Most of us are familiar with the term “meditation.” It is commonly described as an exercise to quiet the mind in order to release or eradicate thoughts and emotions that cause stress and anxiety. Meditation also improves concentration, and is, undoubtedly, a valuable tool, offering relief from various emotional and physical maladies.
We may ask, “Why does meditation have such a miraculous effect on our minds and bodies? How is it we may heal ourselves or improve our lives so dramatically through meditation?” If we approach these questions from a medical point of view, how would we explain it? Perhaps we may conclude that when we quiet the mind, all electrical activities and pathways slow down, thereby allowing the physical and mental processes to rest and heal. These biological processes, or electrical activities, have become overworked and therefore become strained. Meditation rests our internal organs, as if to slow down the engine of a speeding car, and this is how the body creates the environment to heal itself.
However, if we approach meditation from a religious or spiritual standpoint, we find a more profound meaning. Here we experience meditation as a form of silent prayer, an appeal to a Power greater than ourselves. Here, meditation is a way to communicate with G-d.
In meditation, the focus of our prayer, of our communication with G-d, is through our mind, our heart and soul. It is at this time when we are closest to G-d; it is in this holy place that we may invoke G-d’s help. Meditation allows us to focus on our needs, on the needs of others and upon our gratitude for our many blessings. In this way, we not only help ourselves, but the power of our prayer also extends outwardly to others. We often remind people that a prayer can be expressed in action, as well as in thought, as well as in words. A mitzvah, a good deed, an effort to do something good for another, all are, in themselves, a form of prayer.
In Judaism, in the Sacred Scriptures, it is said that prayer (or meditation) enables us to open a clear channel between the Divine MInd and the human mind, it allows us to connect and become as one. We tap the inner resources of our soul wherein G-d resides; in this silence and kinship, in this state of divine closeness, rests the opportunity to affirm for help, and to receive help. Whatever we need or desire, either for ourselves, or for someone else, G-d hears our call, our prayer; and our prayers, when offered earnestly and wholeheartedly, are always answered.It is in the silence of our minds that G-d can hear us best. As the Psalmist says: “Only for G-d doth my soul wait in stillness; from Him cometh my salvation.”
How Do We Meditate?
“Meditation is most effective when an individual shows a desire to be helped, and when he or she makes a conscious effort to help themselves.” 1
A meditation can be in the form of a worded or imaged prayer taken from the Scriptures, or, a worded or imaged thought or prayer of your own choosing.
In meditating, develop an awareness of, and differentiate between, needs that are real and needs that are perceived. An example of this may be the need on our part for more income to help us survive or provide for our loved ones. This may be a very real need indeed. But if you perceive this as a cause to meditate on the winning numbers for the lottery, your meditation is misguided. Your meditation may more suitably revolve around the real need of finding a new job, going back to school to become more knowledgeable in your field, and thereby a candidate for a promotion or raise, or perhaps you may seek guidance and courage to explore a new field, a new endeavor, such as a new business of your own to help you reach your goal.
Similarly, we may meditate that a “white knight” enter our lives and relieve us of all our problems, when in actuality we already possess the creativity, the power, the ability to solve our problems ourselves, if we are only willing to put these gifts to use. This is our real need. Meditating on the lottery is neither productive nor practical; meditating on awakening our own powers on our behalf is most effective, stimulating and productive. Here we find G-d at our right hand, aiding us and guiding us with each step we take. Meditation can help us in distinguishing between the two, between the fundamental, lasting elements of life and those that are transitory and of limited value.
Similarly, develop an awareness of the good already existing in your life and for which you are grateful. This is particularly helpful when we are “down” and may be viewing life in its bleakest terms.
Meditation may also help you to develop an awareness of the negative aspects impeding your happiness and success, those which you may choose to conquer, overcome or eradicate. Your imagination is a precious tool. It is said that when Moses descended Mt. Sinai the first time, Joshua asked him if
G-d had spoken to him. Moses responded, “He revealed Himself to my mind.” Here we see most clearly how our answer from G-d will come. Be aware and open, ready to “hear” His “voice” when He “speaks” to you; and train yourself to acquire a quiet mind as noted above.
Also, and most importantly, develop an awareness of G-d’s presence in you and about you; an awareness that you can appeal to Him, an awareness that He is the recipient of your prayer, and you are the recipient of His response. We may choose to communicate with words, but we can also meditate using our imagination; we can create pictures within the inner eye of our mind. But in each approach, we meditate with total trust, with perfect faith in G-d, knowing He will answer our prayer, knowing He is our coworker in the attainment of our goal.
There are aspects of meditation needed to make your prayer efficacious. The first is to be able to relax the mind and the body. Find a location and time of day free from distraction and interruption (for at least fifteen to thirty minutes), a quiet atmosphere where you can rest both body and mind. This can be upon waking in the morning, or at bedtime, or during a quiet time and place in your day.
Then, make the conditions right for prayer. “Prepare thyself before thy G-d.” says the sage of the scriptures. We do this by slowing down our actions, our speech, our thought. We attain an atmosphere, both within and without, of total silence, of calmness, of serenity, of trust in G-d. This allows our prayer to be offered to G-d silently, with simplicity, earnestness and directness. After meditatng, set out to realize the ideal for which you have prayed.
The more we practice, the more do our meditations become effectual, and the more are we able to actualize the ideals we have set before us. Meditate each day. Value meditation as linking with a sustaining and nourishing Force, just as you would link the sustaining and nourishing value of the food you eat.
