Traditionally, we recite prayers as soon as we wake up, thanking God for restoring our soul to us in the morning (“Modeh Ani Lehfahnecha”). As a parallel to these prayers, I’ve written this meditation as a Jewish spiritual resource for people who are dealing with loss and grief, with pain, with life-threatening or chronic illness, or simply with the difficulties of day-to-day living.
This meditation begins first thing in the morning, right after you wake up, before you get out of bed. Sleep has just left your body; you are still lying down.
Though you are awake, recall the feeling of the sound protectiveness, the deep relaxation of sleep. Languish in this recollection, re-experiencing that deep relaxation for a few moments.
Now reach back further to an even deeper memory in which the feeling of protectiveness was more encompassing, where you were suspended in an environment of no resistance, no tension; only comfort.
This deeper sense of protectiveness is a sphere, a womb of mercy — rachamim. Imagine you are encompassed in a sphere of protectiveness, encircled in comfort and calm. No resistance, no tensions.
From the womb — rechem — you have known mercy — rachamim. When you were born, as with each time you awake, you become aware that from the womb. The Merciful One, HaRachaman, is present. You say, “I became Your charge at birth; from my mother’s womb You have been my God.” “Alecha hashlachti mayrechem mibeten imi eili atah.” (Psalms 22:11)
Come back now to this present moment of awakening. Very slowly and gently sit up. Awake to mercy. Experience the sphere, the womb of mercy encompassing your body. “….God surrounds you with steadfast love and mercy.” “Ha-me-atreichi chesed v’rachamim.” (Psalms 103:4)
Breathe in deeply. Allow the mercy—rachamim, that surrounds you like a womb—rechem, to fill your lungs . . . Breathe in mercy and feel how it permeates your skin; soaks into your bones . . . Continue breathing in mercy, allowing it to soften your heart. . .
When you are ready, slowly and gently stand up. (If you are unable to stand, simply continue working with the imagery in a sitting or lying down position.) Feel the mercy still surrounding you. It is radiant, pouring into you — spilling onto your head; sinking into your shoulders . . . Feel it streaming into your back; your chest—flowing over you, into you, upon you. “…And mercy is upon all of God’s works.” “…Vrachamav al-kol-ma’asav.” (Psalms 145:9)
Very gently, twist in your waist, back and forth, your arms hanging loosely from your shoulder sockets. As you twist, your arms will be swinging slightly like a pendulum — curving and dropping, curving and dropping… As you continue to twist, allow your arms to rise a little bit more, swinging in a fuller curve around your body — gently up and down, up and down…Your arms are outlining the sphere of mercy that surrounds you. Slowly, draw the sphere of mercy around you a couple of more times, then allow your arms to return to stillness.
You are filled now with a sense of loving calm. The mercy, absorbed so deeply inside of you, has nourished your inner strength. Feel the core of inner strength along the length of your body — from the top of your head, through the center of your being, down to the ground. Feel yourself tall; strengthened, loved.
“The Eternal’s kindness has not ended, nor mercies spent. They are renewed every morning. Ample is Your grace!” “Chasdei Adonai ki lo-tamnu ki lo-chalu rachamav. Chadashim labkarim rabah emunatecha.” (Lamentations 3; 22-23)
When you are ready, open your eyes and begin your day.
Susan Freeman is the rabbi of Congregation Shir HeHarim, Brattleboro, Vermont. She is the co-author o/Torah in Motion: Creating Dance Midrash (Alternatives in Religious Education, Denver, 1989), cmd she serves on the executive board of the Jewish Healing Center.