A Visit from an Elegant Soul

By Alyssa R. Norwood

I walked slowly into my synagogue for Kol Nidre services. I was supporting my 96-year-old grandmother on one arm and holding the hand of my then two-year-old daughter (the youngest of our three children) with the other. I was flush with the joy of four generations of family, together on the cusp of the spiritual climax of the Jewish calendar, feeling transcendent.

The sanctuary was bathed in white, the color customarily worn on Yom Kippur, symbolic of the purity for which we strive on this Day of Atonement. But at its core, Yom Kippur is about imitating death – not eating, drinking, or otherwise attending to our bodies – as a conduit to powerfully affirming life.

I watched members of our congregation remove all the Torah scrolls from the ark, gently cradling each one. Amidst this moving pageantry, I had a vision of myself holding a baby the following year.

The next month, I found out that I was pregnant, and my husband and I were overjoyed. Each one of our three children has been an abounding source of love and spiritual teaching. Now, we were eager to embrace a new guide.

Soon I was nauseous. I was tired. And when I started to slip into that familiar “poor me” narrative of self-victimization, I would use the mantra, “Breathing in, I get to be pregnant; breathing out, I know it is a privilege.”

I focused less on my body and more on loving the fragile soul within, and it helped a lot – until my first visit to the obstetrician. I looked expectantly at the ultrasound monitor, waiting to experience the wonder of seeing a pulsing bean shape. But I never did. There was no heartbeat.

I was shocked. I was speechless. And then I was crying uncontrollably, letting unrelenting sadness flow out of my utterly broken heart. I got myself and my tear-soaked handkerchief home and I went to a candlelight meditation circle with my husband that evening. We sat in community with our profound feelings of loss.

The days that followed – literally the darkest of the year, as winter solstice approached – my soul exploded with heightened awareness of life’s tenuousness. I was on a crazy, hyper-sensitized trip. Tears of delight and devastation commingled, and my three children were newly miraculous.

On a cold Friday afternoon, right before Chanukah, I slid gingerly into the passenger seat of our Honda Civic for the short ride home from the hospital. In a sterile operating room, a compassionate team of health care professionals had just wrenched from me the physical traces of pregnancy.

For the next several days, the Jewish calendar demanded that I literally illuminate the darkness with the nightly kindling of the Chanukah candles in the window. This placement brings light beyond one’s own home and out into the world.

But what about those to whom the light does not reach? Who remain in darkness? Though Judaism offers thoughtful and compassionate mourning practices, Jewish law does not recognize a miscarriage as death. I felt broken and without a clearly defined spiritual roadmap, though I ultimately found some wonderful resources.

The broader point is that loss lies on a continuum. Death of a first-degree relative rightfully activates a robust and immediate, community-wide response. But the Jewish community has an opportunity to widen the circle of circumstances in which it acknowledges loss. Miscarriage, infertility, mental illness, and innumerable other stigmatizing, personal calamities can isolate mourners at the very moment when community support is most called for.

The months following my dilation and curettage revealed my body’s unwillingness to let go. More bleeding, sometimes violently. More ultrasounds. More blood tests. And ultimately, more surgery, shortly before Purim.

In “Be Still and Get Going: A Jewish Meditation Practice for Real Life,” Rabbi Alan Lew writes that these shattering moments of life can crush and embitter us – or bring us to a place of spiritual breakthrough where we can encounter God anew. The Torah is replete with examples: Jacob’s nighttime wrestling match with an unnamed adversary before personal transformation and reconciliation with his brother Esau; Moses’s fleeing from Egypt to escape persecution for the murder of an Egyptian task master before encountering God, and then returning to lead the exodus; and the Israelites’ enslavement before entering the covenant at Mt. Sinai.

The spiritual discipline of Judaism – or any faith practices – is one of using life’s challenges to transform pain into love, to touch divinity. The resulting freedom in this transformation is what Passover is really all about: our own personal exodus.

A precious life was whisked away after choosing me for only a fleeting visit. But, in the words of the Rabbi Reba Carmel, “a tiny bit of your elegant soul draped a veil around my heart.” In that lies abundant gratitude – and redemption.