“Earnest meditation, coming from a soul filled with faith and devotion, never fails in its function.” 2
If you are new to meditation, you are not alone. To some, meditation can feel like a struggle, if not frustrating, at first. However, it is important to acknowledge that this level of difficulty is experienced by many and that it is perfectly normal.
One of the more common experiences when meditating is when our mind begins to wander and forms an ongoing dialog within ourselves. We are thinking of so many things; our work, what is for dinner, even doubting that we can meditate — the list is endless.
If your mind wanders, simply acknowledge that it is, and bring the focus back to your meditation. Even if your mind wanders for five minutes or fifteen minutes, simply bring back the focus. For example, one might say, “Oh, my mind is wandering again, interesting,” and then return to your meditation. Keep practicing this nonjudgmental technique and you will soon find your mind will wander less and less and your concentration will improve. In fact, this may happen quickly, with just a small amount of practice. Once you feel the peace, calm, and presence of the Divine Mind working in you, and through you, you will look forward to this experience each day.
Where Do We Meditate?
We mentioned earlier of using your home, but in truth almost any place that offers an opportunity for quietude is ideal. “G-d is everywhere, ever present. Every atom and part of the universe is filled with His presence.” 3 Here we see, anywhere we go, there is G-d; and anywhere there is G-d, we can meditate. While G-d is to be found in all things He created, He resides within us to a greater degree than in His other forms of creation. We say that “G-d is in His holy temple,” 4 meaning: in our body, which is a sanctuary, and specifically in our heart. This means He is always with us and available to hear our appeal. We do not even have to speak the words, for G-d knows our needs.
You may say: “There’s no time in my day to meditate.” Would you also say: “There is no time in my day to eat?” Is not one as important as the other? Do we not need both to create balance in our life, to become well grounded? Consider your daily activities: what is important to you? What is frivolous? Focus on what is vital and lend it your time and effort, then discard the wasteful aspects of your day. Simplify your life. As a good house needs a strong foundation, we too need a strong foundation. This can be achieved by forming a strong relationship with G-d, who will guide you and sustain you in all areas of life. All of these can be achieved with the aid of meditation.
To start, you may wish to select from the suggested list below, from the “Message of the Week” on our Home Page, from the “Affirmations” page, or from the list of “suggested readings” following the meditations below. Or, you may prefer a meditation from your own inspiration or imaged thought.
We have selected the following meditations from the Scriptures:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
“Be strong and of good courage for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
“Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not upon thy own understanding.”
“Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will guide you.”
“The Lord is thy keeper; the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.”
“The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.”
“The Lord shall guard they going out and thy coming in from this time forward and forever.”
“Only for God doth my soul wait in stillness, from Him cometh my salvation.”
“In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid; what can man do unto me?”
“O God, Thou art my God, earnestly will I seek Thee; my soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee.”
“The Lord is good, His mercy endureth forever.”
“I lay me down to sleep; I awake, for the Lord sustaineth me.”
“The Lord upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that are bowed down.”
“It is of the Lord that a man’s doings are established.”
“Serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence with song.”
“The Lord executeth righteousness, and acts of justice for all that are oppressed.”
“The Lord is full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.”
“Cease from anger and forsake wrath.”
“The humble shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace.”
“Cast thy bread upon the waters for thou shalt find it after many days.”
“Thou openest Thy hand and satisfieth every living thing with favor.”
“A good name is better than precious oil.”
“The Lord is nigh to all who call upon Him, who call upon Him in truth.”
“Happy are they that take refuge in Him.”
“Know this day and lay it to thy heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else.”
“Only God remains forever the same, and His years have no end. He is from everlasting to everlasting, the first and the last.”
“He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, and bring him to honor.”
“The whole earth is full of His glory.”
“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
“Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain thee.”
“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”
“O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good; for His mercy endureth forever.”
“In the day of trouble, I call upon Thee, for Thou answerest me.”
“The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord receiveth my prayer.”
“The Lord shall keep thee from all evil; He shall keep thy soul.”
“In peace will I lay me down and sleep; for Thou, Lord, makest me dwell in safety.”
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
“The Lord is thy keeper; the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.”
The Textbook: JEWISH SCIENCE AND HEALTH; Pages: 95, 158, 159, 332 – 334.
Essays and Reference:
APPLIED JUDAISM, Tehilla Lichtenstein
“Believing Is Seeing,” Page 123.
“The Miracle of Visualization,” Page 172.
“Various Prayers for Various Needs,” Page 237.
THE HEALING OF THE SOUL, Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein
Chapter 2: “Prayer,” Page 6
Chapter 6: “The Way of Petition,” Page 10.
JOY OF LIFE, Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein
“Jewish Science in Judaism,” Page 330.
PEACE OF MIND, Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein
“The Power of Prayer,” Page 336.
JUDAISM, Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein
Chapter VI: “Prayer,” Page 102.
The Textbook: JEWISH SCIENCE AND HEALTH, Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein
Chapter 1: “Responsiveness to Prayer,” Pages 20 – 24.
Chapter 3: “Prayer,” “How to Pray,” Page 48.
THE ROAD TO SPIRITUALITY, Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein**
“In Moments of Silence”
“The Mystery of Prayer”
** To be published in 2002.
1. Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein
4. Reform Hymn # 35