Kavanah

Jewish Mindfulness

by Allan J. Katz, LPC (See all authors)

The new psychology buzz word of this century is mindfulness. Mindfulness means concentrating on one thing at a time, just for concentration sake. Mindfulness can take many forms, from meditation to just sitting and focusing on what you’re doing, looking at, listening to, smelling or tasting. It’s remaining aware of what your 5 senses are experiencing in the present moment.

What gets addicts in trouble is that we relive the past and worry too much about the future. Sometimes, subconsciously, feelings that we felt when we were younger come back to haunt us in adulthood, when we are triggered with the same emotion. Scientific studies of addictive behavior show that it is virtually impossible to relapse when you’re concentrating on the present moment. As author Connie Lofgreen says in her excellent book titled, “The Storm of Sex Addiction – Rescue and Recovery,” “When addicts incorporate regular meditation and other mindfulness practices into their daily routines, they progress more quickly and have stronger recoveries.”

Reb Nachman of Breslov speaks about hisbodedus – a state of mind of simply sitting with oneself and contemplating. This may be what our sages were talking about when they said we should prepare for one hour before davening.

One area of mindfulness which helps addicts who are addicted to certain behaviors is to simply notice thoughts that enter your head. You don’t have to act on the thoughts. Some days you’ll have angry thoughts, sad thoughts or shameful thoughts. The more you dwell on them, the more they build up energy and tension in your body and you begin to feel restless, irritable and discontent.

What’s the remedy?

Simply be mindful that thoughts are passing through your consciousness and you are just an observer, like a third party looking at movie screen. Ask yourself, what is going on today that is making me have sad, angry or shameful thoughts? When you can simply ride the wave of the emotion it will settle down in a few minutes and lose its power over you. We can simply observe without acting out, judging myself or comparing ourselves to other people. When we can mindfully observe our thoughts without judging or comparing, we practice having a Non-Judgmental Stance. And don’t forget to not judge yourself if you find yourself judging, because it is natural for us to judge to some degree.

Our Tefillos require this same level of mindfulness. We call it Kavanah. You have not fulfilled the mitzvah of Tefillah if you did not have Kavanah in the first paragraph of Shemoneh Esrei. You are distracted from having Kavanah when you’re looking at the email on your cell phone while davening. The idea of Jewish mindfulness is to concentrate on what we read and what we hear in the present moment. When we distract ourselves with technology or talking we are not being mindful and we therefore lack Kavanah.

How do we learn to increase our Kavanah?

One way to increase your Kavanah is to practice focusing on your breathing for 15-20 minutes every day. Close your eyes and simply sit in a comfortable chair and just focus on your breath. When extraneous thoughts come into your mind (and they will), simply let them go and focus back on your breath. There is no right or wrong way to do mindfulness. It just is what it is. Don’t judge yourself. Simply breath.

This practice of concentration will help you achieve higher levels of Kavanah, especially if you daven Shmone Esrei by heart. Close your eyes and focus on one spot in your head internally. Then simply concentrate and focus on the words you’re saying. When outside thoughts pop in, just let them go and return to your davening. If you don’t daven by heart, get a linear siddur and follow along. It helps to know what the words mean.

By incorporating a daily practice of mindfulness, you will automatically improve the quality of your davening by having more Kavanah. This leads to a less stressful life, lowers depression and anxiety and trains your brain to make the change to a lasting sobriety.

Allan J. Katz is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Coach and Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT). He and his wife have helped save many marriages through GYE. To speak with Allan, call our hotline, press Extension 2 for “Treatment” and then press 3 to be directed to his phone line. Allan and his wife can help you come to grips with the situation you find yourself in. (The initial call is free, but you may decide to engage Allan in long-term or short-term coaching). Allan’s e-mail is: ajk@allanjkatz.com. Or visit his website at http://allanjkatz.com.