The Light Lab Podcast Episode 7: The Jewish Space-Time Continuum (with Yoshi Silverstein)
4:41PM Dec 6, 2021
Shalom, everybody and welcome back to The Light Lab. I am so excited for you to hear today's episode because it's an interview with my friend Yoshi Silverstein. Yoshi is the founder and executive director of Mitsui collective, which is an organization that builds resilient community through embodied Jewish practice and racial equity, both of which we'll be talking about a little more. Yoshi is passionate about Jewish environmental education, outdoor food and farming, environmental education, jofy, as it's often called, he has two plus decades of experience, both in Jewish and secular jofy education, he has done so many different programs is on so many incredible lists, he is on the board of directors for Repair the World. He has a master's degree in landscape architecture, he has been doing martial arts since a young age. And he has brought all of these passions together in this really beautiful way to explore, what does it mean to have Jewish embodied Jewish practice? How can that lead us to a more just world? So I'm so excited for us to, for you to hear this conversation we had we talked about time, we talk about noticing, we talk about prophecy, and Sukkot and sharing across cultures. And we do unembodied breathing practice together. So please put in your headphones or turn it on in the car, wherever you are. Take a deep breath. And let's hear my conversation with Yoshi!
Welcome to the Light Lab, Yoshi! It's so good to have you today.
Thank you. It's so good to be here.
Oh my goodness, you are and our listeners are very open with them, rhe first person that I'm interviewing for this podcast, I'm so so grateful that you're here.
Yes, I'm so honored. Truly.
Aw, yay! So, we love talking about words around here. And so I'm wondering if we can start with a bit of a light-ning rounds? I appreciate you laughing. What do you mean, when you say prayer?
So I mean, it's funny, it's there's what do I, What are the associations that I have? When I think about prayer? And then how might I think about prayer, now, and without getting into I feel like I could probably write a very long blog post on that, which I won't even verbally, but you know, I mean, I think I mean, some of the things that are that I feel like I associate with prayer in terms of what I kind of learned about growing up is that it's sort of some combination of your like, you know, talking to G!d slash, asking for stuff, slash trying to align the like, spirit of the universe, so that it'll get you like, what you want or move you towards, like where you want to go. Like, and when I think about my prayer attempts, in my younger days, I feel like like, I feel like there's a lot of that where it's like, Oh, I really hope that like, this thing will happen or like this, you know, that like this person who I'm crushing on will like, be thinking about me or like, right, it's like that, which is so much. I mean, when I think is not definitely not how I think about the nature of G!d and the divine. And and also, I think there's something about that, that is so beyond our own control. And so when I think about it, like in an unhelpful way, right? It's like, like to all the things that are actually outside of my control, let me choose see if I can like, like, tug the strings of destiny to like, shift them more into what I'm hoping they will be. And I think about when I think about prayer now I think it's almost like there is actually I think there is also a relationship to the things that are outside of our control, but it's a different relationship. I think it's almost to me now it's about exploring and, and like a tuning to these larger kind of energies and flows, consciousnesses that are really outside of outside of our individual cells. And tapping into a sense of connection with that, and maybe a sense of let me put it a different way. Right? It's like, I have like a little bit of experience, whitewater canoeing, it's one of the things I've always wanted to do more of and have just never lived in a place or like where I could like realistically do more of it. Right? I think my prior relationship with with prayer was like, trying to shift the flow of the river, so that it would get me to where I want it to go. And now I think I'm saying, Oh, well, the rivers flowing. And I'm not completely inconsequential, like my canoe, and the river does shape the flow of the water right around it. But like the overall river still going was gonna go, so let me tune to like, where's the current going? What are the shape of the river bank? Where's the water going here? Where's there a rock? Where's that right, and my ability to navigate and steer and like ride the flow of the water to get me where I want to go. I think prayer to me is like, tapping into the sense where I can feel the flow of the water, and ride it more fluently.
I love a prayer metaphor. And that is such a beautiful one really kind of surrendering to the flow of life, but still remaining in your boat. You know, I think about this a lot. Tefillah, our word for both prayer and prayers, liturgy and personal practice, as a recognition of what do we actually have control over that we often think we don't? And what do we try to have control over that we really don't? Right? How can we take responsibility of what we need to and let go of what we can't. That's so beautiful. I also love that the lightning round on the Light Lab is, is a very slow, thoughtful thing.
It's like It's like the, you know, there's the lightning strike. And then there's the lightning, it's like, wow. We're in that second one. I like that with that. But I will, I will try to keep my responses.
No, but this is good, this is good. This is really good. Keep going or whatever flow you're at. And we can come back and pick up on some of these threads for sure. Because you kind of touched on this in your answer. And I love how you're going back and thinking what did this mean to me when I was younger? And what does this mean to me now? So we can continue that for the next question, which is, what do you mean when you say or hear G!d? The word G!d?
