Hashkata is one of the most important meditative practices in the Jewish tradition, and the one that I’ve been teaching the most over the years.
Although “Hashkata” means “quieting”, this meditation by the Piaseczno rebbe, is about much more than a mere quieting of the mind.
The main objective of Hashkata practice is to help us reconnect to our true self, through the practice of emulating universal Divine values, such as truth, kindness and compassion.
Other benefits of a Hashkata include the improvement of our state of awareness, discovering our spiritual nature, and reconnecting with the Jewish tradition.
Beyond finding inner peace, this four-step meditation is a complete “workout of the soul” ; it takes us through a journey of inner transformation.
Why practice Hashkata
The techniques we use in Hashkata include introspection (observing our thoughts), word repetition (akin to mantra), and chanting a nigun.
The idea behind it isn’t to meditate in order to be calmer or more relaxed, but rather to help you reconnect with your true self and values.
When we live life from such a place of connection, when we introduce values such as truth, compassion, loving-kindness and faith into our daily life, calm and relaxation often follows.
Since the whole practice is based on the first step of observing our thoughts, it also allows us to cultivate our awareness, often referred to as “Da'at” in the Jewish tradition.
This includes our capacity to put a “buffer” between our thoughts/feelings and “us”. To understand that even though they are always here, they don’t have to be running the show.
Lastly, Hashkata helps us reconnect to our roots. Many Jews are still unfamiliar with Jewish meditative practices. There is something deeply moving in discovering a practice that connects us directly to an ancient tradition of Jewish wisdom.
What is Hashkata
Hashkata is one of the most comprehensive Jewish meditative practices we have. It was taught by Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro.
Though some parts of this practice are articulated in his written teachings, It was never explicitly written down in a detailed manner, but rather preserved through a testimony of one of his students.
It is possible that the Rav was intending to share this detailed practice in his spiritual guide for his advanced students (Hovat-Ha- Avrechim), but he was murdered in the Holocaust before completing it.
In any case, the testimony of the student was published in the book “Derekh Ha Melech” (“the royal road”).
The main objective of Haskata is to help us adopt universal values such as truth, kindness, generosity and faith.
It is based on the quieting of the self/ego, in order to make space within us for a “high” (Divine) inspiration, that can help us emulate the divine midot (character traits).
The term inspiration comes from the Latin form inspirare, meaning “breath” or “blow” into something, or put spirit into something.
In the original usage, it meant a Divine influence that is breathed into someone. In our Day and Age, inspiration means being mentally stimulated to do or feel something (usually artistic).
Interestingly, the original Hebrew term that was used by the Rav is השראה (Hashraah), which went through a very similar evolution.
This may be what musicians, poets, dancers, or any of us really, when we connect to our creative side, feel when we “receive” inspiration; when we let the flow of creativity flow through us.
It takes some effacement of the sense of ego to make room for the sacredness of inspiration, which connects us to all that is alive.
The practice has either three or four stages (depending on whether the two middle parts are connected or not).
I personally don’t have a preferred way, and go back and forth between the two options.
How to practice Hashkata
First, we sit in silence and observe our thoughts. This is the receptive observation part, which is similar to some mindfulness practices.
The aim of this practice is to progressively enable a natural quieting of the mind.
Here we widen our awareness to connect to something greater than us: we bring to mind a Biblical verse that connects us to a greater, Divine, energy.
The Rav suggests using a verse such as “Hashem Elokim Emet”, I like to translate it by ‘God (Being), the Divine, is truth’.
We connect to this place, the Source of Life, and to its quality of truth, from which we will go into the work of Tikkun Midot (fixing our character traits).
We then start repeating sentences that express our deep desire to transform our character traits.
Once we’ve identified the quality we want to heal/repair (for instance from defiance to trust), we focus only on the positive attribute.
We leave aside what we don’t want. The work is all about watering the seeds of transformation, through the healing power of word repetition.
At this stage, we don’t need to speak in Hebrew (or in Yiddish, as he did). The Rav encourages us to speak in our own language, so it is closer to the voice of our soul.
Finally, the last stage is a song, a nigun, a melody, on the words of Psalm 86.11
ה֘וֹרֵ֤נִי יְהֹוָ֨ה ׀ דַּרְכֶּ֗ךָ אֲהַלֵּ֥ךְ בַּאֲמִתֶּ֑ךָ
יַחֵ֥ד לְ֝בָבִ֗י לְיִרְאָ֥ה שְׁמֶֽךָ׃
Teach me Your way, O LORD;
I will walk in Your truth;
let my heart be undivided in reverence for Your name.
Singing helps anchor new intentions and foster change. Recently, it has also been described in some scientific studies as a very efficient way to rewire our neuro pathways and produce the hormones of happiness.
But before we knew all the scientific effects behind it, the art of nigunim has simply been a core spiritual technique in the Jewish tradition, from the Tehilim, the psalm sung in the Temple, to the Hasidim singing circles.
As we sing, we seal our intention to “walk in truth”, to practice with a “oneness” (integrity) of heart”, and to cultivate a real “reverence/awe” for Life.
One of the most beautiful aspects of Hashkata as a Jewish meditation practice is that it connects us to ourselves, to God, to life and to others.
As it connects us vertically, with the divine, it helps us better connect horizontally, with each other, through cultivating ethical behavior.
And every time we practice it, it connects us to our roots. When we do Hashkata, we revive an ancient Hasidic technique by experiencing it in our bones and soul.