When my husband and I moved to Seattle, I found that in addition to the requisite coffee shop, there was also a yoga studio on every corner.  So, I started taking yoga classes.  The practice of being present and breathing while in an uncomfortable position on the mat was good practice for my life off the mat.  The details may vary but everyone’s life will present challenges. In my case, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and I spent a lot of time with her, while she was in the hospital, then in hospice.

The classes also involved some meditation and chanting and spiritual teaching.  While I found wisdom in this, it felt inauthentic and I wanted to learn what my own spiritual tradition had to offer, rather than embracing a tradition that was foreign to me.  And it turns out that there is much spirituality in our Jewish tradition that speaks to modern seekers.

Through a teacher at my synagogue, I learned of a retreat led by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.  After that retreat,  a number of other participants and I chose to participate in the 18 month Kivvun program which involves 4 retreats, one every 6 months, that alternate between the east and west coasts.

The retreats combined intellectually rigorous text study, meaningful and innovative prayer services, a choice of daily yoga or a contemplative walk, and part of each day spent in silence, which allowed space to be with myself and process the experience.  The faculty are both extremely bright and warm, and remarkably free of ego.  The other participants are interesting and supportive.  The programming is well thought out and well executed, and even the food is good.

In between the retreats I had a weekly call with a chavruta and a monthly call with a faculty member.  Since completing the program,  two members of my cohort and I are continuing a weekly call, studying materials available through the Institute.  I also call in to a weekly “sit” led by a faculty member via zoom.

Now I have more resources to deal with the challenges of my life.  I have a community to support me and practices to utilize.  I am learning to connect heart, mind and body, to be more compassionate to myself and to others, to approach not just prayer and meditation, but also study, writing, eating and my day to day life as spiritual practices.  I have a sense of a divine presence both in myself and others, and the unity behind the diversity of life.  I try to see others as my spiritual teachers, and the events of my life and our world as opportunities for spiritual growth.

For me, this was a further step on a journey that began with the Wexner Heritage Program. And, in a way, it has come full circle, as I attended the recent summit on Civil Discourse.  The purpose of my spiritual work is to be able to create positive change in the world by my actions, which is also the vision of the Wexner Foundation, and one that this practice readies me for.

Get To Know The Author

Wexner Heritage Alum Julie Kohl (Palo Alto 00) was born in NYC and raised in Atlanta, Georgia.   She majored in American Studies at Yale, went to medical school and did her pediatric training at Stanford, and then practiced pediatrics at Kaiser in Mountain View, CA.  As empty nesters, she and her husband moved to Seattle in 2011 where she is focusing on physical, spiritual and emotional well being, including participating in the Kivvun program through the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. Julie is also a participant in our Summit on Civil Discourse.