Yesterday was Yom Kippur, and, for me, it was a meaningful day.
Dunreith and I fasted, spending the day in a combination of restful reflection, walking and talking about our ideas about ourselves, our family and our future.
Rabbi Shoni Labowitz’s Miraculous Living: A Guided Journey in Kabbalah Through the Ten Gates of the Tree of Life was part of our conversation.
We read different amounts of the book, which takes the reader from the Gate of Intention, through the gates of wisdom and understanding before moving onto gates of compassion and strength and finishing with gates of success, glory, creativity and nobility.
Labowitz writes in the introduction about her own spiritual journey. Raised in an observant house, she concluded that not agreeing with all that she had been taught meant that she could not fit into the traditional way in which she had grown up.
So she left.
This period of departure ended only when she met a rabbi who later became her husband.
During her period of self-imposed absence, Labowitz became familiar with Eastern religions like Taoism and Buddhism. Her book is an effort to show the common elements in Eastern and Western religious traditions. The temple she and her husband head have the initials T-A-O, in fact! In addition, nearly all the chapters within the 10 sections has epigraphs from the Jewish tradition and an accompanying and matching thought by Buddha, Lao-Tzu, or some other figure.
In her section about intention, for instance, Labowitz talks about the importance of returning to empty, noting that this is a practice that she and others in her office hold each other to when they become stressed. Each of the 10 gates also has a specific meditation which she recommends people perform before reading one of the smaller vignettes.
The influence of the Jewish Renewal movement can also be seen throughout the book, which is peppered with anecdotes from rabbis and thinkers and people Labowitz met in her own life. She writes movingly in one section about doing hospice work and having a profound and memorable connection with a dying woman.
One of the book’s major themes in the later section is to take responsibility for one’s life, even as it is helpful not to be attached to the outcome. Of course, reading books is not the same as living, and she even includes a few quotes in which a rabbi reprimands a novice for living a patchwork, rather than a whole, life and in which Lao-Tzu is encouraging people not to grasp for truth. She also has clear thinking about the limits of searching for ego fulfillment and the need at some point to engage in selfless service.
That said, Miraculous Living was a helpful tool on a day of reflection as well as a reminder of how to stay reflective, mindful and purposeful throughout one’s days and life.