V’ahavta—And You Shall Love With All Your Heart: Anxiety and TM

Morning comes again. Dreams are abandoned for the business, pain, pleasure, and striving of the day. How can we get through the events and demands of this day and still feel peaceful inside, in touch with our true inner values and wisdom?

Some people do it by spending the day in and out of prayer, some are in and out of mini-getaways in their minds, but most of us can’t hang onto the peaceful perspective we had before we fully awakened that morning. We’ve pretty much blown it by mid-morning, if not before. If we get any of it back, it’s a short-lived victory as the day wears on.

For those of us who have not found a “home” yet for our unique faith, whatever it may be, the challenge is even greater. If we don’t have a regular spot in our week to pull back from all the stress and take a longer, wiser view, then we’re not likely to take it. Instead, we may escape a bit on our days off in one way or another, but always with that creeping thought in the back of our minds that it’s just that—a temporary escape. That thought does nothing but create sadness and kill off any real release we might feel.

At one point, I thought learning TM would help me with the constant tension that dogged me wherever I was, day in and day out. Then I abandoned the practice when I discovered the mind-boggling reality of a God who not only loves me, but takes an intense interest in my public life and my private soul. Somehow, chanting a mantra to re-center myself was an insignificant activity compared to learning more about, and drawing closer to, that passionate presence.

I look around at people I love who are governed by their anxiety. Not that I’m clear of that myself by any means, but I think TM could be a good practice for those who have not found a compelling relationship with God yet, and have not found a home for practicing their unique faith. I think if they can steer clear of TM’s religious aspects, avoid getting drawn into becoming a devotee, and just learn the technique, it could help with the physical ravages of anxiety.

But the deepest anxiety we have comes from not trusting ourselves, the world, or others to be faithful, true, loving, and good. As well we can’t and shouldn’t, because only God is all that and more, and only with him can we know true security. All our life is just a path of discovery toward this brilliant, eternal love.

In Judaism, prayer happens three times a day (for devotion, that trumps the two times a day practice of TM already, in my view), because we need that constant reminder of the Eternal One who never stops flooding us with goodness and safety. The V’ahavta, the prayer that is recited along with the Shema three times a day, drives this message home: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

It’s not just about receiving this great love, but about loving back with total trust, the kind of trust we have when we are fast asleep, when the chaos and cacophony of the day is silenced and held at bay. If we never succumbed to sleep, we might never experience this level of trust. Even those who do not value faith (which is more accurately translated as trust) benefit from the blessing of this hiatus every night.

I found a great article by Rabbi Danielle Stillman that describes this perfectly:

“We are commanded by tradition to say the Shema and the V’ahavta at least three times a day during the daily prayers. We cover our eyes for the Shema. This helps us go inward and focus — and it is also an act of trust.

“No recitation of the prayer embodies comfort and trust more than the Shema that is said right before bed. This is another time of trust and safety, when we prepare to close our eyes for the night, surrendering to sleep.

“Scholars believe that the bedtime Shema was developed as a protection against the dangers of the night. People felt comforted by recalling the One God and God’s loving commandment for us to love. Many parents say these prayers with their children before bed, infusing this quiet time of comfort with the loving words of the V’ahavta.”

I also enjoyed this video by an orthodox rabbi in support of TM and its positive effect on his journey of faith. But most of all, I love this delightfully dated but marvelous interview with orthodox rabbi Aryeh Kaplan ztl, about Judaism and meditation, which points to a deeper and more satisfying form of meditation than anything we could teach as a system or a lesson.

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