The warmth and love we received

By Zach Friedman

My grandmother has 12 grandchildren.  Over the years, she knit each one of us a blanket. Each blanket is a pattern of multiple colors and took weeks or months to make. 

Today, each blanket lives in a different state across the country in the bed of each grandchild. 

Each blanket is a reminder of the warmth and love of my grandmother. As my grandmother aged, the quality of each blanket she knit gradually grew worse. My blanket was one of the last ones she made. It is far from a perfect blanket, but nonetheless, I love this blanket very much.

Grandmother's hand knitting pink stitches
Grandmother sat knitting

My grandmother was born in the 1940s and was raised in a traditional conservative Jewish family. 

She met my grandfather when she was 20. They married and had four kids. Their third child is my Mom. Each of their four kids had 2 to 4 more kids.

Between my Mom’s side of the family and my Dad’s side I have more cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews then I can keep track of. Plus, there are always lots of new babies on the way. 

Always lots of new babies on the way

My grandmother was a fairly quiet person. 

She mostly let her passionate and loud husband (my Grandfather) do the talking. However, occasionally she burst out of her shell with a goofy dance, game, or story. She was a very loving and nurturing person, someone who you felt very comfortable with immediately and would go to if you needed some love. 

I think what she is known for best is a concept in Judaism called Shalom Bayit

Shalom Bayit means “peace in the home” in Hebrew. It means that no matter what drama is happening in your life or in the outside world your number one priority is to create a peaceful home. She did whatever she could to create a peaceful home environment and make others feel safe and loved at her home. 

Grandmother's bread, challah, for the Sabbath
Special times of breaking bread together
Peace in the home

My grandmother saw that to have a peaceful home meant that she needed a tight-knit loving family. For her, the most important thing in life was family. To her, the meaning of life was family. I remember at a family gathering I rested on her lap. All around us cousins were screaming and running, adults were having serious conversations, others were cooking, napping, and doing arts and crafts. The house was very loud and I could feel the floor shake. 

To me it felt like a very chaotic moment but to my Grandmother it was everything she wished for.

I’m not sure why I decided to ask her then, but something in that moment made me ask her what the meaning of life is. We all know that this question is and isn’t really a serious question. It is serious in that it is what we all deeply want to know, but it isn’t so serious in that I think we all know that no answer will satisfy us. 

Maybe I asked it because she was getting older and I wasn’t sure if I would have that much more time to ask her this. When I asked, as the chaos of too big of a family in a small house unfolded, she looked at me with a smile and without hesitation simply said:

 “This”. 

Table of beautiful food
Family time of food and togetherness

How beautiful to think that “this”, family, food, and love, is the meaning of life.

Meditation has been a spiritual support for me

I have been a part of the Cafh community for the past 7 years. I have been exploring meditation for the past 10 years. 

Meditation is a powerful tool to bring mental clarity and calmness into your life. It helps you understand who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, and your desires. 

By understanding yourself you are able to see beyond your needs and wants and connect with other people.

My grandmother did not meditate, but she was a deeply spiritual person.  She connected to herself and others through other means: journaling and prayer, for example, were very important to her. She once wrote in her journal:

“I seem to always recall thinking of G-d as being all over, all around me, guarding me and taking care of me. G-d was everywhere and everything. But G-d was only Good. My parents told me, when I asked about G-d, that he would be with me always.”

Grandmother's basket of knitting wool
Knitting for loved ones

Perhaps this is what it means to live in the divine Presence. 

To lift one’s thoughts in a way that you only see goodness in the world.  And then spreading that goodness into your home through bringing peace to one’s home.  After that, goodness to your community by loving the people around you.

That is what spiritual life is all about.

My Grandma inspired her kids and her kids’ kids to live spiritual lives. She inspired us all to value family, prioritize peace in the home, and be confident in the good of the world and the divine. 

All of our grandmothers do this. They come from a place that may be quite different from where we came from but nonetheless inspire us. Sometimes they inspire us with their joy. Other times they inspire us with their suffering.  Sometimes they inspire us by telling us about a time when they thought they had it all figured out and then realized that they hadn’t. And sometimes they inspire us with stories about how they actually did figure something out. 

Our grandmothers are a part of us today. It does not matter if they are here or if they have passed away. They are here in the wisdom they’ve passed on, here in the tasty recipes we’ve saved for generations, here in the friendships of siblings and cousins, and for me, here in my bed as a blanket keeping me warm and safe.

To always remember our grandparents

It is important that we don’t forget them.

That we don’t forget any of our ancestors.

