Rabbi Ivan Browner
Peace Initiative - Faith Educator
"Talking To God.. Or Listening?”
Deepening Prayer As a Meditation
We as individuals spend most of our waking moments talking or communicating in one way or another. We talk with our families, co-workers, children, teachers, significant others, and most importantly ourselves. When I say we talk with ourselves, I am referring to the ceaseless inner dialog of thoughts that are our constant companions. For the most part, these thoughts occupy the largest percentage of our conscious attention.
So when we set aside a few moments out of our crazy schedule to pray, or find a quiet introspective opportunity to commune with God, “What do you think actually happens?” Well, many people follow their unconscious habit and fill that quiet sacred moment with… you guessed it, “thoughts!”
Let’s try an experiment. Close your eyes and picture in your mind an event such as “what happened while you were eating breakfast this morning?” Go ahead try it. As you attempt to visit in your mind the exact situations that occurred during your breakfast time this morning, you may experience a strange phenomenon. To begin with, the mental picture of your experience may be strong in the field of your attention, but then the clarity of the images begin to fade as other non-related thoughts enter your stream of attention. Keeping a clear thought or image in our mind takes much practice and a tight ability to focus. Focusing properly takes years to master and is a skill the very few people possess to any degree of mastery.
When this lack of focus interrupts our time for prayer or communion with God, we often feel unfulfilled or even guilty that our prayer experience was not deep enough. “Why should God listen to me?” or “I should be more open during prayer” are common statements people say when trying to explain their prayer experiences to others.
When people ask me if it’s possible to make their prayer time more meaningful, I say “of course it is… but there is a secret!” It is at this moment when I usually put on a recording of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I say to them, “Now, listen closely.” After listening intently together for several minutes, I ask “What makes this piece of music so hauntingly beautiful?” After moments of silence while the person is thinking; I say, “That’s Right!” “It’s the silent space between the notes being played that makes this piece of music so special.” These sacred moments of silence give relevance to the notes that are being played. This is the same with Prayer. It is by getting to know this silence that we begin to become aware of the presence of something profound and much more alive than sounds, thoughts or words.
In the modern synagogue environment, there is are a lot of sound, words, music and activity. Everything is carefully orchestrated to complete a service in an allotted amount of time, while fulfilling all the Talmudic requirements that makes a prayer service proper. All of this outer activity and sound, coupled with the persons own inner thought activity makes it extremely difficult to successfully listen to or commune with Hashem during prayer. This is the exact reason why the mystics of old and religious scholars would spend much time in quiet meditation before they would begin their formal prayer. They were honing their ability to “listen” and direct their intention toward that silent space from which all thought emanates from. Only when they were truly rooted within that experience would they begin their prayer.
That space exists within each and every one of us and is accessible now. We all can experience the deep peace that exists beneath the incessant noise of our always thinking mind. This is the realm of insight and true communion with Hashem. It is the place where we not only speak with Hashem, but learn that Hashem is communicating with us as well. In further articles we will explore how to deepen our relationship with this vast silent realm that exists within each of us. So, I ask you… Are you talking to God… or Listening?
Rabbi Ivan Browner
Congregation Ner Tamid Shel Torah