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Don't Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat with Sylvia Boorsteinby Sylvia Boorstein
Synopses & Reviews
In the middle of a Buddhist meditation retreat, my mind filled with a peace I had not known before--completely restful, balanced, alert, joyous peace--and I said, ""Baruch Hashem"" (Praise God). The next thing I did was say the Hebrew blessing of thanksgiving for having lived long enough, for having been "sustained in life and allowed to reach" that day. The blessings arose spontaneously in my mind. I didn't plan them. My prayer life in those days was a memory rather than a habit, but the blessings felt entirely natural.
These days when students report experiences of their minds free of tension--clear and balanced and peaceful--I usually say something like: "This is great. This is an insight into the third Noble Truth of the Buddha. The end of suffering, an alert and contented mind, "is" possible, in this very lifetime, remembering "your" whole story, remembering "everyone's" whole story. The mind can hold it all--with equanimity, even with joy." I rejoice with them and for them.
One More River
of me by Jews are "how" questions. I am recognized as a Buddhist. I am also--and have become much more open about this part in the last few years--an observant Jew. Not only more "open," but also more observant. "Because" I am a Buddhist. Because I have a meditation practice. So the questions now are: "How did that happen?" "What is your practice?" "Do you pray?" "To whom?" "Why?" "Do you also do "metta" (lovingkindness) practice?" "When do you do what?" "Why?" "What are your 'observances, ' andwhy do you do them?" "How do you deal with the patriarchal tone of Jewish prayers?" "What is your relationship to the Torah?" "To Buddhist scripture?" Most of all, "How can you be a Buddhist and a Jew?" And, "Can I?"
The answer to the "how" questions requires that I tell my personal story. Certainly not my story as a prescription for anyone else, but to explain how my Buddhism has made me more passionately alive as a Jew. And how my renewed Judaism has made me a better Buddhist teacher.
When I realized the degree of personal exposure that telling my story would require, I became alarmed that I was going to rock the boat. I had been quietly enjoying a private life as a Jew and some new, pleasant recognition as a Buddhist teacher. I had been accepting invitations for some years to teach Jewish groups, and although I had worried initially that they would be hostile about my Buddhism, they weren't. They invited me back. Then I worried about the Buddhists.
"What if the Buddhists get mad at me for not renouncing Judaism?"
Clearly, this was "my" issue, not anyone else's. No one is mad at me. I've been announcing myself, regularly, at Buddhist teachers' meetings, and it causes no ripple at all. I feel anticipatory alarm, I tell my truth, and it is completely a nonevent.
Recently I was one of twenty-six teachers meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, to discuss how we are teaching Buddhism in the West. As part of the preparation for our meeting, we each answered the question, "What is the greatest current spiritual challenge in your practice and teaching?"
It was another nonevent. I think--I hope--that was the "One Last River to Cross." I never did ask the Dalai Lama if what I am doing is okay. It had become, for me, a nonquestion by the time we got to our meetings with him. My particular group discussed "Lay and Monastic Practice in the West," and I did say, "I am a Jew, and monasticism is not part of Jewish tradition." I'm not entirely sure of the context in which I made that remark. It may not have been completely relevant to the discussion. Perhaps it was prompted by my desire to make "sure" I made my declaration publicly, in Dharamsala to the Dalai Lama, just in case that might emerge later as "one more river."
The three-hour return taxi ride from Dharamsala to Pathankot was occasionally hair-raising. Indian taxis are truly dangerous. Accidents, fatal ones, are common. I was sitting in front with the driver, trying to maintain some composure in the face of many last-minute reprieves. As we passed through one particular section of narrow mountain road, there were a few swerves that brought the taxi very close to the edge.
My friend Jack Kornfield was sitting with Steve Smith and Heinz Roiger in the backseat.
Jack said, "I hope you are saying protection mantras, Sylvia."
He said, "Are they Jewish mantras orBuddhist mantras?"
Jack laughed. "Good."
It took me a long time, even after I had begun to teach Buddhist meditation, to get ready to say, "I am a Buddhist." I often hesitated. I circumlocuted. I said, when pressed to identify myself, "I am a Dharma teacher," or "I teach Buddhist psychology," or "I am a Buddhist meditation teacher." To say, "I am a Buddhist" seemed too much like taking a plunge that I didn't need to take.
Ten years ago I was a Buddhist delegate at an international interfaith women's conference in Toronto. There were twoother Buddhist delegates, Chatsumaran Kabalsingh and Judith Simmer-Brown, both of whom had more impressive Buddhist vitae than I did. Eight Jewish women, some of them famous, were delegates as well. I was nervous about them, wondering if they were thinking, "What's a nice Jewish girl like you doing as a Buddhist delegate?"
On the first day of the conference all the delegates, sixty of us, stood up in turn around the large, rectangular table at which we were all seated and identified ourselves by name and religious affiliation. People were normally succinct. "My name is So-and-so. I am a Jew." "My name is So-and-so. I am a Catholic." I'm fairly sure that Judith and Chat introduced themselves as Buddhists. When I stood up, I said, "My name is Sylvia Boorstein. I grew up as a Jew, and I teach Buddhist meditation." Both statements were true, but neither of them was the whole story. I felt awkward about what I said, but it was the best I could do at the time.
One evening, as part of the program, all the delegates took a field trip to visit a mosque,
In this lively new addition for Harper's retreat series, Buddhist practice teacher and retreat leader Sylvia Boorstein, beloved for dispensing what Jon Kabat-Zinn has termed "endearingly personal mindfulness wisdom in doses that slide right down into the heart", offers accessible, step-by-step instructions for experiencing a traditional three-day meditational retreat.
Get away from doing and into being with this lively, down-to-earth guide to your own meditation retreat by beloved mindfulness meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein. Presenting what Jon Kabat-Zinn has called "endearingly personal mindfulness wisdom," she offers a three-day retreat plan accompanied by timeless lessons — always grounded in real life — on how anyone can achieve calm, clarity and joy through meditation practices.
About the Author
Sylvia Boorstein, teaches mindfulness and leads retreats across the United States. She is a co-founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California, and a senior teacher at the Insight Meditation Center in Barre, Massachusetts. Boorstein is also a practicing psychotherapist. Her previous books are It's Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness and Don't Just Do Something, Sit There. She lives with her husband, Seymour Boorstein, a psychiatrist. They have two sons, two daughters, and five grandchildren.
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