“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God…For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested…”— Exodus 20:8-11
This is what I told my brain the other day in the midst of meditation, as I struggled to belay my ever diligent, racing thoughts. Struggle and meditation. They go together like toothpaste and orange juice, don’t they? Yet, so often we sit down, attempt to quiet the mind, and the mind responds by growing louder than ever. Or perhaps it’s been loud all along. It just takes a few moments of listening and observing to see how scattered we truly are.
I learned a visualization technique recently. The idea is to picture yourself on a bench in front of a busy highway. All that traffic––each and every car which scurries past––represents your thoughts. Our tendency is often to jump from that comfortable bench and chase down the cars as they zoom by. It’s no wonder many of us are exhausted most of the time. We go through life with heads full of racing thoughts, thoughts we feel compelled to catch up with, and when we fail in this endeavor, we become anxious.
What if we could just remain on the bench? There’s no denying the cars speed ever along their aimless course. They keep scurrying past––some of them the same thoughts, jogging around an ethereal loop, going and coming and going again––but, what if it’s possible to acknowledge them without attempting to chase them down? This is something I set out to do every morning. Ten minutes. Ten minutes of me on that bench, seeing, but not pursuing. A clever little sabbath rest for me.
The sabbath was a pretty big deal in ancient Hebrew culture––so important that it appears on their Top Ten list of big deals. It’s a little strange, when you think about it; they assemble these commands from God, and many of them still make a lot of sense today:
– “Thou shalt not murder.” Okay, that one’s pretty obvious.
– “Thou shalt not steal.” Right on. Stealing’s not cool.
– but then –
– “Thou shalt not work on Saturdays.” Huh?
Have you ever thought it crazy that the Commandment to honor the sabbath lands on the same list with the imperative not to go after someone else’s wife? These Israelites really took resting seriously! It doesn’t make much sense to me, until I consider what Jesus says about the sabbath:
“The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” –– Mark 2:27
I don’t mind saying that, were I Moses, I would have put the sabbath command first on the list of ten. Not that I think it’s more important that the others; I just think this idea of resting, this idea of stopping for a time, makes everything else on the list easier. It’s hard to be a decent human being. It’s hard not to be pulled along with the inertia of selfishness and consumerism that comes so naturally to us. What makes it easier? Stopping. Resting. Doing nothing. Not kicking back in front of the TV and binging on Netflix. Not losing yourself in social media for hours. I mean nothing at all.
This is what I attempt to do every morning for at least ten minutes, and it’s difficult. I’ve been doing it for a couple months now––ten little minutes––but still I have to give myself permission, to overcome the guilt. It’s the guilt heaped on me by my own mind, telling me I have more important things to do with those ten minutes, that I’m being disloyal and shirking my duties by squandering those ten minutes. Those scurrying cars––my thoughts––they scream at me as they zip across my brain: “How dare you waste ten precious minutes!” “Don’t you know you’ve got shit to do?!”
I respond only with my breath, in and out. I count. Each breath like medicine. Eventually––much of the time anyway––the shouts from the scurrying cars fade away, and there is only me with my inhales and exhales, and the impression of Someone within the breaths. Within the rest. Within the nothing.