Rabbi Dov Ber Pinson, director of the Iyyun Institute and one of the main teachers of Jewish meditation in greater New York, has kindly permitted us to use this essay from his website.
Meditation and Judaism
Exploring the Jewish Meditative Paths
Fundamental to any discipline for effective living is the concept of integration. This is the alignment of will, purpose and goal. Most of us operate inefficiently and ineffectively by being out of integrity, and not orchestrating harmoniously our physical, mental, and spiritual energies. We are at odds with ourselves.
Meditation is derived from the Latin word medi--center. To meditate is to discover and align our center of being with the actions that express who we are in life. It is to get in touch with the true self that animates our life and not the false self that manifests as the ego and which derives its identity from the externals, i.e.; things, titles, and so on. Through meditation, life can be lived more authentically by discovering our potential and by relating to the external from the internal. Ostensibly, if one's ground of being is outer directed, then it is logical to infer that the only interaction with the outer world is the external carapace that one has put in place, minimizing the role of the Self.
The most elementary use of meditation is to relax the mind and the body. In a stress-filled life and world, it is a welcome tool for relief. There are derivative salubrious effects from meditation including the treatment of migraines, lowering blood pressure, decreasing stress on the heart, while strengthening the immune system.
Through meditation, our human potentiality is augmented. Being in touch with ourselves, we become closer to other people and to life itself. Our capacity to love and our enthusiasm for life is enhanced. We coalesce with the world surrounding us and thus feel less alienated and detached. We begin to view ourselves as an integral part of something infinitely greater than what we had perceived ourselves to be.
In addition, meditation promotes concentration and the ability to focus by dispelling the distorting veil of man's internal and external prejudices. Spiritually, meditation is used as a device to attain spiritual liberation, and to loosen our intrinsic bond with that which is physical. It is both a medium to encounter the Divine and experience transcendence, while serving as a springboard, propelling future spiritual growth. In its most elevated form, it is used as a vehicle through which one ascends into higher realms and dimensions.
The Hebrew word most commonly used to connote meditation is Hitbodedut, translated as 'isolation,' being alone, drawing inwards. Given the way we operate, we are filled with the noise of the world to the point that we derive our sense of being alive from it. To be alone and to have stillness is frightening for most people. Meditation weans one from the dependency on the external and redirects the focus inward. Jewish meditation is designed to focus on the center of all reality, the Creator, and to forge a connection between the self and G-d.
There are also various methods of Jewish meditation which are purely contemplative. Jewish meditations vary, and there are perhaps dozens, if not more, methods of meditating. They range from simple meditations such as replacing mundane thoughts with loftier reflection, to the more sophisticated meditations whence one reaches a higher state of awareness and consciousness. The scope of Jewish meditation encompasses intellectual meditation to heart meditation, body movement meditation to transcendental meditation, and many more.
Choosing the suitable technique and meditation is key for the success of the meditation. Not every soul is energized by the same tunes. An assiduous and devout Chassid once implored his master to teach him the way to G-d. It was not, as he explained to his master, that he did not know that which he was required to do, rather his request was that his master should direct him in the one most inspiring and effective path to G-d. What is the way? The Rebbe replied: there is not one way. For each unique individual there is his singular road. One may find G-d through prayer, another through study, one may feel closest to G-d through self-denial, while yet another finds his connection through the pleasures in life. While one meets G-d with love another conjoins with fear. Each person will search within their hearts to find what draws them closest to their source, and then follow that unique path with all the strength of their being.