An invitation to do your own form of mindful meditation as a way to wake up your heart.
I’m a wrestler. Are you? I’m not talking about anything physical, but rather the endless wrestling and struggling I do with the thoughts and stories that fill my mind moment to moment throughout the day.
In the recent Torah portion, Vayishlach, we read a story about our Patriarch Jacob, who wrestles with an angel throughout a dark and lonely night. He survived and was blessed with the new name Israel.
Who is this angel? Is it possible Jacob is wrestling with himself, and the dark sides of his personality, the parts of himself he doesn’t want to acknowledge? The harm that he has done to his brother Esau, and the things that have happened in his life that he doesn’t want to acknowledge?
In her book “Loving What Is” author Byron Katie offers some simple wisdom around wanting things to be different than they are, with wrestling with what is, with struggling with what’s going on in one’s life.
“When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time,” Katie writes.
Here’s a suggestion. At least for right now, for a few minutes. Take this opportunity to stop wrestling with any of the things that are weighing heavy on your heart at the moment.
Just take a Rest.
I want to offer a teaching on Rest inspired by one of my favorite meditation teachers, Rabbi Nancy Flam.
But first, here’s a little story. Recently, my girlfriend and her new boyfriend were having a disagreement about the sacred practice of taking naps. He believes in them and she doesn’t.
We can all appreciate this story about the ups and downs of new love and the process of getting to know a new partner. But I have to admit, where this story touches me is in my own ambivalent feelings about rest, down time, chilling out — and questions I have about how much is enough, how much is too much, and ultimately, am I even entitled to it??
One thing I do know, is that the concept of Rest has deep roots and reach in the Jewish tradition. The world wasn’t created until Rest was created on the 7th day, when G-d rested. The mitzvah of the Shabbat observance of resting is central to Jewish practice and tradition. And, Noah, who finds rest and refuge in a rudderless arc during the chaos of the flood, shares the root of his Hebrew name, Noach, with the Hebrew word Menucha, or rest.
This focus on the concept of rest carries over to our meditation practice because meditation and contemplative prayer require a level of relaxation. A letting go of an agenda, a letting go of the part of ourselves that is always focused on Me, Me, Me.
I love the Meditations of the Heart practice of Rabbi Nancy Flam and how she describes the importance of rest in meditation. After one particularly intense retreat, Rabbi Flam recalls, “Of all the teachings at the retreat that transformed my meditation practice, the one that touched me most deeply was conveyed in one world — “RELAX.”
Many of us, especially new meditators, want to be A+ meditators. We want to figure out how to do it “right” and then always do it that “right” way. But relaxing is a fundamental technique for quieting the mind. That means try resting — instead of being on-guard — allowing the mind to be soft and spacious instead of trying hard to concentrate, focus, ruminate, figure something out.
So here’s an option to consider for a kavannah, an intention, for your meditation today. Whether you are sitting, lying down or walking for five minutes or 30, you can give this a try in whatever mindful meditative practice you engage in today.
Relax the body
Relax the mind
Relax the will
Relax, if you can, the ego, the desire for a specific meditation experience.
Just rest in your breath. Notice your body’s sensations of breathing in, and breathing out. Try to stay curious about your breath even as the mind keeps doing what the mind always does, spinning out endless thoughts, stories, feelings.
“The Mind is shameless” according to another one of my favorite teachers, Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg. It’s always thinking, yearning, avoiding, making up stories and trying to capture and hold our attention.
But meditation is an opportunity that is always available to us, an invitation to give the mind a rest.
Just give it a rest.
According to meditation teacher Greg Sharf, “In meditation there is Nothing to Get…and…Nothing to Get Rid Of.”
If you would like to try meditating now, here are some suggestions on how to get seated and how to get started.
Find a relatively comfortable position with your spine straight and your head sitting right on top of the spine and the chin slightly tucked in so there is a nice line from the base of your spine to the top of your head.
Allow your shoulders to relax, and the belly to relax and the muscles around the thighs to relax.
Start to connect with the sensations of being seated, and feel what it feels like to be sitting, and bring the mind and body together.
Now draw you attention to sensations of pressure where your body is meeting the chair or the floor, or your hands in your lap, just noting sensations of pressure.
Begin to allow your attention to welcome sensations of the body more generally, in addition to sensations of pressure — maybe coolness or warmth of the air against your skin, sensations of tingling or constrictions, or ease. Just notice, don’t try to hard to feel anything, just try to allow the sensations to meet you.
Now open up your awareness to sensations of the whole body and the mind, noticing other sensations, particularly the sensation of breathing, right here and right now, as you allow the mind and body to connect.
Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in and breathing out. There is nothing to get…and nothing to get rid of.
If you would like to take a listen, here is Rabbi Nancy Flam’s teaching on Rest…