Do you tend to live in the moment or in your head? When we go on vacation, we always see people experiencing beautiful vistas through the camera’s lens. They want to record the moment for posterity. But they are inside their head, not in the moment. To be in the moment, you need to immerse yourself fully. Enjoy the thrill, the majesty, and the romance of the beautiful vista.
You can take out your camera a little later and record it, but first, take in the moment. First, breathe in the smells, take in the sights, luxuriate in the relaxation, and enjoy the presence of family. Enter into the moment and be fully present. If, rather than experiencing the moment, you are thinking about wanting to see the pictures next year, you are in your head, not in the moment.
Another point that has nothing to do with the camera: Sometimes, we can be inside our head in the sense that rather than experiencing the moment fully, we observe ourselves and analyze how good the moment is. We are not in the moment; we are watching it from the outside. We tell ourselves how special and rare it is and how much we should enjoy it.
This, too, is unhelpful. This is not living in the moment. This is living in our heads. If we are entirely in the moment, we are unaware of our enchantment. We are completely immersed. If we are feeling ourselves, it means that a part of our brain is not absorbed. We are using it to critique the moment.
Suppose you are at a wedding; the music breaks out, and the dancing begins. You venture out onto the dance floor and begin to dance. The only way to enjoy the dancing is to lose yourself in it. If you are aware of dancing, watching yourself dance, looking down at your feet, and critiquing your moves, you are not in the moment.
If you let go and embrace the moment, you can dance with abandon and have fun. It doesn’t matter how well you dance, it doesn’t matter if you are making a spectacle of yourself, and it doesn’t matter what others think. You are in the moment, and you are having fun.
Living in the moment is a little like living in your body. If you are healthy, you don’t feel your body. You use your limbs and organs, but you don’t feel them. It is seamless. When you want to drink, your arm reaches for the cup, your fingers curl around it, and your hand brings it expertly to your mouth. Your lips lock onto the cup, your throat muscles channel the water, and your innards absorb it.
You don’t think about each muscle moving and coordinating in perfect harmony with the others. You don’t even feel them moving. You are only aware of drinking water. You are in the moment, not in your head; you are not observing the seamless choreography of muscles, sinews, limbs, organs, cartilage, and bones.
If you feel one of these many body parts, something is wrong. You only feel your body when it is unwell. When you are healthy and well, you don’t feel it. If you are aware of your body parts, something is wrong with your body. A healthy body doesn’t draw attention. It directs all the intention to the task at hand. If the body draws attention away from the moment and toward itself, it tells you something is wrong.
The same is true of our emotional and mental experience of a moment. We are not meant to be self-aware as we experience it. If we are aware of how much we enjoy it, measure our level of interest, and calculate the extent of our pleasure, rather than simply enjoy it, it means that something is wrong.
During our day, there are multiple ports through which we connect with G-d. Sometimes these connections can be intense. For example, you might cross the street and narrowly avoid an accident. It might feel like a miracle at the moment, and you will be grateful to G-d. If, during this time, a thought creeps into your mind that notes how grateful or happy you are, you killed the moment. You are in your head, not the moment.
The same is true of prayer. Prayer is a conversation with G-d designed to elicit feelings of love and awe. If the words inspire you, the prayer can be deeply meaningful. But to be truly immersed in the moment means to lose track of yourself completely. To lose track of time, to lose awareness of self, and to be fully in the moment. Psychologists call this to be in flow.
If a thought that congratulates us on our inspiration drops into our mind, we are not entirely in flow. That single thought bursts the bubble of our flow and takes us out of the moment. It takes a lot of work to get back in. Prayer can take close to an hour every morning because it takes a long time to build up to a flow state. Once we have it, it behooves us to keep all distractions at bay. Hold onto the flow state and be in the moment as long as possible. That is the desired state.
The Rising Flame
This explains a curious phrase in our Torah portion. G-d instructs Aaron on kindling the Menorah. But rather than telling him to kindle the flame, he tells him to raise the flame. Our sages understood this to mean that we must touch the match to the wick until the flame rises on its own.
When you first light a candle, you must hold the flame to the wick. It is a deliberate effort to marry flame to wick, which takes concentration and time. However, once the flame catches, it can rise on its own. It does not need us to tend to it.
The message is that when we first sit down to pray each morning, we must deliberately fix our minds on G-d, contemplate His magnificence, and meditate on His grandeur. As we do this, we are in our heads, trying to paint an exalted, inspiring picture of magnificent depth and breadth. But the objective is to arouse the inspiration. The point is not to think about G-d. The point is for our thoughts about G-d to take over our minds. To take off in leaps and bounds and lead us in directions we did not anticipate.
The resultant thrill, yearning, passion, closeness, reverence, and awe can lift us up, but only if we allow ourselves to get into the moment. Hold the flame to the wick until the flame rises on its own. Feed your mind inspiring thoughts until the inspiration catches on. Once it does, step back. Stop orchestrating your thoughts. Stop directing them. Get out of your head and get into the flow. Get into the moment.
Let the emotions flow. Let the love come. Don’t try to observe yourself. Just get into the moment and love G-d.
That is the ultimate objective. It is the goal of prayer. If we achieve it, we are in the moment with G-d.