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Establishing a Jewish Meditation Practice


kamurj

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Excerpted from
New Age Judaism: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern World
By Melinda Ribne

Meditation and prayer are the most powerful tools now available to us for transforming our consciousness, and Judaism offers a variety of meditation techniques to increase God-awareness. Meditation is an important practice of the New Age as well because it transforms our consciousness in a quick and powerful way. Over the years, I have witnessed the most miraculous transformations of my students through the practice of meditation. Individuals who were highly skeptical, who initially cringed at references to God, have become lovers of God. Those who were "in their head" too much, analytical and critical, have become openhearted and feeling-centered. Meditation is a powerful therapy bringing unification between the soul and the body and emotional integration between the mind and the heart.

However, just meditating is not enough for us to become more loving, compassionate, forgiving and happy people. We must continue to learn about God, to observe God's Will and to work on refining our personal characteristics (middot). Usually these are all intertwined. As we learn more about God and become better people, we are better able to meditate and more willing to surrender our personal will for Divine Will. The traditional Jew is asked to pray and meditate three times each day. Just as we need physical food several times each day, so similarly do we need to nourish ourselves spiritually. Short meditation breaks throughout the day are wonderful.

Through the various teachings and meditations offered in this book, it is my prayer that you will expand your God-awareness and God-connection. The goal of all Jewish practice is to live in the continual awareness of the presence of God. Wherever you go, God is with you. God is within you. Consider for a moment how your life would be transformed if you lived in the awareness of the Divine Presence. I believe you would be happier because you would see the inner dimension of life and experience the beauty, the goodness and wisdom, the unconditional love available in every moment of life.

How do we begin to meditate on a daily or frequent basis? First, learn to breathe correctly; most people do not and, therefore, they cannot relax deeply or focus their concentration properly. Meditation is a state of heightened focus, so we have to learn how to let go of the chatter of the mind and direct our awareness. As you begin a practice in Jewish meditation, it is not necessary that you have any beliefs. The key to your success in meditation is your capacity to be open to yourself, to welcome your meditation experience whatever it may be and to meditate consistently.

This chapter outlines a program for a daily or frequent meditation practice. These meditations are best done in a sitting position but can be quite portable as you move around in the course of a day. These meditations should be safe and beneficial for all people.

For Beginners

Conscious Breathing

Correct breathing is diaphragmatic breathing-that is, breathing from the abdomen, to the rib cage, to the chest.

Place one hand on the space between your pelvic bone and your navel and the other hand high in the chest on your collarbone. Take long deep breaths, breathing in through the nostrils and exhaling through the mouth, making a sound like a wave in the ocean. Feel free to emit any sound that wants to come out to facilitate the maximum release of tension. Rabbi Nachman recommended that we accentuate a sigh, which releases accumulated tension and stress. Feel free to make any sounds. Do not be inhibited. It feels wonderful to sigh loudly, even to groan. After a few minutes of exhaling through your mouth, emitting any sounds, breathe in and out through the nostrils quietly. Pause comfortably between breaths without strain. Time your breaths. See if you can breathe between two and four breaths per minute. Focus on your breath. Be aware of the gift of life contained within each breath.

Awareness of the Soul

Do a few minutes of conscious deep breathing. Be aware that you do not breathe on your own, but that you are breathed by God. God breathes and sustains you. Allow yourself to let go and open to the love and support contained within each breath. During morning prayers Jews pray with these words: "My God, the soul you placed within me is pure. You created it. You fashioned it. You breathed it into me." God breathes into you a pure soul, which is your true essence. The soul is within the body and also surrounds the body. With each breath, be aware of the levels of the soul: nefesh, ruach, neshama, chaya and yehida. Experience the descent of the soul into the body, and the ascent of the soul to God. With every breath, feel that you ascend to praise God.

If possible, sit with candlelight. Imagine yourself as a candle. Your body is the candle and the wick, and the soul is the flame. Alternate between gazing at the light of the flame and then seeing yourself as a candle and a flame. Contemplate this: "The soul of man is the candle of God." Pray that you are worthy of truly being a candle of God. This is the true purpose of the soul: to radiate God's Light in the physical world.

Quiet the mind and listen to the needs and desires of the soul within you. Honor the yearnings and feelings of the soul. Feel the soul's desire to expand, to be connected to God. Sit quietly. Let the soul express itself to you and to God. You can do this meditation by yourself, but it would be better if you conclude this meditation with a friend. Ask yourself or your friend "Please tell me what you need and want?" or "How do I nourish my soul?" If you do this meditation with a friend, practice meditative listening-that is, listening fully with your heart and soul. While you are listening, do not think of offering any advice to your partner or about what you are going to say during your sharing. Listen, and look to see and honor the pure soul within your partner.

Speak with God

Talk to God on an ongoing basis. Have a conversation with God about your problems, your desires and your needs. Always ask that you become worthy of coming close to God. Reflect on what you need to do to increase your openness to God. If you like, write to God in your own words. Pick a character trait that causes you problems in your life; usually people choose a variation of anger, depression or low self-esteem. Be aware of how extensive this trait is and how it blocks your capacity to receive God's goodness. Make efforts each day to overcome this trait. Develop a strategy to support this goal. Keep a spiritual accounting of your progress in correcting this trait. Do the teshuvah meditations in chapter 9 and seek forgiveness from self, others or God.

Affirmations

After a few minutes of conscious deep breathing, repeat a short affirmation with the breath each day for five minutes-an "I am " statement or a "God is " statement. Popular affirmations are "I am lovable and loving," "I accept myself," "God heals me now," "God loves me." If you prefer, take a verse from Psalms and repeat it over and over, such as "God is my Light and salvation." If you can do this meditation with a friend, you will each experience a great treat. Each of you should say your affirmation to the other. Your partner will then repeat your affirmation to you. To do this, you say, "You, [state your partner's name], [state the affirmation]." For example, "You, Steve, love and accept yourself." Do this several times. Then change to the third-person voice: "He, Steve, loves and accepts himself." Do this several times. If you can do this with a larger group, it will be; even more powerful.

Be in the Center of God

Each day center yourself in the awareness of being in the center of God. God is the center within you, and you are within God. Repeat this to yourself: "I am in the center of God." Take a few deep breaths and open yourself to experience this truth. Let your consciousness expand in all six directions. Imagine that you can transcend the physical world of limitations and touch infinity. Feel the tremendous sense of freedom and love available when you allow yourself to expand. God is within you, and you are within God. Pause for a few moments and take several long, deep breaths.

Do this meditation any time. It is wonderful to practice this meditation while you are walking, even during errands.

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