Feeling God's Presence
Spiritual exercises to connect to God's goodness in the world.
Efim Svirsky, a therapist and educator, has developed a form of psychological/spiritual therapy to give people real tools to feel the presence of God and enjoy more meaningful, joyful and productive lives. The following article is based on an excerpt from his new book, Connection, a practical, step-by-step guide which takes the reader to spiritual heights, while unlocking our vast potential. The book comes with an MP3 disk, which contains the 60 spiritual exercises found in the book.
If God did not want us to contact Him, He would have arranged the world in such a way that we would not suspect His presence nor have the ability to find out about it.
Consider for a moment that we are rabbit breeders and we do not want the rabbits to find out about our existence. We keep them on a farm and install an automated system that feeds the rabbits, gives them water and cleans after them. A newborn rabbit will know that if he wants a carrot, he can press a certain button. If he needs some water, he can press a different button. For him, these are his laws of nature. If we wished to monitor the rabbit, we could install a secret camera to follow his every move without his knowledge.
Our Creator could have done the same thing. But He did not. We know this because we are talking about Him right now. We have the ability to fathom His existence. Jewish tradition teaches that man was created with the ability to communicate with God directly. In fact, it is a normal human condition. Adam, the first man, had an ability to communicate with God, and he was the archetype of humanity. After him, there were the prophets, including our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Moses, our greatest teacher. Thousands of years ago, the Jewish people even had special schools for prophecy. Like modern girls and boys who go to college, our young ancestors went to schools of prophecy. At one period, the Talmud relates, there were at least 1,200,000 prophets among the Jewish people.
And there were even more people that were close to having prophecy. Prophecy is direct contact with God and the ability to foresee the future as a result of the contact. Foretelling the future does not make someone a prophet. True prophecy is the ability to have direct contact with the Creator. In our time, we can no longer obtain the level of prophecy, but there are many levels of experiencing the presence of the Creator here and now.
CONNECTING TO GOD'S PRESENCE
If you take seriously that the Creator is here right now, that He is your father -- the best father you can ever have and more -- who wishes to give you everything that you need for your spiritual growth, how should you feel?
Here are some popular answers:
-- Able to do anything.
How do you actually feel when you think about the existence of the Creator? Sit back for a moment, relax and think about your Creator being right here, right now.
You may be wondering, what am I supposed to see when I think about God? The answer is "nothing." On one hand, it is impossible to see the Creator, and on the other hand, everything that exists is a manifestation of Him. What we can focus on, however, is the fact of His presence here and now.
Let me clarify. When you meet someone you love and haven't seen for a long time, you rush to embrace him or her. You close your eyes and take time to enjoy being with the person. You don't need to look at them at that moment; you just want to feel their presence. The same goes with our Creator. We do not have to create His image in our minds; we can focus simply on the fact that He is presently here.
I have found that people have quite various reactions to this request, from, "I am going to throw up" (!) to "I feel fantastic harmony and happiness."
Most people feel peace and a general -- but sometimes very deep -- feeling of safety and relaxation. Some people feel warmth in their bodies or hands and feet. Many see colors. Some people feel uplifted or feel they are flying. All of these feeling are "right." There are no wrong feelings.
CONNECTING WITH GOD'S GOODNESS
Getting in touch with the goodness our Creator wants to bestow on us can be a life-changing experience. Here is one of those experiences, a story from a young woman who used these feelings to work on eliminating an emotional trauma that had accompanied her for many, many years.
I was engaged to be married. As the wedding date got closer, I got more nervous. I wasn't worried about the typical issues of a bride. I was sure I had chosen the right one. What I was worried about was sabotaging my new marriage with my poor self- image.
Even though I am a size 4, I still viewed myself as horribly fat, and I don't have an eating disorder. I'm five feet tall, with broad shoulders and a wide back. No waist, no hips. Your basic inverted triangle, which doesn't exactly fit into the world's standard of beauty for a woman.
My poor self-image was borne of a career in competitive gymnastics. Everyday, from age 12, I was literally pinched with a device that calculated my body fat percentage. (At eight percent body fat, I was put into the "fat group" and forced to do two extra hours of conditioning more than the rest of the team. To give you a benchmark, the normal body fat percentage for a girl is around 15 percent; Olympic runner Carl Lewis once measured in at 4 percent, an anomaly even for Olympians).
If I wasn't being squeezed, I was being scrutinized. And whatever the result, it was never good enough. Talk about a body image problem.
When I became Torah observant, I was introduced to the concept of tzniut (modesty). Tzniut changed my life. I didn't have to worry about every inch of my body being perfect or, as a gymnast, on display. Still the problem remained. As much as I intellectually understood how Judaism values the physical as a path to the spiritual (not as an end in itself), I had not integrated this concept.
I had heard about Efim Svirsky's techniques of "psychological/spiritual" therapy, a long way from the standard method of psychological counseling I was used to. But I wanted to try it.
Rabbi Svirsky guided me into a state of deep relaxation and asked me to concentrate on feeling the presence of God. With more guidance, I experienced many sensations as I allowed myself to accept that God loves me unconditionally and created me perfect.
I literally talked to the body parts that tried to "block" God's goodness, something I felt clearly through a sharp pain over one eye or a tightening of my chest. Through a dialogue with each of my emotional blocks, I was able to see how the many defenses I had erected throughout my life to protect me from the stresses of athletic training had also prevented me from accepting who I really am -- a perfect soul created by God.
After breaking through my emotional blocks, I was ready to confront the antagonists in my life who contributed to my problem. Rabbi Svirsky first led me back to the age of four when I remember beginning to do gymnastics. Back then, nothing made me happier than cartwheeling my way through the day. I cartwheeled everywhere -- down the aisles of the grocery store, on the sidewalk on the way to school, to my friends' houses, on the couch, on my bed, into the pool. You name it, I cartwheeled there. What fun! I remembered the day when I taught myself to do flips. What a sight that was -- a four-year old able to flip herself frontward and backward. I flipped and flipped. I was my carefree and playful four year old self again.
Next, Rabbi Svirsky asked me to imagine myself when I was older doing my favorite routines. No coaches, no judges. Just me swinging on the bars and tumbling on the mat. I re-experienced the exhilaration of body so fluid to be able to do these incredible feats. For the very first time, I realized that my gymnastic ability was a gift from God. And what an amazing gift! How many people in the world could do what I could? For the first time since I was four years old, I was able to view my gymnastic talent as a gift rather than a curse. For the first time, I understood what Rabbi Svirsky meant when he said that gymnastics is a manifestation of God's harmony in the world.
I then began the spiritual and emotional work connected to my body image problem. "Go to the 12-year-old," he instructed me. "Tell her that you want to give her a gift. Tell her that God exists, and He loves her. Tell her that God created her perfect, and that nothing her coach can say can change that fact. Tell her that gymnastics was never meant to be destructive; rather, that it is a beautiful manifestation of God's harmony." I embraced my 12-year-old self and told her these things. A weigh lifted off her as she understood their truth.
Next, I gave this "gift of God" to my coach. I told him the Almighty created him (and gymnastics) as a manifestation of His Harmony and Beauty, not something to be twisted into a competitive ego trip. I watched him in my mind's eye as he realized that he, too, had gymnastics all wrong. Witnessing his epiphany put many of my harsh feelings to rest.
From there, I was ready to confront myself at 15, when I was at the peak of my athletic training and the depths of my emotional pain. It was very hard work, but the dividends paid off. Through experiencing God's presence and focusing on the reality that He created me perfect, with unconditional love beyond any a human parent can have, I was able to view myself, my coaches and the world in a new, healthy light and free myself from the debilitating self-image I once had.