Tishrei: Go with the Flow
Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell
One essential orientation of our practice is that of cultivation. Indeed, one way to translate the word “practice” into Hebrew is “avodah” which also means “cultivation” in an agricultural sense. In our practice we actively cultivate qualities of heart and mind that we hope to develop. For example, if we want to be more patient or grateful, we can engage in the avodah of tikkun middot, daily work toward fostering particular qualities in ourselves.
However, our avodah does not only include cultivation practices, but also practices that allow things to be as they are. Jewish mindfulness meditation emphasizes the quality of emet (truth), which is an honest orientation towards this moment in life exactly as it is. Shmita, the seventh year, is like this—it is a year of allowing things to simply be as they are.
“God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai … the land must be given a rest period, a Shabbat of YHVH. For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards, and harvest your crops, but the seventh year is a Shabbat of complete rest, a Shabbat of YHVH: you may not plant your fields, nor prune your vineyards. Do not harvest crops that grow on their own and do not gather the grapes on your unpruned vines, since it is a year of rest for the land. [What grows while] the land is resting may be eaten by you … [and all] who live with you. All the crops shall be eaten by the domestic and wild animals that are in your land” (Leviticus 25:1–7).
In this text, we see that while the shmita is not a time of organized harvest or of working the land, one can still eat the fruit of the land that grows naturally. Letting things be as they are does not mean that things will cease growing. Whatever grew on its own could be eaten by anyone or anything.
This is similar to our meditation practice. Meditation is not about stopping thoughts or achieving a state in which there is total quiet or stillness. Rather, like shmita, our practice allows for the natural flow of life to continue. We do not fight against this movement or desperately hope that it would be different than it is. Instead, we stop our busy-ness and bring our awareness flush with the ever-flowing movement of life. When we do this we can receive the fruits of what grows naturally—harvesting the joy, spaciousness and abundance of that which grows right now.
Even when we stop actively cultivating, things grow and change. Sometimes it is our practice to work the soil of the heart and mind and at other times it is our avodah to receive whatever is growing. As we read this week in the book of Kohelet, “A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven” (3:1). During this shmita year Sukkot, this Chag HaAsif (Festival of Ingathering), perhaps let us cease some of our effortful cultivation, and simply receive with joy that which grows naturally in this moment of life.