These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Self / Soul & Text] Hitbodidut

Posted on February 21, 2012 by David Bogomolny

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Dear G-d,

I’m going to write to You now to review our shared experience of the last hour. I preceded my hitbodidut discussion with a quiet meditation in the yard by my apartment. I meditated for twenty five minutes or so, and I was very pleased to find that my alarm signaled the end of my meditation just as I felt I was ready to end it.

This meditation experience felt by far the most powerful that I’ve had. I found myself swaying my body a bit when I was silently intoning phrases to myself, as I’m doing now while I write this open letter to You. I don’t always sway when I daven, but it does help sometimes, and it made meditation easier for me – I was better able to focus upon the repeated messages that I was attempting to concentrate upon.

Also, I modified the meditation technique that James recommended to our class. In the past, I have found that sticking to the four part meditation technique has been challenging for me – my mind has drifted from my intended repetitions, and I’ve also found it difficult to switch from one step of the practice to another at somebody else’s (James’) suggestion in the classroom. This time, whenever my mind wandered, I was able to move back and forth between the four steps of the meditation practice, and this less rigid method felt much more natural to me. The swaying of my body also added to the feeling of having developed a personal rhythm to my meditation, and on the whole this session was a very positive experience for me.

I then began my hitbodidut session with You. This was more deliberate than any previous conversation that I’ve had with You. I had just come out of a very intense meditation, and I found myself breathing a bit heavily. I questioned whether the conversation with You was forced or not, as I only initiated our discussion because I was assigned to do so for homework. The truth, I think, is that it wasn’t really forced for me because I’ve spoken to You before – I feel comfortable with this practice – and while this was assigned to me for homework, I voluntary signed up for James’ class in the first place – it’s not as though somebody has been requiring me to try activities that I haven’t been curious to explore anyway.

More than ever before, my conversation with You focused on the status of my life. It focused on the heaviest questions of my existence, as I perceive them. I wonder a lot about who I am and what I am driven towards. I wonder whether or not my passions are worthwhile endeavors. I worry about the direction of my life, in the context of eventually having a career again – it’s lovely to sit around and meditate before conversing with You about the meaning of life, but it’s clearly not something that I can (or should or want to) do in a full-time capacity forever. So what comes next for me? Where do I take this?

I talked to You about my flaws and some of the mistakes (conscious mistakes, many of them) that I’ve made in the past. I wondered whether feeling flawed better empowers me to relate to others. I really put my greatest concerns out on the line before You, so to speak. It’s interesting to share my existential worries with you because the truth is that You already know everything about me, but hitbodidut helps me flesh out the ideas I have and it allows me to explore more extensively than I would if I never articulated them or wrote them down.

I know that writing is not hitbodidut, per se, but I have to say that writing my impressions for James’ class has also been very enjoyable for me, as has been posting notes of some of my ideas and impressions in Facebook. Self expression seems to be very cathartic for me – of course every individual connects with hir spiritual self in different ways, and this is in part the point of James’ class – to explore various spiritual practices so as to identify the ones that are most meaningful to us as individuals. Writing in my journal and addressing my thoughts to You really encourages me to write about meaningful things; addressing this note to You makes the experience of sharing my feelings on hitbodidut and meditation more focused and meaningful.

My torso is still swaying back and forth, and I’m almost ready to end this note to the class. This will be my first Rosh Hashana in Israel since the age of one, and I may be more prepared (in the right state of mind) for the High Holy Days than I have ever been. I’ve taken more time to reflect upon myself in a short period of time than I ever have before, and speaking with You out loud pushes me towards brutal honesty in a way that other practices don’t… if I were to lie during a hitbodidut session, I would be lying to myself before You, and I don’t think I could be at peace with myself afterwards, knowing that I was avoiding myself, and using the hitbodidut practice as a cheap spiritual bandage.

I feel very good about writing this out and doing my spiritual HW before Rosh Hashana. I feel very good about James’ class in general, and I feel very good about the relationship that I’ve been working on developing with You, G-d. I can’t say that I felt a direct response from You during this particular hitbodidut session, but I’ve been feeling more myself in general recently, and seeking You out as a primary force in my life has been a part of that, I believe.