Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What Not to Do on Your Way To Pray

My grandmother used to suffer from high blood pressure - it runs in the family.  There is a old family legend that one time, she went to see her doctor for a routine check up and the doctor was shocked by the normal, regular read on he BP and was rather puzzled as to what caused the significant drop in tension.  After asking a list of questions about her diet and exercise, the doctor isolated that the only significant change in her routine was that her copy of the New York Times did not arrive at her house that morning.

One of the hardest parts of teaching davening is helping to guide students on how to focus their mind when the room is quiet. When there is a song, it is easy to make noise or hum the tune to feel the moment or the meaning. But when the atmosphere is still, and you have only the thoughts in your head, it can be awfully difficult to quiet the mind. 

One suggestion that I just read about was to be reorient oneself as you prepare to go daven and gain more kavanah.  It is easy to see that before physical exercise you need to stretch and warm up, then is this not also the case for a spiritual workout?  The Rambam in his Laws of Prayer (4:16) asks, "How does one concentrate, and what constitutes proper intentions?  One should empty his heart of all (foreign) thoughts and view himself as if standing in front on of the Shechinah (divine presence).  Therefore, one must settle in a little before the tefilla in order to enable his heart to concentrate, and thereafter pray in peace and supplication."

This follows on the previous post of pausing - the need to really be ready to connect to something on a different level than you normally operate.  There is a minyan at my office for mincha and sometimes I have a hard time joining because I cannot immediately breakaway from the work activity I was doing just previously.  Perhaps this is like having high blood pressure, but you need to remember that there is always a natural way to control one's tension - you just need isolate the primary cause.

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