Jewish Meditation

Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, III:51

       The first thing that you should cause your soul to hold fast onto is that, while reciting the Shema' prayer, you should empty your mind of everything and pray thus. You should not content yourself with being intent while reciting the first verse of Shema' and saying the first benediction. When this has been carried out correctly and has been practiced consistently for years, cause your soul whenever you read or listen to the Torah, to be constantly directed -- the whole of you and your thought -- toward reflection on what you are listening to or reading.

        When this too has been practiced consistently for a certain time, cause your soul to be in such a way that your thought is always quite free of distraction and gives heed to all that you are reading of the other discourses of the prophets and even when you read all the benedictions, so that you aim at meditating on what you are uttering and at considering its meaning. If, however, while performing these acts of worship, you are free from distraction and not engaged in thinking upon any of the things pertaining to this world, cause your soul ‑‑ after this has been achieved -- to occupy your thought with things necessary for you or superfluous in your life, and in general with worldly things, while you eat or drink or bathe or talk with your wife and your small children, or while you talk with the common run of people. Thus I have provided you with many and long stretches of time in which you can think all that needs thinking regarding property, the governance of the household, and the welfare of the body. On the other hand, while performing the actions imposed by the Law, you should occupy your thought only with what you are doing, just as we have explained.

        When, however, you are alone with yourself and no one else is there and while you be awake upon your bed, you should take great care during these precious times not to set your thought to work on anything other than that intellectual worship consisting in nearness to God and being in His presence in that true reality that I have made known to you and not by way of affections of the imagination. In my opinion this end can be achieved by those of the men of knowledge who have rendered their souls worthy of it by training of this kind.

Abraham Abulafia, The Book of Eternal Life, MS Oxford 1582, fols. 51b-53a

        Be prepared for your God, oh Israelite! Make yourself ready to direct your heart to God alone. Cleanse the body and choose a lonely house where none shall hear your voice. Sit there in your closet and do not reveal your secret to any man. If you can, do it by day in the house, but it is best if you complete it during the night. In the hour when you prepare yourself to speak with the Creator and you wish Him to reveal His might to you, then be careful to abstract all your thought from the vanities of this world.

        Cover yourself with your prayer shawl and put Tefillin on your head and hands that you may be filled with awe of the Shekhinah which is near you. Cleanse your clothes, and, if possible, let all your garments be white, for all this is helpful in leading the heart towards the fear of God and the love of God. If it be night, kindle many lights, until all be bright. Then take ink, pen and a table to your hand and remember that you art about to serve God in joy of the gladness of heart. Now begin to combine a few or many letters, to permute and to combine them until your heart be warm. Then be mindful of their movements and of what you can bring  forth by  moving them.

        And when you feel that your heart is already warm and when you see that by combinations of letters you can grasp new things which by human tradition or by yourself you would not be able to know and when you art thus prepared to receive the influx of divine power which flows into you, then turn all your true thought to imagine the Name and His exalted angels in your heart as if they were human beings sitting or standing around you. And feel yourself like an envoy whom the king and his ministers are to send on a mission, and he is waiting to hear something about his mission from their lips, be it from the king himself, be it from his servants. Having imagined this very vividly, turn your whole mind to understand with your thoughts the many things which will come into your heart through the letters imagined. Ponder them as a whole and in all their detail, like one to whom a parable or a dream is being related, or who meditates on a deep problem in a scientific book, and try thus to interpret what you shall hear that it may as far as possible accord with your reason...

        And all this will happen to you after having flung away tablet and quill or after they will have dropped from you because of the intensity of your thought. And know, the stronger the intellectual influx within you, the weaker will become your outer and your inner parts. Your whole body will be seized by an extremely strong trembling, so that you wilt think that surely you are about to die, because your soul, overjoyed with its knowledge, will leave your body. And be you ready at this moment consciously to choose death, and then you shall know that you have come far enough to receive the influx. And then wishing to honor the glorious Name by serving it with the life of body and soul, veil your face and be afraid to look at God.

        Then return to the matters of the body, rise and eat and drink a little, or refresh yourself with a pleasant odor, and restore your spirit to its sheath until another time, and rejoice at your lot and know that God loves you.