Meditation from the Heart of Judaism (1997)

Avram Davis

Meditation from the Heart of Judaism presents the thinking of

22 leading Jewish scholars and teachers on meditation and its relation to the Jewish religion.

Introduction – By Avram Davis, Editor

Meditation has been an integral part of Jewish spiritual practice for at least three millennia, but it was always reserved for an elite group rather than being a tool designed for ordinary people and used by ordinary people.

I believe the current revival of Jewish meditation is one of the best opportunities for the spiritual survival of the Jewish people.

Meditation is neither a drug nor hypnosis. Instead, meditation is meant to transform us from a state of ignorance to a state of wisdom, from a state of bondage (be it psychological or personal) to a state of being free.

Meditation is designed to give you direct access to the spiritual.

Rabbi David Cooper – Director of the Heart of Stillness Retreat Center. Boulder, Colorado

The eternal, existential question is, “What are we doing here? What is this all about? Is there purpose or anything beyond what I see in front of me?” Science and technology simply don’t answer the most relevant questions. Science gives us facts and important information but doesn’t speak to our hearts and to our souls. So, there is a natural inclination for people to do what I call contemplative practice, such as taking a walk in the woods or staring at a slow-burning fire. These put us into a different frame of mind, and we realize there is some other kind of reality.

The most common obstacle today to meditation is the environment in which we live. It’s extremely seductive. There’s a lot of information. Television always beckons to us. People usually flip on the radio in their cars. We read newspapers and magazines and books and go to movies.

There’s nothing wrong with this. But when it piles up and we are completely overwhelmed, it all becomes a burden, and the most important part of life – the spiritual – is ignored.

Every spiritual tradition has been built experientially on some kind of personal experience with the Divine. Religious traditions are not built on intellectual revelation. They’re built on something that happens in the Kishkes (gut).  And so I have to assume that any faith – Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism – is based on a personal revelation that profoundly changed someone’s life.  …They are a profound connecting point with the Divine.

Andrea Cohen-Keiner  – Educator and Meditation Teacher

Author: Building Sacred Community

Judaism offers a very good “Travel Guide to Life in the Universe.”

Judaism provides us with a Way.

Much Jewish tradition was received by prophets who had prepared themselves to be sensitive to ruach hakodesh, or “divine inspiration.”

Mindfulness meditation is a precursor to all inner work, including the Four Worlds of Judaism. Mindfulness itself is a universal practice of developing a better capacity to be aware of oneself.

One key conceptual framework for Jewish cosmology and personality theory…is based on the Doctrine of the Four Worlds – which parallels many other world traditions and is the foundation for a good definition of spiritual practice. The structure of humans holds the pattern of the Four Worlds: Inspiration, Thought, Affect and Action.

The most subtle of the four realms is Atzilut, which means “will.” The motivation for the creation of the universe arose as a moment of will in the Divine mind. We cannot say much about this because our limited language and concepts prevent us from describing it well. But since we are created in the Divine image, we can see for ourselves that inspiration, guidance, or will must precede new effort.

The next world is the world of Briyah, or “conceptualization.” At our concrete, physical life, inspiration, and planning are how we begin action and how we create.

Next is Yetzirah, which means “formula’ or “creativity.” In the human arena, this is the emotional realm. The interface between us and God happens here. God manifests Truth, Love, Balance, Permanence, Glory, and Strength – and we reach for them.

The final world is Asiyah, which roughly means “just do it.”

The world of Briyah manifests in our neural system. The mind lets us compare, calculate, recall, infer, and imagine; it also has many capacities which we have yet to fully develop. Briyah may be the most pliable of the three lower worlds. Intuition directed attention, blessing, telepathy, and other skills involve concentrated use of the mind, abilities that most people can develop to some degree. One of the benefits of meditation is being able to better watch and direct what our minds do and how they work.

The fourth realm, which is something like our soul root, is too big to fit into the body. In Hasidic language, the soul wears the “protective suit” called the “body” so it can operate in the harsh environment of Asiyah.

We are as open to the presence of the soul as our level of consciousness allows.

Rabbi Steve Fisdel – The Spiritual Leader of Congregation B’nai Torah in Antioch, California.

He is especially concerned with our ability to connect, through meditation, with the Divine, how this can be done, and the principles involved in so doing.   

The true, primary objective of meditative practice within Jewish tradition is yichud, unification with God. It is very important to remember that the soul is reflection of a divine consciousness within the universe. We are told, specifically in Genesis, that we are made in the image of God. Our souls, therefore, are part of the divine level of created consciousness.

As sentient beings, we are acutely aware of our own uniqueness as individual souls. At the same time, we are aware of our separation from God, which is the basis for that uniqueness. As we struggle in our lives to express ourselves, our awareness of ourselves as individuals leading singular loves often makes us feel alone, disconnected and uncertain.

We experience isolation and fear and long to be reunited with the source of our being. In Jewish mysticism, mediation can bridge this gap. In reality nothing exists outside of God, and everything emanates directly from the Holy One. Human souls have a choice: we can focus on our own individuality and on our own will – or on being unique expressions of Divine will.

If we focus only on ourselves and on narrow, ordinary cognitive experience, we cripple ourselves spiritually. On the other hand, if we reconnect with God by a directed focus through meditation, we unite ourselves with the Source of all being and come to understand the greater dimensions of our lives.

Through meditation, we can experience higher levels of reality and deeper layers of self. We can draw closer to God, and we can come to know who we truly are. We can connect with the Creator and know the Divine essence within ourselves.

