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Meaning Blog: Diversify your Meaning Portfolio

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I am currently reading a memoir entitled, Impaired: A Nurse’s Story of Addiction and Recovery, by Patricia HolloranAs the title suggests, the book is about a nurse’s struggle with addiction to a common narcotic given to women in labor. More than this, the book highlights the determination needed for an honest recovery and the rigmarole Patricia had to do in order to keep her nursing license. It is so clear how being a nurse is essential to the meaning framework of the author. She calls it her, “first love,” and the thought of losing this identity seems to be her catalyst to seriously deal with her addiction.

As I read about the great importance that the author places on her career, I wonder about a cultural change in Western society. It used to be that a person could find themselves in a career in their mid- to late twenties and settle into a warm fuzzy feeling of purpose. Perhaps this was not exactly the case, but, growing up it was presented to me as a clear goal for reaching adulthood. Lately, we find that young people do not jump into a clear career path and there are even movements in Vocational Psychology which suggest that we should drop the term “career” from our vocabulary and talk instead about a work path – which pays attention to job changes, home responsibilities, and volunteer work in one’s community. This switch creates the possibility of gleaning a sense of meaning from a wider range of activity. We no longer have to base our sense of meaning around one identifier: the long-term career.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find that adults who were in long-term careers are getting pushed out by a multitude of reasons, only to find that they are not ready for retirement. These individuals are finding that there is still a meaningful life to be had beyond the office walls.

It seems to me that we are learning to diversify our meaning portfolio, so we have a greater chance of experiencing a stable and sustainable sense of meaning throughout the twists and turns of life.

I believe that the fear to embrace this change in reality is what causes many of us to become addicted to our jobs. We easily get caught in the following story: If I do not have this job, than what will I ever do with myself! (This “job” can also be unpaid, such as being a parent or a grandparent.) This story can actually limit a full exploration of one’s deepest potential and desires. I do think that this goes beyond privileged individuals, as people of lesser means, at least in the USA, also live within a story of limitations which is kept in place by fear.

If we can see beyond this fear, that our life story is actually not bound by the single narrative that we exist in, and that a myriad of alternative possibilities are constantly knocking at our door , we can actually embrace the dynamics of Life with excitement. So, a challenge that I invite you to undertake is to consider how you can diversify your meaning portfolio. If you see that you are putting all your eggs in one meaning basket, it might be a good idea to consider and expand upon the more subtle meaning potentials in your life.


Ho ho ho…7-Day Jewish Mindfulness Retreat

December 20-27, 2012

Pema Osel Ling Retreat Center, Corralitos, CA (near Santa Cruz),


Registration is open until November 20th

Too often we walk through life with a heart closed to ourselves and the world, trying to protect ourselves from being hurt and overwhelmed and so missing the fullness and beauty of life. At other times, we seem flooded and overcome by the raging waters of emotion and lose ourselves in anger, self-pity, anxiety and confusion. Yet there is a middle way, as the sages describe it, between the ice of emotional numbness and the burning fire of emotional explosion, it is the open heart of love and compassion. Over this week, using the techniques of mindfulness, prayer, and silence we will gently open our heart.

Participants are welcome to follow their own particular religious practices and traditions on the retreat which is open to everyone. Food will be kosher, vegetarian, and delicious.

For more on what to expect from the retreat experience, please see www.orhalev.org/retreats

To see a sample daily schedule, click here. Registration is open until November 20th.

About the teachers:

Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels teaches Jewish thought, mysticism, spiritual practices, and meditation at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and Yeshivat Hadar and the Drisha Institute in New York City, and leads Jewish meditation retreats in Israel and North America. James is known for his grounded, insightful, and personal teachings, and his ability to make texts and concepts relevant to how we live our daily lives, Listen to his teachings at www.orhalev.org/teachings.

Dr. Zvi Bellin is a meditation teacher at Chochmat HaLev in Berkeley. He began teaching Jewish-based meditation in 2001, studying with Rabbis David Zeller, Jeff Roth, David & Shoshana Cooper, and Sylvia Boorstein. He is the Director of Jewish Education at Moishe House and teaches Jewish contemplative practice worldwide. Zvi is a professional counselor with a private psychotherapy practice. Learn more at meaningthroughbeing.com .

Meaning Blog: Up a Down Escalator

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A few days ago I was waiting for the commuter train from Oakland to Berkeley, AKA BART. As I was standing on the platform, I saw a middle-aged man rush down from the floor above and speed onto the down escalator that would take him to the tracks going towards San Francisco. After a few steps down he shouted, “Damn!” He swung his body around and started walking against the escalator flow, trying to get back to the platform I was on. He had a cane in one hand and was walking quite slowly, and I was afraid that if I helped him he would lose his footing and fall. Unfortunately, he was not able to keep the double-pace needed to defeat the down escalator and after a few moments, with a shrug of his shoulders and a deep sigh, he gave up and effortlessly floated downwards.

