Serialized Blog on Morning Prayers as Meditative Practice

In August-October 2020, the Applied Jewish Spirituality institute in Jerusalem, which offers classes and resources on Judaism and mindfulness, published my 3-part mini-blog called “Setting the Right Intention with Morning Prayers.” The series describes how to set up an individual spiritual practice that combines Jewish morning prayers with mindful techniques. It draws on both traditional Jewish prayers and psalms, and Buddhist texts, as well as my original photos. I’ve been using and modifying this practice for over a year since returning from the summer 2019 study at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

I was motivated to write this blog by an ongoing interest in Judaism and Buddhism, in particularly, Zen. I’d been practicing meditation in the Soto Zen School tradition since the mid 1990s, and in 2016, after nine months of study and preparations at Zen Center Los Angeles, underwent jukai, a lay ordination, with a ZCLA affiliate. Meanwhile, I have remained deeply engaged with the Jewish faith and tradition.

I am touched to see Rabbi Daniel Raphael Silverstein introduce the last post in the October Applied Jewish Spirituality newsletter as follows: “The multi-talented writer and teacher Lane Igoudin recently completed his 3-part series on creating a personal liturgy that combines morning prayers with mindful contemplation. This final installment is especially beautiful and rich with concrete ideas for practice.

I am now working on new pieces that follow up “Setting the Right Intention” with more strategies for incorporating spiritual practices into daily life.

Article in The Forward: This High Holiday Season, We Are in Charge

Delighted with my first publication in a major Jewish newspaper: an opinion piece in The Forward on the challenges of celebrating Jewish High Holidays amidst the unprecedented synagogue and communal space lockdown. These extraordinary times offer an opportunity to create individual sacred spaces to celebrate the end of one Jewish year and the start of another. Our homes have already morphed into surrogate offices, schools, and playgrounds; now they’re about to become miniature synagogues 

Published in New York, The Forward is the oldest, continuously running (since 1897) Jewish news publication in the US, which for decades was the largest Jewish newspaper in the US, and at some point, had a wider circulation than The New York Times. Now entirely online, it has 50,000 subscribers and, according to its website, “more than a million unique visitors each month.”

Against Polarization

Something has changed drastically in the last several years in the political debates in the US: not so much the topics, but the debates themselves. They’ve gotten more virulent, either/or, “wish so-and-so gets sued; put in prison; catches COVID” kind of vitriol. My Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts are bloated with such posts from people standing on the opposite sides of the same issue.

How similar they are in their intolerance. What a sad spectacle it is to watch them demolish one another.

Complex issues today are reduced to a dualistic, either/or interpretation, as if there can only be two sides to any issue. If you believe yourself to be part of a certain camp, you must subscribe to its full agenda. Otherwise, you run the risk of being flogged by your own brethren and excommunicated.

A case in point. A friend of mine shared this Facebook post, which struck me as odd. I don’t see a contradiction. We should teach our kids – and I try to do it too – to be just and compassionate, so they could grow up into ethical, engaged citizens and be proud of the country they’ve built.

To me, it goes deeper as there seems to be a cultural shift underway from liberal inclusivity towards a new sort of tribal, compartmentalized fragmentation. As a product of the 1990s, I believe in tolerance and multiculturalism. My partner and I built our bi-religious, interracial adoptive family from many backgrounds, not excluding or devaluing one of the cultures, but welcoming all of them to create a new and vibrant whole.

And it worked. For decades, I have felt at home in this multicultural America, with friends and neighbors of all races, religions, and sexual orientations.

This inclusive, multicultural vision has been under attack from all sides, with a renewed preference of one over many, however that one is defined and reduced to, and deliberate deafness and blindness towards the others, towards diversity.

I refuse to let go of the inclusive, multicultural vision, however. I find it easier to withdraw from the debate, rather than participate in something that is flawed, incendiary, and ultimately destructive. I don’t avoid politics. I have my beliefs and preferences. I support certain candidates, sign petitions, participate in the protests, but will not engage in vitriol.

We are not becoming stronger, or winning new supporters by screaming louder, or insulting those who disagree with us. We can however, be stronger, if we are willing – actively willing – to engage in coalition building, to be less rigid, to explore the true, multi-dimensional complexity of issues, and to accept that even when we disagree with the others on some issues, we still value them. This discordant, but friendly inclusivity is what I hope to see return.