Alyssa Norwood, attorney and program developer of Sustainable CT, resides in West Hartford with her husband, Joel, and three children.

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Moving into Stillness: Running as Meditation

by Vanessa Zuisei Goddard 

The practice of running as meditation is not about running. Or rather, it’s not just about running. It’s really an exploration of the power of stillness and movement and the dynamic interplay between the two. It’s about learning to take the clarity and mindfulness of meditation into the various forms of movement that make up our lives.

My premise is simple. I believe it’s more fulfilling to live life awake than asleep. I also believe that anything we can do to help ourselves to be and stay awake is worth doing. Seated meditation is one of the most powerful and effective ways to cultivate that wakefulness. But unfortunately, it’s not enough.

I’ve practiced sitting very still, often for long hours, almost every day for the last 23 years. This has been a good and powerful practice. But I’ve also seen that with a little bit of effort and patience, anyone can learn to be still and calm while sitting alone in a dark, quiet room. The real challenge is to take the same degree of presence, concentration, and insight into everything that we do. That’s why I think of running as a doorway between movement and stillness, between doing and non-doing. It’s one way to learn how to move into stillness and back into activity while remaining both clear and awake. So, you could say that running meditation is a skill that requires that we become so intimate with both stillness and movement that the difference between them disappears. It’s like a top, spinning in perfect balance.

But why running specifically? Quite simply because it’s the form of movement that I know best. I began running seriously when I was 10 years old, and haven’t stopped since. Over the years, my reasons for doing it have changed as my priorities have shifted. I’ve run for exercise, comfort, escape, glory, and identity. Often I’ve loved it, but on occasion I’ve resented it to the point of loathing. I’ve been asleep to it and to my body, and suffered the consequences. I’ve felt the bliss of speed, of a strong, working body, and on occasion, of my self disappearing. Yet from the moment I first started doing meditation I saw the immense potential of running as a form of moving meditation. It’s simple enough that anyone with a pair of running shoes and relative good health can do it. (In my workshops, I’ve taught people of all abilities and ages—the oldest being almost 80 years old.) It helps to keep your mind fresh, your body healthy, your self embodied. Most importantly, it can very poignantly teach you about the very nature of that self.

As I studied this relationship between stillness and movement, I developed various tools to allow my running to become a more mindful practice. I used mantras, visualizations, and a series of practices whose purpose is to help me develop awareness of myself—not just as a physical being, but also an emotional and spiritual one. To me, that is an essential component of awakening: you gain access to the totality of your humanity, so you can benefit yourself and others.

There are many reasons to run, and many more not to. But the most important question really is, am I fully in my life? Am I present, aware, at ease? The world doesn’t need faster runners. Yet it desperately needs people who are clear and awake. And although running alone won’t necessarily transform you into a clearer person, it is an excellent place to start—or continue—your path.

Vanessa Zuisei Goddard is a Dharma Holder and senior lay student in the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism and the Director of Operations of Dharma Communications, Zen Mountain Monastery’s educational and outreach arm. Zuisei has been running for more than 30 years and exploring the relationship between running and meditation for the last 20. She is offering the retreat, Moving Into Stillness: Running as Meditation, May 19–21, 2017. 

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Myth #1: Mindfulness Is a Fad

by Krystn Ledoux

While it may seem that mindfulness is suddenly everywhere, from the New York Times to the “Today Show,” the practice is certainly nothing new. With ancient roots in nearly every great wisdom tradition, people have been practicing mindfulness — or present-moment awareness — for millennia.

The ancient practice of mindfulness entered popular culture through the courageous vision of biomedical scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. In 1979, his work in applying modern medicine and science to the practice of mindfulness led to the development of the foundational eight-week course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

Copper Beech Institute offers both day and evening sessions of the eight-week MBSR course with classes starting several times throughout the year. To learn more about MBSR and view upcoming course dates, visit our website

Krystn Ledoux is the marketing manager for Copper Beech Institute. After a lengthy career in politics and non-profit association management, Krystn has dedicated herself to promoting Copper Beech Institute’s transformational programming in the hope of helping individuals live more joyful, peaceful and healthy lives.

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