This week's video goes more deeply into the first "Portal of Presence" in the Integral Jewish Meditation practice- the portal of the heart. Why is motivation important? Is it even possible to choose what your intention is?
It is possible, because we have different motivation potentials. In any given moment, the motivation of love exists within, even if it's hidden and you don't feel it. If you remember this and awaken the motivation of love by simply dedicating yourself to loving service, you can evoke it any time. Try using the phrase below throughout the week...
Zekher- (Remembrance Phrase for the Week):
"Whatever I do, I offer to You."
Chant (From Psalm 145):
I will exalt You, my God.
Teaching, Chant and Meditation Audio for streaming or download:
Teaching, Chant and Meditation Video:
Chant Only Audio for streaming or download:
Chant Only Video:
As you know, IJM begins with what I call the three portals of Presence.
The first portal, which we’ll talk about in this video, is the portal heart, meaning not the physical heart, but the dimension of feeling from which emotions arise, as well as the energy of motivation, or intention behind anything you do. In this practice we’re not so much concerned with emotions per se, which we might define as turbulence in the feeling dimension, but rather we’re concerned with evoking the right motivation for your practice. A good Hebrew word that describes motivation or intention is kavanah. So we begin with this heart level in order to make sure that we’re approaching the practice with the right kavanah, or intention, right from the beginning.
So what is right intention?
First, it’s important to understand that right intention, or kavanah, is not something different from the kind of intention that arises naturally when you’re being present or awake. In fact, right intention is awakened intention. So how can that be? How can you begin with awakened intention if you’re doing the practice in order to wake yourself up? It sounds like a contradiction.
In order to understand the answer, let’s take the example of lifting weights. You lift weights in order to build physical strength. But you can’t lift weights at all unless you have at least a little physical strength to begin with. With your little bit of strength, you can lift a small weight. Then with that you build strength, and you can move on to heavier weights, and you get stronger and stronger.
It’s same with anything you want to get better at. If you want to learn how to play piano or guitar, you have to first be able to wiggle your fingers. If you want to learn something intellectual, you have to first have a brain that can think.
The point is, whatever we want to learn, it’s always a building on something we already have, and with spirituality, it’s exactly the same. You can develop awakened intention because you already have awakened intention; you just need to remember it and practice it. But to do this, you need to first have a grasp of what it is so that you know what you’re going for.
There’s a nice description of this is Psalm 15. It says, “Hashem, who may dwell in your tent?” And then it answers- One who walks in simplicity and acts fairly and who speaks truth from the heart.
So this verse gives a sense that there’s a simplicity and a sincerity, a seeing of things as they are and seeking to do the right thing for its own sake, not for ulterior motive.
Another great description comes from the classic rabbinic wisdom text Pirkei Avot. In the third mishna, the sage Antiginous says,
“Don’t be like the servant who serves the master to receive a reward; rather, be like the servant who serves the master not to receive a reward.”
In other words, you should serve for its own sake, not for some future result. But what does this really mean? Why would you “serve a master” unless you were going to get something out of it later?
So imagine you saw a baby crawl over to an open hot oven and reach toward the oven door. What would you do? You’d probably jump up and save the baby from burning itself- right? And in that situation, you’d be doing it just because it’s the right thing to do- not to get some future reward out of it. Your response is direct and immediate- there’s no decision making process- no calculating or weighing of options- you’re just being holekh tamim- you’re walking in simple wholesomeness.
So that’s really what Antiginous meant by serving to not receive a reward. It’s because saving the baby is its own reward, it’s lishma- for its own sake.
But why is it so important to make sure that we begin the practice with the right kavanah? Won’t meditation help us to awaken the right kavanah, even if we’re not doing it with a pure motive?
In the Torah reading Parshat Ki Tisa, the reading begins with God telling Moses:
“When you take a census of the children of Israel to count them, every person should give an atonement for their souls to the Divine when you count them, so that there won’t be a plague among them when they’re counted.”
This is a super strange passage. First God is telling Moses to take a census of the Israelites- not so strange- Moses is leading thousands of Israelites through the desert so it makes sense that he would want to keep track of them all. But then it says something strange- that every Israelite should give a kofer- an atonement or a ransom. This word kofer is the same as in Yom Kippur- the Day of Atonement. In the next line it explains that the kofer they give should be a half shekel, which is a kind of coin, and they should give this coin to prevent a plague from breaking out.
But why do they have to atone for being counted, as if being counted is some kind of sin that would bring on a plague?
But if we look more deeply at the words, the idiom for “When you take a census” is “Ki tisa et rosh”- which literally means, “when you lift up the head.” What is lifting up the head? It’s elevating consciousness- meaning the disentanglement or dis-identification of consciousness with thoughts, feelings, personality- all that stuff that normally makes up the sense of “me” or ego. That process of ki tisa- of transcending the ego and experiencing the freedom and bliss of pure consciousness is of course the aim of meditation.
And normally, when we decide to meditate, we’re motivated by wanting to experience something like that- maybe we want less stress, maybe we want to stop feeling the burden of our problems, or whatever. And these are all totally valid motivations, but the problem is, they’re all rooted in the experience of “me” wanting to get “something.” But since the thing you’re trying to get is to let go of the “me,” it doesn’t work- it turns your meditation into a kind of plague, because you’re chasing after something you can never get with that approach. The only way you can get it, is by changing your approach- changing your motivation- don’t do it from that drive to get something.
Instead, do it as an act of giving- an act of love for its own sake. And that’s the donation of the half shekel. It’s only a half shekel because there’s of course the acknowledgment that meditation is good for you, that’s the other half of the coin so to speak, but what’s good for you is also good for others. You have to put on your own air mask before helping your children, otherwise you might not be able to help your children. So the donation of the half shekel means that you’re dedicating your spiritual work that you do on yourself toward the service of others.
So this week of Shabbat Ki Tisa- the Sabbath of Elevation, is a good time to rededicate yourself to your meditation practice, through the intention of love.
(If you haven’t learned the IJM practice yet, go ahead and click on the link and sign up to receive the IJM instructional recordings. You can also do that at Torah of Awakening.com. Have a wonderful week, and good Shabbos.)
And to help with this kavanah, let’ chant the opening words from psalm 145 in the Ashrei- Aromimkha Elohai. Aromimkha means, “I will exalt” or “elevate You.” It’s the same root as Romemu- Exalt. And who is it you’re exalting? Elohai- My God or My Divinity. Meaning, as you take this kavanah of offering your attention to the Divine as She appears in this moment, that’s ki tisa et rosh- the lifting up of your own head- and your awareness that transcends that limited sense of me can then be realized as Elohai- your own inner divinity, your true identity beyond form. Let’s sing.
Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks