Quieting the noise


In this episode, Rabbi Josh Feigelson explores the power of listening. He emphasizes the importance of quieting the noise and distractions of daily life to create space for genuine introspection and connection.

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One of my favorite pieces of writing is a short little poem by the late American poet Mary Oliver. It’s called Praying. It goes like this:

It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.

(Photo: Getty Images)

I love so many things about this poem. I love that Oliver reminds us that prayer isn’t some kind of competition. I love that she reminds us that prayer can happen anywhere. But most of all, I love the ending: “This isn’t a contest, but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.”

I allude to it frequently on this show, but Mary Oliver here says it so beautifully and explicitly: Any kind of mindfulness practice is, first and foremost, about quieting down. Life is so noisy, so full of texts and Snaps and deadlines and laundry and all the rest of just daily living that it can often feel totally overwhelming.

What we aim to do — what we’ve always aimed to do — is slow down and get quiet so that we can listen. “A silence in which another voice may speak.”

What voice is that? And what does that listening feel like?

The voice could be your own. How often have you said to yourself, “I can’t hear myself think?” How often do you feel like you can’t hear the voice of your own neshama, your own soul? If you feel that way — and I know I do far too often — then the other voice in the poem might be your own.

It could also be a deeper voice than that — the voice of the universe/the unnameable/the Divine. Perhaps when we truly hear our own voices deep inside, that’s the voice we hear. Or maybe it’s the voice that’s speaking through that still small voice inside us? (That’s what makes this a great poem — it’s open to so many rich interpretations.)

(Photo: Getty Images)

As I mentioned last week, we’re in the midst of a seven-week journey of introspection, from the lowest point on the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av, toward the renewal of Rosh Hashanah and the fall holidays.

Tisha B’Av marks a day of profound sadness and brokenness, when we touch the deepest feelings of loss, when our world comes unmoored. Coming out of it, the first thing we encounter is a special Shabbat, called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of comfort — the thing anyone needs in the wake of pain. 

This week is the next step on the introspective journey, and our theme is listening, based on the opening words of the portion of the Torah we read this week in synagogue: “If you will listen.” What are we listening for? It could be a lot of things: Sounds of nature. Voices of friends or loved ones. Our own souls. The Divine voice.

My invitation to you this week is to choose an aspect of listening and make a commitment to lean into it a little more deeply. You could try making time each day to go outside and listen to the sounds of the natural world: the birds singing, the wind rustling in the trees, the crickets chirping in the evening.

Or you could make an effort to be more present, to listen more fully, when you’re in conversation this week: to put away your phone, to close the other windows you have open during a Zoom meeting (because let’s be honest — we all do it), to really bring focus and attention to the person you’re listening to.

Or you could try to listen for your own voice. You could make a few minutes each day for meditation or prayer, quieting your mind, creating a silence in which another voice may speak. You could do any or all of these, or something else. But the point is to focus on listening more deeply.

Why? Because through our listening we can start to get clear — on what’s really true, on what’s really important, on what the universe and our own souls have to say. And that’s the first step on our journey of renewal. Try it out, and I really mean it, write to me, let me know how it goes.

Blessings for that journey. I hope you’ll join us next time.

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