• A sharing circle for Kol Hai Members and those considering joining
  • Weekly on Wednesdays at 1 pm ET
  • Facilitated by Rabbi Shir (and friends)
  • RSVP below

Like Mishpocha...

Mishpocha Circles were an essential feature of retreats at the Elat Chayyim Retreat Center, where I started my adventures in Jewish Renewal. Often referred to simply as Mishpocha, the word means “family” in Hebrew. A facilitator once joked that Mishpocha offers “the family you never had... we actually listen.” 

Mishpocha was on every retreat schedule in order to deepen reflection and interpersonal connection. Reb Zalman frequently referred to this kind of practice as “socialized meditation.” This practice has proven to be skillful means for spiritual transformation and development for countless practitioners.

Dibarti/Shamati · דברתי / שמעתי 

The format is simple. A small group of people gathers in a circle in an undisturbed space. Frequently there is a candle and a bell but there is always a box of tissues and a clock. Sharing is not required but everyone is given an opportunity to do so. One person speaks; everyone listens. There is no cross-talk. Because silence is encouraged and Mishpocha offers more spaciousness than ordinary conversation, to indicate when we feel complete we say DEBARTI/דברתי, “I have spoken.” Others in the circle reply SHAMATI/שמעתי, “I have listened.” A bell is rung if the time allotted time for each share elapses. 

Whatever is shared in the circle stays in the circle. If something shared remains strongly with you after the circle closes, you may ask that person “can I bring up something you shared?” But be willing and prepared to hear their “no.” Mishpocha provides a strong container for us to hear what is in our own hearts, knowing we are being listened to, without needing to care-take or equivocate.

When the interns of the Neshamah Residential Community practiced Mishpocha I renamed it IDRA, a term borrowed from the mystical treatise The Zohar meaning "circle" or "gathering." The Sanhedrin, a 71-person council of the wisest sages in the Temple period, were referred to as the IDRA D'AZHARA דאזהרה אידרא, “a circle of enlightenment.” IDRA invites revelation of the profound wisdom each heart has to offer. I prefer IDRA as a less clannish term than Mishpocha — Ram Dass did joke, after all, “if you think you’re enlightened, go visit your parents.”

The Way of Council

My facilitation of these listening circles was significantly deepened on Bearing Witness Retreats with the Zen Peacemakers. Trained by Jared Siede of the Center for Council, I learned a barebones set of guidelines that inform the way I cast and hold most circles:

  1. Listen from the heart — the practice begins with interiority. What’s alive for me right now?
  2. Speak from the heart — not the head. Feelings, sensations, and intuitions live in the present. And as the Kotzker Rebbe taught, “words that come from the heart go to the heart.”
  3. Be Spontaneous. Don’t rehearse your sharing. If you are busy preparing words in advance, you might find it hard to listen from the heart.
  4. Be Lean. Trust your words. We don’t necessarily need the whole back story. Find and share the essence.

IDRA is offered weekly on Wednesdays from 1-2 p.m. ET for Kol Hai members or those considering joining. It is scheduled on the opposite side of the week from Shabbat to anchor our spiritual awareness in the midst of our worldly engagements. You can drop in once or join regularly but please arrive early.

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