Next Article in Journal
The Bible between Literary Traditions: John C. H. Wu’s Chinese Translation of the Psalms
Next Article in Special Issue
Origins of Dualism and Nondualism in the History of Religion and Spiritual Practice
Previous Article in Journal
The Essence of My Coaching Is to Serve: Monty Williams, Faith, and Relationality
Previous Article in Special Issue
What Stands in the Way Becomes the Way: Dual and Non-Dual Approaches to Meditation Hindrances in Buddhist Traditions and Contemplative Science
Font Type:
Arial Georgia Verdana
Font Size:
Aa Aa Aa
Line Spacing:
Column Width:

Flavors of Ecstasy: States of Absorption in Islamic and Jewish Contemplative Traditions

Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-3130, USA
Religions 2022, 13(10), 935;
Received: 15 August 2022 / Revised: 26 September 2022 / Accepted: 26 September 2022 / Published: 9 October 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meditation and Spiritual Practice)


While the trait of absorption has received a considerable amount of scientific study, states of absorption have been comparatively understudied and even less scholarly or scientific attention has been paid to those that are cultivated within the contemplative traditions of Islam and Judaism. This paper explores canonical descriptions of states of contemplative absorption in Islamic and Jewish traditions, specifically highlighting how they are often cultivated using sensory deprivation and sensory withdrawal, can be distressing and entail functional impairment considered normative in some contexts, and how some are set apart as the goal of specific meditative paths. The import of this survey goes beyond just historical significance, since these traditions assume, and recent research suggests it is plausible, that such states may be hyper-plastic and pivotal in both adaptive and maladaptive directions.

1. Introduction

1.1. Trait Absorption and Perceptual Decoupling

In 1974, Tellegen and Atkinson first introduced their Trait Absorption Scale (TAS) to measure “a disposition for having episodes of “total” attention that fully engage one’s representational (i.e., perceptual, enactive, imaginative, and ideational) resources” (Tellegen and Atkinson 1974, p. 268). These states of “total attention” were characterized by “a heightened sense of the reality of the attentional object, imperviousness to distracting events, and an altered sense of reality in general, including an empathically altered sense of self” (ibid., p. 268). Tellegen continued to refine the definition of the construct in 1986 adding that such states can also have “a dissociative…character” (Roche and McConkey 1990, p. 92), and this feature has stuck has to this day, particularly due to the fact that “absorption and imaginative involvement” is one of the three subscales of the widely used Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES) (Soffer-Dudek et al. 2015, p. 338). Though the construct of dissociation has itself has been criticized for “the muddiness of the definition” (Dalenberg and Paulson 2009, p. 145) and for being “quite vague, in large part because it has been promiscuously applied to disparate phenomena” (Dell 2009, p. 710), clinical scientists and researchers have responded to this lack of clarity by delineating between “pathological” dissociation and “normal” or normative dissociation, the latter of which includes states of absorption (Dalenberg and Paulson 2009, p. 146).
In an attempt to evade such conceptual ambiguity but still be rigorously interdisciplinary, Seligman and Kirmayer (2008) proposed an “integrative” model of dissociation which takes into account both pathological and normative forms, the former involving “distress” or “impairment” found in depersonalization and derealization disorders, while the latter “typically involve experiences of absorption, defined as the profound narrowing or concentration of attention and focused deployment of cognitive resources”, specifying that “the absorbed individual becomes unaware of the external environment, self-awareness and critical thought are suspended and time perception may become distorted” (p. 34). Normative dissociation can be of two types, external and internal, since a state of absorption “often involves engagement with external objects or events, such as films, television, books, music and the like” and can “also involve engagement with internally generated thoughts, images, or imaginative content; examples include daydreaming, reverie, deliberation and fantasy” (ibid., p. 34).
Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropologist studying spiritual and religious experience, has found the construct of trait absorption to be insightful in terms of the findings of her ethnographic fieldwork, particularly in charismatic Christian communities. In their 2010 paper, Luhrmann and her colleagues introduce the idea that there may be training effects on the trait of absorption—which had not been recognized in empirical psychological research investigating the trait—and argue that there is considerable shared territory across different fields and other related psychological constructs:
We believe that “absorption” is best understood as the mental capacity common to trance, hypnosis, dissociation, and much other spiritual experience in which the individual becomes caught up in ideas or images or fascinations. From this perspective, “absorption” is the name of the capacity to become focused on the mind’s object—what humans imagine or see around them—and to allow that focus to increase while diminishing attention to the myriad of everyday distractions that accompany the management of normal life.
Here again the trait or capacity for absorption is specified as having two components: becoming focused on a particular object that can either be external or internally imagined and the diminishment of attention to anything else. In the case of an internally imagined mental object, any sensory perception would be inherently distracting and draw one’s attention from it, and thus there must be a diminishment of attention to sensory stimuli in order for such focus to be maintained. Research into “trance”1 states in shamanic traditions, some of which have incorporated neuroscientific methods, also explores these two components, the latter sometimes described as decreased sensory encoding and “perceptual decoupling” defined as “the capacity to disengage attention from perception” (Schooler et al. 2011, p. 319). For example, Hove et al. (2016) describe how “Perceptual decoupling or sensory gating would limit disruptions from irrelevant stimuli and help sustain an absorptive internally directed train of thought” and that this “decoupling, closed eyes, and a still body would help close down the external sensory world, and facilitate transfer to the internal world of shamanic journeying” (p. 3121). Perceptual decoupling is also recognized as a one of the major components of mind wandering and has been investigated most thoroughly in that domain of research (Schooler et al. 2011; Smallwood and Schooler 2015). While some psychological anthropologists have emphasized its role in shamanic trance states, by and large meditation researchers have been slower to embrace perceptual decoupling as an important component of meditative practice to investigate, perhaps because the emerging field of ‘contemplative science’ has only recently begun to explore contemplative states of absorption which are not cultivated in mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) (Hagerty et al. 2013; Berkovich-Ohana and Glicksohn 2017; Glicksohn and Ben-Soussan 2020; Sparby 2017, 2019). While trait absorption has received a lot of attention in psychological and clinical scientific research and is now promisingly being investigated in relation to spiritual experiences (Lifshitz et al. 2019), the states of absorption that the trait refers to has been comparatively under-theorized and understudied, particularly in meditation research (Roche and McConkey 1990, p. 92; Hall et al. 2016, p. 2).

1.2. Contemplative States of Absorption

One notable exception to this oversight is Markovic and Thompson (2016), which, through the lens of neurophenomenology, compares states of absorption in hypnosis to those cultivated in the Theravada Buddhist context of jhana (Pali) or dhyana (Sanskrit) practice—the terms themselves usually translated as ‘absorption’. They point out that while Tellegen and Atkinson “and other early researchers, connected absorption with imaginative involvement—a tendency to become attentionally and emotionally involved in an imaginative scenario…Current researchers are more likely to define absorption purely in terms of the quality of one’s attention to an object” as they themselves do2 (pp. 82–83). After an overview of both hypnotic and Buddhist meditative practice, they note that in “both the hypnosis literature and Buddhist texts, absorption is a state of focused attention in which there is reduced awareness of or attention to peripheral stimuli, and due to which one may experience altered boundaries of the self”, such as “alterations in one’s body image or even the sense that one’s body has disappeared”, as well as “an altered perception of reality” that can include the “cessation of speech and thought”, being “unresponsive to external, even painful, stimuli”, or even the “loss of individual identity, sense of unification with all things, and experiences of emptiness or voidness” (ibid., pp. 85–86). They also explore whether and to what extent “meta-awareness” is present in these different states, defined as “one’s ability to access one’s current contents of consciousness”, pointing out that “Low meta-awareness can occur in mind wandering (when a person is unaware that their mind is wandering3)” as well as “in states of craving, in which object orientation is high but the individual is unaware both of how the object appears to them and of their thoughts, feelings, and desires about the object”(ibid., p. 89). Finally, they note that meta-awareness is crucial for both “open-monitoring” and “focused attention” meditation practices but that in the latter, particularly “at later stages, in which attention is absorbed by the object, meta-awareness may no longer be present”4 (ibid., p. 90).
While there has been considerable scholarship and research on Asian meditative traditions, some of which focuses on the states of absorption cultivated within them, this paper will explore states of absorption cultivated in the lesser-known contemplative traditions found within Islam and Judaism.5 For the purpose of this investigation, we shall follow Seligman and Kirmayer (2008) as well as Markovic and Thompson (2016) to view a state of absorption as a state of concentrated attention that can be either internally or externally oriented in which there is reduced awareness of, or attention to, peripheral stimuli. In cases of internally focused absorption, which characterizes many (though not all) contemplative states, sensory perception is definitionally the ‘peripheral’ stimuli that awareness is being ‘absorbed from’ as in instances of perceptual decoupling. Additionally, in acknowledging the role of absorption in experiences appraised as either pathological, normal, or normative depending on the context, we will also highlight distressing and/or functionally impairing effects of such states when described, as well as the absence or presence of meta-awareness when relevant or explicit.

2. Islamic Traditions

2.1. Seclusion (Khalwa)

In the Islamic mystical6 traditions known collectively as Sufism, contemplative practice is commonly undertaken in intensive retreat environments such that retreats are understood to be “the crucible of mystical experience” in these traditions (Ernst 1997, p. 111). The Arabic term khalwa is usually translated as “seclusion” or “retreat”, the practice of which is often “accompanied by intense meditation, self- imposed strictures, vows of silence, and spiritual exercises” and “constitutes one of the fundamental principles of asceticism (zuhd)” (Knysh 2000, p. 314). Sara Sviri notes, however, that there is an important distinction “between a pietistic approach that upholds asceticism as an idealized way of life and a mystical approach that sees asceticism as a mere technique, often a temporary technique, whereby inner transformation can be achieved” (Sviri 2020, p. 171). Most of the traditions that eventually come to be known as Sufi can be characterized by the latter, such that “Asceticism, in this context, becomes no more than a station, a stage—manzila, maqam—on a mystical journey (sayr) or path (ṭariqa), whose destination far outreaches it” (Sviri 2020, p. 172). Nevertheless, the practice of retreat, oftentimes for 40 days (arba’in, chilla) at a time, “became, very early, a regular institution in the Sufi path” (Schimmel [1975] 2011, p. 104).
One of the first to provide detailed and comprehensive instructions on the practice of retreat was Najm al-Din Razi (12th–13th CE), who wrote a list of conditions to be observed when one undertakes one:
The first is to sit alone in an empty room, facing the qebla with the legs crossed and the hands placed on top of each other. The morid should have made a total ablution, intending it to be like the washing of a corpse, and imagine the room to be his shroud, leaving it only to perform ablution and prayer and fulfill other needs. The room must be small and dark, with a curtain drawn over the door so that no light or sound penetrates. The senses will then cease functioning-seeing, hearing, speaking, and walking-and the spirit, no longer preoccupied with the senses and sensory phenomena, will direct itself to the world of the unseen. Moreover, once the senses have ceased functioning, the misfortunes that assail the spirit through the apertures of the five senses will be effaced by means of zekr and the negation of stray thoughts. The veils that derive from the senses will fall; the spirit will gain familiarity with the unseen; and its familiarity with men will cease.
The instructions are intended to create a secure sensory deprivation environment (no sound or light) which allows the senses to “cease functioning” and, when combined with concentrative effects of the meditative practice of zhikr (the repetition of divine names or Quranic verses) and the banishment of distracting thoughts, the ‘noise’ of the bodily senses and the ordinary mind is eliminated, such that the spirit can then tune in to the signal of “the world of the unseen”. In this way, the “shutting of the external senses” was understood to be crucial to the “opening of the internal senses”, which allowed mystical experience and divine realities to be perceived (Knysh 2000, p. 316).
Annemarie Schimmel notes, however, that such intensive (dark) retreats were not understood to be appropriate for all seekers at all times, and that a Sufi Sheikh “might exempt a disciple for a time from the forty-day seclusion, for instance, because he was spiritually too weak, or because his spiritual ecstasy might overwhelm him” (Schimmel [1975] 2011, p. 104). These potential dangers of the practice were also highlighted by Muhyiddin Ibn al-Arabi (12th–13th CE) in his own retreat manual. He advised that “for God’s sake, do not enter retreat until …you know your strength in respect to the power of imagination. For if your imagination rules you, then there is no road to retreat except by the hand of the shaykh who is discriminating and aware” (Arabi [1981] 1989, p. 30). Such discrimination, whether one’s own or (more commonly) ‘outsourced’ to one’s teacher, is necessary “to distinguish between angelic and demonic spiritual influences” since the latter can cause “physical disorientation, pain and distress, bewilderment and…mental disorder” (ibid., p. 32). While generally the means of discernment is to ‘judge by their fruits’, or, in Ibn al-Arabi’s words, “distinguish…by what you find in yourself when they [the experiences] come to an end” (ibid., p. 32), Schimmel adds that this advice is not always sufficient, since “the murid [aspirant] may even feel uplifted and consoled by certain experiences that are, in reality, insinuations of his lower self or of a misguiding power” (Schimmel [1975] 2011, p. 103). Furthermore, sometimes experiences of distress, “constriction” (qabd), terror, and bewilderment are actually understood to be of divine origin and indicative of genuine spiritual progress, so the process of discernment becomes even more complex (Fisher 2021).
While undertaking retreats is an unquestionably central practice in many Sufi traditions, the ultimate aim of any physical seclusion is actually a “seclusion in spirit” (khalwat al-ma’na) or what came to be known in Naqshbandi traditions as “seclusion in the crowd” (khalwat dar anjuman), a state in which one could be with God outside of specially curated environments and even amidst other people (Knysh 2000, p. 317). Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (11th–12th CE) wrote about both these external and internal meanings of the term, clarifying that the latter is an absorptive state that “consists in evacuating from the heart and spirit all else but Allah and filling them with Him” (quoted in Fenton 1995, p. 284). And while in his retreat manual Ibn al-Arabi writes, “if you want to enter the presence of the Truth and receive from Him without intermediary…seclusion from people will become inevitable for you, and preference for retreat (khalwa) over human associations, for the extent of your distance from creation is the extent of your closeness to God—outwardly and inwardly”, in another work he specifies that retreats are actually only appropriate for novices (Arabi [1981] 1989, pp. 29–30). In The Meccan Revelations (al-Futuhat al-Makkiya), he writes “The retreat is only correct for him who is veiled (al-mahjub). As for the people of Unveiling, the retreat is never correct for them” since they perceive all of creation in its truly ‘unveiled’ state as a new and constantly unfolding divine self-manifestation (tajalli) (Chittick 2005, p. 158). In this vein, he writes that “For him whom God has given understanding, retreat (khalwa) and society (jalwa7) are the same. Rather, it may be that society is more complete for a person and greater in benefit, since through it at every instant he increases in sciences about God that he did not possess” (ibid., p. 161).
Thus we see that physical seclusion, often in a sensory deprivation environment, helps to cultivate certain absorptive states that are conceptualized as “retreating” within one’s spirit from the body. Nevertheless, the goal is always to be able to realize such states of intimacy with the divine even in the ‘marketplace’ of society, since God is actually just as present (if not more) in the world. While we will explore this goal of contemplative practice below, we turn now to those intermediary absorptive states (ahwal) often cultivated in retreat settings.