Setting the Right Intention with Morning Prayers: A Personal Liturgy

This is part 1 of a 3-part post I wrote for the Applied Jewish Spirituality blog about discovering the time and place for daily meditation in morning prayers.

My Hebrew name is Akiva ben Ariel. Akiva comes from Yaakov, ‘the follower’, in Genesis; Ariel being my father’s Hebrew name.

My dharma name is Kyojin, meaning ‘abiding in compassion’. I received it from my Zen teacher during jukai, a 700-year-old lay ordination ceremony, which culminated my years of study of Soto Zen Buddhism.

​These two spiritual names are not at odds. Continue reading…

 

Last Year in Jerusalem

In the summer of 2019, I was studying in an intensive program at the Conservative (Masorti) Yeshiva in Jerusalem. It turned out to be one of the most transformative experiences I’ve ever had. Here’s a brief account of my discoveries from that time.

Last year in Jerusalem… struck by a teaching of Rabbi Kook, explained to us passionately by Yiscah Smith, one of the yeshiva teachers. The Lord, she said, in creating you, has given you a unique spiritual path, and thus it is your religious (!) duty to follow your authentic path, and to remove any obstacles that might obstruct it. At once, my decade-long spiritual wanderings and the deepening faith are united; the exact junction of my life illuminated.

Last year in Jerusalem… hiking the hills in the Valley of the Cross near my home in Rehavia, the air heady with sage and fennel, much like the hills in Los Angeles, but the scent and the terrain somehow familiar to me deep within my bones.

Last year in Jerusalem… led into nigunim, wordless incantations sung acappella as a group, by the young, charismatic nigun teacher Joey Weisenberg. Our voices rise and fall, merge and separate, and after losing the count of repetitions (10th? 20th, 30th?), the measured, controlled sense of time falls aside, replaced by the sense of peace and shekhinah, the divine presence, right here in the heart of Jerusalem, which carries me like a cloud.

Last year in Jerusalem… transported 2,000 years back into the times of King Herod with a tour of underground tunnels, as I stand fifty feet below the crowded Old City on an excavated street running alongside the wall of the Temple. The street is narrow: I can physically touch the Temple wall with my right hand, and the stone beams of a house across with my left, while my feet are planted on the well-worn but intact cobblestone.
Who were my ancestors that would walk these steps bringing offerings to the Temple?
What offerings am I bringing?

Last year in Jerusalem… discovering the architecture of a Talmud page in a class taught by the charismatic Rabbi Joel Levy, and then battling over the meaning of each word, each phrase, with Sam, my havruta partner, as we join our skills – his in Hebrew and Aramaic, mine in literary analysis. And then the raucous discourse accumulated over centuries begins to take off the page: opinions, stories, fables, barbs flying back and forth and into outer space.

Basic color-coding of a Talmud page:

Mishnah (Palestine, 3rd century CE)
Gemara (Babylonia, 5th century CE)
Comments of Rashi (11th century, France)
Comments of the Tosafists (12th-13th cent., France/Germany)
Comments of R. Nissim ben Jacob (11th century, Tunisia)

Last year in Jerusalem… leading my first mincha (afternoon service) after a couple of weeks of basic training; my voice rough from a lingering cold, cutting the air of our study hall, which doubles as the yeshiva’s daytime synagogue. When after the first couple of lines, others are beginning to join in, I feel elevated because this is happening, the communal prayer – I can do it, I too can make it happen.

Last year in Jerusalem… a Shabbat dinner set on a balcony overlooking a winding, leafy street in Baka, a neighborhood southwest of the Old City. Our prayers, laughter, and the clicking of the wine glasses are echoing the prayers, laughter, and clicking of the wine glasses from the balconies next to ours and across the street. After dinner, our hosts take us for a stroll through the quiet, carless streets of a million-soul city, teens congregating in groups, adults conversing with each other, and I feel thankful for the experience and wistful to be in a place where this could be every Friday night.

Walking from the old City (L) to Baka (R)

Last year in Jerusalem… praying at the egalitarian section of the Wall by the Robinson’s Arch. Here, at sunrises on Wednesdays and at sundowns on Friday nights, away from the crowds and the hubbub of the gendered sections, I experience an intense sense of connection to the divine. With familiarity, my eye picks out one rectangular stone among many, the one with a subtly redder hue, as if beckoning me towards my unique, pre-determined path. If there is a spiritual center of the Universe, this is it, this is the ground zero.

