I have done my fair share of meditation, prompted by my study of yoga and Ayurveda. However, like many people brought up in a culture which doesn’t value quality “me time” as much as it should, my meditation practice had been inconsistent and therefore not too fulfilling. If you’ve ever tried meditating, you may be familiar with the feelings of self-doubt, frustration, and surrender.
- “I can’t keep my mind from wondering.” “I suck at this.”
- “If I can’t quiet my mind, what’s the point!”
- “This isn’t for me. I’ll leave this to the yogis.”
Since my anxiety was getting a bit out of control, I recently decided to give meditation another go. I bought a book and tried doing the exercises it suggested on my own. That almost lasted two weeks. About a month later, CBS aired a segment on Transcendental Meditation (TM). The testimonials were pretty convincing so I went online looking for a class. If you go to the official TM website, they tell you that you have to attend an introductory talk, commit to a 4-day workshop, etc. (and it isn’t cheap).
To bypass the inconvenience of schlepping into NYC and the annoying sales pitch that comes with live instruction, I went looking for a guided meditation app or download that I could do at home. There are a million to choose from these days. To narrow down my choices, I searched for something rooted in my faith and ancestry. I went through a kind of “Jewbu” phase in my late 20’s and early 30’s, in which I studied Ayurvedic philosophy and recited Hindu chants for health and enlightenment. Now that I have made Judaism a priority in my life, I was on the look out for a meditation practice that would reinforce my study of the Torah and Chassidut.
I came upon Kavanah Mindfulness. The program, created by Rabbi Laibl Wolf, incorporates Kabbalistic insights into its meditative and consciousness-building exercises. On top of his many credentials (degrees in law, psychology and comparative religion), Rabbi Wolf has a soft, calming voice and an adorable Australian accent.
Kavana means intention or “directing the mind”. It refers to the mindset required for prayer. Prayer is, ultimately, a form of meditation.
What I love about Laibl Wolf’s program is that while he gently talks you through breathing, focus exercises, and relaxation techniques; he drops in Kabbalistic tidbits and clinical facts which explain the deeper meaning and physiological effects. So just when I feel that I’ve had enough and am about to give up, there he is with a spiritual nugget to keep me motivated to continue.
Meditation is hard but it isn’t rocket science.
The first couple times I attempted the “Inner Stillness I” meditation, I couldn’t finish. Thirty-one minutes is a really long time to sit or lay still, especially when you have chronic pain. But I stuck with it and actually do the whole thing almost every day. Some days are easier than others. Yes, I have dozed off a couple times and can’t help thinking about my to do list. Each time, I just let go of the distracting thought and redirect my attention to the Rabbi’s voice. I don’t give up.
Meditation is very personal but I hope that sharing my thoughts and experiences will inspire other people with physical, mental and/or emotional challenges to take it seriously.
- It is REALLY hard to sit or lay still when you are in pain (and the evil thing about fibro pain is how much worse it is when you don’t move around). I give myself a little pat on the back each time I complete a meditation session without fidgeting or scratching myself.
- The rabbi speaks about razul v’shav, the natural ebb & flow of the cosmos. I’ve learned from my study of Ayurveda that the body is a microcosm of the natural world. So like the Universe, the body has its own ebb & flow. This idea helps me accept the fact that I will have good and bad days. The bad times will always be followed by something better.
- “Breath is the first level of the soul’s expression in this world of time and space.” I love every time the rabbi mentions the soul. It is easy to forget that you are more than an achy body. And it’s even easier to forget to breathe properly.
- Meditation is exercise for the mind. A weak mind is susceptible to anxiety and depressions. A strong mind is hopeful and resilient.
- “Where the mind goes, the body will follow.” Don’t allow the mind to fixate on negative thoughts. Instead focus on a brighter tomorrow without pain. And don’t be afraid to dream.