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Moment of Zen

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Moment of Zen photo

The author captured a moment of Zen on Lake Michigan on a recent morning at daybreak.

Over the summer and now into the fall -- and a brand new Jewish year -- I've been waking up early in the morning a few times a week to make it to the lake to watch the sunrise. Blame insomnia for getting me out of bed, but there's a bright side to rising early.

It's a quiet, still, and present moment, in contrast to the rest of the kinetic, noisy day. I call it my "Moment of Zen," coined by Jon Stewart.

Zen, defined in Urban Dictionary as "a total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind," is exactly what I feel as I sit on the dock looking out at the horizon.

I'll watch the sun dawn over the shimmering water. Each time, I'm struck by the light and beauty of the sky, a palette of oranges, yellows, and reds dancing together, each sunrise breathtaking and different than the one that came before it. It never gets old, something we all can depend on -- literally like clockwork. The chores and work for the upcoming day seem far off as I'm enveloped by the peaceful majesty of the scene. 

It's something we often taken for granted, but it's comforting to know, that in a world with so much uncertainty, we can depend on the sun rising every day. Can you imagine how relieved early cavemen, who were still learning how the world operated, must have felt every time the sun rose for another day?

For me, watching the sunrise is a spiritual experience. On that dock, my belief in God is reaffirmed. There's a prayer we say thanking God for creating the sun, called the Birkat Hachama, the "Blessing of the Sun," and I think about that blessing in that quiet moment at dawn.

All the bad things happening to good people around the world, and the personal stresses of life -- the deadlines, the bad dates, the flood of demands, worries, disappointments, and all the other tsuris -- seem to melt away in that moment. What remain are serenity, light, hope, and peace. It's oddly reassuring to feel so tiny next to the big sky over that huge body of water. Our perspective shifts.

At a recent Shabbat service, the rabbi asked the crowd to search for the things that bring purpose to our lives. That dock feels like an extension of the synagogue's sanctuary. Out there, I'm inspired to think about what will bring meaning to the day ahead, and maybe even longer term. Our faith may be shaken and tested the day before, but every day is a new day with a clean slate, where our faith can renew itself.

Jews subscribe to the concept of free will; in fact, I believe each of us plays a role in shaping our own destiny. At the same time, at certain powerful moments in our lives, I find comfort in knowing, hoping, and keeping faith that some of the choices we make and that which is b'shert (destined), work in harmony. Perhaps some steps along our life's journey--what we're meant to do, who we're meant to meet, and who we're meant to become-are out of our hands, shaped by a force bigger than all of us.

When I watch a sunrise, I think about the things I can create and shape in life but, just as much, I think about the things I can't control. And that's kind of liberating.

So maybe you're not an insomnia-prone early riser. Maybe you relish as many minutes of zzz's as you can get before the alarm clock sounds. No problem. For one thing, there will be another spectacle in the sky later in the day -- called the sunset. Really, we're each in search for our own moments of Zen-and your moments may not include a sunrise or sunset. No two moments of Zen look exactly alike.

So many of our moments -- in contrast to watching a sunrise in solitude -- are less about the time or place, and more about the good people we surround ourselves with, the people we love most. Think back to a Moment of Zen you had recently with people you love. If you're lucky, you can count a lot of those moments in your memory.  

And you know what? They rarely cost a penny.

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