Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011

Opening Our Inner Selves to Tikkun Olam

by Sheila Peltz Weinberg

There is a reciprocal relationship between remaking the world and remaking ourselves, between the courage to be with our own pain and the ability to open to the suffering of others. There is no real separation between our inner spiritual landscape and the systems of power and privilege that operate in the world. When we become more aware of the inner obstacles to freedom and peace, we are more able to work for our ideals without recreating the systems we are trying to change.

This is not new. What is potent for me is actually experiencing this in my own mind and body. When I sit in meditation, I experience the negativity of my own mind up close and personal. I see what my choices are. Just by sitting still or relaxing into a yoga pose. There is another possibility. That possibility is always the same. You can call it love, connection, intimacy. You can call it generosity, kindness, acceptance of this moment for what it is right now. When I know that this is what is happening right now and the next moment will be different, as long as I do not resist it, a space opens. This is the space of freedom which activates my intelligence, my free will. Neuroscientists explain the physiology of this process of liberation. We can change our brains through taking the time to pay attention to our minds under certain conditions. Amazing.

It is only within the last twenty years that my life has turned me toward these contemplative practices of mindfulness meditation and yoga. I have worked in the Jewish community my entire life -- teaching Hebrew school and serving in community relations, Hillel, and the congregational rabbinate. I have always tried to reconcile work on my character and consciousness (the inside healing) with the pursuit of justice and peace (the outside healing). I did not learn contemplative meditation practices in the Jewish world, but I have been teaching them to Jews in a multitude of settings, primarily at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality ( The institute creates intensive learning experiences for professionals and lay leaders who are committed to deepening their own Jewish spiritual lives and making the connection between the "inner" work of spiritual growth and the "outer" work of creating more justice and compassion in the world.

How does teaching meditation and yoga contribute to tikkun olam? Let's consider what occurs when one's activism is motivated by petty motives or unexamined wounds; or when our effort to make change is fueled with hostility and aggression toward those who disagree with us; or when we do not cultivate the qualities of patience, trust and generosity; or when we cannot tolerate things not going our way. We create environments that mirror our inner landscape. When we clench around the difficult and the painful, it becomes more difficult and more painful. When we act from a place of violence, violence is returned.

In contrast, when we cultivate contemplative tools through yoga and meditation, the boundaries of our selves become more porous. We start to suffer less as we become less self-centered. With clarity and calm we take the suffering of others into our awareness and care. This motivates us to work for justice, especially when we teach in the language and context of an ancient tradition that calls us to protect the widow and the orphan, the marginalized, and the forgotten. I believe that contemplative practices have the potential to help us actualize our deepest desire to be of service to each other.

Sheila Weinberg is a senior teacher at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality and has been a Reconstructionist-trained rabbi for almost 25 years. She writes "I do believe I have been a Tikkun subscriber since the beginning."

Her articles in Tikkun include "Finding Balance in a World Off-balance," March/April 2004.

Source Citation: Peltz Weinberg, Sheila. 2011. Opening Our Inner Selves to Tikkun Olam. Tikkun 26(1): 72

tags: Activism, Judaism, Spirituality  
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