Discussion Questions and Conversation Starters from the Book “More Fully Alive”

Note:    These questions can be discussed in a study group, a class, a book group, a family conversation at the dinner table, a staff training workshop, on your own with a journal or note-pad, or in a one-on-one hevruta conversation between study partners or friends.


Please respect and honor the unique viewpoints of each participant because these questions are not about “the right answer” but rather are meant to help each individual explore his or her own connection to Jewish ideas about health, resilience, creativity, balance, compassion, and holiness.


Chapter One:   Reconnecting with the Nourishing Breath of Life


What are the moments recently when you felt constricted, pulled in two directions at once, anxious, tense, or “in mitzrayim” and it caused your breathing to be too narrow/shallow or too rapid/rushed?


What does it feel like when you test out the method described in Chapter One of saying silently, “Kol han-shamah, t’hallel Yah, every breath is celebrating the Source of Life,” as you breathe in and out fully and calmly a few times?


What were you taught (or not taught) are the Jewish beliefs about God as the “breath of life” or as an ever-changing Creative Force that is beyond human definition?


When have you felt aligned and in synch with the Creative Flow and when have you felt cut off or out of synch with these subtle energies?


What is your personal belief about how your individual soul (your Neshamah) can connect more fully with the hard-to-describe Source of Life?

Chapter Two:   Opening Your Heart Even When You’re Feeling Impatient


What is a situation in your personal life, your work, or your family situation that tends to spark your impatience, irritation, or defensiveness, or when you start to notice your heart is not fully open?


What is your reaction to the phrases in Chapter Two about “circumcising your heart” or “opening up your heart” with a particular person who requires a lot from you or who sometimes gets on your nerves?


What did you experience when you did the exercise in Chapter Two in which you were in a tense conversation and you breathed calmly and fully while saying to yourself, “Is my heart open right now?”


What are your fears, concerns, or hesitations about being “too open” to someone who has hurt you in the past or who has been pushy or demanding at times?   Is it possible to listen with an open heart but not to get run over by this person?


When has your heart been somewhat closed to your own personal struggles and what would happen if you opened your heart a bit more regarding the challenging moments in your life?

Chapter Three:   Finding a Healthy Balance in Situations That Used to Rattle You


What is a situation in which you leaned too much in the direction of Chesed (lovingkindness, generosity, or flexibility) and it didn’t turn out well?


What is a situation in which you leaned too much in the direction of Gevurah (rigidity, structure, or firmness) and it didn’t turn out well?


What is a situation in your life right now where being “100% nice” or “100% strict” might not be appropriate, so instead what would be a healthy balance (a Tiferet possibility) for finding the right combination of kindness and structure?


Who in your life is the “much too nice” doormat person you don’t want to emulate and who in your life is the “much too rigid” controlling person you don’t want to emulate?   Who is someone in your life who has shown you a few examples of what it means to be balanced and healthy between the extremes of “too nice” or “too rigid”—someone who can say “No” lovingly and who can balance the needs of others with one’s own needs?


What are two examples from your own life when you felt sufficiently balanced (empathic-but-firm, loving-but-strong, structured-but-flexible), and how did you reach those balanced moments?

Chapter Four:   Addressing the Fears and Pressures that Constrict You


What are a couple of fears you once had that you now have moved beyond for the most part?


What are the concerns and hesitations that currently interrupt your thoughts or hold you back from living more fully?


With regard to the phrase “All the world is just a narrow bridge and the main thing is not to fear,” do you prefer the first interpretation from Chapter Four that says, “the main thing is not to fear at all,” or do you prefer the second interpretation discussed in Chapter Four that says, “the main thing is not to be entirely in fear?”


When you think of a challenging situation in your life, what do you experience when you breathe calmly and fully in and out as you focus on the part of yourself that is “not completely afraid?”


What kind of internal and external support will you need in order to go forward successfully with something that currently feels anxiety-producing or complicated?

Chapter Five:   Treating Your Body with Greater Understanding and Care


What do you envision when you say the words, “Refu-aht ha-nefesh, heal or renew my spirit?”


What do you envision when you say the words, “Refu-aht ha-guf, heal or renew my body?”


When you think about your own health challenges or the health challenges of someone you care about, what do you envision as “Refu-ah Sh’lay-ma, restoring this person to wholeness or completeness?”


In what ways have you taken your health or your body’s fragile needs for granted, and what can you do to become a better steward or caretaker for this holy vessel that has been gifted to you?


What are the support systems you already have put together for healing or wholeness in your life (or in the life of someone you care about) and what are the supports you will need to add or improve?

Chapter Six:   Exploring Inner Repair and Outer Repair


What is a personal character trait that you have been working on in the past and that still needs some additional layers of insight and improvement?


What is an aspect of repairing the world that touches you deeply and that you don’t want to forget or ignore?


When you hear the phrase, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it,” what comes to mind as a healthy way to stay involved in your personal growth or your repair of some aspect of the world without burning out?


Recall a time when you began to feel burned out or frustrated trying to change something in your personality traits or in the unfairness of the world around you…and it wasn’t changing too quickly or too easily.  Based on the approach in Chapter Six, what steps would help increase your resilience and your effectiveness in these slow-to-change situations?


What kind of teamwork, partnering, support, resources, creativity, or realistic time frames could help you be more effective and less frustrated in your quest to improve some aspect of yourself or the world around you?

Chapter Seven:   Enjoying Mini-Sabbaticals Each Day and Each Week


What were you taught (or not taught) about the way to be on the Sabbath?


What do you currently enjoy about the Sabbath each week and what would you like to add or subtract from your practice of “Shavvat va-yinafash, restoring your soul” each week?


What are the moments in your weekdays when you could possibly take a five, ten, or twenty minute Mini-Sabbatical to renew your clarity, your creativity, or your sense of well-being?


What tends to block you or distract you from taking quiet moments each day or each week to listen to the deeper needs of your soul?


Recall a time in your life when you truly let go and connected with a non-pressured way of being, and what might be your next opportunity to experience this kind of nourishing at-one-ment again?

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