The purpose of life is the evolution of consciousness. This is as true at the individual level of the soul as it is on the universal, cosmic plane.

It means that our lives are a constant process of self-realization, emotional and psychological growth, and spiritual development. Through experience of life, we mature as souls.

Susie Schneider – Teacher of Meditation and Jewish Mysticism. Founder, A Still Small Voice, a Correspondence School Developing Spiritual Paths. Jerusalem.

The primary benefit of meditation is that it expands and enhances consciousness by strengthening focus and concentration. When people are easily distracted, they do not penetrate into the depth of things, and consequently, their conduct lacks mindful intent. Such individuals are driven by their unconscious because they do not examine its impulses and question its intentions. Only by discrimination between life-enhancing and life-undermining urges does the lower nature lose its ruling grip. Meditation practice corrects and expands people’s perception of reality and encourages them to change according their broadening awareness of truth.

Mindy Ribner – Founder the Jewish Meditation Center. New York City.    

Meditation can lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, and reduce stress and anxiety. Mediation, along with particular visual imagery, has even been reputed to heal serious physical illnesses, free people of addictive behaviors, and help them gain greater self-mastery.

But meditation is more than a stress reducer. It is the vehicle all religions use to impart the esoteric knowledge of their own mystical tradition.

Dr. Alan Brill – Orthodox Rabbi and Professor at Yeshiva University in New York City.

Jewish meditation, through visualization, chanting, and contemplation, facilitates directly experiencing the Divine.

For many people, the word God triggers many unresolved feelings. They are more comfortable with words such as Higher Power, Universal Mind, or Cosmic Energy.

One way that a Jew brings God into daily physical life is through mitzvoth. When we say a blessing, “Baruch atah Adoni,” “Blessed are You, Lord,” we open to the experience of direct connection to the Divine. If we meditate on each word of the blessing, and particularly on the letters of the Divine Name, we become a vessel to receive spiritual energy drawn down by the blessing.   

Meditation can transform our lives. Whether we are doing a meditation sitting, walking on the street, washing dishes, or with friends, we can easily tune into our breath and become aware of God’s Presence and Love in the moment.

Dr. Edward Hoffman – Psychologist. Psychology Professor at Yeshiva University. New York City

It is almost a truism to say that we live in a tense and hurried society. After all, our age has been dubbed the “Age of Anxiety,” a seemingly inevitable accompaniment to our fast-paced, technological civilization. Trying to cope with stress, many people turn to medication, either prescribed or illicit. Others seek refuge in alcohol or the monotony of evening after evening in front of the television set. Even “surfing the Net” can be addictive.

Eastern spiritual teaching first found voice in America in the 1840’s with Emerson and Thoreau. In recent years, there has been another tremendous influx of Eastern spiritual teachings. This ancient practice was usually associated with skinny Hindu ascetics wearing loin cloths and turbans.

The entire situation has now radically changed. Increasingly in scientific and research laboratories, American researchers have clearly demonstrated that each of us is indeed capable of influencing the most subtle aspects of our mental and physical being. Biofeedback research has moved from the fringes of psychology and medicine to the forefront of these fields. A growing body of scientific evidence has shown the efficacy of meditation in health care. Mainstream health maintenance organizations, clinics, and hospitals are now promoting meditation as a viable and preferable alternative to chemical and surgical interventions.

Judaism’s chief concerns have been the larger Jewish community and the individual’s ethical relation to it. Yet Judaism’s Kabbalistic side has, for centuries, focused extensively on the nature of our habitual thought-stream and how to transform it through disciplined meditation, prayer and study.

From its inception, Kabbalah insisted that our normal waking state is, by its very essence, filled with conflicting thoughts and desires.

…Our lowest desires, originating in the nefesh (animal soul) and ruach (emotional soul) are, by necessity, very powerful, since they ensure our physical maturation and survival. But, the Kabbalah adds, we are also born with a neshamah, a transcendent Self that takes years to rise above our petty, materials wants.

Most of us cannot help but sense the presence within us of vast, unused potentialities. The crucial notion is that by calming the whirl of thoughts that occupy our ordinary mind, we open doors that lead to an exalted awareness of the wonder of the entire cosmos.

The goal of Jewish meditation is to help you achieve a higher state of consciousness.

Exercise 1: Contacting the Ein Sof, the “Infinite”

While meditating, visualize yourself soaring upward. As you ascend, you feel a growing sense of lightness and mental clarity. As you soar higher and higher, you become aware of the dazzling sea of Light that shines all around you.

This Light is the Ein Sof, which is filled with boundless, creative strength. Know that this Light is now generating creative energy to guide and help you. Indeed, the Light is infinite creativity, the source of All.

Exercise 2: The Ein Sof Is Within You

While meditating, visualize a tiny point of light situated about six inches above your head, roughly where the top of a crown would be located. This is where the vast energy of the Ein Sof connects to our own spiritual being. …Let the energy of Ein Sof go wherever it is needed – physically, emotionally, or spiritually – so it can heal you within.

…Breathe a few more times – in and out, according to the pattern described above. With each cycle, feel yourself vitally connected to the Ein Sof and its unimaginable powerful and creative source. Silently ask the Ein Sof to guide you with this energy in any challenge you presently experience.

Many people record their meditative experiences in a journal.

With the proper attitude of reverence for the holiness of our inner world, you are sure to find Jewish meditation extremely empowering. As the Midrash encouragingly remarks, “The gates are open at every hour, and all who wish to enter, may enter.”

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