One day the Buddha was sitting with his monks. A distraught farmer approached. “Monks, have you seen my cows?” The Buddha said, “No we have not.” The farmer continued, “I am distraught. I have only twelve cows, and now they are gone. How will I survive?” The Buddha looked at him with compassion and said, “I’m sorry my friend, we have not seen them. You may want to look in the other direction.” After the farmer had gone, the Buddha turned to his monks, looked at them deeply, smiled and said, “Dear ones, do you know how lucky you are? You don’t have any cows to lose.”
This is an easy story. Because I own no cows. A few cats maybe. It’s just that the things which do clutter my heart and mind (and absorb my energy and focus and weigh me down) are much more encumbering than the farmer’s cows.
My need to be in a hurry or to be distracted.
My fear of failure or being a disappointment.
My need to impress those around me (or my need to impress those I don’t even know).
My dissatisfaction with ordinary days and the gifts of grace.
My preoccupation with all that’s left undone.
In the comic strip Downstown, John (single and still looking for the perfect woman) sat on a park bench with a friend. He saw a beautiful woman sitting not far away. “That’s a beautiful woman,” he said to his friend. “I’m going to ask her for a date. Yes, I’m going to get up right now and ask her. That’s right, I’m going to get up and go over and ask her.” He stood, began walking, and said, “After all, what have I got to lose?”
As he walked to the woman’s bench, his friend shouts, “Nothing, just all your masculinity, your self-confidence and your self-esteem.” John returned to the bench, sat down and said, “Thanks for reminding me.”
When my identity is defined by what I possess, or earn, or lack, or strive for, or require in order to impress or be somebody, I have everything to lose.
The Sabbath–the permission to stop, sit still, wait–allows us to hear the voice of Grace saying simply, “You are accepted. Period. Deal with it.”
Paul Tillich elaborates, “You are accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not seek for anything. Do not perform anything, do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.” If that happens to us, we experience grace.
Which means that I can live and choose and commit “from acceptance” and not “for acceptance.” I’m not doing any of this (Sabbath, prayer, rest, reflection, renewal, letting go) to impress anyone or earn points. Life is full enough. This life. This moment. This relationship. This conversation. This encounter. The sacred present begins now.
A young man boarded an overnight train in Europe. He was told, “There have been a lot of recent thefts. We take no responsibility for any loss.” This worried the young man, because he carried a lot of stuff. So, he lay awake, fearing the worst, staring at his stuff. Finally, at 3 am, he fell asleep. Waking with a start twenty minutes later, he saw that his stuff was gone. He took a deep breath. “Thank God,” he said. “Now I can sleep.”
On the seventh day, God rested. God savored.
Savoring is rooted…
For six days we work, we build, we create, we control (and at times, we fret). The seventh day we rest. We stop. We receive. We savor. Without savoring, we assume reality is only about what we create or produce (or fail to produce). In other words, because of grace we are not driven to live another life, a different life. We find wonder (or the kingdom of God) here; even without our cows.
The Hebrew word for rested, vyenafesh, can mean rest, or ensouled, breath, to catch one’s breath, sweet fragrance, passion, and inner being of man. A nefesh can also mean a living being. In the context of Sabbath, God ensouled this day by resting. Just as dormancy ensouls a garden, downtime (pausing, Sabbath) ensouls my heart. And my life.
Today I put down my to-do lists. I let my mind rest. There is a fire in the fireplace, and I have picked up one of John Thorne’s cookbooks to keep me company. Outside my window, the trees are without leaves. Blank. My pond has a thin film of ice. The late Autumn sunlight, low in the sky, dances through the fir and hemlock forest. It is restful, and exquisitely beautiful.