How to reduce anxiety and worry is among the subjects Rabbi Laibl Wolf plans to discuss during his lecture on “Mindfulness and Jewish Meditation: Living Consciously in the Now” at Chabad Intown’s Intown Jewish Academy on Thursday, Oct. 26.
The lecture is part of a series of Atlanta-area Chabad appearances for Rabbi Wolf, including a class for Cobb Jewish Academy’s “Transform Negative Thoughts and Emotions” series at Chabad of Cobb on Tuesday, Oct. 24, and a lecture about positive thinking at a Milton home for Chabad of North Fulton on Wednesday, Oct. 25.
With a background in law and psychology, Rabbi Wolf uses his training to teach people the importance of positive thinking through Hasidic teachings and Kabbalah. He has traveled across the world and spoken to groups from Buddhist monks to a Fortune 500 convention. The AJT spoke with Rabbi Wolf about his lectures.
AJT: What interested you in becoming a spiritual teacher?
Wolf: I found out early on in my career there were four specific areas that people were gravitating towards. The four areas included health and wellness, personal and time management, relationship enrichment, and spirituality, which encompassed anything from green ecological consideration, the environment and nonanimal testing to anything that had to do with the sensitivity of the planet. These were also the four areas which I noticed a lot of Jewish people were gravitating towards but not in a Jewish context. Nevertheless, I knew from my studies that Jewish spirituality possessed a tremendous amount to offer by way of mastery and began to develop programs which took those four areas and applied Jewish spiritual teachings.
AJT: How has your training in law and psychology influenced your teachings?
Wolf: I am not sure there is a direct correlation; however, I have no doubt that it provided a base from which I learned how to view society and contemporary situations from an academic light and also from the light of those two disciplines. At the same time, however, I also saw the shortcomings within each of them. I saw lawyers going into practice and lose their ideals and sense of truth in lieu of protecting their client, just as I’ve found numerous contrary arguments and attitudes in psychology. From Freudian to non-Freudian and contemporary positive psychology, I recognized early on there wasn’t one true approach. That’s when I decided to jump back into Jewish spiritual teachings and found a match. So I guess they have influenced me, but in an indirect way.
AJT: What are your lectures on mindfulness and Jewish meditation about?
Wolf: If you Google the terms mindfulness and meditation today, you are going to get hundreds of different variations on the theme. I don’t think either of those words mean any one thing, as each of them has different meanings and are often substituted for one another. My point of view from a Jewish spiritual stance on mindfulness, for example, which is the more contemporary trend, is the use of focus-based techniques in order to be truly present in whatever is on one’s mind — that means thoughts, speech and behavior — and to be able to honor the object of that focus. That may be a person from a relationship context or one’s analytical process. In today’s world we have so many competing interests, we tend to have a very small or narrow span of focus, and I think we are losing a lot of richness of life as a consequence. That’s where meditation comes into play. It includes so many weird and wonderful things for people, and it ranges from many different approaches, probably made popular from Indian gurus. However, for me this includes teachings in wisdom for long periods of time, which one takes and focuses on it to the point it becomes internalized within us and becomes an embodiment of one’s behavior and expression.
AJT: What are some challenges people face regarding mindfulness?
Wolf: I think there are two factors. One is mostly background, and the other is more concrete. I think the background factor is insecurity. We are living in a world when we are all plugged into each other politically and economically, and that tends to unsettle us because there are always issues, wars and horrific human behaviors in place, and although we were once distant from it, we are now constantly being assailed by media, which creates a sense of insecurity and tends to produce a negative mind. However, the more direct factor is that we are being raised to have much shorter and focused time spans and expect change quickly, which carries over into our adulthood. Life thus becomes an expectation of constant change and gives us a sense of superficial enjoyment, and, as a consequence of that, true depth of life’s meaning tends to elude most people.
AJT: How can meditation or becoming mindful help people?
Wolf: One has to adopt a philosophy of life that will guide them. Today most people don’t have them and will change as the media, fashion and trends evolve. So one has to be earthed and grounded in Judaism and that we are reincarnated in this world because we are individually unique and have something to offer. We all have to realize our unique gifts and make a contribution. We also have the Torah as a manual, which helps guide us and express that into the world. One also has to train their mind to become much more elastic and capable of seeking out that which is important vs. that which is not and place a greater capacity of spending more focused time on things that are right at hand and in front of us.
AJT: What would you like guests to take away from your classes?
Wolf: I’d like them to take away that the 3,700-year-old Jewish spiritual tradition, the longest span of tradition in the history of civilization, possesses intrinsic value and success through experimentation. So Jewish people would do well to at least look into their own backyard in order to gain life’s wisdoms and adopt a Kabbalah-like posture in everything that they do. I’d also like them to take away that each person in the audience has been brought into being because they have something to offer. There is no such thing as a redundant human being. Everything is perfectly constructed from above to play a significant role, which lends itself self-esteem and self-worth, which is one of the things people in today’s world are often in short supply of. I want them to walk out of the room taking on a posture of leadership and being able to be curious and open enough to discover the Jewish approach and share their gift with the rest of the world.
Who: Rabbi Laibl Wolf
Where: Chabad of Cobb, 4450 Lower Roswell Road, East Cobb
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24
Where: 10945 East Bluff Drive, Milton
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25
Where: Chabad Intown, 928 Ponce de Leon Ave., Poncey-Highland
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26