2.2. The States (ahwal) of Ecstasy (wajd)

In classical Sufi manuals, we find several terms that can be used to describe states of contemplative absorption, though there is tremendous variability in the definitions or associations of the terms amongst different Sufi authors. For example, Carl Ernst explains how the “wide variation in the definitions themselves, from one author to another” stems from the fact that “each one seems to have felt a considerable freedom to add or to subtract from the received definitions, in accordance with personal experience or the authoritative pronouncement of a teacher” (Ernst 1992, p. 187). Sometimes the discrepancies between authors may even be intentionally trying to confuse the uninitiated, as Sufi writings can also have an esoteric character to them where “the vocabulary…is defined both to facilitate understanding among Sufis and to frustrate it for outsiders…The terms of Sufism, then, are explicitly intended both to conceal and to display, to show and hide” (Ernst 2018, pp. 120–21).
Nevertheless, there are several terms that consistently refer to some kind of absorptive state, and in fact, the technical Arabic term hal (pl. ahwal) usually translated as “state” is one such term. In classical Sufism, experiences of some dimension of the divine are often presented as either a “state” (hal) or a “station” (maqam), and they are usually differentiated by whether they were the result of one’s own efforts in the case of the latter or bestowed purely by divine grace in the case of the former. The word itself “is derived from the root h.w.l.” and “the basic meaning of the root is to change from one situation to another, or from state to state” (Chittick 1989, p. 264). The states “were generally defined as gifts from God that overtake the wayfarer involuntarily” whereas the stations “form a series of discrete psychological and ethical qualities that the individual must attain and progress through” (Ernst 1997, p. 102). Although there was often debate concerning whether specific experiences were one or the other, or over the nature of the difference between the two, in many formulations the states themselves are understood to be inherently absorptive. For example, Knysh explains how these divinely bestowed states “cannot co-exist with any other state or sensation…the heart possessed by a hal is seized entirely” (Knysh 2000, p. 304). And as Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (11th CE) explains, these experiences can range in valence: “the state is a mode of consciousness that comes upon the heart without a person’s intending it, attracting it, or trying to gain it—a feeling of delight or sorrow, constriction, longing, anxiety, terror, or want” (Sells 1996, p. 103). While such experiences can be euphoric or dysphoric, in cases of the latter the lack of control or predictability with which they are experienced may add an additional layer of distress or challenge.
William Chittick notes that while the ahwal “include all the experiences and delights which so many Western seekers are anxious to achieve”, it is also true that the “states, in Ibn al-Arabi’s view, are a sign of immaturity and instability” (Chittick 1989, p. 263). He clarifies that, “like a madman, the possessor of the state loses his reason in the overpowering experience of his states” and therefore “true masters have passed beyond the ruling properties of the states, always keeping a “cool head”, no matter what they may be experiencing inwardly” (ibid., p. 264). Even for Ibn al-Arabi though, he understands that one’s particular psychological constitution will largely determine how overpowering and absorptive these experiences are. In his discussion of a category of states called “inrushes” (sing. warid) associated with particular divine names, he elucidates three categories of people based on the impact of the state: “In the first case, the inrush is greater than the strength of the soul, so it rules over the soul. He is dominated by the state and follows its ruling property, so the state turns him this way and that. He has no ability to govern himself as long as he remains in the state” (Chittick 1989, p. 266). This state of functional impairment can even become permanent, in which case it is referred to as “madness” (junun) (ibid., p. 266). In the second category of people however, the phenomenal experience is largely the same as the first but somehow there is no resulting functional impairment: “the person’s rational faculty is taken away, though the animal understanding remains. He eats, drinks, and goes this way and that without self-governing or deliberation. These are called the “rational madmen” (uqala’ al- majanin), since they take care of their natural livelihood, like other animals” (ibid., p. 266). Finally, in the third case which is the ideal, “the inrush does not last, so the state disappears. Such a person returns to his fellows with his reason intact. He governs his own affair, and he understands what he says and what is said to him. He turns this way and that on the basis of deliberation, like any human being” (ibid., p. 267). In other words, the less impairing and absorbing these states are, the more spiritually mature the individual is understood to be. Examples of this third category are cases where,
the person’s inrush and self-disclosure are equal to his own capacity. No one sees any effect of the ruling property of the inrush over him, but one becomes aware upon seeing him, through a hidden kind of awareness, that something has happened to him, since he has to listen to the inrush in order to take what it has brought him from the Real. His state is like that of the sitting companion who is conversing with you, when another person comes with a command for him from the king. He stops talking to you and listens to what that person is saying. Once he receives the message, he returns to the conversation. In such a case, even if you do not see anything with your eyes, you notice that something has distracted him from you, as if someone were speaking to him. Or he has suddenly begun to think about something, so his senses turn toward it in his imagination, and his eyes and his gaze become dull, even while you are talking to him. You look at him, but your words do not register with him, so you become aware that his inward dimension is thinking about something else, different from what you are busy with. Sometimes the person’s capacity is greater than the inrush, so when it comes to him—while he is conversing with you—you do not become aware. He takes what the inrush casts to him, and he takes from you what you say to him, or he speaks to you.
Here we see examples of a context where absorption is normal but not actually normative since the co-existing of spiritual and normal sensory perception without any withdrawal or functional impairment is the ideal. In many normal cases however, perceptual decoupling and absorption will occur, and in classical Sufi manuals these states were often termed wajd, usually translated as “ecstasy” though Michael Sells emphasizes “the difference in metaphor between the Latinate term ecstasy (ek stasis) as “standing outside of oneself” or “rapture” (from raptus) as “being taken” or “seized up” out of oneself, and the Arabic term wajd” which “combines the meaning of “intense feeling” with the notion of “finding” (Sells 1996, p. 111). Ibn al-Arabi helps gives us some sense of the phenomenology of states of wajd when he defines them as “the states (ahwal) that come upon the heart unexpectedly and annihilate it from witnessing itself and those present” (Chittick 1989, p. 212). While the latter part of the definition is easily understood as perceptual decoupling such that one is no longer aware of one’s surroundings, I would argue that the “heart being annihilated from witnessing itself” is pointing to the lack of meta-awareness in such states, again usually defined as “the ability to take explicit note of the current contents of consciousness” (Schooler et al. 2011, p. 319).
Sells introduces a spectrum of “ecstatic” states (all sharing the same Arabic root) understood and presented by al-Qushayri, beginning with the state(s) of tawajud, translated as “self-produced ecstasy” or the somewhat awkward “making-ecstatic” which means “the petitioning of ecstasy through a kind of self-will” or the act of “attempting to achieve ecstasy through [one’s] own initiative” (Sells 1996, pp. 111–12). Next comes the absorptive states of wajd proper, and then they reach their ultimate fruition in wujud (“existence”), the ecstatic state where one finally finds or encounters ultimate reality, that which truly exists. This spectrum of existentially ecstatic states and the relationship between the three is compared to “one who witnesses the sea, then sails upon the sea, then drowns in the sea” (Sells 1996, p. 114). This transformative experience of drowning in the sea (of divine unity) is also commonly known as fana, to which we will now turn.

2.3. Annihilation (fana) and Subsistence (baqa)

The states of fana and baqa are traditionally understood to comprise the goal of the Sufi path, though different traditions elucidate different stages and flavors of both. Fana is often translated as “annihilation” (Ernst 1997, p. 94), or “the annihilation of the ego-self in mystical union” (Sells 1996, p. 6)”, though Schimmel notes that the “German term Entwerden, as used by the medieval mystics, is closer to its meaning than words “like annihilation”, “being naughted”, or “passing away”, since it is the opposite of “becoming”, warden” (Schimmel [1975] 2011, p. 142). Baqa is often translated as “persistence” or “subsistence” (Schimmel [1975] 2011, p. 143), “God’s becoming present” (Ernst 1997, p. 60) or “the abiding of the person in union with the divine” (Sells 1996, p. 78) and is understood to come after fana, either immediately after the state concludes or only with extra guidance and/or grace.
The state of fana is widely understood as an absorptive one, such that, as al-Qushayri explains, the person experiencing this state “has no knowledge of self or creatures, no perception, no information, so that even if self and creatures exist, he is utterly unaware of them, not perceiving them in any way” (Sells 1996, p. 120). The fact that meta-awareness is absent in this state is stated explicitly by Abd al-Rahman Jami (15th CE), who writes that ““Annihilation” means that the overpowering force of the manifestation of God’s Being to the Sufi’s inward reality erases his awareness of other than God […] if the annihilated traveler is aware of his own annihilation, he is not truly annihilated, since both the attribute of annihilation and the possessor of that attribute are in the category of “other than God”. Hence awareness of annihilation negates annihilation” (quoted in Nurbakhsh [1982] 1993, pp. 88–89). This featural lack of meta-awareness in fana is explicit in al-Ghazali’s understanding of fana as well, which he describes in a passage outlining several stages of the contemplative practice of dhikr (recitative “remembrance” of names of God or Qur’anic verses) in which he provides a particularly cogent description of different depths of absorption:
Know that it has been revealed to the possessors of insight that remembrance is the best deed. However, it also has three layers, some of which are closer to the core than others. It has a core behind the three layers, and the layers have been given precedence due to their being a way to the core. The first layer is remembrance of the tongue only. The second is remembrance of the heart-if the heart is in need of supervision until it becomes present with remembrance, and if fit were abandoned it would be preoccupied with various thoughts. The third is for remembrance to be established in the heart and to overwhelm it, to the extent that it would require force to turn it away from remembrance to something else-just as, in the second layer, force is needed to establish remembrance and constantly maintain it.
A distinction is made here between dhikr where one has to exert a lot of effort to maintain one’s focus and attention and the latter stage where focus has become effortless such that it would actually take effort to break one’s focus on the practice.8 He then continues,
The fourth, which is the core, is for the remembered to be established in the heart, and remembrance to be erased and hidden. This is the core which is sought after, whereby the heart turns its attention neither to remembrance nor to the heart; rather, its entire being is immersed in the remembered. Whenever, in the course of this, the heart becomes aware of turning to remembrance, it is a distracting partition. This state is what the gnostics call ‘self-oblivion’ (fana’), which is for a person to be oblivious to himself to the extent that he does not sense anything from his outer limbs, anything external, or any of the inner fluctuations within him…If, during this, it occurs to him that he is oblivious from himself entirely, then that also is an adulteration and a blemish. Rather, completion is for him to be oblivious to himself and oblivious to oblivion as well, for indeed oblivion of oblivion is the pinnacle of oblivion.
(ibid., pp. 69–70)
Here, the state of absorption entails both perceptual decoupling in that nothing is being perceived through the senses as well as a lack of meta-awareness of “any of the inner fluctuations within” causing one to be “oblivious to oblivion”. While it seems possible from this passage to experience perceptual decoupling with meta-awareness, the completion or fullest realization of the state is one in which it is absent. Al-Ghazali then compares this spectrum of focus and absorption to being immersed in feelings towards a human beloved or even anger towards an enemy:
Indeed you could become immersed in extreme anger by thinking about your enemy, or extreme desire for your lover, to the extent that there is not room in your mind for anything else. You are spoken to, yet you do not understand; someone passes in front of you, yet you do not see him although your eyes are open; a conversation is taking place next to you, yet you do not hear despite there being no deafness in your ears. In this immersion, you are heedless to everything, including the immersion itself; for surely the one who is attentive to immersion has turned away from that which he is immersed in.
(ibid., p. 70)
This passage describes normal states of absorption we have all experienced, and the lack of meta-awareness involved in them, in ways that are very resonant with contemporary psychological accounts. In fact, Markovic and Thompson (2016) specifically highlight the reduction of meta-awareness involved in states of craving, as we saw above.9 But fana is not defined only by its features of perceptual decoupling and lack of meta-awareness alone—since other ecstatic states may share these two characteristics—but also by its fruits which endure after the state has passed, traditionally understood as an ethical transformation where one takes on God’s attributes. The return to normal sensory perception with eyes anew and a resurrected divine Self (after sense of self dissolution) is often understood as baqa, but some traditions divide this realization into several stages, an example of which we shall turn to next.

