Mind, Body & Spirit

Jewish meditation practice can help expand the spirit

Brian Yosef Schacter-Brooks, right, leads a recent meditation in Sedona, Arizona.

Integral Jewish Meditation is a synthesis of the best traditional meditation modalities, brought together into a simple practice that is easy to learn, yet radical in its effectiveness, says Tucsonan Reb Brian Yosef Schacter-Brooks, who developed the program. It includes chanting, focused intention, contemplation of sacred text, body movement, visualization, and silent, present moment awareness. It’s not about dogmas, beliefs, ideas or principles, he says; it’s a practice that leads to the inner freedom of waking up to what is, in this moment.

Schachter-Brooks has been teaching the practice of “Presence” (mindfulness) and Judaism since 2006, and founded Torah of Awakening in 2016. He holds a Bachelor of Music from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and received ordination as a minister of sacred music from the late Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, a founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, in 2012.

“Judaism comes to life in Brian’s presence ­­— he embodies what he teaches, and this is invaluable! As his student, I have been inspired to know myself more fully, and to become more dedicated to my own quest for meaning, understanding, connection, and integrity,” says Rachel Walker, a Torah of Awakening student in Berkeley, California.

“The main feature of awakening is an experiential knowing of the reality that many traditional Jewish concepts point to,” explains Schachter-Brooks. “It’s like waking up out of the dream of who you think you are. We subconsciously think we are the sum of our thoughts and feelings, that we are inside our body looking out. Through spiritual awakening, you can realize that thoughts and feelings are only a small part of your consciousness. A felt sense of vast and borderless awareness opens us, and that has a liberating quality to it.

“Metaphors in Jewish teachings point in that direction without being explicit. In the core narrative of coming out of slavery, Egypt is a metaphor for the narrow space of ego. So, coming out of Egypt is really opening to the vastness of your own being, in which your experience of reality takes on a quality of oneness. This brings us to the Jewish concept of the Divine.

“A core tenet of Judaism is that ‘God is one’. From a mystical point of view, this doesn’t mean that there is only one God, but rather that there is only one reality, and ‘God’ is the one reality. Through this practice, you can come to experience this oneness directly, as well as gain insight and motivation for embodying and expressing this oneness in your own life.”

Integral Jewish Meditation is rooted in the Jewish teachings and practices of Kabbalah, Hasidism, and Mussar, but participants don’t need any previous background in Judaism, says Schacter-Brooks.

“Reb Brian Yosef is a breath of spiritual fresh air in a world that is too often stuffy with solemn vapors. He makes Jewish spirituality relevant and doable,” says Rabbi Avraham Alpert of Congregation Bet Shalom.

Schachter-Brooks will lead a workshop on Integral Jewish Meditation on Monday, April 23, from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Jewish History Museum, 564 S. Stone Ave. His regular meditation group is Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m., at Congregation Bet Shalom. Both are free.

He has also just released a new CD of original Shabbat music with his band, Briah, entitled: “Ayn Od — Music for Shabbat,” available on cdbaby and Amazon. For more information, visit www.TorahOfAwakening.com.