Last we spoke, I returned to yeshiva. The first week in Yeshiva was the Torah portion of Ki Savo, which was about the Jewish People entering into the Land of Israel. Following this theme of entering into the Land, I wanted to approach yeshiva similarly to how I approached meditation retreats. That is, I wanted to be fully in this new experience with little to no distractions. In order to create a new future or enter a new chapter in life one has to let go of distractions and the emotions of the past that keep them from moving forward.
As I mentioned in Living 100% Aligned with Your Truth and hinted to in a social post, the final piece that allowed me to enter fully into yeshiva and the new year was to refine the meditation I had been practicing. Upon arrival to yeshiva I had let go of the type of meditations I was doing, but I was still waking up early to meditate before class. After trying to keep up with everything, it took a toll on me and started to feel like internal conflict.
The seeming conflict I was experiencing in my thoughts reminded me of the first few days I was at a 10 day silent meditation retreat three years ago and a decision I made for the fourth day on. If I had the chutzpah (audacity) to give myself permission to let go of some things and enter fully into the schedule and practice, then surely I can approach yeshiva in the same manner by letting of, and thus refine my relationship with meditation - as it is a tool not an obligation.
The decision to not meditate, at least in the same manner; however, felt like a paradox since the practice not only provided so much benefit, but also there are so many studies and proofs validating the benefits of meditation… Why wouldn’t I do it?!
Consider it similar to exercising or training some healthy skill. There is much benefit to it and yet it can be overdone. In regard to exercise, this made sense to me - as too I had experience over training basketball, but I didn’t think this was possible with meditation.
What I had been doing was waking up with enough time to meditate (45 -60 min) and then make some coffee before chassidus class, but often I felt quite tired and unclear. Sometimes I would fall asleep in meditation. Thanks to help from Rabbi Laibl Wolf (What to do there is concern in your heart) and my Rabbi at Yeshiva, I practiced some flexibility with meditation and my daily routine at yeshiva. Rabbi Wolf gave the following explanation and recommendation to my question, “how do you think I should approach meditation?”
A routine is good as long ad it’s not excessive. Morning and evening are preferred times as the mind tends to be more flexible and freer then for various reasons. It should be a means to an end, not an end in its own right. You meditate for a purpose/towards a goal: e.g. to de-stress, to gain a wisdom insight, to explore a problem, to clear the mind to approach a new aspects/subject /topic in Torah learning, etc.
Stepping into a new routine felt very uncomfortable, but I figured it’s a new experience and therefore would provide new data. I spoke with my mashpia (mentor) at Yeshiva who helped me realize that here I am focusing on building up my knowledge of Yiddishkeit (Jewish way of life). I can be flexible with meditation and well-being by not focusing as much on each. In regard to my morning routine per his advice as well, the meditation I would practice for a week would be after chassidus class for the 30 min before collective, formal prayers.
Over the next week, which was the 10 days of Teshuva, leading into Yom Kippur I practiced this new routine. Some lessons I learned were that I got more sleep, I mindfully moved to each activity after waking up without just getting through things to meditate, and the meditation I did after class was focused on what was learned. Holding a chassidic concept in the mind led to a deeper understanding and even vivid imagery. And on Yom Kippur I did not even meditate and felt this choice was getting beyond a layer of limitation - that even a healthy tool can get between one and G-d.
The new approach did, however, come with some challenges. For example, meditating in the beit midrash (prayer/study room) meant bright lights being on and people talking. In meditation, the focus is on one’s inner world of thoughts and feelings, and disconnecting from external stimuli supports this aim. Sights and sounds can disturb a deeper experience. Nonetheless it is a practice to continue exercising. I recommend giving it a try.
On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we crown G-d as King. In the evening after the fast of Yom Kippur, it is actually instructed to discuss preparing for the holiday of Sukkot. The next day a few friends and I drove to Delaware to help out Rabbi Motti Flikshtein for the holidays. If you and I are friends on Whatsapp, Facebook, or Instagram you may have seen this journey!
During this journey I actually did not practice meditation. It felt exciting to not have to get up earlier and meditate or even have to do it. The days were full of action from the start until the end of Simchat Torah. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the weeks there, by the end of the trip I missed meditating and all the effects it had on my well-being.
Upon returning to Yeshiva I felt a deeper breath return to me. The next morning I arose thinking I would continue this new routine; however, my intuition had another idea. An impulse arose to return to practicing meditation, at least for 30 min. It felt uncomfortable at first, but as I settled my body down and practiced being present, I felt a sigh of relief. I was reminded that there’s no rush to get anywhere. In the generous present moment life unfolds in the best way.
It was healing to return to meditation, but I felt confused by what G-d was aiming to teach me. Throughout Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur I was encouraged to let go of the practice, and through Sukkot and Simchat Torah not even practice, and now I was guided back into it…
One solution moving forward was to wake up early for meditation knowing why I am practicing. Only now in the mornings not to rush to meditate, but to move mindfully from one activity to another. As is taught, the way one enters something influences how they exit. One place this idea is taught is about Rabbi Akiva entering the Pardes,“Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace.” If I rushed to meditate, chances are I would rush out of it.
On Wednesday morning, after a grounding meditation, the answer to the confusion I felt above came to me from the Alter Rebbe in his famed maamar (discourse) on this week’s Torah Portion of Noah entitled, Mayim Rabbim (many-waters). In the discourse, the Alter Rebbe discusses how the flood represents the worries of livelihood and of worldly matters. He explains how, though, these many-waters cannot extinguish the love a Jew has for G-d. In order to explain this (and other) concepts he brings the concept of the flood. After all, what is the purpose of the flood? If G-d wanted to destroy the people who acted wickedly during that era, he could have destroyed them with a snap of a finger(!). Here we can learn about the purpose of the flood.
In the language of the Torah, punishments are not (t)here simply to destroy. What is defined as punishments, in fact, are there to purify limitations. By bringing a flood of many-waters, the effect did destroy the wickedness, but as a result there was purity and “pleasantness of spirit.” This is why it’s called the “Waters of Noach.”
Put simply, we can learn that things don’t happen to us they happen for us. As this was being taught in class, I began to cry a realization of the challenges and trials I felt in my journey, especially since returning to yeshiva and working on entering fully into yeshiva.
The flood of many-waters around meditation and other areas of life was there not to destroy them, but there to refine them.
During the flood it may feel very turbulent and intense, but a lesson to learn is that whatever you may be going through is not bad. There is a higher purpose of cleansing. We can practice, given the name “Waters of Noach,” and Noach means rest, to experience calmness within the flood. As written before about the statement of our sages in Shabbat 88b, “rejoice in the suffering.”
While we’re on the topic of equanimity, situations are also not necessarily labeled good either. Rather, an experience can be, for example, pleasant or unpleasant. This description lifts us up from judging situations (and people) from a subjective point of view and closer to an objective one. The reasoning is that since everything is Hashem and is from Hashem, it’s all One. Oneness is not a polarity.
The Flood has the power to drown us, but if we approach it with calmness and an elevated awareness, not only will it not drown us, but it will lift us up to a higher place than before.
What is an area of your life that you can enter fully into? What’s holding you from going all in?
How is your relationship with someone or something in your life?
How do you practice being calm? Can you practice that within the turbulence?
Practice sitting and meditating in silence and slowly moving to practicing before prayers, whether its with a minyan or by yourself.
If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, its yours forever. If it doesn’t, then it was never meant to be.