Just this morning before barchu I looked down at my siddur. The Ari z”l had left me a note. Some thoughtful editor had ensured that I couldn’t miss his words (at least today) by placing them in the appropriate margin. Your neshama, he said, is returning now, at this moment.
Troubled, I looked up from the page. This cast serious doubt on everything I had done (or who had done it!) since I woke. I looked around for further explanation, but evidently marginal constraints did not allow for articulation. I would have frozen in shock, but the half-minute to read his note was all I had. No time now for wonder.
I bowed and blessed, and off we raced. I was still vibrating from p’sukei dzimra. The joys and fears of serving Gd in the world make up most of my day, and to me these verses are their perfect expression. Today they had me shaking with joy as I crossed together with the people through the Red Sea. I felt ready for anything, soulless though I was.
Moving from psukei d’zimra to kriyat shema is a shift from emotional resonance to mental clarity. My heart is open, now it’s time to lay the foundation for prayer. I gather myself to accept the unity of Gd, grateful that my neshama is with me. We are in the world of briah now, the realm of cognition. It’s not about what I feel, but what I know; or rather, how I know it.
Suddenly, the message becomes clear. This is not a time to believe that Gd is One, it is a chance to be at One with Gd. My neshma comes to teach, not to learn. Whatever pieces of me that were awake up to now, building toward this moment of union, are suddenly stitched together by the piece of me which comes directly from Gd.
Awestruck by the Ari z”l’s wisdom, I open to the song of my soul. The idea of unity blossoms into the state of union. I connect upward, and creation flows out from within. The horizon of my mind recedes into the realm of boundless possibility. I am ready to pray.
 See Mishna Berurah 51:17
 I am grateful to Rav Daniel Kohn for revealing to me the progression through the 4 worlds which underlies the structure of morning prayer. Check out his audio shiurim on this and other tefillah topics appearing on our website soon!
 In addition to the four worlds, there is a process of waking the soul from nefesh in the berachot and korbanot, to ruach in psukei to neshama in kriyat shema on to chaya/yechida in amidah and tachanun
 Iyov 31:2