That we remember we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.  And to cherish it forever.

Grandmother sat knitting
Watercolor drawing of grandmother knitting and children playing
Under my grandmother’s blanket: Artwork by Zach Friedman 

The following poem by Patricia Colleran was inspired by a beautiful image

 used in a guided meditation by Zach Friedman:

Grandmother’s Blanket

Grandmother sat

        knitting

and knitting and knitting

The blanket grew

        with colors

        and patterns

        splendid

        and

beautiful.

It grew so long

that children

        gathered beneath it

        They were happy

        there

        They were playing

        there

        It was us, he said softly.

He, the meditator,

        And we were small once again,

He continued.

Grandchildren….

Playing and laughing,

Playing and laughing.

The children were happy.

Safe.

Loved

        beneath their grandmother’s blanket.

His quiet and mellow voice

Repeated the beautiful image.

I became one with the poem.

One with the meditation,

        and then the blanket grew

        in my own mind’s eye.

A colorful, beautiful blanket grew

and covered children from many lands

Israel

        Lebanon

                 Egypt

        all the Middle East

Asia, Africa, Australia, the Americas

Italy

        Spain, France, Poland

        all of Europe

Stopping to shelter

The children of Ukraine

The world of children everywhere….

The blanket protected them.

The children felt safe.

The children laughed.

They played.

They delighted together

        as one

under our grandmother’s

        exquisite

        beautiful

        bountiful

        blanket.

 Dedicated to all grandmothers everywhere
Children running happily through the grass
The joy of being together

Notes on the Imaginative Picture as a tool in meditation

Imagination is a powerful tool at our disposal, and one that we can put to good use in a meditation practice. 

By carefully choosing images, either from our personal experiences, from nature, from science or even from outer space, we can learn to cultivate the ability to feel certain expansive sensations.

We can even choose abstract images, not bound by nature, that can open our imagination. 

For example:

My soul is flying in the expanse of consciousness, free and unhindered, present now and for all time.

And it is important to focus on expansive sensations that help us expand our consciousness, that enable us to understand life experiences and live life better.  In other words, sensations that are good for us, that enable us to unfold.

Imagination in meditation

Seven themes of meditation are often taught to beginners, each with a symbolic meaning, and each with a special effect.  That is, each produces a certain sensation, that we may or may not be used to feeling in everyday life.

Today, let’s take a look at one of these themes of meditation, this one called The Golden Temple.  It generates in the meditator a sensation of consolation.

Consolation is a feeling that we may not have a lot of experience with in daily life, yet we might, without knowing it, wish we could feel consoled.

Who hasn’t, after all, yearned to feel better after a difficult or painful situation?

Learning how to feel consolation

We all suffer from time to time.  There are times of sadness, disappointment, grief, regret. Personal experiences can lead to suffering, and we also can suffer because we see what others have to go through.

Learning how to feel consoled can help us heal, move on, and most importantly, expand our capacity to love and respond better to the needs we see around us.

Sometimes consolation is represented by an image of a golden temple:  soft golden light, quiet healing, safety and security.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to go and sit for a while in a beautiful golden temple?  To travel to Asia, perhaps, and spend some time in such a gloriously peaceful place?

Golden Temple reflected in water
Golden Temple, India

Even if we cannot travel, we can create a beneficial experience using an imaginary image, that we hold in our mind’s eye, during a meditation practice.

Recent studies in brain waves

It is interesting to note that certain recent studies in brain activity have shown that the brain actually treats an imaginative image in the same way a real image would affect us.  For example, walking in a cool, green and beautiful forest produces brain waves that refer to peace, tranquility, and calmness.

At the same time, imagining a beautiful cool and green forest produces the very same response in our brains as the physical experience does.

That’s amazing!

That is how possible it is to generate desired inner states through the use of powerful imaginative pictures.

Let’s think of some images that could bring about the sensation of “consolation”.

A beautiful forest with rising sun
Quiet forest path, bringing to us a feeling of peace and consolation
I imagine:

Walking in cool, green forest, carpeted by soft moss.

Sitting after a long journey in a quiet and empty golden temple, bathed in serene golden light.

Perceiving a halo of soft grace surrounding my heart, healing me from past pain.

Laying under a beautiful tree full of yellow leaves, and slowly, ever so slowly, leaves fall and land gently on me and all around me.

I see my grandmother knitting a blanket for me, which grows miraculously and covers all the children with love and protection.

Consolation.

What a beautiful thing.

Meditation: What a new dimension of life it opens for us.

Sitting in peace by a setting sun and the sea
Contemplation and consolation by the sea