This episode made me think about how I deal with mistakes that I perceived that I have made. At first, I try to fight against the current that I did anything wrong.  I hold this image of myself as someone who does not hurt other people and who walks around with some sense of direction. But inevitably, a careless word or thoughtless decision shatters the frail persona of perfection. So what is left to do?

A good shoulder shrug is in order to release all the tension of trying to hold perfection together. A good sigh makes room to accept the truth, “I am not perfect.” Next, I have to look around. I am on the platform below where I want to be. What do I need to do now to get up there, and what should I pay more attention to so that I will not make the same mistake twice? I am not too fond of generalizations, but this might be the quickest way to get going on the right track. Perhaps a bit later than expected and with a bit more exercise than intended, I am sure that the man got home just fine.

Many blessings!

Meaning Blog: Fish In the Ocean Searching for Water

This past week I celebrated the holiday of Sukkot with Wilderness Torah. Over 150 people of all ages co-created a celebratory village on an organic farm just south of Half Moon Bay in Northern California. I had a significant role in the ritual and holiday specific activities during the week. I helped to create an artistic focal piece in the community gathering space (the Sukkah), co-lead beautiful prayer services with dear friends, and held space for a reboot of ancient spiritual practices. The community was incredible – supportive, warm, embracing! I am excited to continue my relationship with this organization and all the people that make it tick.

Interestingly enough, while I was at the festival, I had a few instances where I wondered where the magic was. I saw in front of me a camp of people having Shabbat, or celebrating a holiday. I thought, “why go through all this trouble? Is this going to bring transformation?”  I had this overzealous expectation that spending time in nature would blast my awareness open and I would leave seeing the Divine pulsing in each moment. That is asking a lot!

So when I left the farm, I was still me. I came with Zvi and I left with Zvi. Same worries, same challenges, same gifts. And I thought, “well, that was that!”

What I am starting to realize is that on the farm, I was like a fish in the ocean searching for water. Being in an environment that was so different from my normative context could only be transformative, but at the level of immersion, not analysis. So while my cells were soaking up the birds, trees, fresh air, and amazing community vibes, my mind was busy being a mind – questioning, analyzing, evaluating.

Only now, back in the (comparatively) busy streets of Berkeley, do I notice a slightly enhanced awareness and a bit more ease. I notice a stronger desire to engage in my centering practices and I am also feeling the chaotic pressure of how our society works. It reminds me of my cousin in Israel, who told me that she only realizes the daily stress she lives with when she is traveling abroad.

I want to highlight two learnings from this reflection. The first is that it is essential for personal growth to get out of “your usual” every now and then. This exodus can happen by going on retreat, though also by periodically switching up your routine. And the second is that change and integration can happen without conscious knowing. Next time I notice thoughts of “well, that was that” I will breathe, experience, and continue to observe.

Many blessings!

Meaning blog: Whose Got Milk?!

(Photo credit: http://lovebabypictures.com/baby-pic-baby_screaming.php)

Have you ever had this experience? You are visiting with a newborn baby and are lucky enough to get to hold the baby when they are quiet and peaceful. They are so cute as their eyes lids begin to drift off, their cheeks all smooshie, their lips mushing around on auto-pilot. This was my baby nephew before my sister excused herself outside for a short 5-minute errand. Things were okay into the first minute. I was gently rocking him side to side with a little bounce. He was having the time of his life. Or so I thought.

About 15 seconds into minute two he started getting a bit cranky, and his lips and hands began searching for food. I gave him a pacifier which he sucked once or twice. But no fooling this kid, no milk was coming out of this rubber nipple. This realization was followed by a gargled yelp which sent the pacifier overboard. When his mouth was clear of obstruction, he took full advantage and began to cry and wail a primal scream of MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLLKKKKKK!

Well, I took stock of my body and lacking the ability to lactate, I understood that there was nothing I could do to actually help this situation, except to minimize as much suffering as possible until my sister came back. I kept up with the rocking, tried the pacifier again, and said in my sweetest voice, “It’s okay. I know this is not fun. It will be over soon.”  Inside, I prayed for my sister’s speedy return. The crying continued, his face reddening with angst, and my empathy reeling. My sister returned after only three agonizing minutes. I have a re-affirmed respect for anyone who takes care of babies consistently for any length of time.

While I was witnessing my nephew move through suffering, bravely and not hiding an ounce of pain, I began to think how pervasive this situation is. How often are we called to witness the suffering of another human being and are individually powerless to rectify the situation? Probably more than we’d like. This is what my nephew taught me: though we cannot abolish suffering, we should, given our limited resources, do our utmost to lessen it. Even if this just means being there waiting for the remedy to walk through the door.

Many blessings!

