2022 was a rough year.
Hurricane Ian devastated our home and disabled our worship space. My wife, Vickie, is fighting and –thank God—winning a valiant battle against Stage Three Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Dealing with these challenges has been -to say the least- not easy. To cope I have come to rely on my mantras.
The first is the traditional Jewish prayer upon awakening. “I thank You, Eternal and Enduring Ruler, that you have restored my soul to me with graciousness. Great is your faithfulness.”
These words set the tone for my day. They remind me that being able to awaken each day is a gift from God, and God wants me to use it productively.
Next, I recite the Sh’ma, the words from the Book of Deuteronomy, “Hear O Israel, the Eternal One is our God, the Eternal God Alone.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
These words lie at the heart of Jewish prayer and are the central affirmation of our Jewish heritage.
My mantras also include three verses from Psalms, included in Jewish prayer services, that remind me of the enormous power for good or for ill that lies in the words I speak. As one who has made his living with words these three verses are vital reminders:
“Eternal One, open my lips that my mouth may declare Your glory.” (Psalm 51:17)
“My God, keep my tongue from speaking evil, and my lips from speaking deceitfully.” (Psalm 34:14) In the Psalm this verse is stated in the second person, but our prayer book and my personal prayers instruct me to apply it to myself.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable before You, O God, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19: 15)
Interspersed among these three verses in my ritual are two more exhortations from Psalms:
“Cease from anger and forsake wrath.” (Psalm 37:8) This verse reminds me not to let little things bother me or to permit anger to cloud my judgment. How often I need this reminder, especially when someone cuts me off when I am driving.
“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” (Psalm 61:2) This verse encourages me to strive each day to be a better person than I was the day before.
My mantras set a very lofty set of goals before me. Admittedly, I often fall short of them, but they help me start my day with a vision of my better self, a vison of the person I would like to be.
I believe all of us could profit from some time each day to meditate on the goals for our lives. In his best-selling book, The Relaxation Response, Dr. Herbert Benson prescribes a simple four-step process to quiet our minds that I find very helpful:
- A quiet atmosphere
- A comfortable position
- A mental device
- A passive attitude
My mantras are my “mental device.” They speak to me because of my studies in biblical interpretation that underlie my life’s work. Each of us can benefit from choosing a mantra or mantras that relate to our own life circumstances. Incorporating them into a simple meditation ritual can help us deal with the challenges we each must face.