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Setting the Right Intention with Morning Prayers

By Lane Igoudin | October 12, 2020

This 3-part post recasts morning prayers as an opportunity to combine faith and mindfulness.

Part Three: Removing Sleep from My Eyes

and Confusion from My Mind

After expressing gratitude for the gift of the soul and for the functioning of my physical body (see the previous post), immersed in a deep awareness of the unity of my body and soul, I am now ready to start reciting the Brachot, the blessings themselves. To me, these brachot echo the bodhisattva precepts I’d received at jukai, the lay Buddhist ordination ceremony: they both set the ethical foundations for how to “keep my life on target,” to borrow an expression from a fellow mindful Jew, Sylvia Boorstein.

Different movements within Judaism offer different wordings of morning blessings, some keeping to the age-old originals, others updating them to reflect the changes in the society.

The ones I’ve chosen to chant in Hebrew, and this is an ever-changing list, express my gratitude to the Creator for:

  • Liberating the bound

  • Clothing the naked

  • Unbending the bent

  • Strengthening the weary

  • Endowing Jewish people with strength and beauty

But also, on a more personal level, I bless the Creator for:

  • Removing sleep from my eyes and confusion from my mind

  • Expanding my understanding of life

  • Giving me freedom

  • Making me a Jew

  • Guiding my daily steps

  • Providing for all my needs, and

  • Making me whole just as I am.

Reciting these blessings, one at a time, steadies my mind. When I notice my concentration wander off into the plans for the day, or worries about my partner, my kids, or my work, I guide it gently back on the path by returning to the line I’d glazed over on auto-pilot, just like taming the ox and riding it home in those famed ox-herding drawings of Kuoan Shihyuan, also a Chan (Zen) master and a contemporary of Hongzhi Zhenghue.

I keep reciting each line until I can fully experience its meaning. Why hurry? What can be more important than this blessing, at this moment?

A traditional siddur follows the brachot with the vow of commitment to stay on the path of goodness, yetzer ha-tov, and not to act based on one’s evil inclinations, yetzer ha-ra. This is the formation of what the Buddhist tradition terms the right view, from which arises the right speech and the right actions.

I pause to consider this portion. What qualities, I wonder, do I need to nurture today? What behaviors to avoid? What actions to take, or not to take?

The prayer continues with a plea to the Creator to:

Give us this day, and every day,

grace, lovingkindness, and compassion

in Your sight and in the eyes of all who see us.

These blessings and words of praise and gratitude to the Lord build up to the recitation of the Sh’ma – the moment of the direct connection, of oneness with the divine – the final step.

I usually stop here, on a high note, preserving the sensation of these last words within me. I end my morning prayers pressing my hands together in a Zen gassho and bowing deeply.

These 10-15 minutes in the morning activate my ethical compass and set the right intention for my daily activities. I emerge from my morning prayers feeling more centered, better aware of my inner state, but also of the world around me, and of my purpose in it. I can now face the day.

See the previous posts in this series for more reflections on creating a personal liturgy that combines morning prayers with mindful contemplation.

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Lane Igoudin, M.A., Ph.D., blogs for Applied Jewish Spirituality and produces Blessing the Sea, a monthly newsletter on Jewish mindfulness. He is a member of Temple Beth Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Long Beach, California, as well as Westchester Zen Circle, an affiliate of Zen Center of Los Angeles. For more information, please visit www.laneigoudin.com.

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