Yeah, I definitely do not think about the like, old man with a really long white beard in the sky. Right? That is so so it's easy to say what I don't think of G!d as I have gotten. I mean, honestly, since I was probably in high school, I've been interested in Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism. And then as I've gone through my career and learning and teaching, it's continued to sort of weave in, throughout my practice and learning in all sorts of different ways. And so I think one of so I think probably the Kabbalistic idea of G!d being like, in sort of, like, the infinite or the, the without end, is maybe the closest to how I think of the concept of G!d. I think that there is so I think of G!d as maybe as divine, as divine, you know, divine energy or, or energy that is, is beyond our experience of the universe. And I think that in a couple of different ways. I mean, I think it's that like, I mean, honestly, I think it is really actually arrogant and short sighted, for us as humans to think that there is no higher consciousness than the level that we as humans are at. It's like, we now know so much about what is happening inside our own bodies, and all of those different microorganisms, the like, billions, I think, maybe trillions of microorganisms that live in our body. And it's like, to me is the equivalent of those microorganisms, believing that there is no higher consciousness than their consciousness to whatever extent microorganisms have consciousness, right? I mean, actually, it goes both ways. Because like, maybe we shouldn't assume they have zero consciousness either. But right, it's like, we see all of these fractal patterns throughout creation. Going small, really, to the micro and going to the macro. And so I think, to me, it's just sort of there is a macro, macro, macro level, consciousness, I would say, in some way of Creation of the Universe. And that to me, is G!d. And the other thing I think we'll say is also that maybe two more things. One is that that consciousness, I think, we might think about as being emergent, as in, it's not in a fixed state. So I think it's also not, you know, like the omnipresence and omniscience of G!d. I feel like at least when I think about when I thought about that in the past, it's sort of like a fixed state like G!d being omniscient. G!d always being omniscient that when G!d created the world, G!d was already omniscient and G!d at everything that They already needed, what, blah, blah, blah. But actually, if we think about that as being emergent, it means that actually, it's an ongoing process of omniscience, right? The ability to maybe see perceive, sense or know everything that's happening in the all of creation all at once, but also across time. And that's a consciousness that's evolving and emerging as the universe like unfolds, and expands into infinite space, and all of that. So. So that's, I think, I think G!d is emergent. And I think the last thing I'll say is that there's a sense of G!d existing, certainly, beyond our sense of dimensionality, maybe even all sense of dimensionality, but I think, like G!d has just as we so we like humans, you know, we can sort of navigate three dimensional space, mostly, you know, we look at like a flat piece of paper, as you know, which is not actually two dimensional, but like, represents two dimensional, right, we add that third dimension of depth, right, and we move through this three dimensional space, right, and we can like observe it, even as we experience it, time, the fourth dimension, right? Mostly, we can only experience being in time. Maybe every so often, like every seventh day of the week, right? But like, we can observe, we can, like if we're really, really paying attention and tuning in, we can observe the passage of time. But like, for a fleeting, fleeting moment, most of the time, we're just experiencing being in time. So if we think about G!d as existing outside of four dimensions, and maybe even five, six, however many, right, G!d can observe time from extra dimensional space, in a way that we as people can maybe observe two dimensions, like I can hold a piece of paper and you know, an or even a three dimensional object, I can hold it, I can turn it, I can look at it, we can't do that with time, at best, we can notice where we are, as time passes along. G!d can see time, can perceive time, in the same way that I can perceive this coffee cup. Right, like, and so I think that's part of the core, when we talk about sort of the sanctity of time in Jewish tradition and Jewish ritual and observance. Are it's like, it's like tapping into the divine ability to perceive time, not from within, but from outside. And the sacredness of a moment in time when we capture that. Like, I think that's why Shabbat and other like time cycles and time oriented rituals are so core to Jewishness is because we're sort of tapping into a divine ability to perceive time from like, an extra dimensional space.
Where do we even start started talking about G!d? No, we are far down the river now.
No this is amazing. I'm just I'm sitting with that. Because I feel like as you were talking about it, this is why I love having these conversations. Because, as I heard you talk about time, I almost felt time slow a little bit for me. I felt my nervous system slow. I felt my body kind of start to sink in. And I had a bunch of follow up questions, but then I also just kind of wanted to sit in this flow of time. It's really -
It's really, so can I want to share something else that I saw really amazing wisdom that I heard recently? So one is I think, yeah, I think that a lot of mindfulness practices, meditation embodiment, which we'll talk about, like, so much of it is, like, like we spend, we as humans spent so much of our time looking either forward or back. Right, we're like dwelling on the past. Or we're overly anxious, or just thinking about maybe we're excited about to right, like the future, like what's gonna, what we think is gonna come, right. It's so, so we're like, ugh, I can't believe that thing happened. Or maybe we're feeling nostalgic, whatever, or we're like, yeah, just just like living for a living for tomorrow. And like mindfulness, and those, you know, these, you know, these practices that kind of bring us into that sense of being in the moment, which I think is sensing like, Oh, this is me in in time right now. And just sort of having that experience of being able to just like sit in that space and not be like forward or back but be like, Oh, I'm right here actually. And let me actually like, observe and sense this as I'm experiencing it as opposed to after the fact or in anticipation of, so that's one. Two is I was I was able to do this in person workshop - what a what a thing. Right? Recently it was actually two back to back ones and the first one was with Reverend angel Kyodo williams Sensei who is the I think the second ever ordained, she's a black woman and she's the second ever black ordained Zen priest. And she does all this amazing work in liberatory contemplative practice, embodiment, etc. That's sort of building off of Zen practice. And so I was at this workshop with her and she was talking about, about prophetic tradition, right, like prophets and making prophecies, and the way that she defined prophetic was not the ability to see into the future. She defined being prophetic, or that prophetic ability as being able to name the truth of what is happening right now. And that comes across as prophetic and like visionary and seeing into the future. Because most of us don't live right here in the now we live in the past, whether that's five seconds ago, or five years ago, or whatever, and we're constantly kind of playing catch up, or we can see the truth, but we're not admitting it to ourselves, right, or whatever it is. So you know, so so her definition is like a prophet is somebody who is deeply attuned to the truth of what is happening now. And has the like, strength and resolve and commitment to name that truth.
That prophetic tradition, I think, for me, it's not necessarily a counterbalance to tefillah to the Jewish prayer tradition. But it for me, it goes together, and not - never in a way that I've thought about it until now. Because something that I hold valuable about Jewish tradition, is the ability to both cultivate immense gratitude for what we are experiencing, to see things as blessings, to stop, to pause to notice how incredible things really are. And to look around the world and think there are a lot of things that are terrible that we actually could fix, if we cared or we work together, or we put or we change the systems in place, like injustice is not the norm, it doesn't have to be the norm, and that we hold both of these but that both of those come from now that I'm thinking about it, the ability to actually notice clearly, with empathy, and truth and compassion, and sometimes a little bit of anger, like, what is actually going on in the world.
