Friday, June 25, 2010

At Wisdom House: Music for Healing and Transition

From June 17-20, more than 100 people attended the Fifth Biennial Conference of The Music for Healing and Transition Program, Inc. at Wisdom House. A sampling of the license plates that dotted the parking lot gives an idea of the span of visitors from the U.S.who attended the conference. The conference theme was "The Heart-Centered Musician: Expanding Horizons." For information about this organization, visit here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wisdom House Staff: Jack of All Trades Bob Belzil

Bob Belzil has served at Wisdom House since 2004. He describes himself as "a Jack of all trades" and this is very true. Bob's previous experience and work on submarines has given him skills to do detailed technical work in confined spaces. At Wisdom House, he has a spacious place of 70 acres in his care and he keeps all operations working smoothly. Bob says, "Wisdom House is a serene and peaceful place to work. The people I work with are very supportive of Wisdom House and each other. There is never a boring day and there's always something different to do. Many times in passing through or working in the chapel, I can actually say a small prayer while working, and get paid to do it! How cool is that!"

Thursday, June 17, 2010

At Wisdom House: Rabbi Rami Shapiro on the Theme of Lovingkindness

Rabbi Rami Shapiro will offer a retreat at Wisdom House on July 9-11, 2010, on the theme of his book, The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness. Some reflections on his book are given here, with the permission of the publisher, Skylight Paths. To sign up for this retreat or or to order a copy of the book, contact Wisdom House at 860-567-3163 or

Rabbi Rami Shapiro's Biography

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning storyteller, poet, and essayist, and director of the Simply Jewish Foundation. He is the author of Minyan: Ten Principles for Living a Life of Integrity (Bell Tower); Hasidic Tales: Annotated and Explained; The Hebrew Prophets: Selections Annotated and Explained; The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature: Selections Annotated and Explained; Ethics of the Sages: Pirke Avot—Annotated and Explained (all SkyLight Paths); and other books.

Book Description

Open your heart and mind and discover—through the sacred art of lovingkindness—the image and likeness of God in yourself and others.

We are all born in the image of God, but living out the likeness of God is a choice. This inspiring, practical guidebook provides you with the tools you need to realize the divinity within yourself, recognize the divinity within others, and act on the obligation to manifest God’s infinite compassion in your own life.

Guided by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, you will explore Judaism’s Thirteen Attributes of Lovingkindness as the framework for cultivating a life of goodness. Shapiro translates these attributes into practices—drawn from the teachings of a variety of faith traditions—that allow you to actualize God’s glory through personal deeds of lovingkindness. You will enrich your own capacity for lovingkindness as you:

• Harvest kindness through compassionate honesty
• Make room in your heart for reality
• Recognize the manifestations of God
• Embrace the paradoxical truth of not-knowing
• Be present in the moment
• Do right by others

With candor, wit, and honesty, Shapiro shows you that by choosing to act out of love rather than fear, with kindness rather than anger, you can transform how you perceive the world and ultimately lead a more complete spiritual life.

Q&A with Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Why did you write this book? Do you consider yourself a master of lovingkindness?
I wrote this book for the same reason I write all of my books—to think things through. Writing is the way I make sense of life and how I live it. If I considered myself a master of lovingkindness there would have been nothing to work through, and this book would never have been written.
I struggle with being kind, just, and compassionate daily. Most days I wake up with the intention to be nothing but loving and kind, but by the time I finish brushing my teeth the first seeds of selfishness are already planted. Then I spend a good part of the day weeding my mind of this emotional kudzu that threatens to chock off my spiritual air supply.

So, no, I don’t consider myself a master of lovingkindness, or anything else for that matter.
I know that the Dalai Lama says his religion is kindness, and that Aldous Huxley's best advice to humanity is that we should be kinder to one another, but I can't help thinking this is too simple.

Is lovingkindness really all that is necessary?
Necessary for what? Enlightenment? Salvation? World peace?

I used to be obsessed with enlightenment. I did all I could to trigger some earth-shattering experience of the presence of God (Absolute Reality) that would change my life forever. After a while I realized that every experience changes my life forever, and I started to focus on other things, like holding open an elevator door for the person racing to catch the car.

And while salvation was never my thing, I’m still a bit obsessed with world peace. Yet no matter how many protest signs I hold, no matter how many rallies I attend, or peace groups I support, humanity continues to slaughter one another, and that makes me angry. And my anger would excuse all kinds of behavior that was anything but peaceful. So I still do what I can, but I focus more on being peaceful myself by being kind toward others.

Your book offers so many wonderful tools for practicing lovingkindness, but I can’t help wondering if only the enlightened can be truly loving and kind. Do you have to be enlightened to achieve what your book talks about?
It is a fantasy to think that enlightened people are naturally good and kind. I know too many gurus, sages, rabbis, pastors, and priests who have had incredible encounters with God, yet treat others with contempt. Unfortunately, the one does not preclude the other. Altered states of consciousness like enlightenment do not of themselves bring about altered traits of behavior like compassion.

It is not that difficult to experience an altered state of consciousness. Nor is it that hard to grasp the philosophical systems of those saints and sages who speak from a fully enlightened perspective. But to know the truth is not the same as to do the good.

What is difficult is putting other people first. What is difficult is not allowing selfishness to determine your behavior. What is difficult is to act with love and kindness when your emotions are raging with anger and frustration.

No, you don’t have to be enlightened to be kind. But you may have to be kind in order to be enlightened.

