Real Peace


Asssignment:
Strive to experience real peace for 24 hours. This means no talking and no entertainment, like television, radio and movies. If possible, relax and spend the day in complete solitude with little communication. Limit your activities to thinking, reading (an inspirational, preferably non-fiction book), writing, walking, meditating, or practicing. Be completely aware of everything around you. Notice thoughts and feelings as the day passes. Be watchful and observe yourself.
Do not use the day for work, but better understand the value of peace.

This essay is being written on Saturday night, April 28, after the Jewish Sabbath has ended. I have spent the last 25 hours trying to further appreciate the value of peace.

As I related in the first version of this assignment, the Jewish Sabbath is designed to be a day of peace. I did not work at my job or plan my life. I did not become distracted by electronic media. I did not travel out of my community. I also did not phone or email any of my out-of-town relatives whom I have been helping to deal with major medical and elder-care issues.

On this particular Shabbat I took two additional measures to insure peace. One was that my wife and I did not host friends for meals or visit anyone in their homes. In addition, I did not participate in group prayer services or study groups.

This last item was a major step for me. I am very social and have been part of the Fair Lawn Jewish community for many years. The synagogue is a central meeting place for us. The structure of the prayer service, as handed down through the generations, brings people together for contemplation, petition, praise and many other forms of worship.

At the same time, we have a strong tradition of meditation and consciousness-raising. This activity, called hitbodeduth, was described in the first paper of this assignment. I decided to make that a bigger part of my day. My understanding of it is in development; as a matter of fact, one of the major projects of my life is an attempt to make prayer more meaningful. So the day became a learning opportunity

Customarily, Jews pray three times/day, four times on Shabbat. Since I did not daven with a congregation, I had time for other, more personal matters. One was meditation. I did not feel rushed in my morning practice, so I actually did a “double workout”. Usually I practice it for ten minutes every morning; today I went for two ten-minute sessions. I was not exactly satisfied with my first attempt, so I went for a second. Over the past few months I have started to recognize how truly important meditation is to my martial arts practice – as well as to my life practice – and today was a day to make it more of a fixture in my life.

In addition, I spent more time with affirmations. I have become a big advocate of self-talk as a key to designing myself. I see that we become the messages we tell ourselves. I try to incorporate “reprogramming” myself into my meditation, after the regular session. With pure meditation, we see our thoughts and try to detach ourselves from them. With my self-talk addition, I self-evaluate and “write new scripts” for thoughts that need to be changed. Without a lot of distractions today, I was able to be more sensitive to my reactions to different thoughts, and rewrite them. I would love to be able to maintain that awareness and control even in the midst of a very busy day.

My morning seder, or order of activity, included also breathing and visualization.

Throughout the day, I was able to address some of the larger issues related to prayer by engaging in some serious textual study. One topic of focus was the idea or truth conveyed by different prayers. I try to spend as much time as I can on this as a way of tapping into ancient wisdom. Today, I was able to concentrate on one of my favorite prayers, known as Nishmat.

Here is a translation from the Hebrew of one of its many powerful stanzas:

The limbs You have apportioned for us,
and the spirit and soul that You have breathed into our nostrils,
and the tongue You have set in our mouth,
behold, they will thank, bless, praise, glorify, exalt, revere, sanctify, and proclaim the sovereignty of Your Name, our King.

For every mouth will thank You,
and every tongue will swear allegiance to You,
and every knee will bend to you,
and all that stand up will prostrate themselves before You,
and all hearts will be in awe of You,
and all internal organs and kidneys will sing to Your Name, as it is written,
“All my bones will say, ‘God, who is like You?!”

To me, these phrases are virtually crying out, “Do Chi Kung!” What I hear as commonly called the health benefits, and getting more profound feelings of chi, can be understood in this sense as praises to God. Improving your circulation, and enhancing the functioning of your internal organs, are in a sense ways of thanking God for the life He has given you. Chi Kung as a form of prayer – to me, a very exciting idea.

Unfortunately, most of the Jews I know are not sufficiently educated about the body/mind connection, or on the translation of the liturgy, to take this perspective on our prayer. I am sure other religions have the same problem. The irony is that our prayer service is ready-made for having an uplifting spiritual experience. This day and this study have really brought me in touch with my own dissatisfaction with the current state of prayer.

I reread as well the introduction to one of my favorite siddurim (prayer books): the Metsudah Siddur, compiled by Rabbi Avroham Davis. Here is one of his points that made a lot of sense to me:

“The halacha (Jewish Law) teaches us that man must pray in the same place regularly, for if the body wanders from place to place it will lack tranquility of spirit and be unable to concentrate on the prayer. An intelligent man will certainly infer from this halacha that if while praying the body needs to rest in one place, how much more so his spirit. In truth it is indeed difficult to restrict oneself to a single thought. It is a formidable task requiring a great deal of practice and self-control, but for what was man created if not to strain every fiber and nerve in his body to serve God?”

Well. Talk about the importance of mindfulness, and the need for constant meditation to discipline the mind! Reading this made me all the more eager to engage in physical practice, as that is moving meditation and presents an even stronger challenge to controlling thoughts. I had two good physical practices today.

All in all it was a wonderful day. I have come to the conclusion that hitbodeduth encompasses a wide range of mind/body disciplines: breathing, sitting meditation, affirmations, visualizations, physical practice, as well as the verbal expressions: praise, thanks, blessing etc. What a great discovery.

I feel that the day of peacefulness freed me to concentrate on some very productive learning and growth activities. It was a great idea, and I hope to repeat it.

 

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