Community · Culture clashes · Religious life

The Mind and the Body

I went to a talk last night which featured Rabbi Alan Lew.

I had a few questions that I wanted to ask, but couldn’t because of the lack of time. I figured that I would write him an e-mail, but couldn’t find his e-mail address on the website. I guess he is too famous now. Oh well, if I have to, I know I can find out pretty easily.

It was a really cool talk that I am really happy that I went to. I also know that I wouldn’t have gone had it not been for Jane telling me about it. Thank you, Jane!

I thought that the talk was really excellent. It was lucid (something that I strive for), accessible, and nuanced. And if he had composed it while on his way to the place, like he says he does with a lot of his talks, I am really impressed. He had a quite engaging way of talking also.

I know a few good speakers and teachers, one of them, a good friend who is also perhaps one of the smartest people I know. I have heard her speak atshul, give a class during a communal tikkun leilShavuot, and of course, I have talked to her in person many times as well. She has always always kept me engaged from the very beginning to the end and has been very informative. Rabbi Alan Lew has joined the ranks of her in my mind. ;)

In his talk, he said that he would ask questions and then answer them himself. Although at the time I thought, “hmmm, that can sound just a little conceded…., but he is pulling it off well,” in retrospect, after having heard some of the questions that came up, I was quite happy that he kept his talk completely self-contained. It was an extremely good idea.

The talk featured R. Lew’s vision of Judaism as a religion about transformation through telling the two stories of Yaakov (the ladder dream and struggling with an unknown man) and Moshe (the burning bush story). He explained how he arrived at this vision folding in a lot of autobiographical information and how meditation enriched his Jewish religious practice. In my mind (and let me emphasize that point), while the talk was excellent, many of the questions were not. One asked questions that were really, too academic and unfit for the setting. Another asked a question that seemed to be aimed at disproving that Judaismwas in fact a ‘transformative’ religion, like he said. Another, brought up a dichotomy that I happen to dislike a lot and yet have heard over and over again. Hence, while I try to stay a calm person who does not complainalot, I find my tolerance for such statements (to follow shortly) wearing out fast.

That is, “the mind and the body” question. It comes up in statements like this:

1) Music speaks to the soul, while Math can’t.

2) Intellectual pursuits are all right, but they also drain you of spirituality

3) You can only get high on drugs and spirituality

4) What you do for your mind is intellectual, but not psychological

5) Torah study is intellectual, while meditation is spiritual.

Aaaaaarrrrrrrgggggghhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!

I hate hearing statements like this.

And if I were the unfortunate person who had to listen to me rant about this in person, I would hear the word “hate” out of my mouth many more times than I could stand it.

What is with all this false dichotomy? This fake dualism?? These dysfunctional binaries???

Can we get away from it? Please?
And can we perhaps be aware enough of ourselves so that we all can have an experience of mental exhaustion that actually can give you a great sense of euphoria and high from racking your brains?

To be sure, it’s not easy to get to that point. But, it’s certainly there. It’s a shared experience that I wish people would stop ignoring or doubting.

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