A Mindfulness Retreat with Moishe House
May 15th, 2018
Moishe House offers mindfulness retreats a few times a year to their residents and Moishe House Without Walls participants. This past fall I had the incredible opportunity to participate in one as someone from outside of the community.
An hour outside of Portland, in Vernonia, Oregon, 25 participants from all over the country (and two from Mexico) gathered in an expansive landscape with rolling dark green hills, a layer of mist and fog that hung low on the crests, and the smell of damp earth covered with yellow and red leaves. It was an ideal setting; the natural beauty was motivation to be fully present—and to fully engage in a silent retreat.
I had a chance to speak with people in the group before we entered into silence. From the palpable energy and excitement, I knew these retreats were a highlight for residents; a way to reconnect with long distance friends made on former retreats and to build new relationships with members of the larger community. I also realized that everyone I talked with had different depths at which they identified Jewishly; from almost no religious background, to very religious, to atheist. I am not Jewish; I was raised as an Anglican, but I am not observant. Through my colleagues at the Jim Joseph Foundation, I have had the opportunity to explore and engage with Judaism. It was clear from the way the retreat was curated that Moishe House understood that people were coming from all different depths of engagement. The retreat incorporated Jewish elements in a very accessible way. I was able to enter the space and feel welcomed and equipped to be able to follow along.
The time came to surrender our cell phones. Over the next few days our journey would be guided primarily by Zvi Bellin, a Bay Area resident and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with a background in mindfulness meditation. We did various forms of meditation; standing, sitting, walking, yoga, prostrations, and mindful eating. Silence was both liberating and challenging. There was no obligation to make small talk, the focus was fully on the practice and content. However, there was no external outlet to help process the experiences as were asked not to read or write during our stay. The more I sat with that discomfort, the more I learned how to accept it; which as it turns out, is a part of the process of mindfulness.
One of the most notable moments for me happened during one of our free periods. I was seated on the living room couch staring at the wall for a few minutes. I realized that I had not been bored in this way in years. It made me smile. There hadn’t been a period when I didn’t immediately grab my phone for a distraction since the day I got my first smart phone. I felt free. I noticed my thought patterns were changing a bit. The way I was engaging with the world reminded me of when I was a child. I had to create my own fun. Boredom was only relieved with creativity inspired by my surroundings. The floor tiles, birds overhead, the sound of my boots on the ground; these ordinary things I typically ignore now became questions, stories, and games.
Moishe House cultivates something special through these mindfulness retreats. They provide yet another avenue for their residents to incorporate Judaism into everyday life and they do it in an inclusive and understanding way. Since the retreat, I try to have a mindful moment every day. In doing so, I feel like every day I create a small sense of that childlike curiosity and awareness that practicing meditation at the retreat had opened me up to. I left the retreat a day before my birthday and I have so much gratitude to have been able to start off a new year in such a positive space and have the tools to carry this practice in my daily life.
Mallory Morales is a Program Assistant at the Jim Joseph Foundation. This is the second in a series of pieces from Foundation professionals sharing their experiences engaging with grantee-partners. Read the first piece here.