I consider it very important to end and begin my day with meditation and prayer. Here I will instruct you on how to do so yourself if you should choose to try it out. The majority of this text is taken from “Jewish Dharma” by Dr. Brenda Shoshanna. It is a fantastic book with everyday application. Go check it out from your local library or buy it and share it with your friends!
Prayer and meditation are important aspects of communing with God. Prayer and meditation can be done alone but it is best done in groups. Five or more people makes a powerful prayer or meditation group. To enter the world of prayer, decide to spend a certain amount of time each day praying. You can spend this time simply being silent and communing with whatever brings you peace. Or you can spend time in nature, or quietly with a loved one. Just spending time together in silence is a wonderful form of union and prayer. It is also possible to try to speak to God in your own words. Let your thoughts flow. Speak silently or out loud. It is also fine to spend this time in contemplation, going over what is or is not meaningful in your life. The important point is to set aside some time and space in the midst of your busy world and dedicate it to the Infinite. Work, service, or creative endeavors done with mindful reverence for life are forms of prayer as well. Others may prefer more formal prayer. Get a prayer book. Find something that touches you. It can be a prayer of praise, blessing, a prayer of thankfulness after meals, or perhaps some psalms. Sometimes just one sentence is enough. Take it in and dwell on it. Or perhaps you may be drawn to do more.
It is not a question of how much is done, but the sincerity you bring to it and the meaning it brings you. Try to do this every day. As you do so, the prayers themselves will guide you in what to do and where to go. The Shema is the essential Jewish prayer in all the services. It is a simple, powerful declaration of basic faith: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One”. Over the centuries, as Jews have faced death or danger, this prayer was on their lips and in their hearts. The Shema is so profound because it is a total declaration of both faith in God and complete oneness. You are being reminded that ultimately there is no separation between any aspect of life. It is considered important to say this every day. If you want to say it in Hebrew, the transliteration is “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad”. Some say it over and over to keep themselves constantly aware of the presence of God. Some may want to pray with others or increase the time spent. Others will want to create their own prayers. Each way is wonderful. If you want to pray with others, try different synagogues. Each one is different. Find one that suits you and makes you feel welcome.
Sitting in zazen meditation is a excellent supplement to prayer. Even if you do not wish to do zazen practice, there are many ways to stop endless activities, distractions, and thoughts and give yourself time to be quiet and simple. It is as simple as stopping. Simply sit down, turn off the TV, radio, or mp3 player, put aside to-do lists and other responsibilities, and just be for a few minutes. Stop talking. Practice silence. Allow yourself time to come to balance and to rest. Feel the whole universe with you, feel the wind on your face, your body on the chair, your breath coming and going, take a moment to appreciate the enormity of who you are and what is before you, day by day. As you do this more and more frequently, not only will the world change around you, not only will natural thankfulness arise, but the meaning and fruits of your labors will become increasingly clear. To practice zazen, get a cushion on the floor, straighten your spine, and cross your legs. Keep your head straight, eyes slightly open, and look down ahead of you. With your hands in front of your belly button, put your left hand in your right hand with thumbs touching lightly. Put your mind in you lower abdomen and begin by counting your natural breath from one to ten. When you get to ten, go back to one and start again. Don’t breath in any special way. Let a long breath be long and a short breath be short. Once the sitting begins do not move. Sit for as long as you can.
In the beginning, ten or fifteen minutes is fine. When thoughts come, just notice the thoughts and go back to the breath. When you lose count due to distractions, just go back and start again. The important point is to not move at all. Usually when we are uncomfortable, we try to fix or change whatever causes disturbance: An itch comes and we scratch. Here we just sit with whatever comes and simply experience it. Then we go back to the breath. Happiness comes, pain comes, pleasure comes, and they go. As we sit, we allow whatever comes to come and whatever goes to go. Do this every day, for as long as you are able. Regularity is very important. As your practice deepens, your zazen will guide you on what to do next. At some point sitting with others is very helpful, and there are many zen centers all over the country. But today just start with the first breath. Actually, in zen practice, every breath is the first breath.
Peace be with you.