Thursday, August 20, 2009

// // 10 comments

I Don’t Feel Spiritual (Yoga)

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Question:

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?

Answer:

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

10 comments:

Yaakov said...

Learn Likutei Moharan and continue your learning in Gemarra You will find what you are looking for.


Look Under Hebrew Books
http://www.moharan.com/pages_angl/coming_soon.htm
Print Reb Nachman Sefarim.

Anonymous said...

This is not an example of coexisting together. Yoga teaches us to be one with everything in the universe, physical and spiritual. It doesn't take us away from life, it makes us feel closer to it.. comparing Yoga to drugs is an insult. The universe needs less preaching and more genuine universal love and respect for ALL beings, not just those that follow YOUR way of life. Namaste friends!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the advice. I would also recommend treating every blessing as an opportunity for meditation. So every time you are about to say any blessing, pause and meditate for a minute. Breathe in slowly with your eyes closed, feeling great yearning and love for G-d, and then open your eyes and slowly exhale, focusing on your love and thankfulness to Hashem. Do this for a few breaths. Then say the blessing slowly and with intention.

Also, while you are studying, set a timer to beep every 10 minutes or so. Whenever it beeps, pause for one or two minutes to engage in a silent meditation practiced focused on feeling love for G-d (or any of the many excellent meditation practices discussed by Rabbi Locks in his book on meditation). And strive to place G-d before you always as you study. With these practices you will feel more spiritual in your studies!

Anonymous said...

Anger. Insult. Arrogance. Pride. Insults. SERVE THE BOSS only. Otherwise, it's self-serving. It's too limited and finite.

HaShem makes The Rules. The Universes run smoothly and Just by HaShem, and HaShem alone. None other. Meditation can be compared to any known device, HaShem blessed Noach with creating the tools, but, it's up the holder of the "tool" to use it wisely or G-d Forbid, Foolishly.

It's HaShem who knows that you wrote it, and he reads your words and KNOWS and what's in your Heart and Kidney. Nothing is unknown from HaShem. Simple words of saying, B"H, with deep joyful feeling will raise higher than meditation alone. The Baal Shem Tov found this out "first hand" and this changed the course of all his teachings. Be Joyful, serve with awe and fear, serve no other than HaShem. Place your faith in HaShem alone, not meditation and find yourself "where you are IS the best place to be".

P.S. Excellent advice from the writer directly above this statement. You have Deep Joy in serving HaShem. Shabbat Shalom R' Locks, Hodesh Tov. - Uriel

Gutman said...

To Anonymous 1:
Yoga refers to certain physical and mental disciplines rooted mainly in Hinduism. Hinduism teaches that there are many gods, sub-gods (devas), god incarnates (avatars), and such. All of these deities are assigned forms, and these forms are worshipped. This is the grossest idolatry possible.

The first and therefore most important commandment given to all mankind is the prohibition against idolatry.

Drugs damage the mind. Idolatry damages the soul. Idolatry is much more harmful than drugs. Drugs ruin your life in this world. Idolatry ruins your life in this world, and in the next.

To respect theses “ways of life” would be cruel to the mistaken ones who practice them. If we are obligated to return a lost animal, then how much more so are we obligated to return a lost soul?

Anonymous said...

i highly recomend you learn basic siddur hebrew and learn the rashash on daily tefillah the 4 shma yisraels a day etc ,,,,,,its very spiritual and can fix a lot more then you copuld imagine . as for other meditation aryeh kaplans z'l meditation and kabbalah section on avraham abulafia especially chayey olam haba . Go to a quite safe park and talk to Hashem and practice it for a week ,,,,,keep a JOURNAL YOUR DREAMS etc see where you get . Yoav

Anonymous said...

STOP WITH ALL THE IDOLATRY HELL , DOES JUDAISM HAVE A SPIRITUAL SOLUTION ? ! I BELIEVE IT DOES IN THE RASHASH AND ABULAFIA BUT YOU GUYS DONT KNOW IT , PRACTICE IT , OR TEACH IT SO YES SEVERAL MILLION JEWS ARE THUS INTO IDOLAtry !!ps not blaming you blaming all the rabbis

Anonymous said...

I think it's very easy to practice Judaism and not feel spiritual, if you're not incorporating personal prayer and meditation (hitbodedut). It's so easy for the required prayers and blessings to become rote, meaningless. But if for an hour a day, or for a few minutes several times a day, you talk to Hashem in your own words, thanking Him, analyzing your deeds and asking for forgiveness and resolving to do better, and asking for any physical or spiritual things you need, pouring your heart and soul out to Hashem, not just in your mind but in a out-loud (but quiet) voice, then I think it is hard *not* to feel spiritual. This is part of the path recommended by Rebbe Nachman, and I think it's something essential that many people neglect.

Anonymous said...

On the topic of yoga being based in idolatry, that is true, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Torah Jews can't do things that are somewhat like yoga (that is, certain postures or movements intending to effect subtle energies) but that are kosher. Some, like R' Bar Tzadok, say that Qigong is usually completely kosher, and others (including famed Chabad kabbalist R' Ginsburgh and R' Yitzhak Fanger) are trying to come up with Jewish versions of energy healing or energy cultivation exercises. R' Locks has done something similar starting on page 127 of his book on meditation, Taming the Raging Mind.

For a related discussion see here:

http://asimplejew.blogspot.com/2009/02/question-answer-with-yishai-life-force.html

R' Locks himself says (with many qualifications and warnings) in Taming the Raging Mind that "The physical postures and movements of yoga and Tai Chi, if completely stripped of their religious significance [last part in all caps], can be very beneficial." (p. 125).

I also have a question for R' Locks. In your autobiographical book Coming Down to Earth you describe, in your pre-tshuvah days as the silent guru, radiating energy from your body to such an extent that strangers could feel a pleasant spiritual feeling whenever they got near you. This was possible based on your extensive meditation. Do you think it is beneficial for people to try to reach a similar stage? Was/is there anything beneficial in reaching a state, where you can radiate energy like that? Could that kind of thing be a by-product of any of the meditation practices you now recommend?

Shiloh said...

Only when one does personal prayer does he/she feel the Divine. It's like going to your earthly father, if you mumble the same words every time you speak with him, don't you think he will simply not listen at some point. If you pour out your heart, your father would be compassionate to your words. HaShem want's us to be personal with Him as well. As His children. Not some programmed puppet mumbling the same words 3 times a day. Keep it simple, it works.

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