Yeah. So let's look at like one of our greatest prophets, Moshe, Moses, right. And that is actually going to lead to a new, a new sort of like thing onto this, which is fun. So one of the teachings I've learned this from many teachers in the Jewish nature, education world, particularly, and also other Jewish spaces. But thinking about that moment when Moses meets G!d for the first time to the burning bush moment, right. So you know, I've most most folks are familiar with the story Moses is out attending his herd and comes across this burning bush, and, you know, oh, the bush was burning, but not being consumed, what the heck? So like, there's a few added layers of this, though. And it's an one it's like, the sense of noticing what is happening around me, right? Like, there's plenty of people who might go through the world with the blinders on and not notice that a bush is burning at all. So there's that first noticing, then there's the pausing of like, Hmm, maybe something curious is happening here. And then there's the sitting in that pause, that can contemplation sitting in that noticing, maybe the sense of time slowing down. And, and there's one of the teachings is that observation, and then the patience to observe that the bush is not being consumed. Because if you're looking at a bush burning for two seconds, you can't tell whether it's being consumed or not, it's just burning. So like, how long would you need to be staring at that bush? To being like, Wait a second. Like, even though there's a flame here, it's not being consumed? Right, like and you think about that contemplative space of sitting around the campfire and watching the flames blow out just like, yeah, how long would it take to be like, what Wait, what's happening here is unusual. And, and the added layer so so often that part of that teaching is just is encouraging us for that slowing down the pausing the observing the noticing. There's this added layer here that's emerging from our conversation, which I didn't know you're gonna be talking about time so much of our time together, but here we are, which is also that it's not only that Moses would need to observe for a certain length of time in order to notice right I'm actually recognizing now that maybe also part of what was happening was Moses actually stepping outside of time. And sensing the divine through that, and seeing this divine energy burning, but not consuming. Like maybe that's a sense of being outside of the normal processes of time, that are taking place all around us. So I'm thinking about that in a different way right now, which is fun. And then the other thing is that I think, to your point about, there's the the gratitude, the presence, noticing what's happening, and then there's the work that we do. Like, in some version of the story, Moses might have them be like, Wow, this fire is amazing. I'm just gonna sit here and bask in this divine fire for the rest of my life, because it probably felt really good. That's not what Moses does. And you know, so G!d tells Moses like, here's what you're gonna do. So like, you know, it's, it's a dialogue, right? And but of course, Moses needs to be listening in order to hear it. But of course, Moses then goes and begins this whole process of freeing his people and moving you know, and like, moving the, you know, Israelites towards liberation, etc, etc. So it's like, I think it's that combination of being present, noticing, but also being self aware, and attuned to self. Right, but not becoming, not becoming self centered. Because we've listened, we've like, I'm sure you've seen this all over the place, spiritual practice, embodiment, mindfulness, blah, blah, there's a way in which you can take that and become only focused on the self.
And to me, that is like self indulgent and self centered. And that's not the thing. Like, yes, we need to work on ourselves, we need to cultivate this. Yes, there are all sorts of benefits that come to our relationship with ourselves. And that needs to happen in relationship to a collective body, in which we're also working to better the world. And by the way, also like that, there's, there's a clear limit there in terms of how, how much are we really bettering ourselves if we're not also working to better everyone else? Like, right, at some point, we hit a limit where we're actually not bettering ourselves, we're just cycling through like self indulgence. Right? So it's a it's a, it's a Yeah, it's a, it's a combination of all things.
So beautiful. And that connects to the call of prophecy, because, you know, a person is not a prophet who just notices and thinks these things. A person is a prophet, because they're saying them out loud. And they're trying to get the forces, like, the forces of power, the structures in a society to move and change. Like, that's the added, that's an added layer. But yeah, I'm going to be thinking about this burning bush thing too, because you're right, a wave, the way for the bush to not be consumed is for time to not pass. Yeah, it's to be stuck in that first kind of outside of time. Moment. Oh, that's so beautiful. I feel like I'm gonna be saying that a lot this episode. And I also find it really interesting that we're, we've gotten on this time kick, which I love when I and some of our listeners probably know you as the like, embodied Jewish practice guy, and you do a lot of work with space, and using space. But of course, as human beings, we can't have space without time, like our bodies are not just experiencing space, they're experiencing time so that binary doesn't necessarily work. But I would love for you. We've we've thrown around this phrase embodied Jewish practice a couple of times, I would love for you to share what that means to you, and how it's become such a big part of your work.
One, so so a couple of ways I define embodied practice, generally, and then embody Jewish practice, specifically. So I think embodied practice is how are we? Well, let's talk about embodied what does embodied mean, it's mean, it means to me experiencing through the body, and in the body. So through the body, it's like, how are we moving around in a space? How are we using our vocal cords to sing together and have an experience in a space which which, by the way, could be in like, I mean, as we've been talking about there, I've got a little bit of an echoey space up here. Right, but like, I could explore this space, and this is an vocalization. We're learning I've done from Victoria Hanna, who actually talks about this really beautifully. She She says like that if we think about three dimensional space as the as a blank canvas, just like a like a blank canvas or the blank piece of paper, and then she uses the voice to carve into the space just like you would use art or writing to give form to the blank piece of paper. So I could use my voice to, you know, explore this thing who, you know, which, that's alright, that's officially in a podcast recording. But like, you know, she does all this cool work and she uses and going back to Kabbalah and the mystical associations of letters to like, give different form to different sounds and shapes that go from like, the, the, like, personal shape of the body, in the mouth, etc, into the space around us. Anyway, so. So we could use voice as a way to experience space around us or as a way to experience being, being with other people and like singing together, right is an embodied practice where your body, my body, body, we're making music together, and we're feeling the vibrations, you know, in our, in our on our skin and through our hearts, etc. You know, or we are in nature and connecting to nature through our bodies and our sense, you know, our sensory capacities, we're eating food, all of those are embodied practice are embodied. Thanks to me practice, when I think about practice is it's all process oriented. So a practice isn't something you just do once and it's done. A practice is something that you come back to consistently and repeatedly, with some degree of frequency, I think that can ebb and flow. But you keep coming back to it. And there's a sense that you never actually there's no there there like you don't arrive at the destination, you're like, cool done, did it. It's like, No, I'm doing a practice, which means I'm actually probably always going to be doing it, the practice might evolve, I actually hope that I hope it doesn't evolve over time doesn't have to look always the same. But it's like, Yep, I'm doing this regularly. It's like brushing your teeth, your practice of you don't brush your teeth and be like I did that I never have to brush my teeth ever again. In my life. It's like, No, I have a practice of brushing my teeth twice a day for some people three times. Right. And the benefit of that is clear. It's like to keep my teeth clean. So don't get cavities, right. So anyway, we might think I mean, it's actually interesting to think about that as an embodied practice. And then embody Jewish practices, specifically, how do we experience Judaism or Jewish tradition, Jewish learning Jewish ritual through the body. So it's bringing all those same tools, and just sort of through the lens of Jewishness, or Jewish experience, or Jewish narrative or identity, etc. So that's all sort of like within the realm of embodied Jewish practice. And I think for me, as I look back on it, so many of the things that I really enjoyed, as I was growing up, had this lens of embodiment to them as a sort of connective thread. So actually, what my parents put me in a Montessori Preschool that was housed in an arboretum, so recess was literally playing in the trees.
