At times I’ve felt that daily meditation was too passive a practice — that the conditions of the world demand action, and blocking out time for repose is a literal retreat from the world’s battles.
But when my practice is strong, I see the destructive and chaotic potential of uncontrolled action, and I realize that meditative control is an active process that must be strengthened like a muscle, so it can guide that impulse to action.
Control is an uncomfortable word for it, though. When I search for a better verb for what the will is doing in meditation, the source that comes to mind for me is the Torah: “Vayishbot bayom ha’shvi’i mikol melachto asher asah.” It’s the verb lashevet, literally “to sit,” from the biblical source of the practice of Shabbat. Hear the shared root of those words? Much hay has been made by Jewish meditators about the fact that ”Shabbat” basically means “the sit.”
That passage would typically be translated, “And God rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done,” but literally it could be rendered, “God sat.” To me, the ambiguity in English comes from a different sensibility about the quality of action in the verb. Think about it: God is all-powerful. God didn’t need a break after creating the universe. God exercised God’s will to limit creative action, to dedicate a fixed amount of time for blessing what is already made. To sit is an action.
That’s what we practice tonight at sundown until tomorrow night when the stars come out. If meditation can be defined as applying the will to sustain a particular consciousness for a period of time, Shabbat — the Sit — is a 25-hour meditation. See you on the other side!