The practice of meditation has recently been touted for its health benefits, from lowering blood pressure to ramping up the immune system. Meditation includes a plethora of techniques and tools, depending on the place where it was developed and its spiritual source. The common denominator of them all is that meditation is a method to calm the body and soul, and then focus the power of thought on a particular issue. Today, this idea is also used in conventional medicine under the name “medical hypnosis,” to address emotional problems and physical pain. Although there is neutral meditation, most of the approaches and techniques that the public is exposed to come from a source of idol worship, usually from Eastern religions.
In 1979, the Lubavitcher Rebbe addressed the growing popularity of meditation and suggested that a kosher form of meditation be developed for those who think they need meditation for healing purposes. The Rebbe set forth two conditions: 1) kosher meditation should be only for those who need it for healing or those who have convinced themselves that they need meditation, who also need to be healed, and 2) those who are involved in it should be knowledgeable so that no idol worship is involved, and they also need to be experts in medicine so they will know how to heal using meditation.
There are many important differences between Jewish meditation and what is generally found in non-Jewish meditation. Jewish meditation consists of deep Chassidic content, which is learned in depth by the intellect and only then is fused with experiential exercises that access the super-conscious. When a person experiences something G-dly, it is generally absorbed in the intellect and translated into genuine love and fear of G-d, and not anything delusional.
The goal of the meditation, breathing and movement courses is to give the participants practical tools to deal with fears, anxiety, confusion and other things we have to contend with. Here too, we see the difference between the truth of Torah – which allows for treating the root causes of the internal distress and resolving it – and medications that deal with symptoms, which is like external calm that only covers over the problem and ultimately causes it to worsen.
In non-Jewish meditation, they usually try to empty the head of any thought or content. Then, if there is a spiritual experience, it turns into an ego trip or towards idol worship.
Jewish meditation, by contrast, although it deals in lofty, subtle concepts, the purpose is to bring it down and affect this world with joy and action which express love and unity with others. Jewish meditation engenders inner humility and giving. In this sense, the practice of Jewish meditation is another tool among many that can bring the world to its ultimate state of peace and unity, as we will experience in the era of Moshiach.