In America and the West in general, it’s in vogue to mock the idea of the sabbath, the day of rest in Judaism and Christianity. Or at best, forget that it ever existed as a rich historical and spiritual tradition. We seem to be a culture of sabbathphobes. Why?
Because we have forgotten how to rest. We have forgotten the importance of our being, of the shimmering something that pulses always and emerges only when we slow down enough to allow it.
We create a morality out of labor and live, on many levels, with the motto “more is better.” More work equals more stuff. Equals being more, better.
The day of rest doesn’t have to be Sunday. It doesn’t even have to be a whole day. It’s really about the simplicity of stopping. Just stopping. In just a single moment with nothing to do, life opens up. The gates of awareness swing open and upward in an internal smile. Life seems to appreciate it when we pay attention to the incredible detail of its harmony. On every level, we exist in a universe of balance. Symmetry. Unimaginable complexity that can always be reduced to a principle of opposites in balance. This magnificent, colorful, whirring existence, like computer code, operates on a binary code of light/dark, on/off, up/down. And somehow, with only ones and zeros, here we are.
Working. Ignoring. Imposing hopelessly flawed ideals that have nothing whatsoever to do with the natural order of creation. “The conquest of nature,” the great endeavor of the supposed “enlightenment,” has delivered us into a maze of madness; overpopulation, tasteless and nutrition-less food, an endless checklist of things that need doing. A haunting alienation from everything that matters.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that life never stops offering its gifts. Even when we turn away for decades (or lifetimes). One moment of stopping is all it takes. The spinning loop of doing loses its grip in the light of truth, loses all meaning as the depths of life are felt, as eternity is glimpsed and love, boundless love, is finally allowed in.
Over the past few months, in my own way, I have reclaimed the sabbath. It happens to be Sunday. But I do it my own way. Meditation, reading, journaling, hiking. And resting. Really, actually, honestly, committing to stopping. S.T.O.P.P.I.N.G.
It’s scary. The mind flounders when asked to take a break, when it’s not fed by a compulsive mix of tasks to finish and problems to solve. I get anxious…immanent doom churns in my stomach. I clench my muscles, my jaw tightens, I feel the need to eat or internet. All the jobs I could be doing move through my mind. “Clean the kitchen, or my room…laundry…mowing the lawn…what about the bathroom, emails to send, write something, don’t be lazy–you’re lazy, look at how late you slept in…”
Breathe. My shoulders drop. All the meditation practice kicks in. Breathe. Notice. Woah. Look at that…look at that insanity in there. Step back. Watch. Breathe. It slows down. Deep breaths, feeling the air wash over the upper lip. I notice the perfectly lumpy clouds floating by. Cotton in the air like a summer snowstorm. Grass swaying in a breeze. For the first time in a week, I ask myself how I’m actually feeling.
The swirl of the past seven days whips through my body, various sensations. Icy cold in my lower back, warmth through the arms and hands, numbness around the heart. I feel the ticklish gurgle of anticipation in my belly. I go deeper into it…anticipation of feeling. Excitement about the simple fact of actually feeling. My body knows that I…”I”…the mysterious controller of this autonomous collection of independent bio organisms…am granting permission for feelings to be felt. No longer obsessed with a cool demeanor, with “getting shit done,” my body relaxes into the rare experience of its own reality.
Sabbath is rest. Stopping. Noticing. As a culture, we are tragically fixated on results, results which cost nothing less than our souls. There’s no words on a screen that can prove the reality of this soul. Only our attention, our one precious resource to spend, can open us to the reality of what life actually is. Through looking, carefully observing, as if searching for a lost wedding ring in the tall grass, we will see–and feel–what really matters.
The earth does not withhold, it is generous
The truths of the earth continually wait,
they are not so conceal’d either,
They are calm, subtle, untransmissible by print,
They are imbued through all things,
conveying themselves willingly…
The earth does not argue,
Is not pathetic, has no arrangements,
Does not scream, haste, persuade, threaten,
Makes no discriminiations,
has no conceivable failures,
Closes nothing, refuses nothing, shuts none out.
Of all the powers, objects, states,
it notifies, shuts none out.
–Walt Whitman, The Song of the Rolling Earth