2.4. Today

In a contemporary Turkish Sufi tradition that has recently spread to North America, the Nuriyya-Malamiyya, one must progress through several states of absorption en route to the contemplative transformation posited as the goal of their path. The Sufi aspirant in this tradition is trained in both audible and “subvocal” dhikr “in a way that induces ecstasy” (wajd), though the spectrum of ecstasy is acknowledged and one is led from what they call the “cultivation of ecstasy (tawajud)” to states of ecstasy proper (wajd) which come to fruition in the state of encountering “existence itself (wujud)” (Toussulis 2010, pp. 168–71). In a description reminiscent of (and likely rooted in) the metaphor and comparison al-Qushayri used above to describe the continuum of ecstasy (wajd), the contemporary scholar and adherent of this tradition Dr. Yannis Toussulis describes how,
The outward dimension of vocal dhikr involves audibly chanting the names in a windlike manner, thereby raising waves on the surface of the ocean. These waves are hidden thoughts, images, sensations, and emotions, which rise to the surface and empty themselves into the greater motion of the sea. During this period one becomes what some Sufis call an imitative drunkard. Such a one is merely a “possessor of tastings” and his or her ecstasy is sporadic and of short duration. The inner dimension of audible dhikr is one in which one recognizes that one habitually mistakes the surface of these waves with the sea itself. Progressively, the waves sink into the sea; the wind stops and the surface becomes calm. The ocean is gradually revealed as a single body composed of two activities: waves in motion and calmness. Here, as some Sufis put it, one becomes a “possessor of drinking” and is completely overcome by ecstasy.
While Toussulis notes that the ultimate goal is “a state of more authentic sobriety”, during the states of ecstasy preceding this “one may find oneself feeling and acting, at times, like one who is mualla (mad in Allah)” though this “is considered to be a sign of immaturity, especially if it is indiscriminately displayed to others who are not adepts in Sufism” (ibid., p. 171).
Ultimately this path culminates in the realization of fana, which he understands as “a condition of self-effacement in the reality of God’s Omnipresence” and “a gradual effacement of the false sense of a separative self (or ego)”, and baqa understood as the subsequent “reintegration into an authentic selfhood, which, according to Ibn Arabi, is also the condition of intrinsic servitude (ubuda)” (ibid., p. 172). The Nuriyya also break up the transformation of baqa into three stages, the first of which is jam (gathering), where,
all the former realizations in the phase of fana—the effacement of actions, attributes, and essence—are powerfully “gathered” (jam) together. As a matter of fact, they are synthesized so intensely that the servant temporarily ceases to be, often falling into a state of total intoxication in which the apparent world disappears…This condition completely alters one’s sense of self-identity in a way Attar has expressed as follows: “I have no news of my coming or passing away—the whole thing happened quicker than a breath; ask no questions of the moth. In the candle flame of his face I have forgotten all the answers.”…one cannot remain in this state for too long for to do so would be to risk becoming “mad in allah” (mualla). Because of this, the malamati guide immediately coaxes his student into the next stage of baqa.
(ibid., p. 177)
While many states can be absorptive such that one ‘temporarily ceases to be’ and ‘the apparent world disappears’, as well as being comparable to madness, not all of them alter one’s sense of identity at baseline in an enduring way. Whereas in the earlier states of ecstasy, one is like one who is mualla, here there is actually a risk of inhabiting this state in an ongoing way. In the second stage of baqa, called both the “second separation” (farq al thani) and “the presence of gathering” (hadhrat al-jam), “the student returns to sobriety, yet the one who returns or who is reborn in this way is radically divested of the myth of separate selfhood” though “there is still, however, a vestige of separation” that remains and marks it as an incomplete realization. (ibid., p. 178) The third and final stage of baqa, described and translated as the “integration of gathering” (jam al-jam) consists in the realization “that creation is truly the locus for God to manifest the fullness of His own nature” which results in a condition where “sobriety (sahw), induced through perception of the forms, and intoxication (sukr), induced through the perception of God, alternate in such a way that the integrative state of human being as a servant and deputy gradually ripens” (ibid., p. 180).

3. Jewish Traditions

3.1. Concentration (Kavannah)

In the Rabbinic period of Judaism (1st–6th CE), we find an important example of states of heightened concentration and absorption being cultivated and employed in prayer. In the earliest strata of the Babylonian Talmud, the Mishnah, we find a passage that becomes paradigmatic for all later traditions of contemplative prayer:
One may only stand and begin to pray from a state of ‘heaviness of head’ (koved rosh). The early pietists would wait one hour and then pray, so that they would focus (l’kaven) their hearts toward ‘The Place’. Even if the king greets him, he should not respond to him; and even if a snake is wrapped on his heel, he should not interrupt.
(Berachot 5:1; translation mine)
Elliot Wolfson (1996) elaborates on this “ideal of mental concentration” called kavannah, as “the setting and focusing of the mind on a fixed object and the blocking out of all distracting thoughts” (p. 140). Indeed this ideal state of concentration is correlated with a koved rosh, literally “heaviness of head”10 but in this context perhaps referring to the capacity to direct one’s mind in way that it gravitates towards its object and one’s attention does not easily disengage or ‘float away’. As Wolfson writes, “the worshiper’s concentration must be so intense that nothing—neither king nor serpent—should divert his attention” (p. 140). Here, from a contemplative perspective and interpretation of the passage, prayer is situated in relation to a state of heightened attention and non-distraction such that one wouldn’t notice even if one’s life were in immediate physical danger (snake) or faced with extreme social pressure (king). In the Jerusalem Talmud, there is an elaboration of this ideal and perhaps a window into the kinds of techniques used to engender this concentrated state. Joel Hecker summarizes the passage (JT Berachot 2:4) when he describes how the Rabbinic sages used different methods towards this end: “Rabbi Hiyya meditated on the Persian political hierarchy to help him concentrate. Rabbi Samuel counted birds. And Rabbi Bun bar Hiyya counted rows of bricks” and explains that these “latter approaches are strikingly similar to the simple act of counting one’s breaths as a means to calm the mind, a method used in mindfulness meditation as practiced today.” (Hecker n.d.)
While the Talmudic texts discussing kavannah are open to multiple interpretations and readings11 such that, as Afterman writes, “it remains unclear what…is meant by this term” in the Rabbinic materials to scholars today (Afterman 2007, p. 53), nevertheless later Jewish contemplative traditions certainly read the term (and these passages) with its absorptive connotations. For example, Maimonides (12th CE) writes: “What is…concentration [kavannah]? That one empties one’s heart of all thoughts and envisions oneself as if he were standing in the presence of the divine presence” (quoted in Russ-Fishbane 2015, p. 110) and also that “True kavvanah implies freedom from all strange thoughts [distractions] and complete awareness of the fact that one stands before the Divine Presence” (Tishby 2008, p. 944). Concentration was indeed the pivotal component of Maimonides’ own contemplative system, as Persico (2022) emphasizes: “Maimonides instructs his followers to practice a meditative path of focused concentration, progressing through steps along which they train to concentrate, until reaching complete control of their mind.” (p. 397) These “increasing periods and levels of concentration” are achieved through a gradual program where,
Maimonides admonishes his pupils to first “empty your mind of everything” while reciting daily prayers. After a number of years practicing and perfecting this, the aspirant should also clear their mind while reading the Torah or hearing it read in synagogue. Then one should concentrate on God also while reciting the numerous blessings required by Jewish law, and finally one should concentrate any and all time but the periods needed for daily business and family matters.
Similarly, in the mystical group known as the ‘German Pietists’ (12th–13th CE) (Hasidei Ashkenaz), kavannah continues to have a connotation of concentration and non-distractibility (Tishby 2008, p. 945). And Gershom Scholem, in his discussion of this ideal in early Provencal and Geronese Kabbalah, notes that “It is most remarkable indeed that kabbalistic usage is, in this respect, very similar to that of the scholastics for whom intentio does not mean “intention” in our usual sense but rather the energy or tension of the act of cognition. (the etymology would be derived from the tension of the bow when directing the arrow). The kawwanah of meditation is the tension with which the consciousness (of a person performing a prayer or another ritual act) is directed to the world or object before him” (Scholem 1987, p. 243). In other words, for the early Kabbalists, this state of mental concentration is likened to pulling the string of a bow back and aiming an arrow at a target: the greater the tension, the greater the attentional ability; the further the bow is pulled back, the further one’s consciousness can be aimed and projected towards. In one source from this school, the non-distractibility of the state is again emphasized where it clarifies that “True kavvanah [is achieved] when a man rids his heart of all alien thoughts”, also known as distractions, and another interprets the Talmudic story from above in this vein: “It was in this way that the early sages used to spend an hour before prayer, so that they might rid themselves of other thoughts, and prepare their methods of concentration (kavvanah) and the power with which they practised it” (quoted in Tishby 2008, p. 947). And finally, in a very influential legal compendium influenced by Geronese Kabbalah, the same Talmudic passage is understood in an even more absorptive sense:
It has been taught “he who prays should direct his heart”…He should arouse the intention and remove all thoughts that burden him until the point that his mind and intention are pure in his worship…Thus the pietists and men of action would concentrate and intend in their prayer until they attained the stripping away of corporeality and the augmentation of the rational spirit, thereby approximating the level of prophecy.
Summarizing the passage, Moshe Idel writes that the “inner concentration of thought and the intensive channeling of the attention during the act of prayer may culminate in a paranormal state of consciousness that resembles ecstasy, described here as prophecy” and calls attention to the locution of ‘stripping away of corporeality’ (hitpashtut ha-gashmiut) which we will see below means developing concentration to such an extent that complete sensory withdrawal occurs (Idel 1995, p. 64).
In Sefer Ha-Zohar (The Book of Splendor) that emerges in the 13th century, considered the ‘Bible’ of Jewish mysticism, kavannah corresponds to the Aramaic phrase reuta (“will”) or reuta d’liba (“will of the heart”) and in some passages takes on new somatic associations and characteristics:
Come and see. When a man applies his will to worship his Master, the will alights first upon the heart, which is the support and foundation of the whole body. Then this good will suffuses all the bodily organs, and the will of all the bodily organs and the will of the heart combine together, and they attract the radiance of the Shekhinah to dwell with them, and that man becomes a portion of the Holy One, blessed be He.
Here we can observe two phases of a meditative movement, one in which the kabbalist takes an active role in the process—in applying the will/concentration such that it involves the heart and the body and they combine—and a second passive aspect or result of this process where the lowest dimension of the divine (the Shekhinah, from the Hebrew root “to dwell”) comes to rest or dwell upon (or within) the complete entangled heart-body system, i.e., the embodied mind. The second phase can either be read as a natural result of the first part of the process, thus emphasizing human agency, or in a manner that makes more room for divine agency and grace such that the first part is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the latter. As opposed to just a mental quality, there is now an “involvement of all the limbs in kavvanah”, which “helps to make man into a tabernacle for the Shekhinah to dwell in”12 (Tishby 2008, p. 954).

3.2. Seclusion and Prophetic Concentration (Hitbodedut)

Another key term in Kabbalistic literature related to states of absorption, which is sometimes connected to kavannah though at other times stands on its own, is hitbodedut. As Paul Fenton (1995) writes, “The term hitbodedut, as also its Arabic equivalent khalwa, may signify according to context either spiritual retreat to a secluded place, most often a cave or a cell, or, by extension, the meditational technique practiced during such a retreat, or else the psychological state resulting therefrom, i.e., oblivion to the sensual world” (p. 273). In other words, in some places the term refers to a practice of physical seclusion, whereas in other cases, the term connotes “an act of mental or intellectual concentration preceding, primarily, prophetic acquisition” (Reiser 2020, p. 134). But in the history of Jewish mysticism, it was Rabbi Abraham Abulafia (13th CE) who introduced hitbodedut as the ideal arena for contemplative practice as well as describing specific meditative techniques to be undertaken within it (Fenton 1995, pp. 275). For example, he describes the process as follows:
Prepare yourself by uniting your heart and unifying your body. Then choose a special place where nobody in the world can hear your voice. Retire to the most complete isolation and attain the state of solitude (hitboded). Sit yourself in a particular place, in a room or a cell and disclose your secret to none. If possible practice this method in the daytime in a house, even if it be for an instant. However the most propitious moment is at night. Take heed that all vanities of this world be emptied from your mind at the time you prepare yourself to converse with your Creator, if you desire that He manifest His greatness to you. Wrap yourself in your prayer-shawl and adorn your head and arms with the phylacteries, so that you may be smitten with reverence in the presence of the shekhinah (Divine Presence), which henceforth encompasses you. Take care that your garments be clean and clad yourself in white if possible, for such preliminaries heighten concentration in love and fear.
Once one has satisfied all these conditions, then one can begin “the meditation of Divine Names, called sod ha-hazkarah” which Fenton notes is “an appellation again evoking the specific term dhikr used by the Sufis to denote solitary meditation” where one similarly pronounces different divine names in a specific rhythmic and melodic manner accompanied by breath control and particular head movements. (ibid., p. 275) A similar procedure for hitbodedut as physical retreat is prescribed in an anonymous text, Shaarei Tzedek (Gates of Righteousness) (13th CE) mostly likely written by a student of Abulafia’s, which describes the practice as follows:
This method consists, first of all, in the cleansing of the body itself, for the physical is symbolic of the spiritual. Next in the order of ascent is the cleansing of your bodily disposition and your spiritual propensities (…) On this account seclusion in a separate house is prescribed, and if this be a house where no (external) noise can be heard, the better. At the beginning it is advisable to decorate the house with fresh herbs in order to cheer the vegetable soul which a man possesses alongside his animal soul. Next, one should have recourse to musical instruments or to the chanting of liturgical verse through love for the Torah in order to arouse the animal souls which all men possess alongside the rational soul. Then one can resort to the visualisation of the intelligibles and contemplation. Next one will proceed with the pronunciation of consonants which (in permutated form) are unintelligible in order to detach the soul and purify it of all forms formerly within it.
Fenton continues to point out “the recurrence of similar stipulations in the Sufi and Qabbalistic texts” such as “absence of light” in such settings (though more explicit in other sources) and that “one should be isolated and remote from external disturbances” (ibid., p. 282). Here, we can notice a few remarkable things about this practice, the first of which is the house or cell in which this occurs, by being remote and at least a partially sensory deprived environment—especially a dark room or cell, or at night—aids in the withdrawal of the senses. Before such withdrawal occurs however (presumably in the visualization and contemplation stage), one is advised to either play music or chant/sing songs that evoke feelings of love and longing and can aid in a preliminary external absorption into the affectively-infused music. After a visualization practice—likely one or more of the divine names of God with either an active or passive perception of lights within the letters—one begins the “pronunciation” (hazkarat) of unintelligible consonants (with different vowels), another external absorption practice that can result in the ‘detachment’ of the soul, which we can understand as an even more absorbed state where one no longer has any sensory perception.
The sensory deprivation and withdrawal dimensions of the practice of hitbodedut as solitary retreat are even more pronounced in the Egyptian Pietist movement led by the son of Moses Maimonides, Abraham Maimonides (12th-13th CE), who was himself highly influenced by Islamic mystical traditions and praxis (Idel 2000, p. 201). Elisha Russ-Fishbane (2015) describes how Abraham and the movement more broadly practiced solitary retreat but also made a distinction between ““outer solitude”, namely the act of physical isolation and meditation, and “inner solitude”, or the spiritual transformation and withdrawal for which the outer discipline serves as practical training” (p. 119). This state is attained by ascetic practices like fasting and physical seclusion that provide the conditions to attain such a “mortification of the flesh” which consists in,
the emptying of the heart and mind of everything other than Him, may He be exalted, and allowing it to be filled and inhabited by Him (wa-ta‘ammurihi bihi). This is achieved by suspending the sensory part of the soul, or most of it, directing the appetitive part away from all other worldly matters and inclining it toward Him, may He be exalted, and preoccupying the rational part with Him.”
Russ-Fishbane describes this state as a “complete absorption of the heart and mind in the divine” in which “the withdrawal of the soul in the act of meditation culminated in a total silencing of bodily sensation and self-awareness” (ibid., p. 119). Here the role of sensory withdrawal is even more explicit in the “suspending of the sensory part of the soul”, which is undoubtedly aided by the solitary retreat setting. “The goal of khalwah”, Russ-Fishbane emphasizes, “was to deaden the body to all worldly stimuli and thereby refine the soul’s natural inclination to its divine origin” since for the practitioners within this movement, “the darkening of outer vision is the preliminary to inner illumination” (ibid., p. 120).
As mentioned above, hitbodedut can also refer to particular contemplative states as well—those that may be accessed (more easily) in such a secluded environment but can also be realized in other circumstances—which we find in Abulafia as well as later mystics such as Rabbi Isaac of Akko (13th–14th CE) and the Safed school of Kabbalists (16th CE) (Fenton 1995, pp. 283–93). Idel, though he recognizes the term sometimes refers to physical seclusion, particularly emphasizes hitbodedut as a concentrative and contemplative state in what he calls the school of “Ecstatic Kabbalah.” (Idel 1988b, p. 107) While Fenton also noted hitbodedut can refer to a psychological state resulting from physical seclusion and/or meditative practice within that context, Idel (1988b) argues that for Abulafia the state of hitbodedut often means the state of concentration necessary to successfully engage in specific contemplative practices, not just the result of them. He explains that in certain passages of Abulafia’s writings the term “is understood in the sense of the concentration of one’s mental activity” that is the “precondition for pronouncing the names of God” and the practice of “letter combination” (Idel 1988a, pp. 107, 110), since these practices are quite complex and involve representing the names and combinations of names in written form, verbally, and mentally in sync with specific patterns of breathing, singing, and bodily movement (Idel 1988c, pp. 22–41). In this meaning of hitbodedut as concentration, closing one’s eyes and shutting out other sensory input was understood to aid in the cultivation of the state and thus became associated with the achievement of kavvanah too, for which Idel brings a passage from an early anonymous Kabbalistic text, which explains: “What is the essence of Hitbodedut? By closing the eyes for a long time, and in accordance with the length of time, so shall be the greatness of the apprehension. Therefore let his eyes always be shut until he attains apprehension of the Divine, and together with shutting his eyes negate every thought and every sound that he hears” (Idel 1988a, p. 134).
One of the mystics Idel associates with the school of ‘Ecstatic’ or ‘Prophetic’ Kabbalah, Rabbi Isaac of Akko, describes the state of hitbodedut in his book Meirat Einayim (Light of the Eyes), where he writes how,
He who merits the secret of communion [with the divine] will merit the secret of equanimity (hishtawwut), and if he receives this secret, then he will also know the secret of hitbodedut, and once he has known the secret of hitbodedut, he will receive the Holy Spirit, and from that prophecy, until he shall prophesy and tell future things.
For Rabbi Isaac, hitbodedut is “a mental state in which the adept empties his mind of all else but God” but the way to get there is by first realizing the stage of “cleaving” (devekut) which corresponds to the stabilization of attention by visualizing the letters of the tetragrammaton “as if they were written before him in Hebrew script, each letter appearing to him in gigantic dimensions” (Fenton 1995, p. 284). If one is able to stabilize the visualization of the letters to such an extent that one achieves a “separation from or equanimity toward worldly things”—which Idel correlates with “a condition of ataraxia (“absence of passion”)” and can be understood as an experience of being neither attracted nor repulsed by any distracting thoughts or sensory stimuli—then the heightened state of concentrative hitbodedut can be reached, itself the platform for the attainment of the Holy Spirit (ruach ha-kodesh) and even prophecy (Idel 1988b, p. 113). This state is associated with a solitary retreat—even if it wasn’t realized within one—because it is as if one’s concentrative awareness is secluded from sensory stimuli, as if one were in an environment of complete sensory deprivation.
These same five stages, with some elaborations and developments, can also be found in Rabbi Hayyim Vital’s (16th CE) text Shaarei Kedushah (Gates of Holiness) (Magid 2015, pp. 244–45). As Wolfson points out, “Vital considers subjugation of the body (achieved through specific acts of asceticism) as the necessary precondition for the mystical experience of contemplation” (Wolfson 2005, pp. 120–21), the process of which he describes as follows:
You already know that all manner of apprehending the divine requires solitude so that the mind will not be distracted. The individual must be alone with his thoughts until the last moment and peel away his body from his mind/soul until he no longer feels that he is a material being but a purely spiritual entity. The more one is able to do this, the stronger one’s apprehension will become. If one is disturbed by a noise or a movement, one’s thought process will cease. Or, if one has thoughts of material existence, one’s thought process will be disrupted and one’s communion with the upper spheres will be severed, at which point one will apprehend nothing. This is because the holy spheres above do not rest on one who is attached to physicality, even tangentially. This is why prophecy and the Holy Spirit are called slumber (tardama), dream (halom), or vision (hazon). In the end even though a person may be fit to attain the Holy Spirit, if he does not accustom himself to sever his body from his soul, he will not achieve it. This is the secret as to why the disciples of the prophets used musical instruments (drums and fifes) (1 Samuel 10:5). They were able to enter into a sustained state of contemplation and separation of body and soul by means of the sweetness of the music. At that moment, the musician ceased playing and the prophets continued in their state of communion and prophesied.
This passage might provide us some additional insight into the use of music in retreats mentioned in Shaarei Tzedek above, given the Biblical precedent Vital sees for the use music to cultivate states of absorption and ultimately even prophecy. The disembodied (or completely absorbed) nature of prophecy is why it is sometimes referred to as a special kind of sleep (tardema) and the extreme level of absorption is emphasized such that even the slightest “tangential” sensory perception, which more literally means as if “by a thread” (ke-khut ha-sa’arah), will sever the connection with the divine worlds (Magid 2015, p. 238). In another passage, this state is even compared to death: “He should close his eyes and separate his thought from all matters of this world as if his soul departed from him like one who has died who feels nothing at all” (quoted in Wolfson 2005, p. 121).
Earlier in this same text, this separation of the body from the soul is referred to as hitpashtut ha-gashmiut, often translated as “divestment of corporeality”, and R. Vital describes the process similarly though with a critical role for the imagination: “The meaning of divestment is that he remove all his thoughts…and the imaginative power…will cease to imagine and think of any of the matters of the world, as if his soul has departed him, and then the imaginary power transforms his thought, so as to imagine and visualize as if he ascends to the supernal worlds” (quoted in Garb 2011, p. 51). Here we see that there are multiple stages of this process, the first roughly equivalent to that referenced in the first quote, of seclusion leading to sensory withdrawal and heightened concentration. However here, once one has detached from physicality (and the senses which perceive it), one must also silence one’s imagination so that it no longer is fed by corporeal images based on the memories of sensory perception, and can eventually ‘tune in’ to imaginal perception from the upper worlds, which for Vital are the Sefirot or the divine emanations which together constitute the body of the divine, so to speak. Garb describes how for Vital, “The emptying of thought, which is frequently presented as the summit of meditative practice, is here but…a necessary prelude” for the second stage of a “more effortless reception of concrete [divine] images in the imagination” (Garb 2011, p. 52). And Wolfson summarizes this whole trajectory when he writes that “The ultimate secret of the prophetic experience is the imaginative representation of the divine as an Anthropos” (Wolfson 2005, p. 121) like we find in the Biblical books of Isaiah and Ezekiel where God is envisioned in human form, and that it is the “soul’s separation from the body in the imaginative ascent to the divine realm that culminates in the spiritual entities assuming corporeal form within the imagination” (ibid., p. 122).
Lastly, it is worth noting that the dangers of such states of absorptive “divestment” (hitpashtut) were explicitly discussed by the practitioners of these techniques and were known to include ‘madness’ and psychological harm. For example, Rabbi Yosef Ibn Sayyah’s (16th CE) meditative instructions present a similar trajectory of “sensory withdrawal, ascent, concentration, and stabilization of visionary experience” where the practitioner is instructed to “bow his head like a servant between his knees,13 until his sensory perceptions (murgashav) are abolished, as his senses are absent.” (Garb 2011, p. 63) However, he advises that “his teacher needs to stand over him on the first time, so that his hands may be firm, so that he should not be one who glances and is damaged as we find that it happened to some of the early sages” (quoted in ibid., p. 64). This is a reference to a Talmudic story of four sages who entered a paradisical orchard (or a palatial garden complex) (pardes), which was commonly interpreted in later mystical traditions to refer to entering contemplative states of divine intimacy or union (Subtelny 2004). Only one of the Rabbinic sages, Rabbi Akiva, “entered in peace and emerged in peace” while the others suffered—one died, another became a heretic, and the one referenced by Ibn Sayyah became psychologically damaged (Hellner-Eshed 2009, p. 63). Relatedly, the ideal of the Jewish contemplative in the Zohar is to be one who “entered and emerged” (man de-alu ve-nafku) in peace or (psychological) wholeness, but even some of the heroes of the text “entered and did not emerge”, where their “souls [became] more closely bound to divinity than to their bodies”, likely manifesting as psychological imbalance (Hellner-Eshed 2009, p. 65). The Talmudic story became a well-known and oft-repeated warning of the dangers of mystical practice and study in Judaism more broadly, but within Jewish contemplative traditions, the warnings were often more specific to particular techniques and/or the states of absorption that resulted from them.

3.3. Nullification (Bittul)

We find a very explicit description of a trajectory of deepening absorption during contemplative prayer in a teaching attributed to the founder of the Hasidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (18th CE):
In prayer, one must place all of one’s energy into the words. To do so, one proceeds from letter to letter, to the point of forgetting one’s corporeality. One should be aware of how the letters combine and unite with each other. This practice brings about great bliss. For is on the physical plane the union of two human beings results in great pleasure, certainly this is so one the spiritual plane. This is [the experience of] the World of Formation (Olam ha Yetzirah). From this first step, one proceeds to the elemental letters of Thought, and in doing so, one does not [physically] hear what one is saying. One then arrives at the World of Creation (Olam ha Bri’ah). Thereupon one arrives at the place of No-thingness (Ayin), wherein all of one’s physical presence is transcended. This is the World of Emanation (Olam ha Atzilut)—the attribute of Wisdom.
Here, we see an echo and development of the idea of the “divestment of corporeality” (hitpashtut ha-gashmiut) we saw in Vital, called “forgetting” corporeality and it is similarly accomplished in stages, though here the trajectory is through the four worlds first introduced by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (16th CE). The first world, the world of “action” (asiyah) is presumably the physical world perceived through the senses that the practitioner starts in as he begins the prayers. In the next world of “formation” (yetzirah)—the first world mentioned in the passage—the most salient experience is bliss or pleasure, and no particular absorption is alluded to. It is only in the world of “creation” (bri’ah) that is marked by the beginning stages of sensory withdrawal, such that one can no longer hear (or notice) the sound of the prayers emanating from one’s mouth, and perhaps the other senses are decoupled as well. The final world of “emanation” (atzilut), is the world of the sefirot proper, which also corresponds to the experience of ayin (nothingness) where all of one’s senses and bodily awareness (lit. “powers of corporeality”) are transcended, or, more literally, “nullified” (nitbatel).
This last term is significant, as it is a form of the term bittul (“nullification” or “annihilation”) which becomes a technical term relating to states of absorption that is particularly emphasized in the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov’s successor, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch (18th CE). We find similar prescriptions for prayer in his teachings that point to this state, for example, R. Dov Ber writes that “the body should be God’s house, for one should pray with all his strength until he is stripped of corporeality and forgets his self; everything is the vitality of God. All of one’s thoughts should be focused on Him, and one should not be the least bit aware of the intense devotion of his prayer, for if he is, he is aware of himself” (quoted in Matt 1990, p. 142). Once again, we see the move to “strip off” sensory awareness, though here it is potentially an additional (or additionally specified) dimension of the experience of ‘forgetting his self’, pointing towards the transcendence of the sense of a separate self altogether in a state with explicitly no meta-awareness. Rabbi Dov Ber elaborates on this process and brings together several of the terms from our survey in a homiletical interpretation of the service of the high priest in the Bible as relating to cultivating these states during prayer in a synagogue:
‘and the priest’—that is, the one engaged in worship—‘shall wear his linen garment’. For it states in Hovot ha-Levavot, that man must accustom himself to the practice of solitude, to be separated from other people, until he accustoms himself so that, even if he is among a thousand people, he will also be attached to Him, blessed be He, and there will be nothing separating or interrupting him from his attachment to Him, blessed be He. And as I explained the verse, ‘And no person shall be in the Tent of the Meeting when he enters to atone for himself and for his household’. For it is known that prior to prayer a person must cast off his corporeality and attach his thought to the exaltation of God, as if he is not standing among people, he is able to pray with great kavvanah and without self-interest. Of this it is said ‘And no man shall be in the Tent of Meeting’ -that is, the Synagogue or the House of Study, in the place where people gather to pray. Then, ‘there shall be no man’ in your thoughts -that is; you shall cast off your corporeality so much so that you shall forget that you are standing among people.
(quoted in Idel 2000, p. 197)
While the “dissolution of the self” or “complete self-annulment” of bittul is the final goal of the practice of contemplative prayer, there are other preliminary stages mentioned in his other teachings (Persico 2019, p. 134). For example, Seth Brody notes that “Dov Ber presents mystical illumination (devequt) as commencing with the mind’s perception of the material world as permeated with and animated by [the] creative vitality of the divine, often perceived as indwelling light” which “is often designated as bittul ha-yesh (the annihilation of reality)” (Brody 1998, p. 11). He continues,
Furthermore, bittul ha-yesh, the vision of the world irradiated by divine light, proves to be but the first stage in the mystical transformation of human consciousness. When delving deeper into the structure of the mind and cosmos, the mystic discovers that this creative energy arises out of a more primordial level of divine reality, Hokhmah, or Transcendent Wisdom. Wisdom serves as the generative ground of all reality, ranging from the divine vitality animating the universe to the human mind and physical phenomena. Encountering Wisdom, human consciousness loses its sense of individuated existence as a distinct self and merges with its transcendent source.
This experience of ayin (no-thingness), then, is a second deeper kind of bittul—called bittul b’metziut (annihilation of existence) in later Hasidic traditions—which Brody translates as the realization of “non-dual consciousness” (Brody 1998, p. 10) and Wolfson similarly conceives of as “the dissolution of egocentric consciousness” and “nondual mindfulness” (Wolfson 2009, p. 76). Once again we see the mystical path begin with a state of devekuth (cleaving) as in the writings of R. Isaac and R. Vital, though here it is innovatively specified as a certain form of (dualistic) bittul or “nullification”. And again the path culminates in a state of absorption also understood to be the entry into the realm of the sefirot, but here it is one that (perhaps more) explicitly entails the dissolution of a sense of separate self.

3.4. Today

In the teachings of the contemporary Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Meir Morgenstern, we find a further development in the understanding of the different experiences of bittul that are possible and understood to be the ultimate goal of Jewish contemplative prayer. But we first need some context to track some of the associations and correspondences that interlace and interweave throughout his discourses.
In one of his teachings, Rabbi Morgenstern describes the goal of the Kabbalistic contemplative path as the unification with “the light of Keter” (lit. “crown”) which is the highest of the divine emanations (sefirot) after Hokhmah (wisdom) and, as Wolfson describes, the “summit of the scala contemplativa, the place of the coincidentia oppositorum in the Godhead, where limitlessness and limitedness intersect and collude in the identity of their (in)difference, where nothing becomes something and something nothing” (Wolfson 2011, p. 230). R. Morgenstern writes that “by means of the power of prayer, that is, when one prays in the aspect of ‘I am prayer’ (wa-ani tefillah) (Psalms 109:4), can one also merit the light of Keter, which is the aspect of unification and fusion with the actual light…for Keter is the power that unifies…that is, it is in its power to unify the emanated and the emanator” (quoted in Wolfson 2011, p. 230). Wolfson explains that since the light of Keter is understood as “the unifying light”, “the one who fathoms that unity, moreover, is incorporated within it; indeed, only one incorporated in the incomposite unity of the nothing can be cognizant of it, but the one so incorporated is nothing and therefore no longer the one who may be cognizant of anything, including the unity wherein all things are no thing” (ibid., p. 233). R. Morgenstern continues that “it must be known that this aspect of complete union (ha-yihud ha-gamur) is what the soul in truth needs and desires, and this is the whole matter of prayer, to yearn to be in complete oneness [ahdut gemurrah] with the creator” (quoted in ibid, p. 233). Wolfson emphasizes that with the attainment of this “complete” oneness, “the dialogical underpinning of the petitionary aspect of worship is severely compromised” and perhaps even collapses into a nonduality between subjectivity (the “I”) and the prayer, as the passage from Psalm 109 can be radically interpreted to mean (Wolfson 2011, p. 233).
This realization of the light of Keter corresponds to a third form of bittul in R. Morgenstern’s teachings. He argues that at the end of Rabbi Dov Ber’s life he merited the realization of this highest level of bittul, beyond the nondual Hokhmah (Wisdom) level of ayin (no-thingness) we discussed above, which corresponds to an aspect of prophecy (Morgenstern 2020, p. 36). He explains that while the level of Hokhmah/ayin corresponds to the aspect of no-self we saw above, and the previous sefirah (divine emanation) of Binah (Understanding) corresponds to a level of divine Self or subjectivity (ani),
The yichud of Keser, however, is comprised of both the aspects of “ani” and “ayin” at once. And because of its profound and lofty nature which is far beyond the level of the yichud in the aspect of Chochmah, it is capable of transforming the levels of “ani” and “yeishus” (self and something)—which in and of themselves stand in total opposition to the level of “ayin” and bittul—from their essential state of separation and division to be included within the levels of holiness. To the extent that the “ani” is completely nullified from its essential state which is the aspect of separation and yeishus, on which Chazal state, “I cannot dwell along with him in the same space”, and transformed back into the inclusion of holiness. At which point the “ani” becomes the vehicle (merkavah) for the aspect of “the true Ani” referred to in the passuk “I am Hashem your G-d”, and is now included within the full unity of the holy yichud. It is for this reason that Keser is referred to as a “wonder” (pelah) since it is comprised of two opposites—the “ani” and the “ayin”—something that the human mind is incapable of comprehending.
In other words, the light of Keter refers to a state of both the presence of a divine Self and the absence of any sense of separate self. This state he calls, bittul ha-gamur or “The complete nullification”, which is beyond both bittul ha-yesh and bittul b’metziut (Morgenstern 2020,p. 20). Once again a Biblical quotation using the word ani (“I”) is interpreted to refer to the ultimate divine subjectivity, one that paradoxically combines a state of (lesser) divine subjectivity with the absence of any subjectivity and sense of separate self at all. If Hokhmah and bittul b’metziut represent a state of nondual awareness, then we might borrow the locution from David Loy to refer to this ultimate state as the “nonduality of duality and nonduality” (Loy 2019, p. 18).

4. Discussion

As described in the introduction, while the trait of absorption has received a considerable amount of scientific research, states of absorption have been comparatively understudied, and even less scholarly or scientific attention has been paid to those that arise or are cultivated within the contemplative traditions of Islam and Judaism. While surely inexhaustive and meant only as an opening of this topic for future investigation, our review sought to highlight important and canonical descriptions of these states that are still authoritative and used widely in contemporary traditions, seen from the lens of absorption as understood in clinical and cognitive science.
We saw how such states can be cultivated using sensory deprivation and sensory withdrawal to facilitate perceptual decoupling. In both traditions, retreats in (more or less complete) sensory deprivation environments were utilized in this manner given their utility in inducing sensory withdrawal. We also saw a spectrum of perceptual decoupling involved in absorptive experiences, from states where the senses are active but sensory data are not salient or being registered—like during mind wandering or daydreaming—to states of complete sensory withdrawal where there appears to be no sense data presenting themselves to one’s awareness—as when asleep.14 Absorptive states can also have both a positive or a negative valence, and the valence does not determine whether the experience is appraised as normative or not since in some contexts distressing experiences are appraised as of divine origin15 and in others euphoric ones are a result of going ‘off the path.’ They also sometimes entail cognitive or functional impairment, particularly when absorption is pronounced enough to entail strong perceptual decoupling or complete sensory withdrawal, which, once again, may or may not be normative depending on the context. Finally, some absorption experiences are also set apart as the goals of particular contemplative paths, often involving acute changes to one’s sense of self and reduced (or no) meta-awareness. Some of these absorptive states are also thought to catalyze baseline ‘trait’ changes to one’s sense of self that are embodied in a transformed life after the state comes to an end. In the Hasidic traditions which promote the cultivation of states of bittul as the goal of contemplative prayer, it is valued both for its personally and theurgically potent effects, though the state itself may be absorptive to different degrees in different formulations or seemingly not at all, as we saw in the ultimate conception of R. Morgenstern. In Sufi traditions, fana is usually understood to be a completely absorptive and impairing state which then leads to trait changes to one’s sense of self in baqa, though the modern Turkish example complicates this simple dichotomy as well. Both traditions highlight the fact that meta-awareness is completely absent in such states, though it may also be absent or significantly reduced in experiences of absorption encountered in the intermediate stages of these paths as well.
While beyond the scope of our study, it is worth noting that Christian contemplative traditions employ similar methods and approaches towards the end of cultivating contemplative states of absorption. For example, Lindahl (2010) argues that practices which cultivate sensory deprivation and sensory withdrawal are an important foundation for states of ‘contemplation’ in the Greek Orthodox tradition. He describes how in the Hesychastic contemplative tradition there are “two means of sensory control: one involves creating an environment or an object of contemplation that presents minimal sensory input; the other involves withdrawing one’s consciousness from the senses, regardless of the sensory environment” (ibid., p. 208). He then draws from many canonical texts to demonstrate how “control and even deprivation of the sensory faculties is a necessary preliminary to the advanced stages of contemplation that are oriented towards the cultivation of luminous awareness” in this tradition over more than a thousand years (ibid., p. 208). Though the shared Neoplatonic influences that fed into and helped shape Islam, Judaism, and Christianity no doubt account for many of the similarities observed regarding these states of contemplative absorption, some have argued that these similarities extend beyond even the Abrahamic religions. In his book, Mysticism: Experience, Response, Empowerment (1996), Jess Hollenback describes a “universal technique for inducing mystical experiences” which he, following Christian mystical traditions, terms “recollection” and defines it as follows:
Recollection refers to that procedure wherein the mystic learns to focus one-pointedly his or her mind, will, imagination, and emotions on some object or goal. This focused total mobilization of the mystic’s affective and intellectual powers, if successfully carried out, eventually shuts down the incessant mental chattering that is normally present as a kind of background noise behind all our activities in the waking state. Once mystics stop this process of silently talking to themselves, they transform their mode of consciousness and begin to have their first tangible encounters with that spiritual world that otherwise remains imperceptible to the five senses.
Hollenback describes the fruits of recollective techniques in ways reminiscent of Tellegen and Atkinson’s original “total attention” though with the added component or emphasis on emotional and cognitive processes. He later describes how “one of the most important recollective methods” is “abstracting oneself from sensory inputs and distractions” and that this “kind of mentally induced anesthesia of the corporeal senses eventually brings about a transformation in the individual’s mode of consciousness just as it does every night when we cut off awareness of sensory inputs as we go to sleep and then shortly afterward begin to go into the mode of consciousness known as dreaming” (ibid., p. 170). According to his account, recollection is a crucial mechanism of—and in fact the doorway into—many kinds of higher states of consciousness, both soteriological and paranormal, not just in Christian traditions, but also those found in classical Yogic traditions such as states of samadhi, the related Buddhist states of jhana as well as those found in Islamic mystical traditions and even indigenous traditions such as Eskimo shamanism (ibid., pp. 96–111). Importantly though, this doesn’t lead him to see all recollection methods as the same—even if they produce similar attentional enhancement by quieting mental chatter—and he highlights differences in the use of the imagination or affect to show how the different practices reflect different goals that the resulting states are mobilized towards. For example, he describes how, “despite a common psychological function of focusing the attention and quieting the mind and “heart”, recollective techniques exhibit a considerable structural diversity” and “these observed differences of form have more than just an incidental significance” (ibid., pp. 525–26). Instead, “these different recollective techniques are not just different paths leading to the same goal. They do considerably more than just concentrate the subject’s attention. They also prepare the individual who employs them to fulfill the ultimate spiritual goals of his particular religious tradition”(ibid., p. 526).
I am sympathetic to Hollenback’s characterization of all these states under one umbrella, suggesting that a similar mechanism or set of mechanisms contribute to the attentional enhancement and amplification reported across different traditions. Even if, as Garb notes, his “emphasis on the role of recollective techniques in inducing mystical experience” is a bit “exaggerated”—since this family of practices is only one type of meditation and there are many other (non-meditative) means of accessing altered states of consciousness employed in different traditions—still it is an important cross-cultural phenomena to highlight (Garb 1998, p. 598). While Hollenback uses the term “recollection”, drawn from Christianity, I think a more generic framing is preferable and believe that we are justified in calling them states of absorption cultivated through intentional perceptual decoupling. Indeed, Hollenbeck suggests as much (without using the term) when he concludes that in his book he has attempted to demonstrate that “there is no radical discontinuity” between mystical states of recollection “and those ordinary mental processes that take place while one dreams or engages in idle imaginings” (Hollenback 1996, p. 180). In other words, mind wandering and contemplative states of absorption exist on a spectrum—or are at least importantly related to each other—as the studies on perceptual decoupling and absorption that we surveyed above similarly contend. Intentional perceptual decoupling is indeed a critical process in the cultivation of contemplative states of absorption cross-culturally and one that has been overlooked particularly in scholarship on Islamic and Jewish traditions.

5. Future Directions

While, on the whole, meditation research has yet to emphasize perceptual decoupling in meditative states of absorption—again, likely because these states are not prioritized in the (“dry-insight”) Buddhist traditions from which the western Vipassana movement has mostly drawn (Quli 2008, p. 225), and thus the mindfulness-based interventions based on them both have not focused on them either—some contemporary meditation researchers have begun calling attention to related mechanisms. For example, Lindahl et al. (2013) investigated concentration “as sensory deprivation”, as it is developed in Buddhist contemplative contexts and emphasizes the “largely inhibitory process” of attention in these practices (p. 10). They note that “optimal task performance on a number of cognitive tasks, including selective and sustained attention, is determined by the extent of alpha activity in task-irrelevant areas rather than gamma in task-relevant areas” and that, similarly, “widespread increases in alpha power in meditators…that were initially viewed as “idling” or relaxation are now thought to reflect the active inhibition of irrelevant cortical inputs as a means of facilitating attention” (p. 10). In their qualitative analysis, they focus on different kinds of experiences of light reported by Buddhist meditators and propose that they may be “caused by suppression of sensory input via alpha inhibition leading to compensatory disinhibition”, a model which is supported “by perceptual isolation and sensory deprivation studies” (ibid., p. 11). They found that “seven of the nine practitioners who reported lights (78%) spontaneously connected their meditation-induced light experiences with a period of increased concentration, a claim also made in Buddhist literature across traditions” and finally hypothesized that the “arising of lights may signal a period of enhanced neuroplasticity and potential for important and enduring shifts” (ibid., p. 13). Even though this study concerned particular forms of Buddhist practice, the framing of concentration as sensory deprivation and the fact that enhanced neuroplasticity has been demonstrated in sensory deprivation studies provides the potential link with our study. While it was not discussed in our survey above, experiences of light are also widely reported in states of absorption in Islamic and Jewish traditions (Corbin [1971] 1994; Ziai 2004; Abuali 2020; Idel 1988c, pp. 77–83; Wolfson 2004; Garb 2011, pp. 36–45, 82–89). Thus, one reason why these states of absorption may be worthy of further exploration is that they may also entail or correspond with periods hyper-plasticity such that they can catalyze significant psychological changes and/or transformation, as reported in some of the accounts above.
The sources and traditions discussed above would surely agree with this, though in different terms of course, but they would also remind us that this transformation can go in both adaptive and maladaptive directions, as we saw in the traditional warnings of the potential dangers of these states. And in fact, some contemporary researchers are beginning to sketch out mechanisms to explain how ascetic and meditative practices could lead to hyper-plastic states that are “pivotable either towards illness or wellness” (Brouwer and Carhart-Harris 2021, p. 319). For example, Brouwer and Carhart-Harris (2021) recently introduced the new construct, “pivotal mental states”, to describe “transient, intense hyper-plastic mind and brain states, with exceptional potential for mediating psychological transformation aiding rapid and deep learning that can mediate psychological transformation” in either beneficial or negative/distressing directions (p. 320). While Lindahl et al. (2013) and Brouwer and Carhart-Harris (2021) propose different potential mechanisms (attenuation of sensory input and stress-induced upregulation of the serotonin 2A receptor system respectively) for hyper-plasticity, they are far from incompatible and could both be operant in cases where ascetic practices are combined with sensory deprivation and sensory withdrawal—as we find in both traditional Islamic and Jewish retreat contexts. However, regardless of the specific mechanism(s) involved, we can say with confidence that the classical texts surveyed above take for granted the fact that contemplative states of absorption are both hyper-plastic and pivotal, and now careful experimental research is needed to empirically investigate (what we can formulate from an etic perspective as) these hypotheses.
However, before we begin hastily bringing Islamic and Jewish contemplatives into neuro-imaging laboratories to try to investigate the classical states examined above, Markovic and Thompson (2016) offer an important methodological caution. They insightfully argue that it “is important to keep in mind when employing Buddhist texts for research purposes that textual descriptions of meditative states are highly normative”, since the “dhyana framework is not merely descriptive but also presents an ideal for the meditator to follow” (p. 88). I would wholeheartedly agree and believe it is important to acknowledge this is equally true for all of the texts in this survey, from the Sufi classification schemes of states and stages to the stages of absorption corresponding to the four worlds and chain of divine emanations in Hasidism. While it may be possible in some cases to tease apart continuous elements inherited from a tradition from discontinuous dimensions resulting from phenomenological discoveries, this endeavor requires a tremendous depth of historical facility and sensitivity in any one practice tradition and is made considerably more complex by the ways that texts and traditions cross-pollinate with mystical and contemplative experience (Wolfson 1993, pp. 5–8). And although I hope to have showcased some of the depth and contemporary relevance of the contemplative literature from these two religious traditions, a rigorous investigation of these states will also require going beyond textual descriptions, even contemporary ones, to include sensitive qualitative (second and first-person) methods and protocols that do justice to the dynamic interplay between phenomenology and interpretation (e.g., Lindahl et al. 2017; Sparby 2019; Taves 2020).

6. Conclusions

This study has demonstrated how both Islam and Judaism have contemplative traditions that make use of sensory deprivation and/or sensory withdrawal in order to cultivate states of absorption that are appraised as an experience of (some dimension of) the divine. They can involve either positive or negative valence and may entail functional impairment considered normative in some cases. Some of these states are also set apart as the goals of particular meditative paths, involving not just perceptual decoupling but also the cessation of meta-awareness, while others with these same features are interpreted as immature and incomplete, demonstrating that in the contemplative traditions of both religions the relationship between absorption, valence, and impairment is complex, context-dependent, and often sub-tradition specific. The implications of these observations go beyond just their historical significance, as contemporary meditative traditions also actively cultivate these absorptive experiences, and if we take seriously the prospect (assumed emically) that such states may be particularly hyper-plastic and pivotal, then it is clear they deserve much more attention and care on the levels of practice, pedagogy, and scientific research.


This research received no external funding.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.


The author would like to thank Terje Sparby and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and editorial input on the manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


Definitions of “trance” are contentious and contested; for a historical overview, see Harrington (2016). Taves (1999) notes that “various academic disciplines have developed distinctive discourses to designate the general sort of experience in question” where “Psychiatrists most commonly refer to dissociation (or more distantly hysteria); anthropologists to trance, spirit possession, and altered states of consciousness; and religionists to visions, inspiration, mysticism and ecstasy” (p. 7). In his remarkable study, Shamanic Trance in Modern Kabbabalah, Garb (2011) notes the overlap between trance and the scholarly category of “ecstasy” but “with its multiple definitions, it is less useful for our purpose than more scientific terms, such as trance, which are supported by both clinical practice and anthropological observations” (p. 48) especially given his interest in “contributing to the field of psychology of religion” and facilitating “far greater integration of social science in the study of Kabbalah” (p. 8). Instead of employing either of these categories, this study will follow the consilient spirit of the “building block approach” (BBA) in using the more generic psychological contruct of absorption, which may (and often does) overlap with both depending on specific formulations (Taves 2009; Asprem 2016; Taves and Asprem 2020).
That being said, moments of imaginative involvement would also be considered states of absorption in the definitions of Seligman and Kirmayer (2008), Luhrmann et al. (2010), as well as Markovic and Thompson (2016), and we shall examine some states of imaginative or imaginal absorption below.
The prototypical example of which is reading something—perhaps as you are doing right now—and then at some point realizing one hasn’t registered anything one just read. See Smallwood (2011).
More recently, Metzinger (2020) introduces what he terms “minimal phenomenal experience” (MPE), which can include “full absorption episodes” such as those that occur “during lucid dreamless sleep…and deep meditative states during the practice of calm abiding and highly focused attention, for example in Buddhist jhana practice” (p. 16). He describes how “the content of a full-absorption episode cannot be reported, because the self-referential mechanisms of forming an autobiographical memory are suspended” and that “only the process of entering into it or of emerging out of it can be faithfully represented in the autobiographical self-model; as such the episode itself is not a part of the subject’s inner life narrative” (ibid., p. 15). In other words, low or no meta-awareness is present in Metzinger’s MPE formulation of absorption episodes as well.
Many of these traditions are found within what scholars sometimes describe as Jewish and Islamic “mysticism” despite the term not being indigenous to either religion. While there has been considerable debate around the appropriateness of the term to describe currents within each religion, I follow the approach of Garb (2011) who argues (contra Huss 2008) that avoiding the use of scholarly terms like mysticism “would effect an unnecessary atomization of contexts while depriving us of a useful bridge to wider scholarly domains” and “exacerbates the existing gap” between domains of scholarly discourse “and the broader intellectual arena” (p. 3).
See Sells ([1989] 1996) for a discussion of resonances and dissonances of Islamic traditions with the category of “mysticism”. See Sviri (2005) for a historical account of when such traditions first began to be considered or known as “Sufi”.
Chittick notes that jalwa literally means “the unveiling of the bride”, but in this context it means the period of “leaving the retreat” [tark al-khalwa] though “closely connected in meaning to “theophany”, which is derived from the same root” and is the association Ibn al-Arabi is drawing on to re-interpret the word (Chittick 2005, p. 158).
This experience can be profitably compared to the stage of “coalescence” described by Rose (2016) and Sparby (2019), where “the object of focus has been imbued with a magnetic power that draws attention automatically back towards it when it strays” (Sparby 2019, p. 13).
Interestingly, Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch (18th–19th CE) also uses the example of someone flying off into a fit of rage to describe the lack of meta-awareness involved in states of absorption known as hitpa’alut (Jacobs 1963, p. 14).
Again, an interesting locution to potentially refer to the phenomenon of ‘coalescence’ described by Rose (2016) and Sparby (2019).
For example, the more standard scholarly reading of Babylonian Talmud passage sees it more as demonstrating determination over attention or that the Jerusalem Talmud passage is about sages being bored and/or distracted as opposed to more concentrated. In the words of Wolfson, ultimately the question and debate concerns if, as Scholem assumed, “the kabbalistic notion of kawwanah was an innovation imposed upon the rabbinic texts“ or whether“the gap separating the rabbinic and medieval mystical should be substantially narrowed” given “a continuity of tradition” between them (Wolfson 1999, pp. 598–99).
Hellner-Eshed (2009) describes how, while not presented systematically—since systemization is antithetical to the ethos of the text (p. 316)—one of the three distinct states of consciousness that are described and cultivated by the protagonists of the Zohar, which she calls “Tree of Life Consciousness”, has clear absorptive features, including “the experience of centeredness or concentration, comprising all the different vectors operative in this state”, “full presence” and “focused intention” (p. 343). She also notes the affinity with states of “flow”, identified by Seligman and Kirmayer (2008) as “external absorption”: “This state of consciousness is familiar to us in states of breath meditation or concentration, sometimes in prayer, and sometimes in particularly concentrated moments in writing or some other such activity where the ordinary sense of the dimension of time disappears. This state is also familiar to us in states of performance—for example, virtuoso musicians or talented dancers during a recital, or Olympic sprinters during a race” (pp. 343–48). See also the description of “the sleep of prophecy” entailing the cessation of sensory activity by Rabbi Joseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi, a member of the Zoharic circle (p. 403) as well as Wolfson (1993) for a survey of imaginal states of absorption in the Zohar.
Garb also notes that, “this is the classical Elijah posture” mentioned in the biblical book of Kings, “which induces a state of sensory withdrawal, and may be found in both Jewish … and Sufi sources” (Garb 2011, p. 64).
In fact, in Jewish traditions various terms for such states evoke the comparison with sleep, such as tardemah (slumber), nim lo nim (sleep that isn’t sleep) and tardemat nevuah (the slumber of prophecy) (Garb 2011, p. 81, p. 55; Idel 1988b, p. 105).
Although examples of distressing absorptive states interpreted as normative were not included in our survey of Jewish traditions, they are reported by authors and texts included in the study, such as Abraham Abulafia, Shaarei Tzedek, and Rabbi Hayyim Vital. (Idel 1988b, pp. 75–76; Fine 1987, p. 90).


