We have new neighbors – they moved into the house next to ours – they are religious Jews. They moved in this week, and from the day they moved in, their house emanated noises of a hectic family: children running & playing, a constant hum of a washing machine, babies crying, children yelling, parents yelling back, dog barking, etc. Today is Sabbath and their house is dead-silent – a welcome change.
The Hebrew word “Shabat” can be translated as a break or recess. From what I know about Judaism, there are many subtle manifestation of this idea – for example: time is allocated for prayer three times a day, time is allocated for short prayer around meals. I believe it requires a caring and attentive practice to create a balanced application of this wonderful and simple idea of taking a break from the daily flow of life to rest and observe (and pray, if that is your inclination). The duality of rest and work flows through our life on many levels:
- We rest & shower after intense activity.
- We are active during the day and sleep during the night.
- We travel out in summer and stay in during winter.
- We are playful in childhood (when life begins), contained in adult life and meditative as we near an end of life.
This morning as I was preparing coffee and looking out the window at the silent house next-door, meditation came to mind. It feels to me as if their house and family are in a meditative space. It also feels to me like an extreme shift – from a violent week to a peaceful weekend. It’s reminds me of people who come to Yoga classes, they claim to experience peace and integration but before they’ve left the studio they are already on their phones in agitated conversation (I wonder what these people are like when they get behind a steering wheel after a Yoga practice!).
We need to find a healthy combination of meditative practice & involved life. There can be no single formula to do this – it is unique to our individual cycles of life. When a meditative quality is missing from our living-cycles there can be a sense of emptiness – as if something is missing. From that perspective we look at meditation as if it were some kind of sacred or elevated practice – we expect it to carry us into the light. This is an illusion caused by it’s absence. Meditation is a quality, a meditative practice is intended to introduce that quality into our lives. An effective meditation practice can cast a new light on all of our actions. It can change the way we view ourselves and communicate with others. It can change the way we move and breathe. It can change the way we sense and perceive. It can change meditation itself and our outlook on life.
Being meditative is not how long you can sit, how many words you know in Sanskrit or your philosophical knowledge. It is about your capacity to love and your ability to communicate with your loved ones.
After thought: Sabbath carries a mathematical property – it is one-seventh of the week. Maybe this is a hint about a healthy meditative balance? Maybe it carries a prescription that one-seventh of our time should be allocated to meditation? Is your practice like this?