Ancient wisdom optimized for the digital age

Has the Digital Age really improved our relationships?

April 3, 2015 08:24
Cyber hackers [illustrative]

Cyber hackers [illustrative]. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The scene could not be any stranger: 45 hi-tech executives, business elites, movers, shakers and would-be gurus gather around a candlelit table in an exclusive underground venue in San Francisco’s Mission District. Two towering Chinese warrior statues, a vintage school bus, and regal stage curtains adorn the decor of an adjourning room.

One guest founded a well-known venture capital firm, another founded one of Australia’s leading digital advertising agencies. Yet another boasted the eccentric title “Global Ambassador for Burning Man.” The table was stocked with an unending supply of wine bottles and sushi trays, sourced from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s sustainable fishery – to be sure.

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Such gatherings are rather commonplace in that strange social confluence known as the Bay Area. What made this gathering rather extraordinary, however, was the person presiding at the head of the table, setting the pace for the evening’s proceedings: a hassidic Jew – adorned in a black top hat and a long coat, peyos swinging in full force as he chanted the blessing: “Baruch ata Adonai, mkadeish hashabbat. (Blessed are you, O Lord, who sanctifies the Sabbath).”

The audience responded with a resounding “amen.”

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As fate would have it, I was that hassid presiding over that unforgettable Shabbat meal last month in San Francisco. All of the attendees, myself included, were attending a conference called Wisdom 2.0. Regarded as the flagship event of the burgeoning mindfulness movement, Wisdom 2.0 gathers the world’s top hi-tech and spiritual leaders to answer one question: “How do we live with more wisdom, awareness and compassion in the Digital Age.”

Significantly, it’s not merely the eccentric Silicon Valley-type executives filling the adult wonderland campuses of Google, Facebook and LinkedIn who are featured at this exclusive 2,500-person conference. You can attend a talk from Bill Ford, CEO of Ford Motors, as he is interviewed by legendary Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield. Or from sports psychologist Mike Geravis, describing his experience teaching mindfulness to the Seattle Seahawks NFL football team.

Or from Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, whose recent book, Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit, paved the way for a million dollar grant to bring “relaxation training” into Ohio elementary schools.

Wisdom 2.0 and the larger mindfulness movement reflect transformative changes taking place in our society. In many instances, the Digital Age has markedly improved our quality of life. In fact, as a Torah observant Jew who twice daily proclaims G-d’s unity through my recitation of the “Shma,” I cannot help but marvel at how unified our world has become.

At least once a week, my parents join in as bath time commences for our 18-month-old daughter; they live 12,000 kilometers away in Tucson, Arizona.

From the agrarian comfort of our 100-family moshav in the Judean Hills, I access the prolific corpus of human knowledge stored in the digital archives of the world’s top universities. Incredible, isn’t it? How time and space have condensed in this brave new technological world of ours. The world is certainly coming closer and closer together.

Or is it? Picture the following scenario: Eight old friends finally carve time out of their busy schedules to reunite at a chic restaurant. And there they are, all seated around the table staring blankly out into the neon space emanating from their respective palms. Or consider the millennial college student: An entire world of news headlines at her fingertips, yet she cannot remember the last time she took the time to read a full article.

Has the Digital Age really improved our relationships? Has it enhanced our capacity as thinkers? In my recent speaking tour of British and American universities, I asked these questions to room after room full of digitally native college students. To my surprise, the answer to both of these questions was overwhelmingly “No.”

Nonetheless, our society is catching on. The popularity of TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks has demonstrated to us that “ideas are the currency of the 21st century.” More and more people are recognizing the need to access practical wisdom tools to preserve our quality of life. The colossal enterprises of the Digital Age understand this the most. That’s why Facebook HQ hosted a roundtable with a senior member of the Tibetan Buddhist clergy in order to help create “a climate of greater empathy and respect online.” That’s why Google has a 20-hour “Search Inside Yourself” course that it has put thousands of its employees through. That’s why the Digital Detox craze has been trending so wildly in Silicon Valley and beyond, having been featured in the world’s most prominent literary, technology and business publications.

In this growing global movement toward greater connection, however, the remaining elephant in the room is: Well, what about the Jews? Never mind that Israel has evolved into one of the world’s top incubators for hi-tech innovation, or that an uncanny number of Silicon Valley’s top founders and CEOs are Jewish, or that an A-list of the world’s preeminent mindfulness teachers includes the names Goleman, Kabat-Zinn, Saltzburg, Goldstein and Siegel.

What about the indigenous wisdom system of the Jews – the Torah? Does it have anything to say about thriving in the Digital Age? To me, the answer is as clear as our very mission statement as a people. Jews are global thought leaders. We have a 4,000- year track record of providing humanity with ideas and actions that enhance life experience. Our post-modern technological era is certainly no exception.

With this in mind, I recently formed the Wisdom Tribe | Ancient Wisdom Optimized For The Digital Age website.

Seeking to blend Israel’s Start-up Nation magic with that immense corpus of ancient wisdom known as the Torah, I set out to bring a high-level Jewish contribution to this important global discourse.

That brings us back to “Wisdom Shabbos” in San Francisco. Attendees of the Wisdom 2.0 conference were invited to “experience the ancient spiritual technology of Shabbos consciousness.” Honoring our ancient tradition, the event was decidedly “device free,” a term made popular by Digital Detox CEO Levi Felix, an old friend of mine who was on hand co-producing Wisdom Shabbos.

I explained to our mindfully inclined guests that “once a week, our tradition advocates that we advance into a state of complete awareness and appreciation of the present moment. Shabbat is dedicated to living in the now. It’s a time to celebrate all we have, and to set aside the unending grind of wanting more. A time dedicated to spending quality time with our loved ones, to making new friends, and to fully experiencing... ourselves.

The crowd got it immediately. I was talking their language, and they loved it.

Shabbat is just one of the Jewish tradition’s practical life tools that enhances life experience in the Digital Age. The goal of Wisdom Tribe is to cull together all these ethical, spiritual, self-development and pedagogical tools and make them accessible to everyone, everywhere.

We seek to accomplish this through producing world-class digital content and facilitating experiential learning opportunities throughout the world. To learn more about our global vision, please visit our crowd funding page [] and consider supporting our campaign.

As everyone in the Jewish world prepares to leave the shackles of our respective Egypts, I hope we will all consider how to best maximize this timeless process to live with deep connection, mindfulness, and engagement in life’s most important things.

Chag sameach, l’chaim!

Yaakov Lehman is chief executive integrator at www.WisdomTribe.Global. He can be reached at Yaakov@WisdomTribe.Global.

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