A Practice to Quiet the Mind and Bolster the Spirit

With thanks to Rabbis Nancy Flam and James Jacobson-Maisels, who developed and taught this prayer practice through the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. The accompanying audio and a PDF version of this text are below.

This contemplative practice is based on the teaching of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczner Rebbe.  Born in Poland in 1889, Shapira become a Hasidic rebbe at twenty and founded one of the largest yeshivot in inter-war Poland at thirty-four. Shapira remained with his community in the Warsaw Ghetto after the Nazi invasion, and was ultimately murdered by the SS in 1943.  Many of his teachings were hidden in the Ghetto and discovered after the war.

The Rebbe called this a “quieting practice,” combining elements of mindfulness, connection to a sense of the sacred, and the cultivation of positive qualities of mind and heart.  It has three main components:

1) Quieting the mind:  find a seated position that is comfortable, which you can maintain for about 20 minutes, a position in which you can be both relaxed and alert.  To begin to quiet the mind, you are invited to close your eyes and bring your awareness to the physical sensations of sitting.  You can notice your feet on the floor, your body in the chair or on the cushion.  It can also be helpful to bring your awareness to your breath.  Simply pay attention to the sensation of in-breath, the sensation of out-breath.  When the mind wanders (which is will do!), gently guide your awareness back to the sensations of the body or the sensations of breathing.  Just pay attention to what is happening in the body and in the mind, without needing to change anything.  Breathe.  Sit for 5-7 minutes.

2) Recite to yourself a verse or phrase that fosters, for you, a sense of holiness or of deep calm.  This phrase - instead of the body or the breath - becomes the focus of your meditation. The intention here is to cultivate a sense of holiness, of dwelling in the presence of Something both within and beyond ourselves, or of simply connecting to a deeper sense of peace. Some possible phrases

  • Ahava - Love
  • Expansiveness
  • Source of Life – Ain Ha-chayim
  • Mekor Mayim Chayim - Fount of Living Waters
  • Ain Sof  - The Infinite
  • Shekhina
  • HaMakom - The Place (you might imagine a physical place that is particularly  awesome or meaningful to you as you say this)
  • Rachamana - Compassionate One
  • Shalom - Peace
  • Ribono shel Olam (Power of the Universe)

 If none of these phrases resonate for you, choose an image or a memory of a holy or special moment; choose a word or two to describe it.  Once you have a word or phrase that works for you, recite it silently and gently to yourself, for another 5-7 minutes.  When the attention wanders, come back to the phrase.

3)  Choose a quality that you want to cultivate in this moment - courage or patience; gratitude or compassion or something else. Then choose a phrase or set of phrases to say to cultivate the chosen quality.  It may be as simple as “May I be blessed with X” or “May I be Y.”  Just make sure the phrases are positive rather than negative - that is, “May I be X” rather than “May I not be Y.”  It is also important to say the phrase to ourselves gently, without forcing.  We are simply inviting the quality to become manifest, knowing we cannot control whether or not it does.  Here, as an example, is a set of phrases to cultivate the quality of courage:

May I be blessed with courage. May I stand firm in the face of fear. May I trust in my ability to be with what arises.

Repeat the phrase(s) silently to yourself, gently and mindfully, for five minutes.

 4)  To close, you can bring your awareness back to the breath, and just sit with the intention to be present to whatever arises for another few minutes.  Or you might want to close with a simple chant - for example, the word “Shalom.”