Entry Level Meditation

As one who teaches Jewish mystical texts as well as meditation based upon Jewish sources, I have to field some good questions from my students.  For example, “what am I supposed to feel when I meditate?”  Or, “I’m not feeling anything, what am I doing wrong?”  Or, “how do I know if I’m doing this correctly?”  The answers are very much dependent upon the individual, but in general, no one should expect to “feel anything” in the early stages of meditation.  We should just make sure that we are focused properly on the concepts and then the feelings, such as they are, will flow spontaneously.  It does not happen overnight.  Only with much practice and study do we become proficient enough to experience a little bit of love and fear of God during our meditation.  Moreover, it is a mistake to focus on what we are “feeling.”  Our goal should be to become as butel, or “nullified” to God as possible, and one who is nullified is not aware of his own feelings.  In fact, he is not aware of himself at all.  He only knows that he is not a worthy “vessel” for Godly illumination and therefore he focuses upon the techniques of improving himself and understanding Godly concepts as well as possible.  The rest will follow on its own.

Nevertheless, there is one “technique,” if it can be called that, which allows us to directly perceive the source.  In Chasidic literature, it is called, “gazing upon the glory of the King.”  The experienced meditator will occasionally find that he does not need to meditate in the morning, because on that particular occasion, he is directly in touch with something beyond himself.  In such a situation, he should not “fight it,” by forcing himself to meditate upon intellectual concepts of Godliness.  Rather, he should sit back and enjoy the gift that God has given him from above, and “gaze upon the glory of the King,” – that is, follow the experience to wherever it takes him.  At that point, it is possible that active intellectual meditation would get in the way of, rather than facilitate, his flow of divine emotion.  Nevertheless, for most of us, this kind of Godly epiphany is a rare occurrence.  On the vast majority of occasions, we will need to work hard and focus for long minutes in order to well understand and internalize Godly concepts that form the basis of our meditation.

There are some who ask, “Rabbi, what are you talking about?  I have no time for meditation, no time for thinking about spiritual concepts, and I’m lucky to get to synagogue, put on my tefillin, mumble a few words, and leave in time for work.”  Without doubt, such people are to be respected and encouraged, for they are honorably fulfilling their obligations and raising wonderful families.  Still, there is a halacha (Jewish law) to take into consideration, requiring us to “think about the greatness of God and the lowliness of man” before praying.  But, for others, the problem is that they are just plain skeptical, and they don’t think that us mortals can get closer to God and actually experience spirituality.  If that’s you, then let me make a suggestion:  Go out to the Israeli desert.  Make sure you arrive to the Judean desert or the Negev or the Sinai desert around 8 in the morning, when virtually nobody is around.  And just sit there and listen.  And listen some more.  And if you don’t hear anything, just wait another five or ten minutes.  The word for desert in Hebrew is midbar, spelt exactly the same as medaber, which means “speak.”  If after a half an hour you don’t hear the desert speaking to you, you may need hearing aids.  The desert is where the Jews heard and saw Godliness, and received the Torah.  It is the place where God first communicated with the Jewish people (individuals such as the forefathers found God in other environments).  It is the source of the Jewish spiritual experience, and it is where we can all return to in order to renew it and rejuvenate (some say re”Jew”venate) our experience.  Of course, there is something more you can do to examine Jewish prayers and meditation – go to our website, at www.jewishspiritualbooks.com  Or check out the latest blog at www.jerusalemconnection.org/weekly   Finally, for a quick rundown on what Chabad in Jerusalem has to offer you, go to www.chabadjerusalem.org  And have a great week!

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