Spiritual Discipline: A Simple, Beautiful Start

Spiritual Discipline: A Simple, Beautiful Start

A post about daily spiritual discipline illustrated withe a drawing of trees over a lake with a yellow sky at the top and a blue lake at the bottom.“Rabbi, I’d like to follow a Jewish spiritual practice. How do I start?”

The answer is simple. Begin each day with gratitude. End with forgiveness.

You may find that this pattern follows your natural daily rhythm.

Imagine: you wake up in the morning, after a good sleep. You feel refreshed. The new day has so much potential. There’s so much to be grateful for. You are alive, awake, thinking, and feeling.

Early morning is a good time to make a list of things you are grateful for. You can write your list in bed, sing it in the shower, or just think it as you commute to work. If you’re not sure how to begin, the Siddur (prayer book) offers a few suggestions.

Begin with the phrase modeh ani: I am grateful in your presence, living and eternal spirit. Continue by enumerating what you are grateful for. Draw on the list of Morning Blessings set out in the Siddur. Or, go beyond it, if you are so moved. Spiritual practice should be personal!

“We are grateful to you, God,” says the Siddur, “You give the rooster (or the alarm clock) wisdom to tell day from night. You create me in your image. Give sight to the blind, and insight to the confused. You clothe the naked. Free prisoners. Straighten the bowed. Stretch out the earth over the waters. Satisfy my needs. Make my steps firm. Gird me with strength. Crown me with splendour. Give me strength when I am weary.”

But, by nightfall, the day may weigh heavily on you. You may have received catastrophic news. Or just made some mistakes you need to correct. Some interactions may have been awkward.

On the other hand, maybe you had a great day. But now you are tired. Maybe your elation led you to generate long to do lists that you’ll never complete. And what seemed like great news a few hours ago doesn’t seem so good anymore. Someone is to blame, but you’re not sure who.

Sure, you could take all the worries with you to bed, hoping that sleep alone will heal them. But sleep might not come, or, if it does, it might bring bad dreams.

So, it’s helpful to let go of the day’s troubles. Sit or lie down quietly and breathe. Think of someone or something who has upset you today. Then, let the thought go. Next, visualize an awkward interaction. Replay once it in your imagination. Then, let the image go. Finally, think of a relationship you’d like to heal. In your imagination, let the person know your desire. Then, let go of that big responsibility.

And then, remind yourself: letting go is a step towards forgiving. Not towards forgetting, but towards lessening the pain you carry. Then, feel into, think, or recite these words, adapted from the traditional bedtime forgiveness meditation:

Master of the Universe: I hereby forgive anyone who has angered or who has upset me, or has done me any harm; who has harmed my physical body, my possessions, my honor; anything pertaining to me; whether accidentally or intentionally, by speech or by deed, in this incarnation or any other; any human being. And may no one be punished on my account. May it be Your will, my God, and God of my ancestors, that I continually walk upon the path of holiness and that I do not lapse into unconsciousness or indifference. May I receive the power to transmute past unconscious thoughts, words, and deeds into radiant awareness and loving right action. (Version by Rabbi David Zaslow)

You can choose to close by asking for protection as you forgive. The Siddur suggests two ways to do so. You can draw on the bedtime service and ask for angelic protection. May I be accompanied by the angels Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael, agents of uniqueness, strength, light, and healing.

Or you can follow the evening service and thus ask God directly. Spread over me your shelter of peace; turn away violence, hunger, suffering, and temptation; guard me as I come and go; bring me renewed life in the morning.

Try it. Not just for a day. But for a week, or a month. Start today. Because it’s a good day to begin a regular spiritual discipline. It’s day 16 in the counting of the Omer. A day for exploring gevurah she’b’tiferet: discipline that opens into spiritual beauty.

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