Some years back I learned about a Jewish practice called hitbodedut, a practice that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov encouraged all of his followers to engage in. Before we open our siddur, our prayer book, we should open our hearts to God, he said. Pray spontaneously. Get rid of all the baggage so that we can deeply connect to God in the beautiful, ancient prayers that bind us as religious Jews. In modern Judaism, some Jews simply sit quietly in meditation, breathing, clearing their mind. Others may find a mantra or a chant a way to clear our minds for authentic prayer. These, also, are practices of hitbodedut.
I finally began this practice a few months ago and it's had a profound effect on my prayer life.
A couple of days ago, before I opened my siddur, put on my tallis (prayer shawl), or picked up my guitar, I stood at the window and offered up my "blah" feeling to God. I didn't feel like praying and I didn't feel like praying to feel like praying. (Whew!). As I stood there thinking about skipping right into my work day, though, I happened to glance down at one of my dogs. He was lying on my feet staring up at me. Was he feeling a little of my sadness? I smiled, sat down, and took him in my arms, and he relaxed into my caresses. When I stood back up, I looked out and felt a sense of amazement at the serenity and breathtaking beauty of the forest I live in. My husband was out of town and I had some time for solitude. I realized it had been several days since I'd heard a single human-made sound. Deer strolled through my yard.
A few days earlier during this meditation time, I suddenly realized I was having difficulty connecting to God because I'd developed an obsessive, stinky attitude about the house I lived in. The first time Bob and I had walked into this home, we fell instantly in love. "Oh, look at that view and that one! These decks! Wow! Here's where your study will be, where you'll be surrounded by massive windows and enshrouded by the forest. A bathtub with a window looking out onto the forest. You can't even see a single house from here - the seclusion! It's so quiet - have you heard a car or a human sound since we've been here?!!"
Well, that attitude lasted a few weeks. Then we began to notice other things: no running water on the fourth floor, a broken window in the basement, no garage door, wires hanging out of walls, ugly white walls, broken shades.... We began to send our list of complaints to the landlady and when she didn't respond, we hired an attorney. Nothing wrong with that because most of our complaints were serious issues.
I noticed, however, that we became so obsessed with everything that was wrong with the house, that we stopped noticing everything that was right. If we invited anyone up, we preempted the visit by apologizing for how ugly the house was, that it had been built 50 years ago and never been updated, that the few additions were rigged and poorly done. If the house came up in any conversation, we wondered aloud how anyone had lived here.
The other day, though, when a friend of mine visited, I realized she had a vastly different opinion of my home. There she stood, just like I had the first time I walked through the front door, looking around with a sense of wonder. The view mesmerized her and she seemed to think the house had a bit of a cool funk to it. Her apartment, she said, was small and shabby and she was paying nearly half the rent that I paid. I was surrounded by forest and mountains. She didn't even have a view.
The next morning, during my pre-prayer prayer, I suddenly saw my house through her eyes. How fortunate I am, I said out loud to God, that I have this huge home with lots of comfy spots, gorgeous views, decks on every level, seclusion, warmth, room for my dogs to run and play.. and yes, a little funk. I'm tired of complaining. I'm ready to open my heart to gratitude.
And that's what I did.
And the music in my heart ascended.