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Archive for March, 2009

We live in a pretty frenetic world. Most of our waking lives are spent going from one thing to the next. Rarely do we take the time for true, unalloyed stillness.

This lifestyle is a reflection of our inner state, our mental busyness. As much as we might like to think that others are responsible for organizing the world in such a way that we’ve got to run, to some degree we all play a role in perpetuating this way of life. To fully assume our responsibility as a species—to live in harmony with one another, all species and the planet—we must cultivate greater stillness in our lives: inner and outer.

These two dimensions of stillness are mutually reinforcing: Inner stillness—cultivated by meditation, prayer, dance, yoga, simple quiet sitting, walking in nature, etc., helps us to become outwardly still. As I write this, I realize the irony that all of the “activities” I just listed are outwardly rather still. Nevertheless, cultivating greater inner stillness expands our capacity to be outwardly so beyond those moments when we specifically practice it. The same goes for integrating outward stillness into our lives in a broader sense, and the influence this has on inner stillness. Turning the phone off, reading instead of watching tv, lingering over dinner, leaving the car at home, taking a bath…These outward choices, which don’t necessarily constitute any kind of meditative practice, nevertheless increase our connection to inner stillness. Like water, wearing away stone, they have an effect.

I just spent a few days in civilization, and it brought me face to face with the challenge before me. How do I translate my ideas into meaningful words when those ideas depend almost entirely on a foundation of stillness, of silence? The kabbalists identify four levels of understanding or wisdom. The deepest of these is called “sod” (pronounced sode), meaning secret. It’s not secret, however, because no one will tell you. It’s secret because no one can. This is the area of understanding that can better be characterized as experiential, rather than intellectual.

I’m new to the blogosphere. In fact, I originally had no intention for Global Sabbath to be a blog. But until I learn to say what I feel to say in a way you can hear, this is the shape my work is taking. I’m told that to truly survive in the blog world, I need to post at least weekly. This is difficult news for someone who spends days at a time in silence, and who would almost always rather stand in front of a redwood than sit in front of a computer. But I’d like to be a responsible citizen of this new realm, so here I am.

So what can I say? I’d like to make an experiential request: Find an hour this week; just an hour. Do your best to get yourself into a place in nature that has little to no sign of human shaping. Go alone, or if you must go with others agree to spend the time in silence. Walk, sit, write, reflect…just be there. If you want, let me/us know how it goes.

Until next week.

Peaceful Sabbath,

Jonathan

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Welcome UrbanMan-ites. I just posted this site about a month ago. Being somewhat reclusive, and just a bit gun-shy, I’ve yet to do much publicizing. The Urban Man’s radio essay describing me as a bearded Jeremiah figure has certainly boosted traffic.

So what are you getting yourself into? Jeremiah? Maybe. The point is, yes, as the Urban Man reported we’ve got to slow down as a species. Our current lifestyles are unsustainable. Physically and spiritually. We can print more money and pump it into the system to boost the economy, but that’s not going to make the earth a bigger place. It’s not going to create more wood, steel, land and water. Our monetary fiction will just become increasingly dissociated from the world as it truly is.

Ultimately though, this outer disconnect is a reflection of something deeper, something we all carry around with us. We’re not truly living to our potential as a species. And that potential, that gap between where we are now and where we could be, can best be described as a spiritual, rather than a technical gap. We have everything we need to create the world that deep down most of us truly yearn for—a world without hunger, violence and ecological destruction. We have all the information and know-how. What we need is the desire, the will, the vision.

I am not, as the Urban Man suggested, aiming to have everyone keep the Sabbath as it has traditionally been kept, with a day off every week from driving, money, work…But I am hoping that we can begin to live by some of its deeper principles, principles that encourage us to slow down, stop and reflect. And, once we’ve taken a deep breath and had a clearer look around, to share the gifts of this planet more fairly, to recognize that we all came into this world naked and crying and that ultimately, this gift is here for all of us.

This, this sense that the earth is here for all of us to enjoy, and that to truly enjoy it we’ve got to slow our consumption and cultivate a little contentment with what we’ve already got, is the essence of the Sabbath. This site, globalsabbath, is dedicated to exploring how we might integrate these principles into our lives and world. We’ve got some big plans for globalsabbath. I hope that you urbanites will find some resonance here, maybe subscribe, and come along for the ride.

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The Sabbath is a powerful metaphor for how we can heal this planet and build a better future for ourselves as a species. The chronicler of the book of Genesis, far from simply reducing the origins of this world to a manageable sequence of events, was tapping into a truth that resides deep within the human subconscious. Part of the reason the biblical creation story is so memorable is not just thousands of years of effective marketing, but because it speaks to a core dimension of who we are and what we’re doing here on earth.

This is why the Sabbath is at once breathtakingly simple, so straightforward even a child can understand, yet at the same time vastly multi-dimensional, so much so it can take a lifetime to fully comprehend its depths and meaning.

