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by Velvel "Wally" Spiegler
I suppose everyone has an underlying desire to experience
the spiritual dimensions of his or her life. I guess that’s one reason
why so many of us pay our membership dues to the synagogue of our
choice, but I also suspect that very few, if any at all, actually ever
reach the spiritual plateaus that Judaism promises.
The Jewish spiritual path is, at best, a rocky road paved
with steep inclines and perilous ravines; it’s a lifetime of devoted
practice and study, which few of us are willing to pursue. But what if,
an effective spiritual program suddenly appeared, laden with hopes for
healing the body, dissolving fear and anger, resolving boredom and
depression, and offering a meaningful life, without years of delving
into esoteric texts and dusty Rabbinic commentary.
The intent of “Jewish Meditation Made Simple” is a route to
Devekut. Devekut is the ultimate goal of Judaism, the Jewish
counterpart to enlightenment; it’s the binding of oneself to God. The
possibility of such ecstasy may sound something like a pipe dream or a
swallow of snake oil. The shortcut to Devekut I’m proposing are brief
three-minute meditations, which you can do anytime—standing on line in
the supermarket, waiting through a traffic jam, pausing for a coffee
break or any other moments of leisure. A few short meditations a day
are just as effective as the prescribed twenty to thirty minutes.
Meditation is without doubt the foremost training for spiritual
development. The difficulty lies in getting started on a regular
schedule for the usual appointed periods of time, and the perseverance
to sustain it. A few Spartan types will endure, the rest will fall
away. Meditation is, as most seasoned meditators would admit, utterly
boring, especially in the beginning stages. What is unrevealed is that
meditation in not merely sitting still with eyes closed, trying to tame
the unruly mind; meditation is a state of being, a way we face the
world every day. That’s why these three-minute retreats are so ideal
for people living busy lives.
Why do we need to meditate? All day long our minds chatter—we’re
busy planning, calculating, reasoning, remembering along with a whole
host of mental activities. We’re all over the place, but not here,
now. We’re always thinking about what happened or what will
happen. That’s the root of all our trouble, the stress, the anxiety,
the anger, and the fear. So meditation teaches us to control our
thoughts by paying attention to one thing at a time, and as a result we
enter the present moment, the antechamber of God, where there is no
time. In that timeless space, where there is no past and no future and
all of our worries cease to exist.
I used to jog several miles a day, but never really enjoyed it
except for the infrequent “runner’s highs” which were few and far
between. I ran for years with the motivation that it was good medicine.
As I grew older, I became less tolerant of the outdoors—running in the
rain, the snow, the heat, the cold, so I joined a health club to
continue running on an indoor track. I quickly found that zooming
around the continuous loops became impossibly monotonous. Then one day
I noticed a glass walled room adjacent to the track in which groups of
about twenty were working out together to music and with an instructor.
They looked like they were having a great time. I wondered if this was
for me. “Nah, I’m too unstructured to show up for scheduled classes”
and I dismissed the idea. Eventually, my preconceived prejudice broke
down and soon I joined in the fun. Now after seven years of step
aerobics, I’m still enjoying each workout.
That’s the way it should be with meditation. It shouldn’t be
boring otherwise you’re not going to do it for very long. Just three
minutes of focusing whenever you have a chance produces results.
Couldn’t we all devote just three minutes at spare intervals, each day,
to become aware of the undisciplined nature of our mind? Three
minutes a day or as many conscious moments that you have the time for,
naturally the more you put in, the more you get out.
Prayer and mitzvot could be considered Jewish meditations, as
well as quiet periods of mindfulness. They are all exercises in
becoming aware of the present moment, the timeless space where we find
God; there are really no differences between them, they’re just
alternate tools for entering the present moment. Actually all of Jewish
tradition centers upon the Shiviti from the biblical verse: "I have set
God always before me" (Psalm 16:8). A three-minute meditation could be
a prayer or a mitzvah. Many of us shudder at the thought of mitzvot. A
mitzvah, contrary to common opinion, is not a good deed like helping an
elderly person to cross the street. A mitzvah is one of God’s
commandments designed to uplift our spiritual awareness.
Here is one three-minute meditation: The next time you sit down
for a meal, take a few moments to quiet yourself then recite the
appropriate blessing before partaking of the food and focus your mind
on the source of this bounty. As you savor the first morsel direct your
mind on how this meal got to your table and how you can put its energy
to the highest good. That should take no more then three minutes.
Gerushin, the meditative act of contemplating a verse of Torah is also
an effective Jewish meditation that can be handled in three minutes.
Simply center yourself, select a meaningful verse and try to memorize
it, so that whenever you have a moment or two to spare, you could
concentrate your entire attention on the text.
Meditation has made an impact on the Jewish scene today. What
becomes clear, as you read through the contemporary books on Jewish
meditation is that much of it is a variation on Buddhist meditations
with a twist of Jewish ideology. I’m not sure if the writers are
former Buddhists, Jewish Buddhists or Jews who once traveled to India
in search of a guru. Either way much of what we call Jewish meditation
today is a hybrid form tinged with Oriental religions, a clear
departure from unbroken Jewish tradition. That’s not to deny the
existence of an authentic Jewish meditation, which is exhibited in
texts like Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s, Kabbalah and Meditation. Rabbi Kaplan
suggests that without a degree of fluency in classical Hebrew,
authentic Jewish meditation, which dates back to the Middle Ages, is
far too complex for the American contemporary mind to grasp. So for
that reason, Jewish Meditation Made Simple is the answer to so many
people’s urgency to practice spirituality day by day, and reap the
harvest of the good life. This
article outlined two suggested
meditations; there are virtually dozens of three-minute Jewish
meditations, which will be featured each month on JewishLink at http://www.jewishealing.com/mini_meditation.html
Check it out now and come back