I remember the first time I tried to understand positive psychology. I was reading a book in line at Disneyland. What, I’m the only one who passes her line time reading nonfiction?
I remember my first few times wrestling with the idea of virtues, I had to push aside my internal prejudice. The only context in which I had previously heard the word was as an antonym for “vice,” and my only context for “vice” was Catholic / European history with a side of horror movies. In other words, it all sounded very goyish to me.
In reality, there is a deep tradition of positive psychology built into Judaism. Morning blessings, Birkat HaShachar, are succinct meditations on gratitude, mindfulness, and intention. Traditionally, Jews said the words soon after waking up, before gathering for communal prayer.
Traditionally, the first meditation is Modeh Ani, which translated in the word order of Hebrew is: “Thank I” (as in “I thank,” the subject often comes after the verb in Hebrew). In the Koren Sacks siddur, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks explains:
On waking, our first thought should be that we are in the presence of God. Since we are forbidden to speak God’s name until we have washed our hands, the following prayer is said, which, without mentioning God’s name, acknowledges His presence and gives thanks for a new day and for the gift of life.
Here is a translation of Modeh Ani, combining words chosen by Rabbi Sacks and the Mishkan Tefillah translation, along with my own interpretation.
I thank You, living and eternal Sovereign
for returning to me my soul in mercy
Great is Your faithfulness.
Meditating into the Presence of the Divine
Focusing on the description in this prayer allows me to sink into gratitude for the blessing of life.
מלך חי וקים, Melech Chai V’Kayam. The flow of Living and Eternal Sovereignty.
The spark of life, the flow of time embodied. What is Alive and Eternal? What is my being oriented toward? What is Sovereign in my life? How can my transitory life become a vessel for the flow of eternal life?
Thinking about the Living and Eternal Sovereign pushes me to wake up to the Wonder of Being. I try to allow that to be the first fully chosen thought of the day.
I know that Goodness is faithfully with me at all times. Holiness and Awe are my companions on this journey. We can choose to make room for them, or we can focus on mundane, dying darkness. The petty and the cynical are death traps.
Living into רבה אמונתך, Rabbah Emunatecha, the breadth and fullness of Your Trust / Faithfulness is my holy calling.
When we weave faithfulness into the fabric of our days, we coach ourselves to be vessels of holiness. Being conscious of the precious soul within me and the unique souls who surround me. We are each made B’tzelem Elohim, in the shadow of the Divine. We are each mortal shells wrapping a spark of eternity, the Divine who resides within each of our souls. Each individual contains worlds, each individual is worthy of whole-hearted attention and love. I am worthy and my journey is an important part of the sacred march of time.
None of us remain fully aware and awake, even when our eyes our open. I have lost countless hours to mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and watching YouTube. The Divine is not troubled by our forgetfulness. In mercy, She restores our knowledge of our souls. The gentle kiss of eternity that continuously moves with us as we walk through the world reminds us to live with empathy and trust in ourselves.
May today and every day be a day of thankfulness for me. May I forever remember the holiness at the heart of my consciousness. And may I sink into the Faithfulness Who guides me on my journey. Amen.