey with you, wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving and a great weekend. Take care. Bye.
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