Locking Up Meditation

There are three forms of hitbon’nut (contemplation, meditation):

  1. Study-meditation: After mastering the concept thoroughly, one meditates on its profundity, until the intellectual element shines forth for him.
  2. Meditation before davening: This is directed toward sensing the vitality of the concept learned, in contrast to sensing the intellectual element emphasized in study-meditation.
  3. Meditation in davening: To sense the “G-dly element” in the concept learned.

These three are rungs on the ladder of sensitivity. It is only by G-d’s kindness towards us that we may occasionally sense G-dhood spontaneously, without any avoda at all. This comes about by virtue of the quality of Ultimate Essential G-dhood within the soul. For avoda by one’s own efforts, however, these three forms of meditation are essential.

“Today’s Day”
Friday, Tamuz 20, 5703
Torah lessons: Chumash: Pinchas, Shishi with Rashi.
Tehillim: 97-103.
Tanya: Precisely so (p. 357) …or articulation. (p. 357).
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Don’t be discouraged. It’s often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.

-Author unknown

I always consider meditation to be a quiet, contemplative state. As such, I never enter into it. I know that seems completely contrary to the basic premise of this blog, but I find it very difficult to quiet my mind. About the closest I come to a conscious, meditative state is the four minutes I’m cooling down after an aerobic workout on the elliptical machine. I can close my eyes and imagine my breath going in and out as a frosty, illuminated vapor in the darkness. All I’m trying to achieve though, is to slow my heart rate down as much as I can so that when I get off the machine, it’s not still pounding away at 150+ beats per minute.

I’m not contemplating God.

Even when I do contemplate God, it’s in a sea of static and chaos. It’s difficult or impossible to enter into a space where it’s just Him and me. Frankly, I don’t know if I even want to enter into that space. God is big and scary and I’m not even sure how guys like Abraham and Moses could stand being in His presence for even one split second. The God that created the Universe and everything in it isn’t some comfortable cosmic teddy bear that you can just walk up to and then sit in His lap.

Most days, I have a really good idea what I want to blog about, but not today. I pretty much burned off all my passion in yesterday’s meditation. Today, I’m emotionally drained. Wiped out. I know it probably doesn’t look this way from the outside, but some of these mediations take a lot of energy to write.

I just saw a photo of me (thankfully, I’m way in the background) in some promotional material for where I work. Everyone else looks fresh and young and happy. I look really old and fat and worn out. While I’ve got all this dynamic energy that sparks up in most of my “morning mediations,” today I feel like that picture (believe me, you don’t want to see it). I have this horrible feeling that’s how I look all the time.

I’m kind of reminded of the character Happy Hogan who first appeared in the comic book Tales of Suspense #45 (September 1963) with Iron Man. Marvel comics has “handsomed him up” quite a bit since those days, but back then, he was created for comic relief (along with Tony Stark’s then “mousy” secretary Pepper Potts). Happy rescued Tony from a race car crash and as a reward, Tony gave the out-of-work boxer a job as his chauffeur and personal assistant. Happy was always looking completely glum and “hang-dog”. Tony commented on it early in their relationship and asked if he was depressed. Happy’s response was something like, “Nah, I look like this all the time.”

I think I look like this all the time. OK, so I’ve never been a really attractive person, but I think this is more than age and carrying around a bunch of extra tonnage. I think I get tired of fighting God or fighting life or are they both the same thing? Problem is, that sort of fight is unavoidable. You only stop fighting when you die. Until then, it seems like it’s one battle after another, hammering away at something or being hammered at by something.

I try to imagine what it would be like to not fight. To relax. To set aside responsibility and duty, not just for a few minutes, or an hour, or when I’m asleep, but to really relax. Don’t say “vacation” because vacations are anything but relaxing. In fact, they’re harder work than going to work. Besides, even the most relaxing vacation in the world has to end sometime.

Paul spoke of “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) but I haven’t found it yet. I suspect I never will.

My “morning meditations” are really more like “morning encounters” or “morning contemplations” or even “morning conflicts”. I sleep. Wake up. Drink coffee. Go to the gym with my son. Eat breakfast. Take a shower. Go to work. Somewhere in the rest of the day, the next morning’s meditation gets written depending on my available time and what I’m thinking about. I eat dinner. Go to sleep. And the cycle starts all over again.

If someone has this lovey-dovey, floating on clouds, easy-peasy relationship with God and faith that keeps them in a semi-divine state as they slowly sail through each day, I’d like to know about it. I’m probably not a good candidate for such a state, even if it exists, but sometimes, as fluffy as it all sounds, I think I’d like a piece of it.

We are representatives of Above. And as such, live two lives at once:

We are free-thinking, independent beings.

And we are no more than messengers of Above.

It is a play of opposites in a single being. An impossibility realized in true-life drama. Just the sort of thing in which the Impossible One Above delights.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Representatives”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Rabbi Freeman presents an idealized view of the thoughts and expressions of the Rebbe and thus of the Chabad, but I know there’s a reality behind Crown Heights in Brooklyn that isn’t anywhere near as pretty. That’s not to say anything against the Chabad as such, but to acknowledge that humans are humans and we can make a mess of things on the inside, even if the outside looks good.

My insides and my outsides seem to look the same, that is rather threadbare and lumpy. All the religious and motivational stuff on the web often seems empty to me because all of that “feel good” material seems so phony and unrealistic. Life is a struggle. You fight hard every day. You can only hope that food and sleep will rejuvenate you enough to face another day just like the one that came before. Somewhere in there, God is present, but who knows exactly where or when or if He’ll make Himself known or intervene in any meaningful way?

Between the “free-thinking, independent being” and the “messenger of Above,” there’s an ordinary (or sometimes I feel, sub-standard) human being who is just trying to stay alive and make sense the events of each passing moment. Making sense of life and contemplating the nature of God doesn’t happen as much as you’d think.

I get tired. Sometimes I don’t know why I’m doing all this. I’ve also just been reminded again of how many Jews see Christians so…gee whiz.

Time for another cup of coffee and then back to work…

..and to try to find that last key that will open the lock to…who knows what?

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5 thoughts on “Locking Up Meditation”

  1. I am slowly increasing contemplative prayer throughout my day, to stay in the moment, whatever is happening. It’s the only way I can stay sane after 8 yrs dealing with cancer. When I veer away, I use the following 8 lines that I came up with as directed thoughts, while taking deep, slow breaths to get back into the moment:
    Thank You for creating us
    Thank You for being with us
    Thank You for loving us
    Thank You for guiding us
    We worship You
    We trust You
    We love You
    We follow You

    Joe

  2. I don’t know if writing increases the chaos or decreases it. I think it at least organizes all of the noise and makes it more manageable. After that, I’m not sure what happens. Maybe four minutes is all I get each day.

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