It kind of explains a lot about why. So I that was, you know, because that was like, you know, from very, very early on, we spent a ton of time in nature as a family, hiking and camping in the mountains, you know, in a summer skiing in the winter. So being sort of like in our bodies and moving and being physical, but also being in nature and sort of being in that relationship with nature was always really important. I started playing music really young, also martial arts when I was when I was five. And so these were sort of really some of the primary things, you know, like, things that I was doing throughout my life. And then as I got into, particularly like elementary, then especially middle high school, my Judaism became increasingly important, it became this sort of like, not even just a lens, but like a, like an anchor, or rooting, where it's like, oh, if I do these things, like being in nature, or playing music, or etc, and I do them, like in a Jewish context, I felt such a greater sort of sense of depth to it, that felt really compelling. And so I kept on sort of like pulling that thread in different ways and exploring that. And so I think it's kind of I'm thinking about this slightly differently to now in terms of some of the different ways in which my career has gone. You know, it started out really in the nature, education space, and sort of looking at that, like our relationship to the natural world. I spent a couple years doing secular outdoor environmental ed, and then really moved specifically into the Jewish space. So like, what does that relationship look like? And how do we cultivate it and connect etc. Along the way, I did a little detour and got my master's degree in landscape architecture. So I sort of then took the sort of nature lens and sort of almost took a step in and thought about the sort of the designed built environment, which with landscape architecture is like the built and the natural, it's like right at the intersection of those things, but it's sort of like, what does that say? Like, how do we shape the spaces around us to have a sense of connection to nature and community and our Jewishness? And then also continue to play and then nature, education space, and then I think all of that, you know, that's all still part of the work for sure. But then ever increasing also then spending more time sort of like in our physical bodies, as well and how do we cultivate that relationship and cultivate our ability to use our bodies being our bodies have a relationship with our bodies. So sort of the fractals of the individual body of the self, the collective body of multiple people, and then the nature body of the ecosystem, you know, we could even go all the way out, of course to like, the entire Earth, or the entire unit, like, you know, again, it's that fractal sense of going to the macro and going into the macro and kind of playing in and around all of these different layers.
It's really incredible, because at first thought, one might say, not me, but one might say, like, it's obvious, we are in bodies, like, of course we are. And yet, we, you know, you and I, being in America, we live in a culture founded on Puritan ideas, that has a lot of body shame, a lot of shame around, being in bodies, a lot of kind of even disgust with bodies, and a preoccupation with an afterlife, a preoccupation of a time where we won't be in bodies anymore. Especially as, as a fat person, I think a lot about how we're not, you know, only certain people are able are allowed to derive pleasure from food in their bodies. Yeah, there's certainly a lot of shame around, like, erotic pleasure, and not even not even talking about sexual pleasure, but erotic pleasure, which is not the same thing, at least in my mind, about a sensual experience of the world. Which we are not, we don't always feel like we are entitled to have as human beings, or as Judaism is, I think a sensual religion. It's the our rituals are sensual. They use all of our senses, which -
Are sensual. They use our senses. Yeah, yeah.
Right. And so the idea of reclaiming restating bringing forward the body, in our practices, is really important. I think in this kind of reclamation.
