In the hustle and bustle of life, finding the time to nurture a sense of inner tranquility is somewhat of a novelty. For many, such a state of mind demands a personal vacation to a tropical beach or a peaceful resort.
Finding such respite and inner peace, however, need not be so difficult to achieve. In fact, with minimal training, each of us has the capacity to find stillness and calm in our lives on a daily basis without ever leaving town. One way to do this is through the ancient practice of meditation.
Mediation is often associated with eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. This is partially because meditative practices are so central to their everyday worship. In the west, such practices not only seem foreign but they often push us out of our comfort zones. For some reason, we westerners have a very difficult time sitting in quiet, stillness for extended periods of time.
Foreign as these practices may seem, however, meditation has a long history in Jewish observance. Unfortunately, most Reform Jews have relegated our meditative moments to a sixty second period of silence in the middle of our Sabbath worship service.
For many, even sixty seconds can feel like an eternity. Sitting in silence is not always a comfortable thing for most of us to do (unless our goal is to go to sleep). Our minds are constantly active, and it can be difficult to sit still. Yet, quieting the mind and expanding our sense of awareness and connectivity to the world around us can be an extremely spiritual endeavor.
While Jewish meditation may seem to be a trendy, new phenomenon, meditative practices have been deeply rooted in Judaism for thousands of years. The essence of meditation has long been an integral part of Jewish ritual, prayer, study and celebration, but the specific techniques were never separated out as unique practices in and of themselves. In fact, many practitioners of traditional Judaism today might be considered highly skilled in the art of meditation; they simply do not refer to their practices in such terms.
In his book, The Handbook of Jewish Meditation Practices, Rabbi David Cooper explains that Jewish meditative practices were somewhat foreign to mainstream Judaism because these ancient practices were often hidden in oral traditions passed directly from teacher to student or recorded in kabbalistic writings that were difficult to decipher. However, regardless of this non-mainstream status, many Jewish meditative techniques have been widely practiced for centuries.
One early record of such practices is recorded in the Talmud. It says that the first ancient practitioners of Jewish meditation meditated an hour before prayer and an hour after. Given the fact that Jews traditionally pray three times a day, these practitioners would have spent a significant portion of daily life in spiritual contemplation. After a lengthy discussion of the merits and challenges of such practices, the Talmud gives clear support to the values of a contemplative lifestyle and suggests that a strong commitment to inner work has great spiritual rewards. (Berachot 32b)
Join us Friday night, May 16 for a uniquely spiritual experience as Rabbi Gross leads us in a Mediation Shabbat service. Through guided meditations and rhythmic chants we will explore a very different path to Sabbath rest and peace.