Last October, I was invited to join a group of mindful leaders for an exclusive retreat on the big island of Hawaii. The setting couldn’t be more serene. Hidden away in the luxurious Fairchild Orchid resort on the Waimea Coast, we spent four enchanted days encircled by towering lush green palm trees, idyllic turquoise water, and of course, mangoes galore.
The group of global leaders coalescing for Wisdom 2.0 | The Intersect was brimming with talent: executives from Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter; a co-founder of Paypal, the director of the (Goldie) Hawn Foundation. I spent one lunch chatting with Google’s Chief Product Philosopher, another visiting a coffee plantation with the former CEO of World of Warcraft, and threw back “l’chaims” with one of China’s most prominent financiers.
All-in-all, quite an interesting scene for a young Shabbat-observant Jewish educator/social entrepreneur – and it might have been intimidating, too, had it not been for the fact that these leaders had gathered for one explicit purpose: leaving behind the professional grind to focus on “the inner dimensions” of life. And that’s how, on Saturday afternoon in the Mango Grove, decked out in my Chassidic hat and bekeshe (cloak), I ended up leading a workshop on Shabbat for the best and brightest of Silicon Valley.
The paradox of Jewish spirituality
Jews are a strange breed. It’s no secret that Judaism demands quite a lot of a person; it’s not exactly a “lightweight” among the world’s religious and ethical systems. As Jews, we gird our loins for intermittent bouts of fasting, indeterminate periods of mourning, incessant prayer, indefatigable study. We’re spiritually minded, certainly. But Buddhist monks we are not.
Jews are a relentlessly practical people, employed in a milieu of momentous life pursuits. We’ve overturned the diverse fields of economics, science, politics, music, fashion and comedy. Unabashedly, we view the material world as our playground. Unashamedly, we obsess over its culinary delights: “They tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat.”
As far as contemplative life practices go, this is all pretty strange. Most of the world’s spiritual adherents aren’t allowed their proverbial cake and the licence to eat it as well. In Judaism, you often find you are being pushed to take seconds.
As I explained to this group of mindful leaders in the Mango Grove, the key to unlocking the paradox of Jewish mindfulness is a framework for life we call “Shabbat consciousness”.
Six days a week, our Ancient Wisdom instructs us to conquer the world. To innovate, improve, and increase the quality of life. We are cosmic fixers, spiritual activists driven by the doctrine of Tikkun Olam (the Torah injunction to “repair the world”). Build, create, shape; that’s just what we do. Make that dollar, pass those exams, nail that jumpshot – all in the name of advancing humanity.
Bask in the present moment? Not so much. Sure, there are times throughout the day allotted for reflection. But let’s face it, we’re busy. We’ve got aspirations. The clock continues ticking away, and our work never seems to be complete.
But, Shabbat… Shabbat is a day of immersive mindfulness.
In that unique modality of life practice known as Shabbat consciousness, nothing matters except for the present moment. There are no plans, there is no money. All those dreams and aspirations left over from a week of toil: null and void. Rather, we direct our focus to our immediate surroundings. We are fully here, NOW.
Because our weekly mindful immersion delivers us a fresh mindset. It engenders a complete shift in the locus of our consciousness. Shedding the weekday garb of innovation, we embrace the Shabbat garments of gratitude. Gratitude for all we have generated through our own hard work. Gratitude for what we have been bestowed through the beneficence of The Divine.
Accumulating stuff is great. But appreciating that stuff is even greater. The advantages of being grateful are well known, having been confirmed by decades of neuroscientific research. Shabbat is that dedicated time to sit back, reflect, and be grateful. To taste the fruits of our labour.
As the old Spanish toast goes: Salud amor dinero y el tiempo para gozarlos, “Health, love, money, and the time to enjoy them…”
In Mexico, it’s a benediction recited over salt-rimmed shots of Tequila. In Judaism, it’s the very fabric of our existence.
Commanded to chill
Many people – religious and secular alike – see Shabbat as a burden: what’s there to do? It’s so inconvenient! There are so many rules!
Guys, chill out.
The very concept of Shabbat is that we chill out and appreciate life. You know all those Shabbat rules and regulations? They are all derived from avoiding the “creative” activity involved in building the Mishkan (the holy sanctuary built by the Jewish people in the desert as a resting place for the Shechinah, G-d’s immanent presence). During the week, we create, innovate, and hustle. Not so on Shabbat. The laws of Shabbat guide us to leave behind the mentality of generating more, in lieu of experiencing a tangible mode of consciousness comprising presence and gratitude.
That is our Shabbat duty.
Incredibly, it turns out this gratitude-filled weekly chill has cosmic repercussions. As we say every week at Shabbos Mincha prayers: V'al menuchatam yakdishu et shemecha – “Through their chilling (as good a translation as any), they sanctify your name.”
Far out. It seems that we serve G-d by chilling, by appreciating the good things in life. You name it – eating, drinking, learning, shmoozing, sleeping, being ‘intimate’ – this is how we sanctify G-d’s name. And this is the secret of Jewish mindfulness.
Astounding – to fulfil the purpose of reality through a weekly chill. Trust me, throughout the corpus of the world’s manifold belief systems, you will find no spiritual directives quite like this one.
Slowly catching on
My group of mindful leaders were astounded by the concept of Shabbat. For some, the harmonious relationship between spirituality/physicality was a refreshing departure from their traditional Christian upbringing. For others, the manifestly practical “six days of work, one day of mindfulness” quelled an inner angst drawn of years immersed in ascetic Buddhist practices.
Others loved the idea of retreating from their digital lives one day a week. In fact, “device-free” retreats have become quite popular in recent years, particularly among the tech elite. The Digital Detoxruns “device-free” meet-ups, retreats, corporate team-building events, and even summer camps across the United States.
As the world slowly catches on to the innate wisdom of our weekly chill, let’s truly take the time to appreciate the beautiful gift of Shabbat. To cherish those precious moments of family, friends, and food. And to make a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name), by being the people whose entire lives rotate around an axis of fully immersed mindfulness and gratitude.
What a blessing.
Yaakov Lehman is an accomplished filmmaker, app producer, start-up entrepreneur, conference organiser, and historian, and draws from his wide-ranging life experience to convey powerful messages about improving quality of life, particularly in the digital age. He is a pioneer of the corporate mindfulness movement, and has developed deep working relationships with executives from Facebook, Google, Twitter, and LinkedIn among others. He recently brought two of world’s biggest mindfulness programmes to Israel – Wisdom 2.0 and Google Search Inside Yourself. Lehman earned a BA in Global Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he founded an annual 3 000 person music and arts festival. He went on to earn an MA in Global History from the London School of Economics and an MA in Global Studies from the University of Vienna, where he specialised in East Asia; Lehman is proficient in Mandarin Chinese. He is also a longtime student of the Pilzno Rebbe, a contemporary Chassidic leader in Israel. Lehman lives in Moshav Beit Meir with his wife and two children, where he frequently enjoys morning hikes and meditative Qi Gong in the rolling Judean Hills.