by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths
I used to do yoga. It was mostly Hatha yoga, (physical exercises) but also, I did intense mental work that stressed self-improvement. I had a guru, and I followed those practices many hours a day. I felt very spiritual. I have since tried to find my spirituality in Judaism, but no matter how hard I try, I do not feel the least bit spiritual. All of the studying is only intellectual. There is no spiritual elevation at all. I am thinking of moving from my current yeshiva to one that stresses singing and brotherly love. How do I find the feelings of spirituality in Judaism like I did in yoga?
Those feelings that you experienced from practicing yoga are not the spiritual feelings that we seek. When someone smokes drugs, he also gets a feeling, a very strong feeling. To bring about that feeling was the only reason he smoked the drug in the first place. When someone fasts he has a mental experience that he might call a “high” or “clarity.” Spending a lot of time meditating also brings a strong out-of-the ordinary mindset. There are many ways to get unusual feelings, but these feelings are not the genuine spiritual experience that we seek.
Yoga practices stress the self. They lead you away from the usual, daily physical and mental contact with the world. The most “successful” yogis live alone in ashrams (camps), closeted away from any interruptions to their spiritual practices. This type of isolation insulates them from the day-to-day interactions that would interrupt their concentration on themselves. When the mind is not pulled into the normal, daily activities, it can dwell in a seemingly more peaceful state. In this quiet state of mind, they can search and experience their own “inner-space.” This moves them toward what they consider to be the goal of life to be, to attain a completely still state of mind.
Although this might sound like the ideal state of mind and the fulfillment of life’s purpose, the Torah teaches that the opposite of this is true. The Torah insists that the more spiritual we become, the more we are to be involved with the world. We are told not to leave the world. We were sent into this world to improve ourselves and to make the world a better place. Adam, the first man, was placed in the Garden and was told “to work and guard” the Garden, not to leave it.[i] You cannot tend the Garden by sitting alone in an enclosed camp thinking about yourself.
As to the spiritual teachings in the Torah; the sages have purposely buried those teachings deep inside those holy books that you are studying. They did this for a very good reason. They did not want their young students running off to sit in caves contemplating the lofty, holy experiences that can be tapped into in spiritual solitude. This is why it used to be (and many still insist) that only very learned students, at least forty years old and married, were allowed to even look at such teachings.
But today, Jews like you would not be drawn into a Torah life if you had to satisfy all those requirements before experiencing any spirituality here. It is well known that a Jew who has lived in the secular world, especially if he experienced the idolatries and magic of the “other side,” must be shown a great amount of spiritual “light” in order to encourage him to come to the Torah. He must experience a much greater feeling of this spiritual light than a person who was born and raised in a Torah environment. This spirituality is what you seek. It is available, but it is not easy to attain.
Today, the vast majority of yeshivas stress full-time learning of the Talmud. The best students at these yeshivas can talk to you about their spiritual experiences, the “amazing rushes” that they get when they solve a difficult piece of Talmud. Although these are wonderful, uplifting, valuable and holy experiences, they are really high intellectual experiences that they call spiritual.
When you go to a yeshiva that stresses brotherly love, they will tell you of the “amazing spiritual experiences” that they have when they dance and sing about G-d and lovingly hug their brothers. But these are actually emotional experiences. They are wonderful, healthy and uplifting, but they are not the spiritual experience that you seek.
You should learn the good that both of these paths offer, but it takes much more to attain the greater goal that you seek.
The spiritual goal, indeed the very goal of life, is to reveal G-d’s Presence in this lower world. This is the experience that you seek, even without knowing what it is. But the goal does not come easily. In fact, there are many great men today who say that this revelation has not been possible for the past three generations!
What to do?
Continue your studies, as they fill your life with Torah thoughts and practices. They also develop your analytical mind. And most importantly, they lead to a healthy life-style, with a wife and children.
Continue your singing and brotherly love, as these will open your heart and bring warmth into your service.
It is imperative to learn how to have great joy when doing a mitzvah. You must see how doing even the “tiniest” mitzvah is a G-d given privilege. With every mitzvah, we, His lowly creation, are elevated to the level of serving Him in the way that He asks to be served. We become His faithful, personal servants. We are fulfilling His holy will. The experience that you seek comes when you are serving Hashem with joy. Study the mitzvahs, search not only their physical characteristics, but also search their spiritual aspects.
Spend time each day searching for the spiritual perspective in whatever you are engaged. Try to see how learning Torah and performing mitzvahs are not merely rituals, but that they actually change your spiritual life.
Look to see how your very being is a spiritual entity temporarily housed in a physical body. Spend time each day searching within for your actual being. Try to distinguish between you and your body. See, and take to heart, how the spiritual essence actually fills and surrounds the entire physical creation.
Perhaps most importantly, spend time each day looking for opportunities to help your fellow Jews to come to Torah and mitzvahs. This is most pleasing to Hashem.
These practices bring us to the spiritual life that we seek. Our lives become filled with the blessings that G-d wants for us. These practices do not force open the door and sweep us through it as we want. But, He opens that door for those who do these things. These actions stand us right in front of that hidden door. Then, when it does open, we will be standing right there basking in His glorious Radiance.
[i] Genesis 2:15
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא