How Can I Feel Connected to Hashem at all Times?
Essays 2020 / Finalists
An essay on Da’as and Deveikus
What am I? What is this experience of being, and why am I having it? What makes up my sense of experiencing the current moment, and where does it come from? Once I understand the nature of my consciousness, how can I actualise all of its potential and live the fullest, happiest life possible?
These simple yet fundamental questions reach to the core of what it means to live life, and yet Western thought is yet to come up with wholly satisfactory answers. Since Hashem “gazed into the Torah and created the world”1, it is unsurprising that the Torah contains the comprehensive model of all consciousness and human fulfilment. In particular, Chassidus explains the most esoteric, kabbalistic components of the model of consciousness in an accessible way. Through using analogies drawn from human experience and the natural world, Chassidus opens up the answer to these questions and crucially, shows how they can be implemented practically in the personal service of Hashem. In this essay, we will explore both theoretically and practically how Da’as (translated as “knowledge”, “awareness, or “consciousness”) is the key to answering any questions on the nature of consciousness and how to bring that consciousness close to Hashem. We will see how Da’as is the mechanism at play in all personal transformation, spiritual experience, transcendent and non ordinary states of consciousness, and the core of living life constantly connected to Hashem. We will then discuss how Deveikus (cleaving to Hashem) is the secret ingredient in all transcendent, supernatural experience, and how it enables a personal, deep connection to Hashem and His Torah and mitzvot. Throughout the body of Torah, there are many teachings on how to practice Da’as and Deveikus. The methods explored in this essay are sourced from Chassidic teachings which are simple and powerful, with the hope that you will find some benefit in them, or at least have an interesting experience which will inspire further learning of and living in the ways of Chassidus. Before beginning, I invite you to take a moment to relax, sit comfortably and breathe deeply.
Dovid Hamelech writes in Tehillim ‘But as for me, the nearness of G-d is my good’2. Indeed, for the quintessential Jewish king, the heart of the nation, anything that is not an experience of connection to Hashem is simply not worth doing. To live a “good” life, to feel “good”, is to be in conscious contact with the Divine. In the words of Mesillat Yesharim, ‘this alone is the true good, and anything besides this which people deem good is nothing but emptiness and deceptive worthlessness’. It follows that for a Jew, an inquiry into the nature of consciousness is not complete after fully mapping out consciousness. The real goal is then to draw G-dly consciousness into the moment-to moment experience, to feel close to Hashem at all times. Especially in the moments when it is most difficult. This is why the Chassidic approach to Da’as is infinitely more potent and transformative than any other system or practice which is not G-d-centred.
Da’as is commonly translated as recognition or knowledge. The word is also used to point to an experience, the experience of pure consciousness. It is the field of awareness in which all objects of consciousness arise. States of Da’as are often described as being filled with feelings of compassion, serenity, and inner-stillness. Experiencing the moment to moment awareness of my True Self, my Nefesh Elokis (G-dly Soul), the part of me and you and every Jew which is a ‘piece of G-d above, literally’3. The Talmud teaches ‘If you lack daas, what do you have? If you have daas, what do you lack’? This echoes the sentiments of Dovid HaMelech seen earlier that that this awareness of Hashem and closeness to Him is the only truly valuable thing. Any notion of happiness, fulfilment, wellbeing, or meaning is not worth pursuing if it is not being sourced directly from Hashem in the state of Da’as. Since Hashem is the One True Being, the Cause of all Causes, Hashem’s Being is independent of anything else. Hashem can give us a similar experience when we enter the state of Da’as, and experience the pure contentment of simply being. The joy and wellbeing of Da’as is always there, and Hashem is always ready to bestow it.
It is impossible for me to tell you exactly what this awareness is, because it is not words. However, entering into the state called Yishuv HaDa’as (returning to true consciousness) is a practice which can be cultivated through any one of a plethora of exercises sourced from the Torah. One simple and powerful tool is the Hashkata (“mental quieting”) exercise taught by the great Chassidic master of the Warsaw ghetto, the Piaseczno Rebbe in his sefer Derech Hamelch.
To practice the technique, sit comfortably in an alert position.
Begin by becoming aware of your breath, simply witnessing the rise and fall of your abdomen, as well as other sensations that may arise in the present moment.
