Hearing the silence

by Dr Michele Ritterman

I think of the Sabbath when I was a child in Missouri…

The granddaughter of two rabbis. Both first generation immigrants, one from Poland, one from Russia. We kept a strictly halachic home. Kosher. And on the Sabbath, no electricity. Or cooking. Or driving. Or piano playing. And definitely no work. From before sunset Friday until after sunset Saturday.

Just a time to gather at synagogue and at home with community and family. Prayer. Song. Maybe a walk in the neighborhood. Not for exercise; a goal-less, time-less walking. A time to say hello to neighbors. Synchronised, local, national, global reflecting.

I once learned that the Sabbath meant that one day a week, a Jewish person was not “owned” or their time controlled. By an employer or authority or the state. But only by God.

A day to be accountable only to God. The Divine spark within each person. The force of being and becoming outside of each person.

The bread. The wine. The rest. Even the sex. All sacred on this day.

Keith Jarret, the great jazz pianist, made much about the rest in music. Most musicians will focus on rhythmic flow and lyrical continuity, but for Jarret, one of the goals of sound was to begin to hear the silence, the absence of man-made sound. Billy Higgins, the drummer, would roll the sticks over the drums in such a way – would slow them down to such a point – you could hear it! That there was only the rhythm of silence.

To hear the silence.

To live in the absence of coming and going.

Of buying, selling and owning.

What are we then?

Who are we then, to ourselves and to each other?

In this not-doing?

On those soft, gentle Sabbaths in Missouri, I learned that being is as important as doing. That reflection is what evokes, invites, instills deep inner comfort.

I wrote to my mother when she turned 80…

After I had made my home,

you gave me

the tools to mend

the week's broken circle:

a pair of candlesticks.

I learned to

circle my hands

over the flames,

to splash light on my eyelids,

to whisper prayers and blessings

like magic incantations,

as you did,

seducing the Sabbath Queen,

dispelling the misunderstandings of the week,

while I stared out

the tall Midwestern window

of my childhood,

losing myself

in the Friday’s last agonising pastels

as they stretched, thinned into darkness.

After Havdallah, my mother played piano in the dark, just before we returned to the “world”. And to electricity. And to responsibilities.

The idea of The Shabbat Project, a global Sabbath renewal, I find really beautiful. A collective honoring not only of Mother Earth and Father Time, but of the rhythms of nature. The opportunity we all have to take refuge from the comings and goings of the marketplace and technology, and to contemplate peace. Not only in our hearts and our homes and our communities, but on planet earth. To create a vibration of love and healing, and transcend materialism, nationalism, money, capitalism, greed and all that goes with it.

To hear the beating of the collective human heart.

To feel the miracle of our breath that comes and goes by itself, and one day will stop or infinitely expand.

To ponder the creative force that precedes, embraces and follows us.

The Sabbath is a time not only to feel joy. Silence isn’t always happy.

Suffering that has had to go underground, unattended in the rush of things, can surface.

Later, studying hypnosis to help people heal from undue pain or suffering, I learned about subjective time versus clock time; the importance of reveries. The background brain.

And this is the Sabbath. A collective entry into subjective or experiential time, instead of being-on-time time. The blessing of standing outside of the clock and entering into being.

Dreams, visions, trances.

Rest. Depth. Humanity.

A silence.

A Sabbath.

Dr Michele Ritterman

Michele Ritterman, PhD, is recognised as the ‘mother’ of the integration of hypnosis and family therapy, and is the author of the seminal work on the subject: Using Hypnosis in Family Therapy (1982). One of Milton Erickson’s leading students, she has trained thousands of psychotherapists around the globe in her approach to working with couples and families. Dr Ritterman is a prolific author whose work has been translated into several languages. Also a dedicated activist, she has served as a spokesperson for Amnesty International and other human rights organisations, and her book, Hope Under Siege (1986), considers the applications of psychotherapeutic principles in the larger context of political and social reality. In Dr Ritterman’s words: “Reciprocity is the highest form of love. And love has everything to do with healing.” Her latest book is The Tao of a Woman.

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