When I was a teenager, I read every book I could find on meditation. Almost all of the books talked about enlightenment, which fascinated me. I thought it meant that if I meditated enough, something would suddenly change. I would see things differently, bend spoons, maybe even glow.
As my meditation practice grew and deepened, I found myself uninterested in Judaism and fell in love with Buddhism. Still inspired by the idea of enlightenment, my understanding of it matured and changed to include more kindness and compassion and less about telekinesis.
While spending a summer in India, I took daily Buddhist philosophy classes. Along with everyone else in the class, I always bowed and prostrated to the ground when the teacher walked into the room. One day, after weeks of classes, we were about to begin, and the teacher entered. I stood, and as everyone around me began to bow and prostrate, I froze. It felt like a light went on inside my heart, like my Jewish soul, aching for connection, was not comfortable bowing in that context.
That was the beginning of my journey to connect my meditation practice to my Judaism and when I began to seek out teachers and teachings of Jewish meditation. My search for enlightenment brought me to a Jewish meditation practice that I now see as a path of cultivating tikkun olam (repairing the world) from the inside out, which feels pretty enlightened to me.
Alison Laichter is a teacher, urban planner, Brooklynite, and the Executive Director of the Jewish Meditation Center. www.jmcbrooklyn.org