Friday, January 3, 2014

Parshat Bo: Blessing practice to soften the heart and awaken to the signs in our midst

Parshat Bo: Ex. X:1 - "And The Lord said to Moses: 'Go into Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these My signs in the midst of them;'"

With each successive plague Pharaoh's heart hardened until what was most dear to him was destroyed.  When the Pharaoh inside of us hardens, it often locks into place the repetition of destructive and self-defeating patterns. The result can be a mounting toll of broken relationships and wasted opportunities. How bad does it need to get before we see the signs in our midst? What can we do to soften our own hearts and open our own eyes to the truth?

There is a simple blessing practice** that can be helpful:

Find a quiet time and space.
Sit comfortably on a chair or a pillow.
Close your eyes.
Breathe in and out slowly, steadily and calmly.
After you have established a rhythm, staying with your breath, and with kavanah (intention), repeat each of these phrases:

May you be blessed with simcha (joy),
May you be blessed with chesed (loving-kindness),
May you be blessed with rachamim (compassion),
May you be blessed with shalom (peace).

Call to mind someone who you trust fully has your best interests at heart (a "benefactor"). Visualize this person - how they look, how they sound, how they feel. Now visualize this person awash in joy, then awash in loving-kindness, then filled with compassion, and finally, filled with peace. Continue to repeat the phrases as you visualize or sense these qualities washing over and radiating from the benefactor. Really investigate the nature of the qualities of joy, loving-kindness, compassion and peace. 

Next visualize these qualities washing over you.

Next, call to mind a "difficult" person. Now call on these qualities to wash over the difficult person. 

Finally, send these qualities out into the universe for the benefit of all beings and close your meditation. 

Use this practice to bless yourself, a benefactor, a friend, a family member, or a difficult person in your life.  Often it is easiest to start with a benefactor.  The difficult person is usually most difficult to bless, but can also be most rewarding. See for yourself if this practice softens your heart and leads to more awareness of the "signs in your midst."

**We learned this practice from Rabbi Jeff Roth. See Chapter 7 of his book Jewish Meditation Practices for Everyday Life for a more extended set of instructions.

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