When you are finished reading these directions, close your eyes and while maintaining awareness of your breath ask yourself “What am I thinking”. If/when a thought arises, lovingly notice it as you put your awareness around it, and then release it, by asking “what else am I thinking”. Repeat this process while maintaining awareness of your breath. As you do this a few times, the gap between thoughts widens, and from this quiet place you can ask Hashem for something, and repeat it over, filling the quiet space with a G-dly connection through your prayer.
You can try this now.
How do you feel? Write down any observations, sensations, emotions and thoughts and compare what changes occur as you practice ov and get used to the feeling of Da’as.
The idea of this exercise is to enter into a state of “what am I thinking”, meaning that instead of identifying with any sensation that arises (an emotion, thought, external sensory stimulus), it is lovingly brought into the open field of awareness of Da’as, where it dissolves in the compassionate expansive light of consciousness. In his sefer Hachsharas Avreichim, the Piacezna Rebbe clarifies that the dissipating of the object of consciousness (a rachash or machshava – emotion or thought) ‘doesn’t even take any complex “attending” to it to make this effect occur. Just by simply observing it, and giving your general attention to that machshavah or a rachash within—by making it an object of one’s awareness as opposed to allowing it to take over one’s awareness—this soon weakens the rachash and the machshavah until soon, it will be there no more’. This simple practice can bring awareness to the consciousness in between thought, the simple sense of well-being that characterises the True Awareness that is Daas.
Another practice is derived from the abovementioned teaching of the Talmud “If you lack daas, what do you have? If you have daas, what do you lack?”. This is the practice of simply being in the state of pure contentment.
Begin by sitting comfortably in an alert position. Gently place your awareness on your breathing. Access some of that inner quiet experienced during the Hashkata excercise. Now, when you have read the directions, close your eyes. From your centred state of inner calm, repeat to yourself and feel the sense that “I don’t need anything right now”. Simply enjoy this feeling of pure contentment as you maintain the awareness of your breath and repeat this line to yourself. You can try this now.
How do you feel? Again, you may wish to write any observations, sensations, emotions and thoughts to track your growth and reflect on the experience at a later time.
Some find the statement “I have everything I need right now” works too. Next time you practice the exercise try this line instead and notice what (if anything) changes.
These exercises provide a taste of the true potential of our consciousness. Indeed at first it is just a taste, and the return to default, disconnected consciousness can occur rapidly. This disconnection is the root of the notion of “sin”, for only a disconnected consciousness can (G-d forbid) act against the Will of Hashem and the G-dly soul. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, The Alter Rebbe, teaches a simple and practical method which uses mastery of Da’as to prevent one from disconnecting from Hashem, falling out of Da’as, or G-d forbid sinning. In chapter 14 of Tanya, the Alter Rebbe teaches ‘For even when your heart lusts and desires a certain physical pleasure… one can strengthen themselves and divert their attention [Mesiach Da’as] from it completely by saying to their heart “I don’t want to be a Rasha [one who sins] even for a moment. For I don’t want to be separated and disconnected in any way from Hashem’s unity, G-d forbid’. The Alter Rebbe is advising that rather than identifying with the desire, and falling out of Da’as (connection with Hashem), I can simply put my Da’as on something else. In this case I choose to focus on the love my G-dly soul (Nefesh Elokis, True Self) always has for Hashem and its desire to be connected constantly to Him. At first, this may be difficult and the desire or emotion may keep arising. However, the ability to be mesiach da’as, to control and divert attention, is a skill which can be cultivated with practice, until eventually the Tanya’s method becomes a simple, lasting and effective choice to refocus attention on Hashem.
A simple exercise to practice controlling attention is to become aware of sounds, sights, smells, and sensations being experienced in the present moment. The same mechanism of Da’as is being used when I simply place attention on one or a combination of the senses, as when I divert attention away from a destructive impulse and instead am aware of my desire to be close to Hashem.
Another easy exercise can be done next time you are looking at a screen. Instead of focusing on the content on the screen, shift your awareness to the rim surrounding the screen. Or, look at the space just behind the screen. In this way, you will begin to become familiar with the sense of controlling attention, and it will become easier to do.
