In Judaism, there is an idea called “כַּוָּנָה” or kavanah. Early on in my studies, I was always told this was one’s focus or intention during prayer. The popular idea behind it can be summed up in the immortal words of a Mr. Ferris Beuller.
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
As someone diagnosed with fairly severe ADHD, I understood the gist of kavanah in prayer and study…or a lack thereof. I had definitely “read” pages of text before just to realize it was only my eyes that had done the reading. Meanwhile, my mind was off wondering if anyone had noticed that my socks didn’t match. Still, it wasn’t till kavanah was described to me in a different way did I understand it enough to actually do something about it.
I was watching a class with a rabbi I’d met while I was in Jerusalem in 2009 – Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser. If you close your eyes and listen to his classes, you’d probably assume he was in a tie-dye tank top with some Birkenstocks and white-guy dreads. He’s actually a former professional big wave surfer turned ultra-Orthodox hasidic rabbi. His days are now filled enlightening the spiritually-searching souls that wander into his classes at Aish HaTorah. Anyways, in this class, he described kavanah as simply meaning “alignment.” He explained that it shouldn’t be a hard concept to grasp and that “kavanah” would also be what you’d say needed fixing on the front-end of your car to an Israeli mechanic if you ran your car into a curb.
Alignment. Alignment. It made perfect sense. All this time, I had been trying to focus my mind and heart on the text on the page instead of where it was going — to the Creator of the Universe. This helped immensely. But not completely.
Up until this point, I had been praying out of my head. After some additional study of the works of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the source of my prayers took an anatomic shift.
“When you speak to God, you should arouse your heart to the point where your soul all but flies out of you.”
Using this idea of reaching from within for alignment, I wrote a piece about praying from your guts, which I won’t go into as much here. Still, praying from my guts seemed to increase my kavanah very much. Still, I was missing another element of kavanah — the internal sensation that your prayers are being heard. Not reaching to feel the sensation of being heard can feel like spilling your guts in your first love letter to someone and then just tucking it away in a drawer, never to see the light of day again. I couldn’t take this sensation of not knowing if my heavenly voicemails had reached their destination or not.
Soon after this realization that the best source of my kavanah (alignment) with the Creator during prayer was actually reaching out…with my guts (yeah, it makes more sense if you read my other article), I developed a pre-prayer…well, prayer, so to speak. I began using this mantra-like prayer in order to begin the alignment process.
“HaShem, let my mind be in alignment with You.
Hashem, let my heart be in alignment with You.
HaShem, let my soul be in alignment with You.
And let me feel that You hear me.”
I must admit that this mantra is still quite helpful in brewing up some kavanah. Still, what I actually just recently realized is that it was helping me align myself. I know that sounds weird (much like all of this), but I can explain.
As a person with severe ADHD, it is a constant struggle to connect my conscious thought process to the task at hand. Even if I’m actively composing a sentence in writing or on a keyword, my conscious mind may very well be honed in on the sound of the air conditioner or on a neighborhood cat outside of my window. The “H” in “ADHD” stands for hyperactivity, which could explain why one of my legs is constantly bouncing or why if I’m standing, I’m either swiveling at the hips or possibly rocking back and forth. Long story short, my body and mind are rarely in alignment themselves. How could I then expect my entire being to be aligned with the Creator of the Universe?
I recently added a line to the mantra:
“HaShem, let my body be in alignment with You.”
When I tried to align my fidgeting body with my scattered mind and my gut-based soul, I found that I was actively aligning myself in order to align with the Creator of the Universe. Much like a radio not only requires a properly aligned antenna, but also an accurately tuned frequency, there was no chance of proper alignment with HaShem during prayer if I wasn’t successfully aligning the many facets of myself.
Upon coming to this realization, this self-alignment felt reminiscent of the inner workings of a lock. As every pin is aligned within the chamber, the entire mechanism becomes unlocked.
Much in this same way, when the body, mind, heart, and soul are in alignment, the person becomes “unlocked” in order to connect with the Creator of the Universe in prayer and in performing mitzvot.
Before your set prayers, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and repeat the following mantra-like prayer as many times as you need to:
HaShem, let my body be in alignment with You,
HaShem, let my mind be in alignment with You,
HaShem, let my heart be in alignment with You,
HaShem, let my soul be in alignment with You,
And let me feel that You hear me.
Don’t reach out from your mind. Instead, reach out from your guts. Feel free to repeat this as many times is necessary. Imagine the multiple facets of your being in unified into one being. Imagine each aspect of these parts of yourself aligning with the Creator of the Universe like a laser beam. When you feel like your focus is slipping during prayer, reconvene your many parts and project your unified self to the Creator once again.
“Adonai, bring words to my lips, let my mouth declare Your praise.” – Psalm 51:17 / Opening of the Amidah.