I lead a meditation service on Friday mornings in my congregation, and I have practiced meditation regularly for about nine years. For me, meditation is mostly about noticing the habits of my own mind. By spending a little bit of time regularly in focussed attention on the way my mind works, I find that I am better acquainted with its tricks and pitfalls in everyday situations.
When I teach and lead meditation, I try to emphasize how meditation works subtle changes on people, not big transformations. But there are times when that subtle change is all that is needed to help a person make better choices and become happier.
Meditation, for example, can help train a person to notice the way the anxious mind tends to run around in circles—thinking the same thought over and over again. When a person is able to recognize that pattern, he or she can say within, "Huh. I must be really anxious right now. Maybe I ought to take a few deep breaths and deal with this situation in a different way." It may not be much, but it helps.
I do not need to add to what others already have said about meditation's place in Judaism. When I was a kid in the 1970s, people thought that meditation was something that belonged to Eastern religions—Buddhism and Hinduism, but not Judaism. Nowadays, most knowledgable Jews recognize that meditation has been part of the Jewish vocabulary of spiritual practices since the time of the ancient rabbis.
Still, I think there is plenty of room to make the average "Jews in the pews" more aware of meditation as a Jewish practice. In addition to the weekly meditation service I lead, I also introduce some meditation practices into the congregation's regular worship. Here are a few meditative moments I include in the services I lead:
1) Before the Chatzi Kaddish. The Chatzi Kaddish serves as a transition marker in Jewish liturgy. We recite it on Friday nights to mark the transition from Kabbalat Shabbat (the service for welcoming Shabbat) into Ma'ariv (the evening service). In the morning service, it takes us from the spiritual warm-up of P'sukei D'Zimra into the Bar'chu, the call to prayer. I use the transition as a moment to ask people to pay attention within. "Before we begin the Chatzi Kaddish," I say, "just take a moment to notice how you are feeling right now. How has the experience of praying in this community changed you? How do you feel differently in your body now from the way you felt when you first entered this room? Before the Chatzi Kaddish, we take a moment in silence to notice."
2) During the Silent Amidah. I emphasize how the Amidah (also called the T'filah, or the Sh'moneh Esrei) is our moment for being with God. Other blessings in the service talk about God, but the Amidah is the pre-eminent prayer in which we talk to God. I suggest to congregants that they use the silent Amidah as an opportunity to find their own way to God, either with the traditional words of the liturgy, with the words of their own hearts, or in sacred silence. I want to encourage people to make the silent Amidah a time for focussing deeply on their personal spiritual needs.
3) Niggunim. Meditation does not have to be silent. Singing the wordless melody of a niggun is a meditative experience that can transport a person out of the bind of self-conscious, analytical thinking. Entering a niggun, especially as part of a singing community, allows each person to slow the mind down and experience prayer as a moment of joyful connection. Blending your voice into the voices of a congregation in a niggun is a way of joining something larger than yourself.
What are the meditative moments in prayer that do the most for you? How do you bring meditation into your Jewish spiritual life?
Other Posts on This Topic: