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A Sabbath Life:
One Woman's Search for Wholeness
by Kathleen Hirsch

It is still dark above the trees when I rise and light a candle and try and settle myself in the same undivided calm as the flame while I wait for morning's first bird song. Life pulls with its many demands, but for the moment nothing compels me. I am filled with peace; receptive, rather than driven. If today were to be the last one of my life, I would be doing exactly what I am doing now, beginning the day in quiet awareness. Sometimes I read a poem or a bit of scripture. Sometimes I write in my journal. But before this, and mostly, I sit. I try to listen for a consciousness that is deeper and wiser than the rattle and clatter of my surface life. It is precisely for the gift of this consciousness, this centering, that morning after morning I faithfully observe this routine, which I call my "practice."

A Sabbath Life

Every spiritual tradition in the world stresses the importance of a regular practice. Some call it prayer, others spiritual exercises. It can take the form of daily meditation, or a walk on a beach; an entry into a journal, a schedule of chanting. I know a woman who spends every Monday at the beach with her dog and her journal, balancing rocks that are later washed off in the tide. I know a man who spends an hour every night playing his flute. All of these practices and more have the same purpose: they remove our minds from the distractions that so often blind us to our higher purposes. They create a "soul" space, a sense of inner amplitude, in which we are able to let go our grip on self-consciousness, and enter the deep place of meaning within.

Choosing a practice is relatively easy. There are a bounty to choose from, whether we pick from the religions of our forebears, our childhoods, or part company with these and strike out in any one of many alternative traditions. The challenge is to maintain a practice consistently. Often some life event propels us to commence a practice of reflection and mindfulness. Eager novices, we plunge in, full of good feelings and the sheer relief of having some quiet time in our days; or perhaps fueled by a workshop, a conversion experience. But before long, we find ourselves mired in vague boredom, discontent, disillusionment. The spiritual fireworks we expect to come simply don't. We find our questions; what is important to me? What do I need to do? What do I need to give up? go unanswered. Meanwhile, life continues to press in, demanding even the little corner of our day devoted to ourselves for some allegedly superior, active, purpose.

A practice means what it says. It isn't a performance, a production. It is about "showing up," making the commitment to be present to ourselves (in many traditions is also known as "being present to the spirit" -- that is, whatever wants to come to life in us.) We need to understand that we are not in control of the timing of mystery, or its revelations of truth in our own lives. We also need to understand that unless we train ourselves to be awake to its ways and promptings, to be in a state of receptivity and mindfulness, we will miss its visitations entirely. And so we practice, each morning getting up and lighting our candles, or doing our breathing exercises. And each day our practice becomes more indispensable; it changes us as we submit to its discipline and its centering. In time, the marvelous occurs; it no longer matters whether or not we are struck by illumination. Our practice is our illumination, our path, the daily station on our journey.

Copyright © 2001 Kathleen Hirsch.  All Rights Reserved. 

Kathleen Hirsch, author of "A Sabbath Life: One Woman's Search for Wholeness," " Songs from the Alley," and " A Home in the Heart of the City." She is co-editor of Mothers. She lives with her family in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.



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