Thursday, July 21, 2011

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Is it Kosher to Sit Quietly?

by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths

image001Regarding a recent Mystical Paths article on meditation, a reader asked:

     “Is it kosher meditation to sit quietly, as in, “He leads me beside still waters…”[i] and to let the body and mind be quiet or peaceful.”

Reb Gutman’s response:

    There are many places in the Torah and Kabbalah where silence is praised.

Here are just a few of them:[ii]

    “[If] a word is worth one coin, silence is worth two.”[iii]

    “…there was silence. Now the king is coming.”[iv]

    “Commune with your heart upon your bed and be still.”[v]

    “The Chanukah lights are to be looked at only.”[vi]

    “When the great yearning produces the intense scream for complete adherence, the scream that is completely silent will come.”[vii]

In stillness, there is no apparent movement. Movement requires distinction, duality. In silence, the soul seeks unobstructed, reaching farther, scanning freely; for in silence, there is nothing to distract, nothing to which you can attach.

     In the above sources, we see silence, stillness, or light are the subjects. These are unchanging subjects, and the hope is not to gain a deeper understanding of them, but rather to experience what happens when we still the mind by simply focusing on them.

     But, Reb Aharon, the author of the blog article, brought down some excellent sources that seem to say that silence in meditation is a tool of magicians and idol worshipers and is absolutely forbidden!

      Reb Aharon wrote, “The primal meditative state advocated by the ones who practice idol worship is to clear one’s mind. Psychic or mediumistic ‘messages’ are easily detected on a still mind. It intimates quietness of mind [Rashi], mental [and/or, physical] solitude [Onkelos] All this is in direct opposition to the Torah way of thought and meditation.”

(Gutman continues)

      How can we resolve this apparent contradiction? Who is right? Is silence a kosher meditation tool, or not?

     As with all apparent contradictions in the Torah, this one is easily reconciled when we get more information. Reb Aharon’s sources were referring to entirely passive meditation. Meditation can be divided into two phases or types, passive and active.

     When the subject of meditation is one that is used solely to focus on, and not to study, then the mind will become passive. Two examples of passive subjects are a candle flame and Hashem’s name. These subjects are used merely as tools to affix the mind, in order to ignore all other mental input, and to become passive.

     This system will give you many health benefits, such as improving your concentration and lowering your blood pressure. It can also produce mystical results, which can be very beneficial, or dangerous, depending on your practice.

     Active subjects are chosen in order to increase one’s understanding of that subject. An excellent example of an active meditation subject is “Place.” Ask yourself, “where is the Place?” Each time you come to an answer, look deeper and deeper, until you truly understand that the Place is everywhere, including within and around you. Then go even deeper until you see that, in fact, “Place” is one of G-d’s names, and G-d is the Place that fills and surrounds you. With this subject, your mind is actively engaged, as you look deeper and deeper.

     Perhaps the most productive way to learn to meditate is to start with a passive subject, such as watching your breath move in and out of your nostrils. Focus on your breath over and over again. At this stage, this is a completely passive technique. Then, every minute or so, while you are still focusing on the air passing in and out of your nostrils, remember the line in the Torah when G-d created Adam (the first man), “He [G-d] blew into his [Adam’s] nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living being.”[viii]

     This method gives you all of the benefits of an entirely passive technique, and then by inserting the quote from the Torah, you also utilize an active technique. Try to understand that line from the Torah is talking about man today. See that indeed even today, G-d is the One who is actually breathing in and out our every breath. This is active meditation. The passive phase of the meditation opens your mind, and then you fill your open mind with the deep concept that G-d is ever-present, filling and surrounding all. This technique gives you the benefit of both systems, and it eliminates the danger of the entirely passive technique.

     Magicians use entirely passive systems, to prevent their minds from ever interfering. This allows whatever unclean forces that surround them to take over. This is why a meditating magician is frequently pictured gazing into a crystal ball. He wants to completely empty his mind. This type of meditation is the one that is dangerous and should not be used.

     However, as the above sources point out, mystical silence is a most precious experience. In fact, it is not an empty silence at all. It is the spiritually rich, un-manifest, ayin.[ix] This silence is to be sought... not scorned.

[i] Psalms 23

[ii] Taming The Raging Mind -105 Jewish Meditation Techniques & the Mystical Experiences they can Produce - Gutman Locks

[iii] Gemora Megillah 18a.

[iv] Gemora Berakoth 58a.

[v] Psalms 4.

[vi] Liturgy, Chanukah.

[vii] Keter Shem Tov 166, Yekarim 6, Sichot HaRan 16.

[viii] Genesis 2:7

[ix] G-d creates the world as “something from nothing” (yesh me’ayin)

1 comment:

  1. thanks for the explanation. still, when it says 'He leads me by still waters"... this can mean the meditation returns to the image of the still waters, yes?

    and tehillim 65, 'to You, silence is praise'...can't one simply be silent? or must one 'praise'?

    quieting the mind is not necessarily allowing could be allowing stillness or peacefulness, yes?

    it is not allowing 'openness' to whatever...this is not wise. but allowing peacefulness to be with or within the person.


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