Yeah, I think that's right. I think, I think Judaism by and large is not an aesthetic, religion, aesc. Right. And not as aesthetic, not aesthetic, there are aesthetics. We can play with that. Good. Are we? Are we still on the lightning round? By the way? I think we've moved well beyond the lightning round, who knows where we are, we're just in it. We're in the flow of playing with time, playing with words, right? Oh, like we don't? And I think we should I think we should be careful not to make over generalizations about Judaism never does this or never, right. Like, we are a vast ancient tradition. There's a lot of stuff has happened within that realm of Judaism, but at least in terms of like central core practice, right, like there's not so there's there's not really a mon monastic tradition in Judaism, like there is in other religions, in terms of like, right monasteries, like monks, nuns, etc. Like, that's not so much of a thing. I think, yeah, that connection to the afterlife is actually really interesting. Because I think, I think in other traditions, yeah, there is a sense of disconnecting from the body. And that, like our, you know, it's almost this is this sense of like, our bodies, like we have body and soul, and in other some other traditions, right, it's like, the body is like this anchor, or like, even a chain for the soul. And like, they're constantly trying to escape that. And I think having like traditions of afterlife, you know, as the ultimate destination, and it cetera, et cetera, creates obstacles to say, to our, like, you know, our ability to experience being in this world in this body in this life and living for that, right. And, and it's and it's not that Judaism has zero afterlife, like they're actually lots of different conceptions of afterlife. And but it's, it's, it's by and large, not the same as like the sort of normative Christian idea of heaven. Right? It's very, very different from that. And I think primarily, there's a focus on how do we live the best life we can in this life, not for an afterlife. And so yeah, I think that I think that really, in so much of Jewish practice, our bodies are not a chain or an anchor of our soul. They're a vessel for our souls to experience this realm. And a metaphor that I sometimes use is, again, going to these fractal cycles of time and experience. And we see this all throughout the Jewish calendar, which I sometimes call, sometimes I call like the mapping of it. The sort of like Jewish cosmology, because it's really about this relationship to time and space are sometimes called the Jewish space time continuum. So I think it's like, you know, we have the cycle of a single day of a week of a year. And then there's all sorts of ways in which we can map that out in relationship to the directions and the sort of cycling and spiraling of time. So we have these fractal sort of cycles of micro and macro that we've been talking about. So one of those on the sort of middle scale of that is the holiday of Sukkot. So Sukkot is an eight day holiday, it's his harvest festival in the fall. And part of the tradition of Sukkot is that we build a sukkah, which is this temporary dwelling, that we're sort of instructed, it's got all these cool, fun, you know, like regulations around, here's how they'd like, here's how many walls and here's the materials and blah, blah, which are like really fun design constraints. But essentially, it's this temporary, physical space in which we're instructed to kind of live as much of our day to day lives as we can in so we're, you know, like, the blessing is to actually literally is blessing sitting or dwelling in this, right, and then we're sort of like, we eat meals in the sukkah, we welcome guests, we sleep in the sukkah, you know, we have our sensual, maybe even erotic activities in the sukkah, right? Like all of this stuff, we're sort of like, purposely putting ourselves in this in this contained, liminal, purposely vulnerable space for eight days out of the full year to be in this sort of, like Sukkot energy. Right. So one of the metaphors I've been thinking about recently ish is this idea that, okay, the sukkah is this vessel for us in our three dimensional bodies to experience this other state of being? What happens when we think about our physical bodies, as being a sukkah for our souls to experience the realm of this world, and like the life this life as we know it, right? If we think about our souls, in some way, exist before and after we are born and die, whatever that looks like, right? Like that is of much of vaster experience of time and space, etc. Or they're part of the Divine ocean, whatever the metaphor is, there's lots of different ideas. But like, if we think about our body being that vessel, and clearly a temporary vessel, like our lives are tragically short, right? And also beautiful. And like, what is like, what are we allowing our souls to experience by being, in experiencing the world through this physical body that we have, and all of the abilities that we have to use our bodies to be in relationship to take in information to put out energy to receive energy to like, touch things, to taste things to like, hug people to dance with people, right? Like, all of that stuff?
I love Sukkot by the way. So this is incredible. And I was thinking about it the other week to that on Sukkot, we get to experience what it's like to be a soul in a body. Yeah, like, on a macro level, we get to -
Right, right like, we're putting ourselves in the like, not even the mindset, the soul set of what's it like to be in a, right, because also like the circuit is purposely a more exposed vulnerable dwelling than our, than our houses. Right? Or that's the idea. Right? So we're purposely putting ourselves in that end, right? Maybe we might also think like, our bodies are also these, like, really pretty vulnerable vessels, like they're clearly not meant to last more than, whatever, 80 100 odd years, you know, so as opposed to whatever souls are doing, when they're not in our bodies in this life? Yeah, totally.
I mean, now I'm going back to your metaphor about the boat in the in the rapids, and thinking about, right, also that idea that there's so many things we think we have control over and so many things we don't, and also how it affects how we treat other people in the sense that a sukkah is flimsy. If a storm comes, it's gonna get a little ravaged. And because the sukkah is flimsy by nature, we don't necessarily blame the sukkah. We're like, it rained, right? Things happen, right? But again, so often in our society, we we place blame on people for their own illnesses and for their own physical vulnerabilities, when in fact, we're humans with bodies and these things happen. I don't know. I'm thinking about that in terms of my own, kind of like pain and management, and learning to live with a body that feels often like a sukkah in the wind.
Yeah, well, so. So so I'm going to pick up on that you can pick back up on that, but also just what when you're saying going back to the river, one other metaphor we could think about is like if our souls are a drop of water, there's the experience of being a drop of water in a river, or in an ocean for that matter. And you're just like it one of trillions upon trillions of other little drops of water, you're just like in it. So what's that experience of being that like, soul drop of water, so to speak. And then if we think about our soul being in our bodies as being a drop of water that has put itself inside of a human and is sitting in a boat, and is experiencing the river by boat, as opposed to just being in the water. So that's a fun idea, I think, to think about, like, what's the experience of a soul like being the vessel of our bodies? But yeah, I really want to pull on that thread of, because this is really important also, for the work that that I do with Mitsui Collective is, we have what is the experience of Judaism, through our bodies and in through our bodies. And then the other really critical aspect is, how is our experience of Judaism and Jewish community and Jewish spaces impacted because of the bodies that we're