It is often useful to take a deep breath, set your mind to the task at hand,
whatever it is, and to then purposefully and intently set out to do it. If
that is true of most things, it is all the more so true when you set out to
study Torah or do a mitzvah … especially if you hope to achieve purity.
As Ramchal puts it, “don’t suddenly and immediately rush into a mitzvah
before having had time to reflect upon what you’re about to do.” Instead,
“get yourself ready for it, and compose yourself until you’re truly
focused”. Then concentrate on what you’re about to do -- the mitzvah itself,
that is, the actual process and all its requirements, component parts, and
its ramifications; and concentrate after that upon “Whom you’re about to do
it before” -- G-d Almighty.
The last point is the most important. After all, know it or not, we always
stand before G-d. And while He always looks at us straight-on, we often look
at Him peripherally, if at all. We'd thus need to learn to turn to Him
full-face when we address Him in prayer, when we set out to fulfill one of
his mitzvahs, or when we hear out His instructions as we study His Torah.
(Isn’t that what Torah-study is all about at bottom, anyway? -- hearing out
G-d’s instructions; so wouldn’t it be only right to face Him and read it
closely and attentively?).
As such, each one of us would need to “rid ourselves of all external
impetuses” and to “set the right … ones in mind instead” when we follow His
will. In fact, we are taught that “the early pious ones would wait a full
hour before actually beginning to pray (Berachot 30b) so as to direct their
heart to G-d”. As Ramchal explains it, they did that in order to “ready
themselves (for the task at hand) by focusing their attention … and
eliminating any untoward thoughts … (so as to) fill themselves with …
reverence and love” for Him.
While the rest of us aren’t expected to do that per se, still and all we can
learn the art of slow approach, of dwelling on what we’re about to do, and
of reminding ourselves of G-d’s presence.
We’ll begin delving into the all-important trait of piety next.