Daydreaming When Davening

Question

What do I do about this? I am a shul-going observant Jew. I scrupulously daven three times a day, with a minyan whenever I can. The problem is, what I am really doing is reciting the prayers on autopilot, daydreaming most of the time when I am davening and not even remembering most of the recitation I just did after the fact. I daydream about almost everything mundane that I know about in this world, including my work, my hobbies, people I know, experiences I had, etc. This isn’t what I set out to do. But I really can’t prevent myself from daydreaming, no matter how hard I try.

5 months

Answers

  1. Please excuse me for writing this but your question reminded me of a Chassidic story. One of the Chassidim of the Kotzker Rebbe came to him to complain that his parnasah (livelihood) was not so good. The Kotzker told him that he should think about davening (prayer) when he works. The Chassid was a little taken aback and asked his Rebbe why that would help. The Kotzker answered him, “Look, you think about your parnasah when you daven, so maybe you should think about davening when you work!”

    What is the Kotzker saying? That we are distracted as we allow ourselves to be. It is as simple as that… and it is as difficult as that. What is the answer?

    First, I would strongly recommend that you always daven from a Siddur. Holding a Siddur and turning the pages is a wonderful way to remain focused on the words.

    Second, buy a Siddur that has an excellent translation and that has headings for each Brochah in the Amidah. That way you are aware of what you are saying.

    Third, make a ten minute seder (set period of time) each day to learn what it is that you are actually saying. There is a wonderful sefer by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer called “The Shemoneh Esrei,” and is published by ArtScroll. It explains each Brochah. Not just the meaning of the Brocha but the reason that it appears where it does in the order of the Amidah. The simple truth is that the more we understand what we are saying, the greater our appreciation will be. And the greater our appreciation the stronger will be our desire to want to daven.

    It is my heartfelt wish that you will be able to overcome all the distractions and to reach out to God.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team

  2. First of all, I do use a siddur when I daven. The lack of a siddur is not the problem. I usually daven in a minyan with an Artscroll siddur, which has the best translation.
    The things I daydream about are usually my work (I’ve been doing the same job for the past 26 years and it is quite interesting and involves lots of thinking even outside the workplace), my family (I have grown and teenage children little grandchildren now), and people I am acquainted with and have close friendships with, which includes many of the people I see in the minyan.
    I am 49 years old and davening has just become so routine to me over the years that my mind just wanders, despite my best efforts to concentrate. I never wanted it to be this way. Deep inside, I really do believe. But this is what decades of doing the same thing over and over has led to.

     

  3. I truly empathize with you. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz used to say that the greatest battle a Frum Jew has is with “regilus” – doing things by rote. I actually think that it is something that almost each and every one of us grapples with on occasion. What I find helps for me is the last suggestion. I have been learning about Tefillah for decades now and I am constantly amazed and invigorated both by its detailed structure and the layers upon layers of understanding that they contain.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team