in? And our sort of most particular focus is on racialized identity? And how do our racialized identities impact that experience? And, and by the way, when I say racialized identity, I don't just mean black and brown people. I mean, all of us, because we live in a world that is shaped through racism. And I think, let me pause on that just for a second. Because that's, that's a charged loaded word, of course, and want to offer one way, that's not the only way to think about it. But this might be a helpful way for folks to think about it, which is, when we think about an ism, an ism is, like a belief in something more or less, right, Judaism. It's like the belief of being Jewish whatever, right? That's not obviously that's not maybe like, finding, wordsmith definition, but like, think about isms, right? It's sort of like the belief in the validity or importance or centrality of whatever the prefix is. So if you think about race, ism, one way they would think about racism is just the belief that race is a thing that exists and has meaningful impact on our like lives and identities. And that as an idea, is actually not very old. And without going super deep folks, can, you know, me, you know, can can read up on this, but like, there's there are in terms of certainly of modern racism as a belief structure is, you know, kind of goes back to basically to the start of imperialism and globalization and colonialism, which is the idea that we can, that there's a thing called race, and that we can categorize groups of humans, according to this thing called race, and that there are then not only categorizations, but meaningful differences that we could, and like, generalizations that we can make about each of those groups, because of the the, this thing that we're calling race, this thing, this construct that we are imposing over, you know, things that are sort of really super, like surface level differences of skin color, right, these things that are sort of phenotypical differences, which are really just our body's adapting to the environment over time, right, like, if you live in a place that there's a lot more sun a lot of the year, your your body over time, right over generations and generations, generations will adapt to be in that versus if you're in a space, like Scandinavia, which has very little sunlight, you're gonna have a lot less melanin in your skin, because you need to absorb as much sunlight as you can to get vitamin D. So that's phenotype phenotypical differences, that are responses to the environment, as opposed to and that's like, literally skin deep, and you know, and whatever, as opposed to like, deeper levels of like, in our genes in our capacities as humans, right. So that's where race racism comes in is belief A, that there's a thing called that we can that we could categorize humans by something called race. And then upon that as layer, the idea that then we have hierarchies, and that you can make generalizations that one race is smarter or stronger, or faster, or bla bla bla bla bla than another when in facts, that's silly, right? We're just those are just things that different people have in different, you know, to have different abilities. It's not something that has anything to do with race, right? Um, so, and all of that all of that is defined by aspects of our bodies that then become part of how our identities become racialized over now hundreds of years of, of, you know, society being shaped with that in mind. So that was a little bit of a of a I have a tangent, but I think coming back to like, what are the aspects of our identities that have been shaped by the physical aspects of our body and the way that society sends different messaging about, about that. And so we could also look at, you know, gender and sexuality, we could, you know, we can look at, you know, fatness and thinness we can, right there's all of these different aspects, right like, that you've touched upon that impact, both how we are perceived in our bodies, and how we perceive ourselves, and then how people layer all these other ideas about what that means to be in a particular body. Right, that has no basis. In truth, it's just a right there are stereotypes right? They have no, they have no basis in like who I Yoshi actually, are you Eliana actually are the only way you can know that as we're actually getting to know each other. Right?
Because we're talking about practice, is there a practice that you can share with our listeners, that kind of works at this intersection that you might encourage people to do or to try or to learn more about?
So when it comes to racial identity and embodied practice, I want to really direct people to the work of Resmaa Menakem
, author of My Grandmother's Hands, and he's got a new book coming out. I think, in the spring, called the Quick in America, I've had an opportunity to do a lot of learning with Resmaa. And he's really at the forefront of sort of what he calls somatic abolitionism. But it's really the sort of like a healing, the racialized trauma that lives in our bodies. I would also direct folks I mentioned Rev angel Kyoto williams earlier on her work as she has a book and and some practice called Radical dharma, that also is really tapping into a lot of this sort of embodiment of how do we use embodiment towards healing and liberation and transformation. A lot then of a lot of our work. And this really applies, you know, sometimes it sort of is dialing in a little bit more specifically, in terms of, like, niche area, like, like race or other aspects of marginalized entities. And sometimes it's, it's a little bit broader. But really, I mean, the different practices and tools are the tools and toys available are 99.9% the same, it's just we're applying them right in different ways. So much of our work is really about first of all, and then the practices we do a tuning our ability to sense what is the wisdom and knowledge that is passing through our body, and that lives in our body. And in a word, the more that we can attune to that, the more we develop our awareness around it, and then we can start to play with it. Right. So yeah, I think a really simple one they'll offer is a breathing practice. And let's just yeah, let's just let's just try this out. What we're going to do is first bring attention, and I'll guide us through like us, me and Eliana, and then as you're listening, I'll invite you to do this along with us. So go ahead and just bring your attention to your breath, not necessarily trying to change anything in the breath. Breath is one of our autonomic functions, meaning it happens whether we're thinking about it or not, thank goodness. So the first thing is just to bring attention to the breath. And notice what is the rhythm of your breathing right now? Is it fast? Is it slower medium? What's the texture? Are you breathing deeply or shallowly? Where do you feel that breath moving through the body? So the first step is noticing that. And then let's play with it a little bit. So continue breathing, I'll tell us what to do and then guide us through it. So we're now going to take a, let's do a triangle breath. So what that means is, I'll give us a count for the breath in. We'll pause at the top of the breath. For that same count, and then we'll exhale for the same count. So let's do a count of five. So in a moment, I'll tell us when to start will breathe in for five beats. We'll pause for five beats and then breathe out for five beats. So take one just normal deep inhale and regular exhale. And here we go in for 5. 