Are you interested in exploring Godly Meditation? It is intended to help you to follow in the path of the Creator and thus lead a life of greater fulfillment. If so, read more…
A few months ago, I did a shiur which I can summarize in a few sentences:
We are most healthy, mentally, when we try to walk in the path of G-d. That is: when we try to create within divine limits and then rest from our creative activity and use what we’ve created to connect with the timeless. Note that I said ‘try’. We are only imitators of the divine and we cannot guarantee results. The experience of failure, loss and wasted potential should not upset us, though. Dealing with those losses is why Hashem gives us the symbolic tools to mentally excise those experiences. They are, by the way, tools we have largely discarded in the modern age.
As part of this, it is critical to remember that with a few exceptional circumstances (such as when our proximity to the divine grants us the power to control our world) success and failure – and life and death – are beyond our grasp.
To state it again, we are most healthy, mentally, when we try to walk in the path of G-d by creating within divine limits and then resting from our creative activity to rest with the timeless.
Although I did just say that twice, I don’t really enjoy saying the same thing again and again, and I’ve touched on those themes a great deal. So, after giving that shiur, I just kind of stopped. I decided to focus less on talking and on writing and on speaking – and more on doing. More on my own personal activities.
Then last week, for reasons beyond the scope of this piece, I realized that I needed to generally walk back my level of stress. So, I tried something I’d never tried before. I tried meditating. The effect was incredible. The first meditation I did was a silent mantra meditation (apparently somewhat like transcendental meditation) and I emerged after eight minutes literally feeling like I’d visited Gan Eden. The second was breath-focused and longer and I managed to fix a rib that’s been popped out in my back for years – although the general effect wasn’t nearly as powerful.
I began to research a bit more and realized the dominant form of meditation is focused on mindfulness – which some define as learning to be in the moment without focus on the past, the the future or on any sort of judgement.
It is literally meant to be a create a Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) experience.
In a way, living in the moment can be like experiencing the timeless. In both cases, you are stepping beyond the experience time. There are ways in which we seek this out even within Judaism. Think of the niggunim (wordless melodies) at a Tish as a group meditation. Or perhaps even listening, carefully and closely and with all your heart, to the sounds of the shofar. I imagine Islam’s whirling dervishes as undergoing the same kind of experience. Living in the moment, whether through meditation or otherwise, is an opportunity to step out of time, out of obligation, out of responsibility and out of self-judgement.
It is also a way to step beyond our world and to touch something like forever. Despite all these incredible effects and possibilities, I don’t think living in the moment is what we should be seeking.
Going back to the story of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Chava were Arum, but not embarrassed. Arum is used to describe the walls of water standing firm during the crossing of the Sea and to describe a murderer who acts with premeditation. For me, Arum means ‘not going with the flow.’ Homo Divinus was not meant to go with the flow, but somehow they didn’t know it. And so, they weren’t embarrassed by their passivity.
Put another way: They were just living in the world, even though they were meant to change it. Ultimately, that couldn’t stand.
The snake, which was the most Arum of all the animals, decided to shake things up. That was, afterall, its nature.
The result was the first innovation – the breaking of pre-existing reality. Chava ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Personally, I believe it was an almond tree.
Wild almonds create cyanide when chewed – they are trees of evil. You can touch them, but if you eat them the experience will be less than pleasant. But Chava happened to eat one of the genetic mutants, a sweet almond. And it was good.
And with that, I believe, she learned good and evil. (the almond, by the way, comes up in numerous other symbolic situations later in the Torah)
She also learned that her actions could redefine the world around her. A tree went from being so life-threatening people thought touching it was dangerous (as it had been for at least several hundreds of thousands of years) to being nutritious and beneficial.
Just like that, Adam and Chava knew they were Arumim; they were not meant to go with the flow.
But their reaction wasn’t to double down on innovation. It was to put on fig leaves – the Torah makes a point of mentioning fig leaves, not just leaves. These are leaves that give 2nd degree burns when those who wear them are exposed to the sun. In other words, they put on garments meant to push them away from the day – which is defined as the time of creation. And in the very next verse, they are fleeing the ruach hayom – the spirit of the day.
