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Radical Amazement

We are heading into a second lock-down, and it probably feels to most of us as though a long winter lies ahead. Uncertainty is something we all have to deal with. So what are the tools that can see us through?

On Radio 4’s All in the Mind this week, Claudia Hammond looked into some of the best psychological evidence of ways to support our mental health through the coming weeks. Not everything will work for everyone, but something here might work for you.

Daisy Fanthorpe, Associate Professor of Psychobiology & Epidemiology, recommends the following. Creating an album of happy memories, switching away from the negative and focusing on the positive, can be a really helpful mental health strategy. Also, coming up with our own schedules across the day. For example, if we’re wanting to keep up with the latest Covid news, setting aside some time to watch or listen, but not letting ourselves get overly drawn in. Making the most of opportunities to get out while it’s light and the weather is better. Thinking back over the first lock-down and thinking about what made us feel better then, as well as what made us feel worse, and then building the positive things into our routine.

Breathing exercises, yoga and meditation can all be helpful, and there’s no shortage of online opportunities for these. The next HaMakom Jewish Meditation Retreat is coming up in December. You can find the details further down in the weekly email.

What I personally found most interesting is new research from the University of California, San Francisco which suggests that a weekly Awe Walk, where you deliberately look out for things to be amazed by, can boost your emotional well-being. Virginia Sturm from UCSF’s Centre for Psychophysiology and Behaviour who did the research, found that a 15 minute walk just once a week increased positive emotions such as happiness, compassion, gratitude and admiration in the participants during the walk itself, and also on a day-to-day basis. You don’t have to walk in a forest, by the sea or in a place of outstanding beauty. Even in your local neighbourhood or back garden, focusing on the details of a flower or leaf and appreciating them in their details brings the same benefits.

We have a Jewish equivalent of the Awe Walk. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called it Radical Amazement - the capacity to see the miracles of creation with childlike awe and wonder, from a beautiful sunset to blades of grass blowing in the breeze. As found in the Awe Walk research, this helps us feel more connected to the world around us, and part of something larger than ourselves.

This Shabbat we will be appreciating another miracle – the miracle of technology – piloting our very first SWESRS hybrid service with myself, wardens and tech helpers in shul whilst you are at home on zoom or streaming. We have had a run-through, but no-one is quite certain how things will run! So if we suddenly need to re-locate to the shul office and resume on zoom, please be patient, and Thank You in advance for your understanding. Although the timing might seem strange, we’re carrying on with our plans for hybrid services (permitted under the government guidelines) so that when we come out of lock-down in December we will be up- and- running and ready to welcome worshippers to in-person services in the building. It’s nice to have something to look forward to as a community. Lock-downs do pass, and we will see an easing of this second lock-down as we did the first.

Stay Safe and Be Well. Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Lisa