12345. Pause, 2345. And exhale, 2345. Start the inhale again 12345. Hold it. Exhale 2345. We'll do one more cycle of this in 45, pause and exhale 2345. And just return to just whatever comfortable breathing rhythm. And as you return to this breathing, just a normal breathing pattern. turn your attention to just what you're sensing, noticing experience in the body does anything feel different or noticeable? There's no right or wrong with this stuff. There are some trends and patterns. But everyone's experience is their own, and it's a little different. So just notice what you're sensing right now. And notice if there's anything that feels curious, or interesting, there could also be something that came up that might feel a little challenging, that's okay, just notice that you don't have to dwell in it, you can just notice it and maybe set it aside to come back to. And go take just one more nice deep breath. And let it out. And if your eyes were closed, you can open them. Come on back into the space. So that was triangle breathing, there's a related thing called Box breathing or square breathing, where you pause at the bottom after the exhale as well, which I often do, I decided to go with breath, because I mentioned that breath is one of our autonomic functions. And so other these are, you know, the things that are on autopilot. So our heartbeat is autonomic digestion, like hormone flows, like all a lot of these sort of processes that are always kind of going on through the body that we don't have to intentionally think about in order for them to do they just do breath is one of the few that is both autonomic. But we can also we can also like regulate, I can control my inhale and exhale, my pausing, etc. Jewishly it's really interesting, we've been talking about the soul a lot. And one of the words for soul as Neshama. And the word for breath in Hebrew is Neshima. And there's all sorts of all sorts of wisdom and texts about like the breath of G!d and how G!d breathed like breathes life into us as humans, right. And there's also the idea of G!d's speaking the universe or speaking creation into being and sort of going back to some of the Kabbalah and the metaphysical mystical letters, etc, of creation, one of the really interesting ideas around breath, and is that breath, one is that breath, we can regulate what's happening in our body through breath. So if folks think about like, what did you notice during that breathing, exercise that practice? Did you notice any changes in your heartbeat? Did you notice any changes in the temperature through the body any, maybe emotional changes, right, just like all these sensations happening through the body, we have the ability to regulate to a degree, and the more you practice, the more we can sort of hone that. That sense, but we're doing is we're sort of signaling to the nervous system, if I'm taking time to pause my breath, or to do a long exhale, that means I'm signaling to my body that there's a certain safety around me that I don't have to be like, I don't have to be in like a like hyper aroused or hyper aware state. There's a there's a settling that is allowed through some of these practices. But not only that, is that the ability to control the breath helps to regulate what's happening through the body. It also is the present like primary to our ability, literally, for you and I to be doing what we're doing right now, which is to be talking. Right? I like, speech, language verbalization, singing, none of that is possible without the ability to regulate breath. If I don't have the ability to control how I'm breathing when I'm pausing, like how loud or soft, what shapes I'm making, right? We don't have language. And so again, I think that's one of the ways we tap into in this case, the divine language of creation in the world is through breath, through ability to speak, to verbalize language. And by the way, I also want to mention here like the sort of flip of this, which is for folks, whether through structural systemic violence or racism, or through disability or through other things like that, if we lose the ability to breathe, how significant that is, in terms of our in terms of our sort of particular, like self sovereignty, and particularly coming back to sort of like racism, right? Like the one of the just hugely important and impactful messages right? Over the last couple years, like, the like I really last decade, like I can't breathe, right? When someone takes your ability to breathe. Right. And it is a it is literally life or death. But and and it's also not only is it that, it's also like, the ability to have self sovereignty, right to have the ability to be like I have, I have a inherent sovereign dignity of Betzelem Elohim of being the divine image. That is core to me, right? When someone tries to take that away, it is it is like, a physical harm for sure. And it's like a harm to the soul. So I think that, yeah, so I offer that practice of utilizing breath, and noticing how that allows us to just play with different systems. And the last thing I'll say on that, too, is that sometimes, when we're talking about regulating or settling the nervous system, sometimes that can be a sense of like, of like, calming down, but of like slowing down or of like, going into a resting state, which is not always necessarily. It It's not necessarily where we want it to go. And also to say not what has to happen. What I think about is actually and this is, this is something that Rev angel taught me is, is that is it's a settling, but it's also an opening. And what it is doing is it's giving us more choices. So if we think about when we are in a time of stress or panic, we go into that fight or flight mode, our nervous system is going to this state of hyper arousal, but also of like narrowing and constricting, where, where it feels like, you know, like literally our sort of sense of vision is getting narrowed, right? There's like tunnel vision, you can only see this narrow path ahead, and it feels like that's the like, you can either fight through or, or like run away. And that's like you those are your only options. Right? When we settle the nervous system, what we're doing is, yeah, just it's like a sense of calm, but also a sense of clarity, where I'm able to, will open that vision back up and see oh, I actually have more choices here than it might have felt like a moment ago. And I might choose to still punch that dude in the face. Right, like, but that but that is no longer the only option. It is one of several and I might decide that that's the best or most appropriate option. Or I can see oh, actually there's these other things I could do. So that sense of, of being in that narrowness that Mitzrayim, that Egypt, right, so Mitzrayim is the Hebrew word for Egypt. And it literally translates to like the narrow place or a place of constriction, of being bound of not being free. And tapping into this sense of openness, a sense of possibility and choice, and having the freedom to then make the choice that I want to make, and that maybe we collectively want to make, like that's freedom. And when we tap into that sense in the body, we're tapping into this deep sense of freedom and liberation and also not being bound by something but actually binding ourselves to a sense of collective agency, where we're sort of saying like, Eliana, your liberation and my liberation are bound together. And I'm going to try to do what I can to give myself choices and freedom, but also, I need to do that for you, and for everyone else, for us to like, collectively be bound together towards liberation.
Wow, I really want to thank you know, shamati. I have heard that incredibly powerful, because I have to say, you, you have given us so many new layers of context. So many different Midrashim interpretations and understandings of these breathing practices. And that's kind of and and with the hope that when you or I or the listener, or the people that work with you do breathing practices in their life, they are now infused with these new layers of meaning, that are helpful in actually doing the work of building resiliency and empathy and joy and whatever it is that we're trying to create, just breathing, having that within our own bodies, and paying attention is like step one. But when we're able to learn from different teachers, different traditions, our own tradition from practitioners, and we're able to continue to do the work, that's when we can kind of unlock something. And I think that's what we're trying to do with this podcast in the light lab in general, is to take pieces of liturgy and practices, and to kind of go in depth with them, so that the next time we do them, they have more layers of meaning attached.