  1. Abuali, Eyad. 2020. Words Clothed in Light: Dhikr (Recollection), Colour and Synaesthesia in Early Kubrawi Sufism. Iran 58: 279–92. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef][Green Version]
  2. Afterman, Adam. 2007. Letter Permutation Techniques, Kavannah and Prayer in Jewish Mysticism. Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies 6: 52–78. [Google Scholar]
  3. Al-Ghazzali, Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad. 2016. The Forty Principles of the Religion: An Adapted Summary of Ihya ’Ulum Ad-Din. Translated by Nasir Abdussalam. London: Turath Publishing. [Google Scholar]
  4. Arabi, Muhyiddin Ibn. 1989. Journey To The Lord of Power. Translated by Rabia Terri Harris. Rochester: Inner Traditions International. First Published 1981. [Google Scholar]
  5. Asprem, Egil. 2016. Reverse-Engineering ‘esotericism’: How to Prepare a Complex Cultural Concept for the Cognitive Science of Religion. Religion 46: 158–85. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  6. Berkovich-Ohana, Aviva, and Joseph Glicksohn. 2017. Meditation, Absorption, Transcendent Experience, and Affect: Tying It All Together Via the Consciousness State Space (CSS) Model. Mindfulness 8: 68–77. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  7. Brody, Seth. 1998. “Open to Me the Gates of Righteousness”: The Pursuit of Holiness and Non-Duality in Early Hasidic Teaching. The Jewish Quarterly Review 89: 3–44. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  8. Brouwer, Ari, and Robin Lester Carhart-Harris. 2021. Pivotal Mental States. Journal of Psychopharmacology 35: 319–52. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  9. Chittick, William C. 1989. The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-ʻArabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination. Albany: State University of New York Press. [Google Scholar]
  10. Chittick, William C. 2005. On Withdrawal. In The Meccan Revelations. Edited by Michel Chodkiewicz. Translated by William C. Chittick, and James W. Morris. New York: Pir Press, vol. 1, pp. 157–61. [Google Scholar]
  11. Corbin, Henry. 1994. The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism. New Lebanon: Omega Publications Inc. First Published 1971. [Google Scholar]
  12. Dalenberg, Constance, and Kelsey Paulson. 2009. The Case for the Study of ‘Normal’ Dissociation Processes. In Dissociation and the Dissociative Disorders DSM-V and Beyond. Edited by Paul Dell and John O’Neil. London: Routledge, pp. 145–54. [Google Scholar]
  13. Dell, Paul F. 2009. Understanding Dissociation. In Dissociation and the Dissociative Disorders DSM-V and Beyond. Edited by Paul Dell and John O’Neil. London: Routledge, pp. 709–825. [Google Scholar]
  14. Ernst, Carl W. 1992. Mystical Language and the Teaching Context in the Early Sufi Lexicons. In Mysticism and Language. Edited by Steven T. Katz. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 181–201. [Google Scholar]
  15. Ernst, Carl W. 1997. The Shambhala Guide to Sufism. Boulder: Shambhala Publications Inc. [Google Scholar]
  16. Ernst, Carl W. 2018. It’s Not Just Academic!: Essays on Sufism and Islamic Studies. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications Inc. [Google Scholar]
  17. Fenton, Paul B. 1995. Solitary Meditation in Jewish and Islamic Mysticism in the Light of a Recent Archeological Discovery. Medieval Encounters 1: 271–96. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef][Green Version]
  18. Fine, Lawrence. 1987. The Contemplative Practice of Yihudim in Lurianic Kabbalah. In Jewish Spirituality. Edited by Arthur Green. New York: Crossroad, vol. 2, pp. 64–98. [Google Scholar]
  19. Fisher, Nathan. 2021. The Dark Nights of the Soul in Abrahamic Meditative Traditions. In The Oxford Handbook of Meditation. Edited by Miguel Farias, David Brazier and Mansur Lalljee. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 864–86. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  20. Garb, Jonathan. 1998. Paths of Power. Journal of Religion 78: 593–601. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  21. Garb, Jonathan. 2011. Shamanic Trance in Modern Kabbalah. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. [Google Scholar]
  22. Glicksohn, Joseph, and Tal Dotan Ben-Soussan. 2020. Immersion, Absorption, and Spiritual Experience: Some Preliminary Findings. Frontiers in Psychology 11: 1–9. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  23. Hagerty, Michael R., Julian Isaacs, Leigh Brasington, Larry Shupe, Eberhard E. Fetz, and Steven C. Cramer. 2013. Case Study of Ecstatic Meditation: FMRI and EEG Evidence of Self-Stimulating a Reward System. Neural Plasticity 2013: 1–12. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  24. Hall, Sarah E., Emery Schubert, and Sarah J. Wilson. 2016. The Role of Trait and State Absorption in the Enjoyment of Music. Edited by Lutz Jaencke. PLoS ONE 11: e0164029. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed][Green Version]
  25. Harrington, Anne. 2016. Thinking about Trance over a Century. In Hypnosis and Meditation: Towards an Integrative Science of Conscious Planes. Edited by Amir Raz and Michael Lifshitz. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 19–30. [Google Scholar]
  26. Hecker, Joel. n.d. How to Acquire the Right Mental State for Prayer: The Pursuit of Proper Kavanah, the Hebrew Term for Directed Attention, Has Long Concerned Jewish Thinkers. My Jewish Learning. Available online: (accessed on 17 July 2022).
  27. Hellner-Eshed, Melila. 2009. A River Flows from Eden: The Language of Mystical Experience in the Zohar. Translated by Nathan Wolski. Stanford: Stanford University Press. [Google Scholar]
  28. Hollenback, Jess Byron. 1996. Mysticism: Experience, Response, and Empowerment. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. [Google Scholar]
  29. Hove, Michael J., Johannes Stelzer, Till Nierhaus, Sabrina D. Thiel, Christopher Gundlach, Daniel S. Margulies, Koene R. A. Van Dijk, Robert Turner, Peter E. Keller, and Björn Merker. 2016. Brain Network Reconfiguration and Perceptual Decoupling During an Absorptive State of Consciousness. Cerebral Cortex 26: 3116–24. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed][Green Version]
  30. Huss, Boaz. 2008. The Mystification of Kabbalah and the Modern construction of Jewish Mysticism. BGU Review 2. Available online: (accessed on 17 July 2022).
  31. Idel, Moshe. 1988a. Kabbalah: New Perspectives. New Haven: Yale University Press. [Google Scholar]
  32. Idel, Moshe. 1988b. Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah. SUNY Series in Judaica; Albany: State University of New York Press. [Google Scholar]
  33. Idel, Moshe. 1988c. The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia. SUNY Series in Judaica; Albany: State University of New York Press. [Google Scholar]
  34. Idel, Moshe. 1995. Hasidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic. SUNY Series in Judaica; Albany: State University of New York Press. [Google Scholar]
  35. Idel, Moshe. 2000. Hitbodedut: On solitude in Jewish Mysticism. In Einsamkeit: Archäologie der literarischen Kommunikation VI. Edited by Aleida and Jan Assmann. Munich: Fink, pp. 189–212. [Google Scholar]
  36. Jacobs, Louis. 1963. Tract on Ecstasy: Dobh Baer of Lubavitch. Portland: Valentine Mitchell. [Google Scholar]
  37. Kallus, Menachem, trans. 2011. Pillar of Prayer: Guidance in Contemplative Prayer, Sacred Study, and the Spiritual Life, from the Baal Shem Tov and His Circle. Louisville: Fons Vitae. [Google Scholar]
  38. Knysh, Alexander D. 2000. Islamic Mysticism: A Short History. Themes in Islamic Studies, v. 1. Leiden and Boston: Brill. [Google Scholar]
  39. Lifshitz, Michael, Michiel van Elk, and Tanya M. Luhrmann. 2019. Absorption and Spiritual Experience: A Review of Evidence and Potential Mechanisms. Consciousness and Cognition 73: 102760. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  40. Lindahl, Jared. 2010. Paths to Luminosity: A Comparative Study of Ascetic and Contemplative Practices in Select Tibetan Buddhist and Greek Christian Traditions. Ph.D. thesis, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA. [Google Scholar]
  41. Lindahl, Jared R., Christopher T. Kaplan, Evan M. Winget, and Willoughby B. Britton. 2013. A Phenomenology of Meditation-Induced Light Experiences: Traditional Buddhist and Neurobiological Perspectives. Frontiers in Psychology 4. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef][Green Version]
  42. Lindahl, Jared R., Nathan E. Fisher, David J. Cooper, Rochelle K. Rosen, and Willoughby B. Britton. 2017. The Varieties of Contemplative Experience: A Mixed-Methods Study of Meditation-Related Challenges in Western Buddhists. Edited by Kirk Warren Brown. PLoS ONE 12: e0176239. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef][Green Version]
  43. Loy, David. 2019. Nonduality in Buddhism and Beyond. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. [Google Scholar]
  44. Luhrmann, T.M., Howard Nusbaum, and Ronald Thisted. 2010. The Absorption Hypothesis: Learning to Hear God in Evangelical Christianity. American Anthropologist 112: 66–78. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  45. Magid, Shaul. 2015. Jewish Kabbalah: Hayyim Vital’s Shaarei Kedushah. In Contemplative Literature: A Comparative Sourcebook on Meditation and Contemplative Prayer. Edited by Louis Komjathy. Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 197–227. [Google Scholar]
  46. Markovic, Jelena, and Evan Thompson. 2016. Hypnosis and Meditation: A Neurophenomenological Comparison. In Hypnosis and Meditation: Towards an Integrative Science of Conscious Planes. Edited by Amir Raz and Michael Lifshitz. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 79–106. [Google Scholar]
  47. Matt, Daniel C. 1990. Ayin: The Concept of Nothingness in Jewish Mysticism. In The Problem of Pure Consciousness. Edited by Robert K. C. Forman. London: Oxford University Press. [Google Scholar]
  48. Metzinger, Thomas. 2020. Minimal Phenomenal Experience: Meditation, Tonic Alertness, and the Phenomenology of ‘Pure’ Consciousness. Philosophy and the Mind Sciences 1: 1–44. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef][Green Version]
  49. Morgenstern, Isaac Meir. 2020. To Proclaim the Praise of Aharon: Words of Wondrous Praise for Our Holy Master and Teacher R’ Aharon HaLevi of Strashelye, May His Merit Protect Us. Translated by Joey Rosenfeld. Jerusalem: Yam Hachochmah Institute. [Google Scholar]
  50. Nurbakhsh, Javad. 1993. Sufism II. Translated by William Chittick. New York: Khaniqahi Ni-matullahi Publications. First Published 1982. [Google Scholar]
  51. Persico, Tomer. 2019. Judaism and Meditation. In The Oxford Handbook of Meditation. Edited by Miguel Farias, David Brazier and Mansur Lalljee. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 124–43. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  52. Persico, Tomer. 2022. The End of Man. In Routledge Handbook on the Philosophy of Meditation. Edited by Rick Repetti. London: Routledge, pp. 392–404. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  53. Quli, Natalie. 2008. Multiple Buddhist Modernisms: Jhāna in Convert Theravāda. Pacfic World-Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies 10: 225–48. [Google Scholar]
  54. Razi, Najm al-Din. 2003. The Path of God’s Bondsmen: From Origin to Return. Translated by Hamid Algar. North Haledon: Islamic Publication International. [Google Scholar]
  55. Reiser, Daniel. 2020. Imagery Techniques in Modern Jewish Mysticism. Translated by Eugene D. Matanky, and Daniel Reiser. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH. Boston: Hebrew University Magnes Press. [Google Scholar]
  56. Roche, Suzanne, and Kevin McConkey. 1990. Absorption: Nature, Assessment, and Correlates. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  57. Rose, Kenneth. 2016. Yoga, Meditation, and Mysticism: Contemplative Universals and Meditative Landmarks. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. [Google Scholar]
  58. Russ-Fishbane, Elisha. 2015. Judaism, Sufism, and the Pietists of Medieval Egypt: A Study of Abraham Maimonides and His Times, 1st ed. Oxford Studies in the Abrahamic Religions. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Google Scholar]
  59. Schimmel, Annemarie. 2011. Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 35th anniversary edition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. First Published 1975. [Google Scholar]
  60. Scholem, Gershom. 1987. Origins of the Kabbalah. Edited by R. I. Zwi Werblowsky and Allan Arkush. Translated by Allan Arkush. Princeton: Princeton University Press. [Google Scholar]
  61. Schooler, Jonathan W., Jonathan Smallwood, Kalina Christoff, Todd C. Handy, Erik D. Reichle, and Michael A. Sayette. 2011. Meta-Awareness, Perceptual Decoupling and the Wandering Mind. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 15: 319–26. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  62. Seligman, Rebecca, and Laurence J. Kirmayer. 2008. Dissociative Experience and Cultural Neuroscience: Narrative, Metaphor and Mechanism. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 32: 31–64. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed][Green Version]
  63. Sells, Michael A. 1996. Bewildered Tongue: The Semantics of Mystical Union in Islam. In Mystical Union in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: An Ecumenical Dialogue. Edited by Moshe Idel and Bernard McGinn. New York: The Continuum Publishing Company, pp. 87–124. First Published 1989. [Google Scholar]
  64. Sells, Michael A. 1996. Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Qur’an, Mi’raj, Poetic and Theological Writings. Mahwah: Paulist Press. [Google Scholar]
  65. Smallwood, Jonathan. 2011. Mind-Wandering While Reading: Attentional Decoupling, Mindless Reading and the Cascade Model of Inattention: Mind-Wandering While Reading. Language and Linguistics Compass 5: 63–77. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  66. Smallwood, Jonathan, and Jonathan W. Schooler. 2015. The Science of Mind Wandering: Empirically Navigating the Stream of Consciousness. Annual Review of Psychology 66: 487–518. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  67. Soffer-Dudek, Nirit, Dana Lassri, Nir Soffer-Dudek, and Golan Shahar. 2015. Dissociative Absorption: An Empirically Unique, Clinically Relevant, Dissociative Factor. Consciousness and Cognition 36: 338–51. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  68. Sparby, Terje. 2017. The Nature of Contemplative Science and Some Prospects for Its Future Development. Journal of Consciousness Studies 24: 226–50. [Google Scholar]
  69. Sparby, Terje. 2019. Phenomenology and Contemplative Universals. Journal of Consciousness Studies 26: 130–56. [Google Scholar]
  70. Subtelny, Maria E. 2004. The Tale of the Four Sages Who Entered the Pardes: A Talmudic Enigma from a Persian Perspective. Jewish Studies Quarterly 11: 3. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  71. Sviri, Sara. 2005. The Early Mystical Schools of Baghdad and Nīshāpūr. Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 30: 450–82. [Google Scholar]
  72. Sviri, Sara. 2020. Perspectives on Early Islamic Mysticism: The World of al-Ḥakīm al-Tirmidhī and His Contemporaries. Edited by Sara Sviri. London: Routledge. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  73. Taves, Ann. 1999. Fits, Trances, and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James. Princeton: Princeton University Press. [Google Scholar]
  74. Taves, Ann. 2009. Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things. Princeton: Princeton University Press. [Google Scholar]
  75. Taves, Ann. 2020. Mystical and Other Alterations in Sense of Self: An Expanded Framework for Studying Nonordinary Experiences. Perspectives on Psychological Science 15: 669–90. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  76. Taves, Ann, and Egel Asprem. 2020. The Building Block Approach: An Overview. In Building Blocks of Religion: Critical Applications and Future Prospects. Edited by Göran Larsson, Jonas Svensson and Andreas Nordin. Sheffield: Equinox Publishing. [Google Scholar]
  77. Tellegen, Auke, and Gilbert Atkinson. 1974. Openness to Absorbing and Self-Altering Experiences (‘absorption’), a Trait Related to Hypnotic Susceptibility. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 83: 268–77. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  78. Tishby, Isaiah. 2008. The Wisdom of the Zohar: An Anthology of Texts. Volume 3. Edited by Fischel Lachower and Yeshaʿyah Tishbi. Translated by David Goldstein. Oxford and Portland: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. [Google Scholar]
  79. Toussulis, Yannis. 2010. Sufism and The Way of Blame: Hidden Sources of a Sacred Psychology. Wheaton: Quest Books. [Google Scholar]
  80. Wolfson, Elliot R. 1993. Forms of Visionary Ascent as Ecstatic Experience in the Zoharic Literature. In Gershom Scholem’s Major Trends In Jewish Mysticism 30 Years After: Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on the History of Jewish Mysticism. Edited by Peter Schafer and Joseph Dan. Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, pp. 209–35. [Google Scholar]
  81. Wolfson, Elliot R. 1996. Iconic Visualization and the Imaginal Body of God: The Role of Intention in the Rabbinic Conception of Prayer. Modern Theology 12: 137–62. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  82. Wolfson, Elliot R. 1999. Sacred Space and Mental Iconography: Imago Templi and Contemplation in Rhineland Jewish Pietism. In Ki Baruch Hu: Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Judaic Studies in Honor of Baruch A. Levine. Edited by Robert Chazan, William W. Halo and Lawrence H. Schiffman. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, pp. 593–634. [Google Scholar]
  83. Wolfson, Elliot R. 2004. Hermeneutics of Light in Medieval Kabbalah. In The Presence of Light: Divine Radiance and Religious Experience. Edited by Mathew T. Kapstein. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 105–18. [Google Scholar]
  84. Wolfson, Elliot R. 2005. Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination, 1st ed. New York: Fordham University Press. [Google Scholar]
  85. Wolfson, Elliot R. 2009. Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Menaḥem Mendel Schneerson. New York: Columbia University Press. [Google Scholar]
  86. Wolfson, Elliot R. 2011. A Dream Interpreted Within a Dream: Oneiropoiesis and the Prism of Imagination. New York: Zone Books. [Google Scholar]
  87. Ziai, Hossein. 2004. Suhrawardi on Knowledge and the Experience of Light. In The Presence of Light: Divine Radiance and Religious Experience. Edited by Mathew T. Kapstein. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 25–44. [Google Scholar]
Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Share and Cite

MDPI and ACS Style

Fisher, N.E. Flavors of Ecstasy: States of Absorption in Islamic and Jewish Contemplative Traditions. Religions 2022, 13, 935.

AMA Style

Fisher NE. Flavors of Ecstasy: States of Absorption in Islamic and Jewish Contemplative Traditions. Religions. 2022; 13(10):935.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Fisher, Nathan E. 2022. "Flavors of Ecstasy: States of Absorption in Islamic and Jewish Contemplative Traditions" Religions 13, no. 10: 935.

Note that from the first issue of 2016, this journal uses article numbers instead of page numbers. See further details here.

Article Metrics

Back to TopTop