Meaning Blog: Meditation Pains

(Photo credit: http://anksexperience.blogspot.com/2010/04/pain.html)

Tick…tick…tick…It was maybe minute 13 or 20 of a 45-minute sitting meditation period at the Awakened Heart Project silent meditation retreat, that I was on last week, when my backache became very painful. Take a look at https://www.earseeds.com/ for a non-invasive pain solution.
Normally, I would offer myself some relief by doing a slow seated twist or hunching over for a few breaths. I normally sit on a cushion with no back support because I usually fall asleep if I am leaning against something. This sit was unique because I was seated at the front of the room facing everyone. I had volunteered to be the bell ringer at this particular sit, and it happened to be the most physically painful sit of the week.

I felt an added responsibility to be still because I wanted to be a model of stillness for the community. The stillness of the outside representing the supposed stillness of the mind inside. But we all know that this is never the case. My mind was concerned and seeking a way to alleviate the pain. This is normal, natural, and mostly beneficial. We experience pain and we do what we can to end it as quickly as possible.

As the time ticked on and the pain intensified, lessened, and redoubled, I decided that I would not move and face this pain for the following reasons: (1) I was not going to die from the pain – even though my mind was afraid of such a possibility, it was just not possible. Plus, I knew that with potential solutions like the use topical cbd, I knew I wouldn’t have to suffer with backache forever and do it in silence for much longer. Some people turn to options that you inhale instead though, like the diamond concentrates on the market. Combining these would be wonderful for me, I’d imagine. (2) the time was eventually going to end – so no matter how painful things got, I knew that after 25 minutes or so, I would be relieved of this self-imposed responsibility to be still, and (3) THE BIG ONE – many times in life I cannot just shirk off suffering and it is important to learn that I can sit through it and see what happens.

The first thing that I noticed was that the pain was not constant. Just like most sensations it danced around, punched and retreated. So the possibility existed that any one moment would actually be painLESS, so it would be inaccurate to say that I was just dwelling in pain. Even though it wasn’t constant, I knew it still very much hurt when it did decide to crop up. At one point I was in so much pain I really wished I didn’t forget my CBD oil at home, you can buy CBD online if you wish to see if it can relieve you of your pains.

Next, I noticed how the mind will “contort” itself with outrageous claims in order to bring about instant relief. I really did have several thoughts of, “I am afraid that I am going to die.” There clearly was no real danger of dying. But it is interesting to note how close the fear and acknowledgment of death is, even as we all have become experts in denying its presence.

Lastly, and perhaps the most revelatory for me in this experience, is that our pain (experienced by the self, or seen in another) is very much a call for compassion. Pain is our being’s ringtone for closeness, comfort, and love. During the final minutes of the sit, the pain at its peak, my mantra became – “Inhale, feel the pain. Exhale, compassion on this body.” This is when life gets beautiful – when we can experience our deep yearning for love while finding relief in the knowledge that the closeness we seek is just one breath away. Ding…

Prepare for the Jewish New Year @ Sha’ar Zahav, San Francisco


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Sit & Schmooze

Sit & Schmooze @ Chochmat HaLev, Berkeley


Dr. Zvi Bellin
Thursdays: August 9, 16, 23, and 30
Location: Chochmat HaLev

Prepare for the High Holy Days by cultivating awareness, compassion and community.  In this group we strengthen our connection with each other, and support each other and our spiritual practice.  We will begin with greetings and gratitude, and then we will alternate chanting and silent sitting in order to settle in and become more present with each other. We will have an opportunity to share what is going on in our lives through a facilitated check in over tea.

Perfect for those new to meditation and experienced meditators who want to strengthen the social aspect of spiritual practice.

Zvi Bellin
CHL is excited to welcome Zvi Bellin, Ph.D. to our cast of community meditation teachers. Zvi is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor living in Berkeley. He is the Director of Jewish Education at Moishe House and teaches Jewish contemplative practice worldwide. His website, meaningthroughbeing.com, highlights his fusion of meaning-based practices that are informed by spirituality and research. Zvi is an active member of both Wilderness Torah and of Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture and Spirituality.

Stay connected on Twitter: zvibellin
Join him on Facebook: Zvi J. Bellin, Ph.D. 

Sex and Judaism

Sex and Judaism

Wednesday, August 15

Moishe House East Bay
(886 Euclid Avenue, Berkeley)

We all know religions say “no” to many aspects of sex, including the use of adult pornography sites such as https://www.tubev.sex/?hl=fr, but what does Judaism say, “yes…yes…YES!” to? Cozy up in our living room with dinner and lively discussion hosted by Zvi Bellin, Ph.D. and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor. The conversation will focus on sex, particularly as it relates to various cultures and customs. I’m sure a lot of Jewish men have been very keen to learn if Judaism condones visiting some of the ladies that are found at the /escorts-barcelona-227/ page. The conversation will also allude to what Judaism encourages and what the Torah can teach us about how to properly treat our sexual partners, unlike how we see people get treated on sites such as https://www.hdpornvideo.xxx/?hl=fr. Join us in a Jewish, sex-positive environment, where all questions are welcome.