Yeah. And I think what that also brings up when you say, like, learning with other, you know, I mean, first of all, I hope it's clear, obviously, like, we need teachers, we need to learn with people, right, but also anything about like, who are the teachers that we turn to? And when are those, you know, Jewish teachers. And of course, there's a whole wide range of what that looks like. And I encourage folks to I guess, he got lots of different Jewish teachers, but also what like, what are also teachers beyond the specifically explicitly Jewish space? And I think, what what I want to encourage folks to do, as you are what what I want encourage folks to learn with also with people who are not Jewish, who come from other traditions, other cultures, etc. Also, within the whole diversity of what is Jewish, absolutely. Like, there's there's so much so much, so much to be learning and being in relationship with and specific and, and I guess, either with that, because there's, you know, there's so many also sort of subcultures and traditions within Judaism. So this applies to that. And it applies to beyond the explicitly Jewish, which is, one is a caution, right? Because this happens a lot is you learn a different practice a different tradition, you find benefit from it. And then you take it and claim it as your own or, like, make it you claim ownership over it. That's called appropriation. It's not great. Please don't do that. It doesn't mean though, that you can sometimes be like, oh, so I can't learn from anybody outside of my own blah, blah. It's like, No, you can and you should, what I think what I found is a really beautiful and rich way to approach it is, I'm learning and other with other traditions from others. And what I'm paying attention to when I'm interested in a dialogue. I'm like, what do we have to offer each other and learn. But what feels really rich to me is when I see in somebody else's practice or teaching, I see something reflected back to me, that speaks from my own tradition, whether that be Jewish, I'm also Chinese. So like, like, that's also a piece of my own culture and heritage, right. So when I'm seeing things reflected back about me back to me, but but like, that are actually rooted in my own tradition, that I'm like, Oh, that's really interesting. I'm understanding my own practice and tradition differently because of that, learning, that external learning. So that means I'm not going to now take that, I'm going to let the reflection shine back and say, Oh, I'm thinking about my own practice differently. Now, because of that. And maybe in some ways, I will, like, honor that lineage, right, and speak to the role that that person might have had, in some cases, in some cases that won't be as direct or obvious, and it'll just sort of inform my practice, but like, That, to me is part of how we really engage in dialogue and cultural sharing that really enlightens. And by the way, that's what Judaism has been doing, basically, since we've existed, right, like we've been engaged in relationship with the cultures around us, and constantly sharing and reflecting back and adapting and evolving in that sense in that sense of relationship. And so I think when we continue to do that today, it's not just innovation, it's actually like that is carrying on what Judaism is actually like, always done, since at least since you know, the days of the rabbi's probably far before that too.
Amen, Amen. And these practices, the breathing that we did today, and I've done some exercises with you around movement and time going back to time, and Shabbat and the Kabalistic emanations and all of these things, these physical practices feel very prayerful to me, and I'm wondering if they feel prayerful to you and what that means to you.
I mean, the answer is definitely yes. So if we think about prayer, we think about prayer in two ways. One is that sense of that sense of like dialogue and connection and relationship to something greater. That's, that's one. That's one way we can think about it. And then the second way we can think about it is the sort of expressive quality of prayer. And I would say even a creative, expressive quality and creative in the sense of, of the way that G!d creates, like creating something in the world, which I mean, yes, yes includes creative in the way we think about creative art. And also is like broader than that, in a sense, right. And so I think through movement and through embodiment, part of what we're doing is we are adding depth and dimension to how we are creatively expressive and how we are in dialogue, in a prayerful sense. So if we think about the sort of, you know, traditional modalities that we might think of in prayer, which is using words and language and song, yes to those, but we can also expand, we can like expand the vocabulary of how we're using our bodies, so that perhaps I am also moving my body in a space in a way that is creatively expressive, that is allowing my soul to experience this world in a particular way. That's creating a contemplative space for me to, to just notice that sense of being in time. Right, as as it is passing. And, Yeah, I think I think it just expands our vocabulary. So now, instead of just song, or just the words of the Siddur, the prayerbook, right, which, which, by the way, are really like, have been tried and tested, tried and true, like modalities for prayer. So like, we shouldn't ignore those, like, none of my work says, toss all of that aside. It's just saying, we have more tools that we can use, right, we have more modalities. So let's play with all of them, and create experiences with all of them in ways that just sort of like open us up to like different ways that we can experiencing, experience our souls being in the Jewish space time continuum that we call life, the person everything.
Amazing. And if people want to learn more about these tools, play around with them and learn more from you. Where can people find you and your work?
Yeah. So my organization is called Mitsui Collective. Mitsui. Mitsui is Aramaic by the way for the activation of potential. It's the same root as matzah, which is like squashed potential, or motzi, right, we say hamotzi for bread, which is like, the bread that like, like, has risen right, and has like the potential as well. And limtzo which is to find. So that's, that's what mitsui means. So Mitsui Collective, our website is mitsuicollective.org. We're on Facebook and Instagram, technically, we're on Twitter, but my sister just called me out for not using our Twitter much, so and then one of these days we'll get on Tik Tok. So find us there. And I think, you know, we've only been around for a couple years, we started February of 2020, folks probably remember what happened in March of 2020. So it's been quite an interesting ride, you know, been developing our practices and frameworks. And I think as we move into the coming year, and hopefully years, one of the directions that we're really intending to go is to really create different to sort of create different spaces and methods for folks to be in communities of practice together. So we talked about this idea of practice is something that you are taking on that is, has a consistency and a frequency and it's like a, you know, it's whether it's daily or weekly, you know, whatever the frequency is, but that you're sort of committing in some way to continuing to do and to continue to grow and deepen. And this sort of like these, like liberatory practices of embodiment, somatic anti racism, right, just seeking to understand ourselves and, and strengthen, to understand ourselves, to heal, right to develop and strengthen our resiliency and to think about the both the individual and collective level. So yeah, part of what we're really hoping to move into is to create ways for folks to be in collective communities of practice, which is so fundamentally Jewish, right? Like, like, we don't say, we're not supposed to say Kaddish without a minyan, without 10 other people, right? There's all these things we're saying, Yeah, Judaism isn't something that we just do by ourselves. Pieces of it, we can, yeah. But like, there's also really something about being in community together that is just like core to what being Jewish is. So we're taking that also, as we think about our embodied practice, and thinking about how we create opportunities for people to be in community together, whether that's online or in person, or a combination of all of those things.
Amazing. Well, I'm so grateful that I get to be in community with you in so many ways, and that you have joined us today. We'll link to all of this in the show notes so that people can find your amazing work. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for for popping in this morning.
Thank you. It's such a pleasure and a delight to be on here and to chat with you as always Eliana.
And thank you so much, everybody for listening. You can find us online on Instagram at the light.lab and find us online at elianalight.com/podcast and keep up with us, share, rate, subscribe, all the wonderful things so that people can hear this amazing episode all the past and episodes to come. Thank you so much for being with us on this peripheral journey and we will see you soon!