Your book draws on the teachings and practices of many different religions. Do you ever worry that we water down religion when we don't focus on just one faith?
We water down religion when we ignore the differences among religions and pretend they are all one. I am not comfortable with people who try to make all religions fit together in one loving chorus of “Kumbaya.” Religions are different and often mutually exclusive. But I am not interested in religion in this book. I am interested in lovingkindness and how to cultivate it. I am not interested in ideas religions may have about love, but in the practices they offer to help us become more loving.

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to practice compassion (metta), or a Jew to make Sabbath. You only have to practice compassion and make Sabbath.

This book is not an attempt to water down religion, but to challenge people to deepen their practice of compassion by adopting proven techniques for doing so from the world's great religions.

If you had to choose one biblical practice to share with the world, what would it be?
Given the title of this book, it is not surprising that I choose “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Note that the Bible does not say, “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Loving your neighbor has nothing do with loving yourself and everything to do with realizing that your neighbor is yourself, that self and other are part of a greater whole I call God.

But there is more to this than that. Because Biblical Hebrew is written without vowels, the Hebrew word for “neighbor” (rayecha) can also be read as rahecha, your evil. The Bible could be saying, Love your evil as your self.

What does that mean?
Until you take responsibility for your own capacity for evil you will project it onto your neighbor, making love impossible. So to "love your neighbor as yourself" you must recognize both your interdependence with all other selves, and your own capacity for evil. Seeing your own evil will allow you to have compassion on others struggling with their inner demons. This awareness never excuses evil, but it does help us deal with it without becoming self-righteous.

If every religion teaches lovingkindness, why are people of faith so often lacking in compassion?
Religion is a product of human beings. As such it reflects the dual nature of humanity: love and fear. When the Bible, for example, tells us to love the stranger (Leviticus 19:33) in one passage and commit ethnic cleansing in another (Deuteronomy 7:2), we can be certain the Bible speaks in two voices reflecting the two-fold nature of its human authors. The Voice of Love leads to justice, peace, and kindness. The Voice of Fear leads to violence, exploitation, and cruelty.

So even as a religion teaches the Way of Love, it also sanctions the Way of Fear. People of faith are free to listen to either voice. Over the past decades, religion, especially the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have fallen under the sway of the Voice of Fear and those whose power comes from it. The people of faith they raise up are too frightened of God and one another to be gracious, gentle, or loving.

What is the one thing that keeps us from practicing the sacred art of lovingkindness?
Fear. Lovingkindness requires courage and trust, two traits that fear makes impossible.
Trust means trusting that the universe is capable of sustaining love. Trust means living without surety, without certainty, without a net; knowing that we can't know the ultimate truth and yet trusting that whatever that truth is it is found in acts of justice, compassion, and humility rather than exploitation, cruelty, and domination.

Since we cannot know that this is so, we have to have the courage to live as if it were so. People who lack the courage to trust are often too afraid to love. They are driven to control what is ultimately uncontrollable: their lives and the lives of others. In their quest for control, they fall into the trap of power seeking and manipulation. They abandon generosity and live in a self-created world of deprivation. They imagine a God who saves some and damns most, who values one strip of land more than another, and one book over all others. Once you fall into the trap of a limited God you fall into the fear-based quest to placate God, and in so doing become more and more limited yourself.

Practicing the sacred art of lovingkindness breaks the illusion of a limited God, ends fear and the violence fear sanctions, and allows you to engage the unknown with humor, grace, and kindness. I can’t imagine devoting ourselves to anything more important than this.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Wall Done

The stone wall at Wisdom House is being repaired and restored through the generous gifts of friends of Wisdom House and a grant from the Seherr-Thoss Foundation of Litchfield. The stone wall has its origins during the "Golden Age of Stone Walls in New England", c. 1775-1825. The restoration of the stone wall is being hand done by stone masons, Jeannie Pedane and Peter Flynn. Each stone was removed and reset so that the original integrity of the wall could be maintained. We at Wisdom House and our guests are most grateful for this restoration.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Wisdom House Roses

Some of the roses in bloom at Wisdom House now carry "beauty ever-ancient,

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wisdom House Piano Receives House Call

Chuck Swanson, piano technician of Torrington, gives Wisdom House Chapel piano a tuning and thorough cleaning

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Recently on

WINSTED – She has a vision. Driftwood, painted canvases, ceramic clay, tongue depressors, plaster, glazed tiles and a myriad of other materials stretching 120 feet long, 48 feet high and 6 feet deep. All those oddments, crafted by more than 10,000 artists from across the country, are what Ellen Griesedieck feels portrays the American worker.

It’s the American Mural Project and it’s been Ellen Griesedieck’s baby for 11 years. When it’s finished, which won’t be for another five to eight years, the mural will fill an entire Winsted warehouse and, Griesedieck, 62, says, will change Connecticut’s Northwest corner. (Click here for complete article.)

About the Mural from Jamie Kleiman on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wisdom House Staff: Maria Belzil, Gardener

With 4 acres of grass and flower beds surrounding the buildings of Wisdom House's 70 acre campus, you can usually find someone weeding, trimming or cutting. Maria Belzil is one of those gardeners who keeps Wisdom House's gardens inviting. While her full time job fills most of her week, we can still find her occasionally among the hedges and flowers. Maria has gardened at Wisdom House since 2006 and says that she "enjoys having the opportunity to enhance nature's surroundings while working in a peaceful environment." We also enjoy finding Maria among the flowers!