In October, Kol ALEPH sat down with Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks of Torah of Awakening to discuss the practice of Integral Kabbalah Meditation.
Give us a brief overview of Torah of Awakening? What’s at the core of your programming?
Torah of Awakening is all about spiritual transformation – also sometimes called spiritual awakening, liberation, or enlightenment. This all means essentially the same thing: waking up from the dream of who we think we are into the deepest level of our being, the boundless field of awareness within which all experience comes and goes.
The core of our programming focuses on the inner vastness that is available to each and everyone of us, a wholeness beyond our egos. This deeper dimension of our own being is not secret or hidden; it is in fact right there for us to experience in the present moment, once you learn how to access it.
With Torah of Awakening, I aim to help awaken this experiential realization in our participants through teachings and practices ranging from simple meditation to more advanced practices, all rooted in the spiritual traditions of Judaism.
What started your personal meditation journey?
I remember being interested in spirituality from a very, very young age…I was kind of a weird kid, particularly interested in books about the occult and witchcraft…I actually would do rituals and try to make things happen with magic. At some point I got the idea from some of these books that the real magic was not manipulating the universe in some way or making something magical happen externally; the real magic was changing consciousness.
As I continued to imbibe [these esoteric texts] I saw references to the “Tree of Life” and Hebrew letters, along with the frequent mention of Kabbalah. Eventually I came to explore this esoteric side of Judaism, which enriched [what I learned from] my orthodox aunt and uncle and cousins, whose home I would go to for Shabbat and Pesach. My interest here was really driven by consciousness and the question of how we can connect with what the religious traditions call the “holy” or “sacred” in an experiential way.
The first time I really started to meditate was when a colleague of my father recommended Transcendental Meditation (TM)…My father got into it and paid for the whole family to learn TM. That was the first regular practice of meditation I had. I was only twelve years old…Over the next few years I gradually dropped the chanting of the Sanskrit words and started experimenting with Jewish meditative practices, which I began to learn through the Aryeh Kaplan books. My personal meditation practice wasn’t totally consistent at first, but eventually it became an essential part of my daily routine, and began to bear real fruit in my late twenties. At that point, I came to realize that the essence of meditation was shifting from the ordinary, ego sense of self, into the vast field of awareness that is always at the root of our experience, but which we tend to ignore and take for granted.
Can you tell us a bit more about what you consider to be the Jewish path towards spiritual awakening?
There are many traditions and teachers that can help you awaken, but a path of awakening through the Jewish lineage is fairly rare. That’s why I started Torah of Awakening – to fulfill this need. For most American Jews today, Judaism is more about duty to your community than awakening consciousness. It also tends to be about relating to God as a separate entity that you believe in (or don’t believe in), rather than understanding that the word “God” points to something in our own experience. In addition, unlike other forms of religion that are more dogmatic, even the most orthodox forms of Judaism encourage debate and thinking. This is a wonderful thing, but it tends to place Judaism squarely in the realm of the mind and thought.
Because of these things, most people don’t associate spiritual awakening– which entails going beyond the thinking mind– with Judaism. And yet, the journey of awakening has always been present within Judaism. For example, we can see it metaphorically in the journey of the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt. The word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, comes from the root which means narrow, or constricted – probably because Egypt is geographically narrow, constructed along the Nile river. But according to Hasidic teaching, this hints that “freedom from Egypt” means freedom from a constricted, narrow sense of self, or ego.
And yet, Judaism is rarely taught [this] way…Often these spiritual ideas have become severed from their root and overly intellectualized, without realizing that they have an experiential basis.
My hope is that participants will find the teachings and practices of Torah of Awakening to be useful guides for exploring the spiritual dimension of Judaism is not only important: it’s the root and point of the whole thing.
Tell us about the member experience at Torah of Awakening.
All members can gather Sunday through Thursday on both Zoom for learning and practice. [Learn more HERE.] There is also an upper level group called Mastering Presence which meets twice per week on Zoom for more interactive learning and practice sessions based on the Hebrew Letters and Ten Sefirot of the “Tree of Life,” as well as a stream of different online classes, workshops and live retreats. [Learn more HERE.]
You can learn and practice Integral Kabbalah Meditation by joining Torah of Awakening, free for the first month, HERE.
Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks is a Jewish spiritual teacher and musician. He has been teaching the practice of Presence (meditation, mindfulness) and Judaism since 2006, and founded Torah of Awakening in 2016. He is the author of Kabbalah for Beginners, published by Rockridge Press, and Integral Jewish Meditation – Three Portals of Presence for Spiritual Awakening.
Reb Brian Yosef received s’miha (ordination) as Minister of Sacred Music (Reb Yosef Briah Zohar, Menatzeiakh, Ba’al Tefilah) from Reb Zalman z”l (2012), Spiritual Teacher and Awakener of Souls (Morei Rukhani uM’oreir N’shamot) from Shaykh Ibrahim Baba Farajaje (may his secret be sanctified) and Rabbi SaraLeya Schley (2012), certification as Teacher of Jewish Meditation (Moreh L’hitbodedut) from Dr. Rabbi Avram Davis (2004), and holds a Bachelor in Music from the Eastman School of Music (1991).