a little something extra

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sabbath: Evening

With this chapter we begin the downslope out of the book. It describes ways to create or celebrate Sabbath time by borrowing from various religious and cultural traditions that embrace Sabbath. I believe that Muller's intention is not just to promote those practices, but to stimulate his readers' imaginations to adapt or create their own Sabbath traditions. What you do isn't as important as how it works on you.

He begins with Evening, which is the traditional Sabbath commencement in Judaism. Since I grew up in the RCC, the evening approach is an intriguing novelty for me. Muller describes ritual bathing, lighting candles, sharing a meal, and blessing those gathered, as ways to introduce oneself to Sabbath time.

But the point isn't to be clean or well-lit or well fed, or even to be generous with one's blessings or the grateful recipient of others'. Instead, I think, the point is to adjust one's temperament, feelings and mindset into the Sabbath groove. (I love that word for its dual implication -- the strength of a track that will keep one going in the right direction, and the musical rhythm of an irresistible groove. Groovy...)

In Muller's phrase, this approach "gently alters the quality of our attention."

For my money, this is the best idea in the chapter. It bears repeating.

"Gently alters the quality of our attention."

Over the millennia of human development, lots of different people who have become recognized as spiritual leaders from diverse cultures have articulated this same idea. How you focus on or attend to what's going on around you determines the quality of your spiritual experience.

You can be in the middle of the most beautiful, quiet place, participating in the most moving ritual, but if the quality of your attention is aggressive, or unfocused, or worried, or whatever -- the spiritual experience will be lessened. And you can be in the middle of the most trying circumstances, in great danger or inescapable aggravation, but if the quality of your attention is serene, grateful, generous -- the spiritual experience will be there, under the least hospitable conditions.

Last weekend I attended an event that was essentially a panel discussion about a peace mission in Israel and Palestine. I expected a talking heads event, so imagine my surprise when I arrived and found a band setting up their equipment. Karma 101, originally from San Antonio (hi Cristopher!), had volunteered their time to play. Their music is a challenge to describe, but I'd put it on the border between improv jazz and the massive category of "world music." The interplay between the trumpet player and the amazingly talented random woodwind player was astonishing, and the vocalist's style was noticeably Arabic-influenced. It was a great choice for the evening.

And, it altered the quality of our attention. Or at least, it altered mine. I had been busy that day, with a music rehearsal in the morning (more about the Russian Peasant Extravaganza in a future post, soon) followed by a visit to my friends M* and H* and their brand new baby boy G* in the afternoon. By the time evening came, I'd been in the car too long and felt permanently rushed. The music smoothed that right out of me, leaving my brain stimulated and open, but cleansed of stress. When the panel began, I was more ready to listen than I had been when I entered the room.

And it all happened on a Saturday evening -- so there you have it!

Consciously altering the quality of my attention is the key to my adjustment into the Sabbath groove. The more frequently I do it, the better my life is. There are lots of ways to manage it -- Muller's old technique of "guerrilla blessing" does it well, as does my resolution to sing every day just because it's good for my body and heart -- so whether or not I use his more traditional suggestions from this chapter, I fully embrace the idea they're intended to promote.

Good job, Wayne.

Links will come here to Tripp's and Cristopher's posts when they go up.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sabbath 30

Links here to Cristopher's and Tripp's posts when they become available.

This chapter is the last in the "Consecration" section -- the book's final section, on the construction and conduct of a Sabbath day, will begin next. This chapter's title is "Breaking the Trance."

Since this chapter stands as something of a conclusion, it consists mostly of an eloquent restatement of Muller's main point for the book. Muller begins with an extended metaphor about how we are distracted by a movie to the point where we are briefly disoriented by the sudden return to our real lives (shades of Plato's Cave, campers!)

And just when I'm getting good and artistically het up about Muller's apparent disapproval of what art offers in our lives, he saves the day with the following acknowledgment:

"During the week our work, our contributions to the well-being of our family and community are essential and necessary."

This, finally, answers a lot of the objections I've raised to Muller's apparently black-and-white thinking over the course of the book. If only he had said it sooner, he could have saved me a lot of stress! But he didn't trust his readers to absorb the message of balance without his presenting it in a way that didn't actually embody that balance. Oh well. He made it there eventually!

As Muller goes on to say, "Sabbath time offers the gift of deep balance." And it was the need for such balance that drove me into this book in the first place.

When my friend Margaret gave it to me a few years ago, she was exactly right to do so. Then this year, when I offered it to Tripp and Cristopher, it was good for me to return to it.

I'm just about ready to be done with the book -- four chapters to go! -- but I'm glad that Muller has reminded me about deep balance. I can aim for it over the next chunk of time, however long that may be. And when I lose sight of it, the book will be there on the shelf to remind me.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sabbath 29

Someday, perhaps, I will renew my interest in blogging about something other than this book. For now, though, you get another chapter.

This one is short and wonderfully coherent. It's called "Ownership," and it addresses the often invisible trade-off between the time and energy it takes to own things, and the other uses to which we could put that time and energy. In some ways this chapter hooks up to some of the principles enumerated in Your Money or Your Life, a book I have not read, by Joe Dominguez.

How do I know that the chapter and the other book coincide, if I haven't read the other book? Well, about three years ago, it seemed like every time I turned around somebody mentioned Your Money or Your Life to me. Through those discussions, I picked up the basic gist.

Our time and energy is finite. The quantities may be vast, but eventually they do reach an end. Dominguez's book focuses on finding the best balance between time/energy spent pursuing money and time/energy spent pursuing anything else. Everything else.

Reflecting on the chapter, I began to think that I own a fair amount of stuff. I own a car, I own furniture, I own books and works of art. I own kitchen equipment and clothing and shoes. I own linens. I own cleaning products, I own this laptop, and I own a seemingly endless supply of empty envelopes waiting to have their backs decorated with grocery lists and to-do reminders. I own electric candles to put in my windows at Christmastime (one fewer candle than I have windows, since I broke one candle taking it down last year).

But, especially since moving to CA, I don't acquire much new stuff. I borrow books from the library, and return them. I take care of my clothes so I don't have to spend money on new ones. I don't buy CDs; I don't even buy songs online to download (in my opinion, maintaining one's virtual possessions such as a library of downloaded sound files can toss one right into the same time/energy-drain trap that maintaining one's physical possessions does).

And I don't give much of my time/energy to those who want to sell me things. I've passed the one-year mark of my No Broadcast TV Experiment, so for the past year I haven't let TV advertisers use my time/energy. I skip the ads in the newspaper, though I read the articles. Periodically I will flip through a print catalogue, but 7/8 of them go straight from the mailbox to the recycling bag without passing Go or collecting $200.

This leaves me time/energy to do things like read those books I borrow from the library, enjoy the music on those CDs I do own or new music I hear on the radio, crochet afghans for friends and family (requires acquiring yarn, but I don't keep it, so I think it falls on the safe side of the Ownership Risk), talk on the phone, and otherwise try to keep myself in touch with the world as I know it and care about it.

This is the upside of a relative lack of wealth. Much of what net worth I have is tied up in the house I own but don't get to live in and can't sell any time soon, and in the retirement accounts I feed without ceasing and otherwise pretty well ignore. I spend relatively little time/energy taking care of my small stock of money, and much more time/energy doing things that don't require me to touch that small stock. I spend more time/energy maintaining what I own, so that I won't have to replace it any time soon.

Could I own more? Sure. But I don't need more right now, and I enjoy not feeling owned by what I own. (In Netspeak, that would be "pwned by what i pwn," but I'm just not that hip.)

Tripp posted on this chapter already
; apparently, he came back from New Orleans ready to throw himself back into the Sabbath reading project.

Cristopher seems still to be distracted by Texas football season, but I am hoping his missing copy of the book will come out of its hiding place soon.