What is Jewish meditation? Firstly, what is meditation and what are the benefits of its practice? Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not difficult to practice. Meditation is simply the act of creating stillness and relaxation throughout the body. There is also an element of mindfulness present in meditation, the act of focusing our attention on each moment within our minds. Throughout the day, we often act on autopilot. The simple act of slowing down and taking a moment to focus on nothing at all can work wonders for our mind and body. Practice of meditation, also known as mindfulness meditation, has shown to decrease stress, depression, and anxiety, as well as re-energize the mind, body, and spirit.
Meditation has over forty years of research producing substantial evidence indicating that the practice of meditation reduces negative mental health symptoms, such as anxiety and stress (Baer, 2003; Brown, Ryan & Creswell, 2007). In addition to reducing negative symptoms, there is evidence indicating that meditation increases psychological wellbeing and health, such as the ability to gain control over negative emotional enhancing stimuli (Brown, Ryan & Creswell, 2007; Creswell, Way, Eisenberger & Lieberman, 2007).
By practicing mindfulness meditation, we are creating new neural pathways in the brain and increasing memory retention, as well as our ability to learn new things. These pathways create more understanding toward others, and enhance our ability to make decisions. In addition, meditation can help us become more creative and enhance the closeness we have in our interpersonal relationships (Kornfield, 2008; Siegel, 2007).
How does the practice of meditation connect with Jewish teachings? Hassidic master Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught the practice of Hitbodedut or introspection. When we take time to introspect, meditate, and be mindful, we will find ourselves more easily able to connect to our Creator. Rabbi Nachman instructs us to, “Set aside the time each day to meditate in a room or in the fields. While there, speak out whatever is in your heart, with words of grace and supplication. These words should be in a language you normally speak, so that you will be able to express yourself as clearly as possible. When you turn to G-d in the language you are used to, the words [of prayer] will be closer to your heart and therefore flow more easily.” (Likutey Moharan II, 25).
The practice of Hitbodedut aims to attach our souls to our Maker. Rabbi Nachman teaches that each day we engage in this practice, we should have in mind that today is a better day than yesterday. Rabbi Nachman would place all the day’s activities into G-d’s hands, as it were. “That way, I have no worries. I rely on G-d to do as He sees fit.” (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom 2)
By engaging in Jewish meditation, we not only come closer to G-d by virtue of our trust and our reliance on Him, but we also learn to tune in to our internal processes. We naturally rejuvenate ourselves from the inside out through this process.