Celebrating Int’l Family Equality Day with a Blog Post on FamilyEquality.org

Proud to share my guest blog post on the Family Equality website as part of the celebration of the International Family Equality Day (IFED 2020). To me as a gay parent, and a former refugee who has lived in different cultures, this cause – equal rights for LGBT families everywhere – is very dear to my heart.
Family Equality approached me for an essay a couple of months ago, and it has now gone live through its nationwide mailing list, Facebook, and Twitter. Take a look by clicking the photo below. Thank you for your time and sign up to stay in touch.
IFED Blog photo

 

AWP 2020 at the Break of the Pandemic: Article Published by California Writers Club

Just came out in the Spring 2020 issue of the bi-monthly California Writers Club Bulletin: my article “A Writers’ Convention That Almost Didn’t Happen” (excerpted on this site), a firsthand account of the #AWP20 congress that barely made it under the wire of the pandemic.

Every year, thousands of writers travel to the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference, the largest literary convention in North America with an upwards of 10,000 attendees, 700 exhibitors, and 500 programmed events. This year, however, was special. The coronavirus pandemic cast doubt on this giant event until March 2, just two days before its start, when the organizers and the host city of San Antonio, TX, confirmed it was going forward . . .

A venerable California institution, California Writers Club, founded in 1909, is one of the nation’s oldest professional clubs for writers. The Bulletin itself was launched in 1913. With 22 branches throughout the state offering workshops, contests, and conferences, CWC “is dedicated to educating writers of all levels and disciplines in the craft of writing and in the marketing of their work.” Glad to be part of it.

#awp20 #awp2020 #AWPocalypse #CaliforniaWritersClub

AWP 2020: Two Panels and a Reading

Every year, thousands of writers travel to the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference, the largest literary convention in North America with an upwards of 10,000 attendees, 700 exhibitors, and 500 programmed events.

This year, however, was special. The coronavirus pandemic cast doubt on this giant event until March 2, just two days before its start, when the organizers and the host city of San Antonio, TX, confirmed it was going forward.

Despite many attendees’ choosing to stay home and the cancellations of up to a half panels – quickly dubbed on Instagram as #AWPocalypse – #AWP20 was still a vibrant event. Many panels reconstituted themselves with new panelists, while the readings and the Bookfair proceeded as planned.

I spoke on the panel “More Than Me: Memoirists Looking Outward,” which focused on memoir as a tool to spotlight larger social issues like the ethics of science and medicine, drug policy, race, sexuality, and, in my case, family formation and public adoption systems in America today. Our panel’s 200 attendees asked probing questions and stayed on afterwards to discuss the issues raised in our books. The panel was organized by Alia Volz (far right), and included (R-L) Barrie Jean Borich, Samuel Autman, Ming Holden, and me.

20200305_151317-1

The next day, I moderated another panel, called “Nurturing Future Danticats, Nabokovs, and Vuongs: Engaging Multilingual & ESL College Students in Creative Writing.” Counting a last-minute replacement of a non-attending panelist, our panel had four English instructors – Marlys Cervantes, Sharon Romero, Carla Sameth, and me – sharing working strategies on how to destigmatize these students’ voices and tailor writing pedagogies to their needs. Besides presenting the strategies and examples that we brought with us, we fielded some great questions from the audience of, roughly, 30.

20200307_151453 (2)

As a memoirist, I couldn’t miss the panels related to my field, but also some that satisfied my professional interests, such as how to finish a long-term writing project, keep the readers’ interested past the first 70 pages, or navigate the publishing world after a book deal.

89716239_205344207219819_5747481912172085248_n (2)

AWP is also a great place to have your writing heard. Friday, March 6, I read “When the County Is the Parent,” an essay excerpt from my memoir Dispositions, at the group reading of the AWP 2-Year College Creative Writing Caucus off-site. The reaction, just as when I read a portion of it at the memoir panel, was visceral, and I was asked numerous times when the book would finally be out.
This was a most unusual AWP, that barely made under the wire of the pandemic curfew, but still a deeply gratifying experience.

Upcoming Reading in San Antonio, TX, 3/6

Excited to be part of the AWP 2-Year College Creative Writing Caucus, during the AWP 2020 convention next week. A warm group of diverse writers from across the country – some published, some on their way to be published. If you are in San Antonio, please stop by.

Friday, March 6th, 2020, 4-6 PM
San Antonio College, Visual Arts Center (VAC) Room 120
1819 N. Main Ave., San Antonio, TX 78212

#awp20
@LIgoudin