Life & Culture

Meditation for the Jewish Mind

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Judaism is a religion that becomes a way of life, a tangible routine. So often, the stresses of the week get in the way; preparing food becomes a hassle; guests become a burden. We have forgotten the meditation that lies in the practice of Shabbat and how this feeling allows us to continue for the next six days of mitzvot.

Each week we go through a cycle of serving each other through a series of man-to-man encounters and each week we also get the opportunity to counterbalance that with a ritual that is a raw encounter with ourselves.

I am a child of the 1990s, an architect surrounded by the prophecies of gluten-free eating and religion as a “lifestyle”. My opinion has been formed by a journey from my father’s knee in synagogue to being a qualified yoga teacher, intermittently abandoning my religion altogether in search of “something greater”.

As a 23-year-old, one autumn I found myself in Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama —but instead of being in a yoga studio I was in a synagogue for first-night Rosh Hashanah. The synagogue was more packed than any yoga class I had been to. We were all returning to the spirituality we were lucky enough to be born into without even knowing it.

This did not stop me from spending another five years soul-searching through all kinds of mysticism, only to find the basics of meditation had been encouraged every week in my Orthodox upbringing — Shabbat, the day of rest.

The Western world has decided to adopt the asana (or posture) practice of yoga, not realising these postures are to encourage the body to rest for meditation, for a moment of stillness where we can be at one with ourselves and each other, simultaneously. Through the postures — or alternatively our weeks — we learn to withdraw from our senses, to observe and find samadhi (bliss).

Tadaka, a meditation process that involves staring into a candle before closing ones eyes to seal the feeling in the body, parallels the lighting of the Shabbat candles, welcoming the neshama yeteira, the extra soul, and thus becomes the practical meditation that begins Shabbat.

When lighting the candles, take one moment longer than normal and rest on the end of the breath. Neshima, in Hebrew means breath. Resonate on the closeness between your soul and this neshima. Know you are the person welcoming this moment of pause into the household and your responsibilities for the week have all been met by now. On each exhalation, pause for one moment and feel the stillness; allow the noises to melt away and inhale vitality. Use this moment as a reference point for the next day; the pause.

For children, Shabbat can be experienced through smell, a meditation in itself. Encourage your children to sniff the aromas in the kitchen before lighting the candles, let the house fill with all the familiar scents that both put us to sleep and wake us up. After all, the Shabbat ends with the smells of havdalah. We can always close our eyes and return to these smells, the scent of calm, of home, of Shabbat, often familiar and recognisable whatever house one is in at the time.

It is easy to read about meditation, easy to travel the world trying to find some kind of inner peace while being away from a more grounded physical home. Perhaps all of this seems a bit mundane? I, too, have spent years of my life wondering why no-one had worked all this out. Twelve years of yoga later (500 hours of teacher training), 20 years of being vegetarian, the expense of it all... to learn my grandparents were right — all you need is Friday night’s chicken soup.


Ruby Silove Lanesman is a practising architect who offers regular free meditation classes in north London.


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