“Happy are those who dwell in your house.”
The Talmud (Mishnah Berakhot 5:1 (30b) says that the chasidim rishonim (early pious ones) used to meditate for an hour before prayer so that they might concentrate their thoughts on God.
Please join us for a half hour of meditation before services.
We meet weekly on Shabbat mornings from 9:00 – 9:30 a.m. for silent meditation.
- What is meditation?
- What are meditation practices or forms?
- What is Jewish meditation?
- Knowing God is too big for me. Can Jewish meditation just help me feel happier?
- What is the difference between meditation and prayer?
- What is contemplative torah study?
- Where can I learn more?
What is meditation?
Meditation is mind/heart exercise that strengthens three critical human capacities:
- Attention: the ability to keep the attention focused where we wish for sustained periods of time
- Awareness: the ability to use the focused attention to become keenly aware of the truth of what is actually happening in the present moment
- Connectedness: the ability to love – to feel a deep appreciation for the incredible, interconnectedness of life, and the unique way in which it unfolds in our own life right now
What are meditation practices or forms?
Just as certain muscle exercises are designed to build strength or flexibility or speed, certain mind/heart exercises can be used to build up the capacity for attention, for awareness, and for love/connectedness. Common forms of meditation include chanting, focus on breath, focus on a phrase or “mantra,” focus on bodily experiences and sensations, attention to thoughts and emotions and how they manifest in the body, moving meditation techniques such as yoga or tai chi. In Jewish practice, saying brachot (blessings) before engaging in daily activities such as eating can be a powerful meditative practice. Different forms suit different people at different times. It is helpful to begin with a form that gives you some sense of delight and ease.
What is Jewish meditation?
At a superficial level, Jewish meditation uses the same techniques as other meditation traditions (attention, awareness, devotion or love), but in a Jewish context. Chanting is done using phrases from psalms or Torah, focus is placed not just on breath but on ruach (the spirit of God), meditation times are linked to the Jewish sense of time (Shabbat, the daily prayer times), visualization is focused on the four letter name of God, instruction and guidance is found in passages from Torah and Talmud and so on.
On a more profound level, what makes meditation Jewish is that the aim is to understand, to fully hear, and to live the truth of the Shma – that God is One. This can be a very complex aim for those of us who struggle with the concept of God as a separate power, a noun. Yet as we focus attention, cultivate awareness, and begin experiencing rich waves of love, oneness, connectedness, beauty and miraculousness, our inherited teachings about Godliness begin to reveal new meanings to us.
Knowing God is too big for me. Can Jewish meditation just help me feel happier?
Yes. Try it and see.
Right now, pick a phrase from prayers or psalms that draws you in whenever you hear it. Ideally, pick one that has a melody that you know, although that is not necessary. If nothing comes to mind, pick one of these:
- Teach me to treasure each day.
- The soul you have planted in me is pure.
- My cup overflows.
- Happy are those that dwell in your house.
Now say or sing this phrase to yourself for a minute or two. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to this phrase that you love. If your mind objects “but this isn’t true” e.g. you don’t feel pure, or your cup isn’t overflowing with blessings just now, just respond from your heart that this IS your true intention, this is the truth of what you yearn for. When you are done, notice the state of your breath, your body, your emotions. If this gave you a little bit of ease or of joy or a little respite from worry, then it might be a promising exercise for you. Repeat throughout the day – three times a day would be a good way to start– to train your mind toward a happier, more contented habit. This is the beginning of a Jewish meditation practice. As Hillel said, “now go and study.”
What is the difference between meditation and prayer?
This can be a challenging question. We must first ask what is meditation and what is prayer. Depending on our definitions of these two ideas and practices there can be a great deal or very little difference between meditation and prayer. Think of the relationship between meditation and prayer as a Venn diagram. For example, on the extremes, there may be very little similarity between purely focusing on our breath and reciting the Amidah. On the other hand, if we approach the blessings of the Amidah with awareness of our breath, other bodily sensations, and our mind states, carefully using the traditional words of the prayer or the words of our heart to communicate with a sense of holiness within and around us, then meditation and prayer can be one.
For a more detailed description, see Jewish Meditation, by Aryeh Kaplan (1985), Ch. 11.
What is contemplative torah study?
Contemplative interaction with Torah differs from a primarily intellectual examination of text that most of us are familiar with from Torah discussions and traditional sermons. A contemplative approach includes carefully watching our own emotional, psychological, spiritual, and intellectual responses to both the white fire and the black fire—both what is left out of, and what is written into, the text. The white space in particular can be fertile ground for dreaming, imagining, and feeling. See our blog, Midrash Meditations, for examples and the 2012 Kerem article for a more thorough explanation of the technique.
Kerem Creative Explorations in Judaism. See article “Parashah Meditations” in Issue #13, 2012.
Where can I learn more?
- The Awakened Heart Project for Contemplative Judaism (Rabbi Jeff Roth and other teachers)
- C-DEEP – Center for Devotional, Energy & Ecstatic Practice (Rabbi Shefa Gold)
- Elat Chayyim Center for Jewish Spirituality
- Am Kolel Sanctuary and Retreat Center
- Rabbi David Cooper – Samples of Guided Meditations
Contact Dale Lupu or Richard Gladstein at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to discuss meditation and share tips on how to enter or deepen your practice.