When they realize they can walk in the path of G-d – that they should walk in the path of G-d – they suffer anxiety and depression. They want to hide. It is all too big for them.
This anxiety, this fear, dominates the Western world. Few people in the West are at risk of outright starvation. In those parts of the world where starvation is a common threat, there are actually lower levels of reported anxiety and depression. I believe that wealthy societies experience a very special kind of anxiety – an anxiety that we aren’t living up to our potential. Precisely because we understand how much potential we have. This can manifest as anxiety, as depression or just as simple stress. It can drive us to hide, to freeze or to even to fail to experience Shabbat – the connection to the divine – which is really the point of it all.
There’s a modern philosophy that tries to deal with this anxiety by trying to deny its basis. It denies that there should be any sort of expectation. Be who you are, no more no less, and that will yield true contentment. Meditation brings you back to that pre-fruit reality. You are in the moment. You aren’t judging. There is no expectation. Practitioners might only do it for a brief time, but they are increasingly intersecting with and informing a philosophy that applies it all times.
You’ve heard it before: you’re perfect just the way you are.
Except, if mental health and suicide statistics are to be believed – trying to tell ourselves we aren’t Arum – that we aren’t meant to go against the flow – isn’t working. As in the Garden, even if we are unaware of it – we are Arum. We are meant to break the bonds of our reality. And if we fail to, we will be challenged.
The touching of the timeless from meditation, or a tish, or a dervish’s dance doesn’t really address what we need. We are meant to be creators. The timeless experience should be a part of the cadence of our lives – interwoven with, and interdependent on, our acts of creation. And even that timelessness isn’t experienced passively. We are supposed to build to those experiences. Not through the practice of meditation of negunnim, but through creative work.
As the Torah says: “Six days you shall labor and do all your creative work and the Seventh day shall be a Sabbath to the Lord your G-d.”
Not you ‘may labor’, but ‘you shall labor’. And at the end of it, Sabbath just happens. This lens suggests that acts of creation supercharge our connection to G-d and our ability to reach beyond our own timeline and experience. They make the acts of rest more powerful. Our experience of the timeless is then not a passive experience, but a celebration of the reality we’ve had a hand in forming and can then share with our families, with our communities and with G-d.
Through this, we can achieve not just peace, but goodness without evil. We create something better than Eden.
But how can meditation help with this?
My first thought was that I wanted to focus on the exit from meditation. If you manage that differently than Adam and Chava managed their exit from Gan Eden, then it might drive acts of creation and fulfillment. You might better embrace the G-dly path. And that might be enriching.
My second thought was that there should have been no reason to leave the Garden in the first place. If we had embraced the innovation, but placed it within its proper context, then we could have stayed in that world of good without evil. So, the experience of innovation should have been embraced within the acceptance of our limits and our place.
I figured that I could that thought to refocus the target of meditation. I could form a new kind of meditation – which prepares the self to walk in the path of G-d.
There’s a form of meditation, called Loving Kindness Meditation, which does something similar. It uses meditation methodology to cultivate loving kindness. And apparently it works. So perhaps I could borrow from that to help enable acts of Derech Hashem. At least as I define it.
For years, I’ve talked about big policies and big ideas. But they never went anywhere. My axioms were too different, and my ideas required some sort of social movement to be realized. The combination was impossible to implement. My writing was like shouting into a tornado.
But Derech Hashem Meditation offers another path: the thin, small, voice that touches one person at a time. It can practically, I hope, help people conquer the barriers that make them run from the path of G-d and enable them to lead more fundamentally fulfilling lives.
And so that’s what I want to do. I want to develop a little five-minute meditations based on the lessons I get from the Torah. I want you to try them out. It’ll just involve sitting quietly with some headphones on for five minutes sometime early in your day. And then I want to hear back from you about whether the meditations were helpful.
What I’m hoping for is that you’ll go on to have more productive and rewarding days.
Gan Eden, as it should have been.
Whaddya say? Are you interested? If I can get even a few test subjects, I’ll get right to it!
Thank you for reading.