Da’as is also the source of the capacity for attention, self-awareness, self-transcendence, will, emotions, and connection. Consistently sourcing from this state improves all the above-mentioned areas. This can be life-changing, transformative and immensely healing physically, emotionally and spiritually. Certainly in the modern world, there is an ever increasing awareness of transformative healing modalities and meditative paths claiming such benefits. However, besides for the fact that Da’as is the mechanism underlying mostly all of these methods, Chassidus takes the process to an incomparable new level by revealing Hashem’s Truth at the centre of all transformative experiences. The holy Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidus, revealed the gateway to deep bonding with Hashem termed Deveikus. Translated literally as “cleaving” to Hashem, Deveikus describes a direct, spiritual experience of the Divine. This is what it means to be truly alive, to be connected to eternal life even in the physical world, as the verse states ‘And you all, who are in Deveikus with Hashem your G-d are alive today’. Like Da’as, Deveikus is always accessible and can be cultivated. While this may seem like a lofty spiritual level, we are told “You are children of Hashem your G-d”45. Hashem loves you, and every Jew. He so to speak “gets nachas” from you and helps you every step of the way when you choose to connect to Him in Deveikus. In this state, there is no sense of the body, space, or time. All pain is dissolved, all questions are resolved, and it is possible to go even higher and receive supernatural insight, connect to souls of holy tzadikim, and channel blessing to individuals and groups, to name a few experiences commonly associated with states of Deveikus. One moment of Deveikus can radically realign one’s being with Hashem’s Truth. There are many practices taught throughout Torah to enter into Deveikus. Many of them can be found in the teachings of the holy Baal Shem Tov. Here is one example, a breathing meditation taught in the sefer Baal Shem Tov al HaTorah, Amud HaTefillah §27:
‘If your prayer is performed in a pristine and pure state, then certainly the holy breath emerging from your mouth will become bound and attached to the “Divine breath” that is bound to you and consistently enters you. The sages referred to this in the Midrash on the verse in Psalms 150:6, “Let every neshamah (soul) praise Y-ah (the Divine), halleluY-ah”. As the word for “soul” has the identical root letters as the word for “breath”, they revealed the secret of the verse to mean: “With each and every neshimah (breath) that you breathe — praise Hashem.” (Bereishis Rabbah 14:9, Devarim Rabbah 2:36). If one practices — that with every exhale you experience the breath ascending from below to above [to Hashem], which then returns and descends back down to you — from above to below — then you will find it easy to access Deveikus and unite the Divine consciousness within each of us to its infinite source above’
You can try this technique now.
How do you feel?
As the Alter Rebbe teaches in Tanya, Da’as can connect us to these higher states since it ‘sustains emotions and gives them their energy. It incorporates [and therefore transcends] Chesed and Gevurah, that is Love of Hashem and Awe of Hashem and their derivatives’. It comes out from this that since Da’as is the root of the emotions of the G-dly soul (Nefesh Elokis) viz. Love and Awe of Hashem and their offshoots (which encompass all of the emotions), Da’as transcends all emotion. It is the space in which all emotions arise. Therefore healing emotions through the states of Da’as and Deveikus gets to the very core of the wound, and can effect deep and lasting change by going to the source of any trauma or negative character trait.
Experiencing this deep healing and realignment has changed my life so significantly and has been my main takeaway from exploring Da’as and Deveikus through Chassidus. In these states, Hashem has freed me from years of built up resentment, from guilt, shame, and anger, and from false beliefs that I am stupid, bad, and not good enough. Without Da’as, I was unaware that I was allowing these toxic default settings to run my life, and disconnect me from Hashem through destructive thoughts, words, and actions. Since beginning daily practice of Da’as and Deveikus techniques, especially before and during prayer, my consciousness has qualitatively transformed, and consequently immense blessings have flowed into my actual life situation. Most importantly, learning Torah and performing mitzvos with Da’as and Deveikus has unlocked their innate sublime, transcendent quality and have become transformative experiences of Love and Awe of Hashem. It is my sincere hope that this essay has given you some inspiration to explore what Chassidus teaches on the topics of Da’as and Deveikus, and that with daily practice your connection with Hashem will go from strength to strength. The imminent arrival of Moshiach will see Da’as of Hashem awaken within every human being and ‘the earth shall be filled with Da’as of the glory of the LORD as water covers the sea’6. With the help of Hashem, your own avoda, your inner work of living in Da’as and Deveikus, will contribute to and super-charge the shift in global consciousness and we will merit to see the day when ‘a man will no longer teach his friend…, for all will know [have Da’as of] Me, from the small to the great’7. May we see it now!
1 Bereishis Rabbah 1
2 Tehillim 73:28
3 Tanya, ch 2
4 Devarim 4:4
5 Devarim 14:1
6 Habakkuk 2:14
7 Jeremiah 31:34