Hitbodedut (self-seclusion) is considered by many Chassidim as an essential component of prayer. In being alone with God, and giving voice to their desire for Him, believers aim to access the joy that is the essence of all being. Bratzlaver Chassidim in particular practice hitbodedut. It should also be noted that many Jews are not Chassidic and do not practise Hitbodedut at all.
The premise of this spontaneous form of prayer is that a Jewish person’s natural state is one of faith and mystical union. Today one feels distanced from God because of the noise and clamour of daily life. Talking directly to God in the manner of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs should complement the prescribed fixed liturgy and not be replaced by it.
Opening one’s heart to God is the highest form of Jewish worship. Crying out to Him in spontaneous prayer, even doing so silently, reveals the essence of being: faith. Faith is a natural state, which is why children tend to speak to God directly. As people grow older, many find that their access to faith is obstructed and they experience doubt and lose their faith.
Hitbodedut is a way to unburden the self of doubt and recover a natural state of faith. The best way to achieve this solitude is to leave civilisation and society in order to be surrounded by nature and the wonders of creation. Any form of self-isolation can be effective.
The key to successful hitbodedut is total abandonment of inhibition. Prayers are direct, immediate and uninhibited, a natural outpouring of the soul of all that clouds and confuses its sight. Any natural expression is admissible. This can take the form of weeping, song, conversation, mantra or silent meditation.
Bratzlaver Chassidim practice hitbodedut at night, after the midnight lamentations over the destruction of the Temple. They go out alone to a deserted place, away from the contamination of worldly experience, to communicate with God and cry out to Him about their doubts and fears.
Talking freely and openly with God often requires practice before it comes naturally. It is therefore necessary for a Jew to set aside a dedicated, specific period of time for hitbodedut. Only by regularly stepping out of the mundane, by silencing everyday noise and distraction can one achieve the sight of the soul. By entering into solitude and isolating themselves, Jews can learn that they are never truly alone. For when they are alone, they are alone with God.
Many Jews have difficulty speaking simply and naturally to God. The process of hitbodedut can open up buried issues and wounds, so it is helpful to enter into it with the advice of someone who is aware of its potency.