Monday, November 23, 2009

Observing the Sabbath Day

(Image courtesy of

On Saturday night, as I was feeling tired from a 7-mile run through the woods and suffering from a sinus headache, I became upset that I was spending an absurd amount of pointless time on the internet.

I'm a news junkie so news sites, blogs, and Facebook feeds are my Kryptonite. I decided there was a solution. Unplug.

On Saturday night at 6:30pm I signed off from my Gmail account and my Facebook account, I closed down the windows telling me about the latest happenings in the world, and I shut down my computer. For the next 24 hours I did not check into the virtual world. Instead, I spent connecting with the real world and it was splendid.

I spent quality time with my wife watching a scary movie on the couch, I read some of The Hole in our Gospel, went to church, and ended up going to the Queens Zoo with some friends from church.

Although none of these stand out as extaordinary examples of things I would do on a weekend, what did stand out was the lack of negativity and useless "noise" created by my time online. The 24 hour period seemed brighter, less chaotic, and filled with hope. I felt more connected to the world around me. Imagine that - feeling more connected by disconnecting.

This must become regular practice for me. I will observe my own true Sabbath every weekend. And, yes, even in New York City one can "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pagan Victory

In other news, openly pagan Daniel Halloran won a NYC Council seat in the 19th Council District in Northern Queens. As interesting as it is that a pagan could win a city council seat, I think the fact that a non-billionaire Republican won an election in NYC is even more amazing.

Feeling Renewed

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of joining a friend of mine for services at Romemu, a Synagogue/community on the Upper West Side that is affiliated with the Jewish Renewal Movement.

Prior to a few weeks ago I had never heard of the Renewal movement, so I was intrigued when I was first told about it. I did a little research and my first impression was that these guys sounded like really really hippie Jews. But, I figured it'd be a fun place to check out.

First, a little background. Renewal isn't its own separate denomination, but according to their website they are "a worldwide, transdenominational movement grounded in Judaism's prophetic and mystical traditions" that "seeks to bring creativity, relevance, joy, and an all embracing awareness to spiritual practice." It apparently tries to infuse Jewish practice with Kabbalistic and Hasidic theory along with meditation, dance, chant, and mysticism.

Romemu also draws from eastern spiritualism. David Ingber, their Rabbi, "spent 10 years studying other sacred traditions in the healing arts including Yoga, Shiatsu, Pilates, Gyrotonics, Kung Fu, and Chen school Tai Chi" and tries to bring these into Jewish practice.

I'm going to be totally honest and say I don't have much of an idea of what most of that means.

But I can say Romemu's Friday night services are a lot more interesting than most. To get an idea of what it's like, think folk music festival where the songs are in Hebrew and a bunch of people get so overcome with emotion they hug the person next to them. It was fun. After the service there was a potluck dinner (remember to bring kosher food if you go) and after the meal, the Rabbi led an interesting discussion on the weekly Torah portion.

The crowd was as hippie as expected, but in a good way. Everyone was friendly and the place felt far more welcoming than most synagogues. It's definitely a place that you can go to by yourself and still feel comfortable.

All in all, it was a good time. If you are looking for a somewhat unconventional Jewish experience you should check it out.

One last thought. If you read the Rabbi's bio, he is a certified Astrologer. Who certifies Astrologers?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shambhala Meditation Center

It's rare in NYC to find a moment or place where you can sit - just sit - and think of nothing. But, last night I went to the Shambhala Meditation Center, where people practice doing just that.

They describe themselves as part of an international community of 165 meditation centers founded by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and led by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. The Shambhala Buddhist path, unique in the world of Western Buddhism, combines the teachings of the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism with the Shambhala principles of living an uplifted life, fully engaged with the world.

My good friend Merril brought me to a Dharma Gathering, where practicioners go to explore the teachings of Buddhism.

They start with a 20-minute meditation period to help you refocus after a hard day's work. For those of us new to the center, or anyone needing a refresher, a teacher takes you to a side room to lead you through the meditation. I found this helpful considering I've only tried meditating a handful of times (and from a book).

I was lucky enough to go on a night when Joseph Mauricio was speaking giving a talk called Uncovering the Heart Of Wisdom: Seeing The Spectrum of Compassion.

Mr. Mauricio made for an entertaining teacher, sprinkling his talk with jokes about his love life and love of Heavy Metal. The conversation traveled through many points but seemed to come boil down to the human connection. Mr. Mauricio argued that if people just stop, look around, and realize that the fellow human next to them has similar experiences, they will connect.

To that end, he had the audience turn to one another and simply appreciate them. Merril and I had a hard time keeping eye contact and saying much to one another without laughing. Which makes Mr. Mauricio's point more real. We are so disconnected, especially in a city like this, that we can hardly connect and appreciate a friend without feeling even the slightest discomfort.

It was refreshing to go to the Shambhala Meditation Center on a Tuesday night and made me feel energized, mentally and physically for the remainder of the week. I look forward to returning to the Center to meditate and think deeply of all things human. And of nothing.

And yes, Merril, I appreciate you a lot.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Weekend Moment of Zen: I love you and Buddha too

Yesterday I got into a conversation with two second graders about their religions. It's a conversation that makes me proud to be a New Yorker (where else would you find such diversity?) and demonstrates how open and accepting kids are of each other.

Our friends of the Hindu faith are getting ready for Diwali, their festival of lights. One of my students was telling her friends about it during our technology class. A Muslim student chimed in with how they celebrate holidays in his culture. So many ideas were exchanged and, at one point, when they started talking of multiple gods, Allah, and the Prophet Mohammad, I thought, This is going to get intense!

But, it never did. They're seven years old! They sincerely enjoyed learning about each other's religions - finding the similarities and thinking the differences were "cool."

So, for your weekend, a moment of Zen from Mason Jennings, Jack Johnson, and Matt Costa:

For the lyrics click here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

If only we weren't so lazy...

While searching for a good Mosque to go visit, I came across 30 Mosques in 30 Days, an amazing blog detailing two guys (Aman and Bassam) who spent this past Ramadan touring Mosques all over the city. These guys even got interviewed by NY1.

This is exactly what we'd like to do, just with all the faiths of NYC.

We'll get there. Really, we will.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Everyone Drinking Together

We are still working on new places to go visit. I promise we'll get some more stuff up soon.

While you wait, check out this picture from representing the major denominations in America. The big story is the rise of the non-religious.

The slightly less important story is that apparently "Mainline Christian" Clergymen dress in outfits resembling what I had to wear for graduation.