Meditation is a beautiful, easy and relaxing way to begin Shabbat. It prepares the mind. It clears the mind. It makes room for personal spiritual experience and learning to occur. It opens your heart to other people by getting your own preoccupations out of the way. Meditation is the natural and, yes, the Jewish way to begin Shabbat.
You can’t meditate? You have never done meditation? Maybe so, but there are easy ways to start, and anyway I think you have done meditation without knowing you were doing it.
At Congregation Beth Sholom-Chevra Shas we have a meditation session once per month, on the second Shabbat of the month, an hour before services. The synagogue library is a beautiful spot for quiet meditation. The morning light is peaceful and diffuse. The setting is quiet. The chairs are comfortable. Everyone is welcome. For those with little experience, there is an introduction. A suggestion for connecting your meditation to the parsha (Torah reading) of the week or the haftorah (selection from the Prophets) is often a part of the introduction. The meditation session is short, easy, quiet, and tied to breathing and simple mantras in Hebrew or English. To enhance learning, we discuss our meditative experience when we finish.
You can meditate with us, or you can do it at home before you leave for services. If your home is bustling with activity, it might be necessary to ask others to make space for you to be quiet and introspective for a half hour. Though you may have to quietly ignore noise or behavior that you would otherwise not tolerate, keeping to yourself quietly and observing others as they hustle and bustle may be therapeutic.
A few tips. In the morning as you prepare for Shabbat, leave yourself enough time so that there is no rush. Leave the TV and radio turned off. Wash, dress and eat breakfast in quiet, carefully. On your way to shul, turn off the radio in the car. Drive at or below the speed limit. Make a full stop at stop signs and stop for animals and pedestrians. Look both ways. Open the window a crack. Look around. Breathe. Whether you walk or drive to shul, be aware of your breath, the sounds, the sights, the feel of the breeze and the temperature of the air. When you get to the parking lot, turn off the engine and sit for a moment, or if you are walking, stop at the top of the hill. Breathe. Look around. In the car, wait a moment before you open the door. Get out slowly and carefully. Take your tallis (prayer shawl) and kippah (cap)–and the car keys, and walk to the building. When you greet people, look at them and listen to them. Give them your attention.
On the days when there is meditation before services, join us in the library. Come in and sit down quietly. If we have already begun our meditation, just join in. Take your seat. Sit up straight and get your spine aligned. Rest your hands comfortably in your lap or on your legs. Relax your shoulders. Breathe. Think about your goals for Shabbat: to be open to people you will meet, to be open to ideas you will find in the books and the Rabbi’s sermon and D’var Torah (Torah interpretation) — to be open to the possibility of God. Focus on your breath first, then Shabbat, the parsha or the haftorah. Count your breath to seven and back in Hebrew or English. Recite the Shema–the central declaration of faith, in your mind. Spell out the name, “yud hay vuv hay.” Or, just sit.
Meditation is not anything exotic or difficult. There is no search for Nirvana here, no Koans (parables) to interpret, no formal ritual. Do not expect a sudden revelation of ultimate truth. Meditation is a way to prepare to be open, to remove obstacles to experience people, learning and God. Try it.
Written by Jef Sneider, August 2014