Mindfulness has become one of the most popular topics in the world of psychology, therapy and meditation. What is mindfulness? What does it mean to be mindful? What does the Torah teach us about mindfulness, specifically the teachings of Chasidut? Mindfulness is defined in Wikipedia as ‘the practice of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgement, a skill one develops through meditation or other training.’
Rebbe Nachman teaches in the tenth teaching in Likutei Moharan II that the reason people are far from G-d and are not seeking to come closer to Him is only that they do not have clarity (yishuv ha’dat in Hebrew). They do not try to contemplate life and settle their mind. The main thing that a person needs to contemplate very well is what is the purpose of all of the desires and matters of this world? If someone will contemplate this question, both regarding physical pleasures and emotional pleasures such as seeking honor, surely they will return to Hashem. They will hear the voice of their soul calling them to return to Hashem.
What blocks a person from having clarity about their life and their purpose in this world? Sadness Rebbe Nachman says. It is impossible for someone to control and guide their mind as they would like if they are in a state of sadness. Only through simcha (happiness) can a person focus their mind, contemplate and obtain clarity. Why? Because happiness is the world of freedom. Through true happiness somebody can become truly free and leave their state of exile. When a person is happy their mind is then free to contemplate and have clarity. When our mind is in a state of exile we can’t contemplate important questions: who are we? What is our true purpose in the world? What are our positive life’s goals?
How can a person get out of this state of sadness and exile and become happy? By searching for and finding their good points, Rebbe Nachman says, by looking at their good deeds and mitzvoth. We need to appreciate and rejoice in the good that we are able to do, despite our difficulties! When we really appreciate and feel happy about our good points then our mind too will be influenced by this, Rebbe Nachman teaches. Our mind will have clarity to understand and contemplate our true purpose. Happiness and being able to reflect allow us to enter a state of mindfulness.
As I write these words, we are reading the Torah portions that teach us about the life of Avraham our patriarch. How did Avraham become such a spiritual giant and the first patriarch of the Jewish people? From a young age he contemplated the reality around him and let himself ask questions. In the laws of idol worship in the Mishnah Torah, the Rambam describes how the world was stumbling in darkness and sin until Avraham was born. When he was still a very young child, three years old, he began to search and to contemplate, day and night: how is it possible that this planet and all of creation work so harmoniously with no leader? Who is turning the planet? It is impossible that it turns by itself! He had no teacher or any to answer his questions; he was surrounded by a culture of idol worship. Nevertheless, the Rambam says, his heart and mind never stopped searching and contemplating, until he found the truth. He so badly desired the truth and sought faith. (Mishnah Torah, Laws of Idol Worship, Chapter One) Avraham caused a revolution of faith in Hashem in the world because he had the courage and determination to seek the truth. He prayed, meditated, and searched until Hashem revealed Himself to Avraham. He spent many years in his search. I heard recently in a class that Avraham is our role model for everything: faith, kindness, and relationships with others. I believe it possible to say from the Rambam’s description of Avraham’s search and journey that he is also a role model for mindfulness, for contemplating the meaning of life and seeking to find Godliness in every moment of life.
(The image is courteous of the University of Michigan, University Health Service)