This forum, this space on the web, is devoted to bringing to light some of those deeper dimensions. Regrettably, most of us seem to have settled with the six-year-old version of the Sabbath and dismissed it as mythological fantasy. This is deeply unfortunate. Perhaps the clearest way to see why is to step back and take wide-angle view of our world, to look at ourselves not as nations and economic unions, but as a species. In doing so, we can begin to see that the solution to all of the great challenges we face as a species—climate change and environmental destruction, war and other forms of violence, poverty and hunger—can best be understood not by what we need to do, but by what we need to stop doing.

In the case of climate change and environmental destruction this is self-evident. We need to stop filling our atmosphere with greenhouse gasses, stop tearing down forests, polluting rivers and pumping harmful chemicals into our soil. Sure, we need to do some other things to offset the costs of stopping these activities, but evidence indicates that even with alternatives, such as new forms of energy, we’ll still need to reduce our activities, our human industry, to a significant degree. In other words, either way we’ve got to slow down, and in many instances eventually stop altogether.

When it comes to war and violence, the principle of stopping is similarly straightforward. We’ve got to stop killing one another. Certainly we need to address the underlying sources of conflict, but these too can best be addressed not by doing, but by undoing, as we shall explore.

In the case of poverty and hunger, it may be less clear-cut to see how not doing is any solution, but it is no less true. Roughly 80 percent of the people who suffer from chronic hunger in our world live in rural areas where agriculture is the main occupation. In other words, they live around food. The problem is, the poor have been pushed off productive land and into the margins. They have, by and large, been cast aside by wealthy landowners. People who suffer from hunger are not lazy. They are more than prepared to feed themselves. In order to end the lion’s share of hunger in our world, we need to stop preventing them from doing so. Again, we will obviously have to do something to offset some of the costs of shifting from our current inequitable system, but the underlying objective remains to stop denying the poor access to productive resources.

Okay, so there’s a lot we need to stop doing. But how can a paradigm that’s thousands of years old possibly help us to achieve this? So “God stopped”, what’s that got to do with us?

[For more, please see: The Revolution will be Spiritual—[basic overview, part two]]

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[Note: I’ve used the G-word in this post. This is simply to explore the meaning of the first Sabbath and its relevance for today. No belief in God is necessary or encouraged.]

According to tradition, the Sabbath is the culmination of creation, the destination. Like any good designer the divine began with the end in mind. In other words the Sabbath, far from being an afterthought, can be seen as the very purpose for the world’s existence. The way I like to put it is, “God wasn’t pooped.” Like any good parent, the divine was modeling behavior. Just as parents who want their children to grow up looking both ways before crossing the street will do so themselves, so too the divine was showing us that it is essential for us to stop one day, that stopping is part of the makeup of the universe.

But what does this mean? How does the Sabbath work in a deeper sense? What would it look like in practice and how is it relevant today?

These are some of the central questions that I hope to address in this forum. For now, let’s take a quick look at what “God” actually did on that first Sabbath. Not surprisingly, “Shabbat” (the Hebrew origin of Sabbath) is the word used to describe the divine’s activity or condition on that day. Shabbat has three primary connotations: to sit, to dwell, and to return. Okay, so God sat and dwelled. But returned? Where was there for God to return to after only six days of creation?

As I said in my first post on this site, the Sabbath unfolds in three primary layers—the daylong weekly Sabbath, the yearlong Sabbath, and the Jubilee—that express the underlying principles of the Sabbath to increasingly intensified degrees. There are two primary dimensions to fulfilling these ideals: The actual practice of them, and; the spiritual state necessary to do so. The Sabbaths, slowing down and eventually stopping our harmful impact on this world and one another, will ultimately entail an incredible degree of selflessness on the part of each of us. These visionary standards cannot be actualized by rote. The only way to attain them is to undertake the spiritual transformation necessary for their fulfillment.

Further, for those of you who may worry at this point that I could be steering towards some kind of proselytism, the benefits of these principles are not limited to any particular set of beliefs or customs. It is we, us humans, who are the common root to all of the crises we see in the world. To transform our world and realize our true potential as a species, we must transform ourselves, all of us. What was God “returning” to after only six days? In creating the world of form, God was creating the possibility of mistaken identity. With form came the risk of thinking that this is it, that there is no more going on in the world than meets the eye. God was returning from multiplicity to a state of transcendent oneness, returning from the dangers of the illusion of separateness. Whatever name you wish to apply to the oneness, it is the central delusion of our separateness that keeps us locked in a world where some live in wealth that surpasses that of some nations, while others have so little they die daily by the thousands from simply not having enough food to eat.

Ultimately, healing our world will require healing the spiritual misapprehensions we all share. The central message, vision and method of the Sabbath are designed to bring about this very transformation. It may be difficult to imagine our world organized around Sabbath principles that aim to slow us down enough to achieve true selflessness. As members of consumer society, it’s probably not even the world we’d choose. But it may just be the world we need.

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