‘Mindfulness’ is quite the buzzword at the moment, with more and more people across the world incorporating the practice of mindfulness into their daily routines. But what you might not know is that Jews have been practicing their own form of mindfulness, or what’s called hitbodedut (lit: ‘to seclude oneself’) in the original Hebrew, for millennia – and now, you can join them by following this quick basic guide to Jewish mindfulness. Jewish mindfulness includes periods where you just stay quiet, and allow God to talk to you, and to send you insights and ideas, but also periods of time where you verbally speak to the Creator out loud, the way you would talk to a close friend. The first stage is to fix a time to actually do it. It doesn’t have to be the same time every day (although having that sort of fixed commitment built into their routine certainly works for a lot of people) – but it should be for a specific period. How much time is up to you, but devoted practitioners of Jewish mindfulness aim for an hour a day – and some of the more advanced masters of Jewish mindfulness engage in the practice for 6+ hours a day!
The main aim of Jewish mindfulness is to reconnect to the Creator of the world, and you can do this very easily by beginning your hitbodedut session with a statement of intent, along the following lines: “I hereby connect myself to the Creator of the World, [or you can say ‘God’, or ‘Hashem’, or whatever term works best for you] with every thought, breath, word and deed.” Next, we’re going to take same deep breaths to ground us, release any physical stress and tension, and bring us into the ‘now’. We’re going to put our focus on the out breath, because exhaling triggers the body’s parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which releases calming and relaxing chemicals like acetylcholine, that reduce your heart rate, takes your body off ‘high alert’ status, and enables you to relax and unwind. Now, we’re going to take a breath for each of our eight deeper needs, as defined by Rabbi Shalom Arush, as follows:
1. Breath One: Emuna (faith / belief): Breathe in awareness that God exists and is real. Breathe out any doubts / heretical thoughts that God doesn’t exist, or doesn’t love you, or isn’t actively involved in your life.
2. Breath Two: Gratitude: Breathe in appreciation for all the blessings in your life. Breathe out ingratitude and taking things for granted.
3. Breath Three: Truth: Breathe in the desire to live truthfully. Breathe out any untruths you’re telling yourself, or that you’re caught up in.
4. Breath Four: Unique good point: Breathe in that you are a unique creation, with a unique way of building the world that no-one else can accomplish. Breathe out any thoughts of futility, despair, worthlessness or meaningless.
5. Breath Five: Sense of purpose: Breathe in that God is giving you the ability to achieve your full potential. Breathe out lack of self-confidence, fear, and anxiety.
6. Breath Six: Self-improvement: Breathe in the confidence that God is going to help you fix whatever you need to. Breathe out any thoughts of helplessness, guilt and criticism.
7. Breath Seven: Love and relationships: Breathe in the love, support and caring you’re surrounded with. Breathe out selfishness, self-interest and self-absorption.
8. Breath Eight: Courage: Breathe in the strength, energy and determination God is sending you to get your job on earth done. Breathe out confusion, doubt, paralysis and panic.
Please note: If you feel any of these areas require more attention, then you can ‘breathe into them’ for as long as you want, before you continue.
After the breathing comes the more verbal part of the process: We’re going to thank God for some of the kindnesses that He’s done for us since the last time we came to talk to Him. It can be small things like having hot water in the shower, a great cup of coffee, a warm bed to snuggle up in; or bigger things like getting that new job, moving house, or having a loving partner to share our life with. Next, we’re going to think of three kindness that other people have done for us recently, and we’re going to say thank you for those things, too. Did someone give you their seat on the bus? Send you a nice email? Stepped in to do your carpool for you at the last minute?
Please note: Jewish mindfulness encourages you to say ‘thank you’ directly to the individuals themselves, too, once you’ve finished your mindfulness session.
Now, we’re going to take a moment to appreciate our own goodness. What kind things have you done for others over the last 24 hours? They could be tangible things that are obvious, or the internal things that no-one else knows about, like keeping your temper with your spouse when they accidentally locked you out of the house, or praising your child for playing so nicely with their sibling, instead of criticizing them for not tidying up their room. (The following step should be skipped if you’re having a bad day, and are beating yourself up or feeling depressed, lonely or somehow not ‘good enough’).
Staying with the idea of how well we’ve been doing since our last mindfulness session, now we’re going to go over the last 24 hours, and replay key moments to ourselves, initially without judging ourselves at all. Simply observe your interactions and behavior as though you are watching a movie. As you replay the different events, ask God (verbally) for His input, and request that He shows you any areas that might require some work, improvement, or a different way of doing things – but without beating yourself up, or making any harsh judgment calls about yourself. Jewish mindfulness encourages self-awareness without self-criticism, shaming or blaming. If you start to forget that at any point in your mindfulness session, stop what you’re doing, and breathe in that God is running the world, and is calling the shots, and that He is ultimately responsible for everything that happens. If you identify any areas that need some improvement, ask yourself: ‘Why did I act / speak / think that way? What was I scared of? What was I running away from? What was I trying to control?’ Allow God to give you the answers, and notice what thoughts arise in your mind in response to your questions.
A key part of Jewish mindfulness is acting on the insights you receive once your mindfulness session is over. If you figure out you need to do something differently, have a real heart-to-heart with someone, make an apology or chart a new course in some area of your life, resolve to do it at the first possible opportunity. Ideally, Jewish mindfulness should be practiced every single day, without fail. So the traditional ‘closing statement’ when you come to the end of your Jewish mindfulness session is as follows: ‘Thank You, God, for giving me the opportunity to speak to you for [whatever period of time has passed] today. Please enable me to speak to you for at least [state your period of time] again tomorrow, and every day of my life. “I hereby declare a new beginning. I hereby declare that I’m attaching every thought, word and deed to You, God.” If you regularly practice Jewish mindfulness, you’ll start to treat yourself and others with much more compassion and kindness; you’ll start to appreciate more of the goodness that your life is filled with, and you’ll get to know yourself – and God - on a much deeper, more satisfying soul level.