It’s funny how big mediation and mindfulness are right now… Books on the subject can be found in the “New Age” section of most libraries and bookstores, and yet the practice of meditation has been around for thousands of years. Yes, there is some irony in that!
If you are like me, you thought that meditation was the invention of Buddhists, and while it is a big part of their practice, it is in fact, as many things are, steeped in Judaism.
The Prophets would go off, sit in silence, and fully clear their minds in order to receive their prophecies and revelations. Kabbalah talks extensively about the power of the mind and mindfulness.
But what do these terms really mean?
According to Yoga International: “Meditation is a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state. It is the means for fathoming all the levels of ourselves and finally experiencing the center of consciousness within.”
They go on to say that: “Meditation requires an inner state that is still and one-pointed so that the mind becomes silent. When the mind is silent and no longer distracts you, meditation deepens.”
This is one of the clearest definitions for me. But how one gets to this state is open to many different techniques, and how one quiets the mind is a challenge for all. Like prayer, some days are easy and deep and meaningful, and some days are a struggle… but the key is to PRACTICE and do it DAILY! The benefits are powerful and easily noticeable.
While I am fully aware that Aryeh Kaplan and others have written about Jewish meditation specifically, and I have attained this state during prayers, I still seem to keep the two separate. One can easily find ways to meditate on and into Jewish prayers and Hebrew words… one can match the power of the word and sound Ohm in Judaism, by finding something that literally and metaphorically resonates in the chest and heart and soul. Search for things written by Kaplan, or Tzvi Freeman and you will find a wealth of information on Jewish meditation.
I am currently doing Oprah & Deepak’s 21-Day Meditation Experience, which just started up again yesterday. I find it so powerful and beneficial. And yet, there is a slight conflict.
Upon arising, we are supposed to say the Modeh Ani, a prayer thanking Hashem for returning our souls after sleep (an almost death state) and giving us another chance at living our lives to their fullest. I do this daily now, which is a big thing for me. No issue there.
But then we move into our morning prayers, by ourselves, if we are not able to get to Shul.
Now, most people will tell you that the best time to meditate is upon waking… so what should come first? The chicken or the egg? Meditation or Jewish prayers? I choose to not look at them as separate… as one being Jewish and the other not. After all, if everything was created by Hashem, then finding holiness and connection in both is only a good thing. For me, it depends on what will be most beneficial. Sometimes I need to get to that deeper state to make my prayers more meaningful, and sometimes I need to try to find that deeper state IN my prayers, that will make the mediation more powerful.
Not be cheesy or “New Agey”, but sometimes I just go with the flow… go with whatever will get me to that better place… that better state of mind. The goal is always the same, it’s just the order that may change.
According to Psychology Today: “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.”
What got me wrapping Tefillin, to be honest, even more than the Mitzvah itself, was when a few guys from my Israel trip explained how it was an opportunity to bring the head and heart… mind and body, literally together… MINDFULNESS! That practical element made so much sense to me. I mean, who would not want to start their day bun unifying themselves… bringing their head and heart in alignment???
The goal is to live a meaningful and fulfilled life, and as long as I do both every day… meditate and pray… I know I am getting closer to that. So what comes first? I think it should be whatever works for you… whatever will provide the most benefit… and whatever will bring you closer to Hashem. After all, the goal of all it is to CONNECT!