Archive for February, 2009

I live at a hermitage on the coast of California. The wood paneled walls of my old silver trailer frame bay windows looking onto a forest of redwood, eucalyptus and oak. I can hear the ocean almost a mile away, straight down.

Why am I telling you this? I’ve got to start somewhere, and everywhere else seems more complicated. At least if I just tell the truth, anything you don’t like will be your problem, not mine.

I spend a fair amount of time in silence, certainly a lot more than the average person does in this mad world we’ve created. And that’s what this is really about: This mad world, and what it’s going to take to heal it. I roam the hills and beaches—praying, singing, meditating—far away from everything, though underneath it all thinking about nothing but, nothing but absolutely everything.

What follows here, globalsabbath.com and everything I hope it becomes, is built more or less on a single premise: That all (or at least most) of us seem to share a sense that we can do much better as a species, categorically so; that despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, we still believe that us humans have the capacity to live in a world characterized by true justice, real freedom, and peace.

What’s this got to do with “Global Sabbath”?

I spent more than ten years of my life trying to figure out how to end hunger. I worked with grassroots organizations, studied at some of the world’s best universities and attended years of sessions at the UN. At one point, about five years ago, something shifted. I was sitting in the great meeting hall of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. The room was filled with diplomats representing all the governments of our planet. We had been negotiating on and off for two years, aiming to hammer out the details of what our rights are—that’s your rights and mine—when it comes to food. As I watched our appointed delegates conspire to avoid any real responsibility to ensure we all have enough to eat, I realized that nothing was going to change, that we would never truly solve the crime of hunger in our world, until we radically reconceived who we are, what we are doing here, and how we relate to one another and the planet.

This—this website and these ideas (and when it comes down to it, this unusual life I’m now leading)—is the emerging fruit of where that shift has led me.

As you may have guessed from the name of this website, I’m Jewish. My deep-seated mystical impulses find their expression in the world largely in Torah-based terminology. What is Torah? Torah is the traditional name for the first five books of the Hebrew bible. Certainly one of the most influential texts in all human history (think Eden, the Ten Commandments, etc.), it is also, in my hopefully humble opinion, one of the most profoundly misunderstood. One way to think of the Torah is as the central nervous system of the Jewish religion. I’ve spent a fair amount of time digging into it, and it’s pretty clear to me that whoever wrote the Torah had an experience of utmost cosmic transcendence. Whether or not you believe in God, which doesn’t matter to me in the slightest, and whatever your views are on the authorship of the bible, there’s some pretty amazing stuff hidden within this text. It contains secrets that may have great relevance for our world today. None of these secrets require any particular beliefs. So not to worry, nothing you find here will in any way encourage adherence to a set of dogmas.

But this site won’t really be about Torah anyways. It will be about this mad world and how we can heal it. If you’re interested, I’m launching another blog alongside this one—inyanofshemita.wordpress.com. That’s where I get to let my hair down and geek out on Torah. Here, this is for everyone. Everyone, that is, who shares the sense that we can do better as a species.

But I still haven’t answered the question, why “Global Sabbath”? To the degree that I can, I’ll express this in terms accessible to anyone. Despite the fact that this site is not about Torah, it is inspired by it. Most everyone is familiar with the story of the first Sabbath. You know, “God” created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Well that story, that seemingly straightforward child’s tale, has hidden within it mystical truths and divine lessons of incalculable significance for our species today. But again, you don’t have to be Jewish, believe in God, know the bible or even care about religion to appreciate them. I’ll do what I can here to strip these lessons to their barest essentials. If you want to geek out with me on the details, by all means visit my other site.

In a nutshell, we need to slow down.

Actually, we need to slow down, step back and let go. Slow down in the sense that we need to cultivate greater peace, tranquility, stillness and contentment in our lives. Step back, insofar as we need to pull back from our excessive impact on this planet, which of course goes hand in hand with slowing down. We’ve got to curb our massive consumption and give this earth, and ourselves, a rest. And finally, we’ve got to let go. This is perhaps the hardest. To understand why, consider that the most active expression of letting go is giving away. In letting go, we’ve got to cultivate within ourselves the realization that we do not own this planet. It is not ours to do with as we please. Coming fully to terms with this involves two interpenetrating processes—inner and outer. The outer is more straightforward. It concerns letting go of, as I’ve said, the false sense that we actually own this planet and the things on it. The inner is a far more subtle process, involving the gradual relinquishing of our misapprehension that we somehow “own” our own selves; that is, letting go of the mistaken sense that we are in some real way separate, autonomous individuals. I can understand that for some of you I may be getting into territory here that sounds a bit weird, or even California woo woo. I hope that for the time being you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt. For now let’s just say there’s more to us than meets the naked eye.

These processes—slowing down, stepping back and letting go externally and internally—are all mutually reinforcing. And they are all central to the idea of the Sabbath, which unfolds in three primary layers—the weekly daylong Sabbath, the yearlong and the Jubilee—that express these processes to increasing levels of intensity. I won’t burden you with all the details right now.

And why Global? Because I think that all of us have something to learn from these principles. That they have something very real to teach us about how we can move forward as a species, how we can come to actually live in that world of peace, freedom and justice that we sense is possible.

Ultimately, it is my hope that this website will act as a kind of portal, a support for people hoping to experiment with slowing down, stepping back and letting go. I hope that it will offer ideas that people can learn from, practices they can cultivate and tailor to suit their own lives and contexts, and that it link people together to help minimize the costs of doing so. Our mad world is largely organized around money. And money has proven itself to have a skewed value system, or none at all. For many of us, who need to pay the bills and put food on the table, slowing down, stepping back and letting go may seem like a great idea in theory, but not have all that much connection to reality when it comes down to it. I recognize that. But my hope is that we can learn to support one another, to do it together. If I fix your car or your roof or your toilet, maybe you’ll babysit my kids or offer me some food from your garden. Who knows? The point is, together we can do anything. We created this world, we can recreate it.

And this is the reason for the tagline—“Ask not if a thing is possible, ask only if it is necessary.” It comes from an old Jewish mystic, the Alter of Kelm. Is it possible for our mad species to slow down, step back and let go to the degree necessary to transform our world? Can we actually live in that world of peace, justice and freedom we sense within us? Who knows? Is it necessary? I certainly think so. I’m game to try. You?

Read Full Post »