For me, the beauty of Sabbath—a time set apart for rest, recreation, and renewal—has been the interplay between More and Less… between Yes and No.
Sabbath provides space for us to say Yes to things we normally don’t give ourselves space or permission to do.
Sabbath also gives us license to say No to things that drain our energy or distract us from our true north… or simply things that we get enough of the rest of the week!
Anyway, Seth’s words led me to create my own “more and less” list for this season of my life:
I ran across this post on FB memories–it was posted to the now-inactive Sabbath in the Suburbs blog four years ago. Enjoy!
My view from this morning’s run. Lake Anne Plaza, Reston.
I’ve been running for some 18 months now. Somewhere along the way, I transitioned from being someone who runs to being a runner. I now read about running, strategize my routes, have strong opinions about my footwear, blah blah blah.
I also seek inspiration from running and its connections to life, and even to the spiritual practice of taking time for rest and sabbath. See if you agree about the power of these connections in a quote I ran across recently:
For some messed-up reason, our athletic egos still feel that we only get faster as we pedal harder, run quicker and swim stronger. It’s athlete psychology—all of our confidence is built around the times that we actually destroy our bodies. But it’s only the rest afterward that makes our bodies stronger.
Because of this psychological dichotomy, when and how long to rest is the hardest decision to make as an athlete. It takes a level of confidence above even the level necessary to push your body to the limit. You don’t get the endorphin release, the feeling of accomplishment, and the external and internal praise and satisfaction. All you get are feelings of losing your edge, getting out of shape and nervous anticipation.
So the next time you need to rest, whether it be for a mid-season break, post-big race, or just an easy day or two between training blocks, remember that it takes confidence to rest. Remember that it is just insecurity and a lack of endorphin release that makes you feel like you’re getting out of shape. Know that when you decide to rest, you’re making the right call—the better, smarter decision. Feel good and confident about it. You’ve done yourself a favor—you have literally just made yourself a better athlete.
I’ve been traveling quite a bit recently, mainly leading retreats on the Sabbath book. Last weekend was the end of a two-week stretch in which either Robert was traveling, or I was, or for a brief 45 minutes when our planes crossed in the air, both of us. It’s ironic that I’m talking to groups about Sabbath, given how hectic my schedule has been! I’m careful to take Sabbath time even when I travel–a quiet afternoon at the hotel between sessions, a trip to the movies on the Monday after my return. What suffers is the home stuff. The entropy is wild around here at Casa Dana, and that impacts my mental health.
I was reminded by someone at this weekend’s retreat of a practice I wrote about in the book but hadn’t thought about in a long time. Time to revisit it again.
Are you, too, feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff involved in adulting? Read on for a technique that’s worked for me. This is an excerpt from Sabbath in the Suburbs:
Remember those old Looney Tunes cartoons in which a hungry character looks at its prey and sees a juicy steak where the head is supposed to be? Or when the guy who’s down on his luck finds a singing frog and begins to see dollar signs?
I try to do the same thing with the clutter and piled-up projects in our house. Rather than looking at an unfinished task and seeing what we’ve failed to do, I picture what that unfinished task represents: namely, something important that we have done.
So when I look at our cluttered garage full of broken rakes and household items we’ve discarded but haven’t yet gotten rid of—some of which have been with us for years—I try not to see our failure in getting the garage cleaned out. Instead I see all those times we pedaled bikes up and down our street with our kids, gasping to reach the top of the steep hill, then soaring down to the bottom again.
Every time I open the cabinet under the sink, I see a mess of bottles, desiccated sponges, and aluminum foil. For nine years they have begged for an intervention from the Container Store. I try to see something else instead: I see Caroline hunched over a ball of yarn and a chaos of stitches as I teach her, slowly, to knit. With this new vision, the undone thing isn’t a sign of neglect or failure. It’s a testimony that something else is more important at this moment of our lives.
Even if you don’t observe Sabbath, a shift in perception is helpful. It doesn’t ever all get done. We need to train our vision. We see failure when we should see alternatives. Better to focus on the good and important things we did do instead of berating ourselves for falling short of an ideal.
Robert’s grandmother remembers a time when her children were young and a fussy neighbor wrinkled his nose at the bare patches of grass in her yard. “You really ought to do something about that,” he said with disdain. She responded, “I’ll grow grass when I stop growing children.”
I was especially interested in the final chapter, which addresses the role of religion in matters of honesty and integrity:
During one of our conversations, I asked Rabbi [Jonathan] Sacks to tell me which of the Ten Commandments I should keep, if I were going to focus on just one. It was another way of asking him which commandment is the most important one. What do you think his answer was? The one about not worshipping idols? The one about murder?
His answer wasn’t at all what I expected— he said that if I kept only one commandment, I should observe Shabbat. “If you keep Shabbat as a day of rest and reflection,” he said, “the rest of the commandments will most likely follow.”
Shabbat affects those who observe it in a few ways. First, it offers an opportunity to stop and reflect. In observing this day, we can remind ourselves what we have done in the last week, what we want to do next week, and what our true values are. We can pay attention to our less-than-perfect behaviors that otherwise might go unnoticed, keeping ourselves from sliding accidentally into moral dangers.
This reflective work is exactly why so many of us resist it. Who wants to be confronted with all of our stuff!? But there’s more:
The second way Shabbat propels people to observe the other commandments is by restoring our moral energy. It’s no secret that at the end of a day or week, people often let loose (getting drunk and so on) by allowing themselves to do what their impulsive id-side has been screaming for while they were stuck in their cubicles. We saw this kind of moral exhaustion in the depletion experiment [described earlier in the book]. In that experiment, participant cheating increased after a more difficult writing task, suggesting that in daily life (even without hard writing assignments from social scientists) exhaustion can wear us right down to our ids. Ego depletion (as we call this draining effect), it turns out, affects not only whether we make good or bad decisions, but also whether we obey our consciences.
So having a time of rest gives us a spiritual reset, so our personal integrity and sense of self-control isn’t working out of deficit.
Ariely writes a lot about the financial meltdown from several years ago and scandals such as Enron, Madoff and the like. He talks about what makes it possible for someone to make catastrophic and downright dishonest decisions. He doesn’t make the connection in this chapter, but it seems clear that a culture of overwork creates a ripe environment for dishonesty.
Among industralized nations, the United States is notoriously bad on the scale of paid time off, family and sick leave and the like. This lack of policies doesn’t just make us sick, tired, less creative and less productive. It can also contribute to a sense of moral decay.
The seven year old, reading the holy texts on a recent Sabbath…
Three years after the publication of Sabbath in the Suburbs, I continue to speak to groups about our family’s experience of taking a day each week for rest and play… which looks very different now than it did during the year-long experiment, but that’s another post.
People who’ve read the book will notice that we didn’t spend the day doing “holy” activities. We didn’t read scripture together or pray (except before meals) or even talk about God all that much. We often lit a candle to designate that this time was somehow set apart, but otherwise, there was nothing particularly religious in our observance. So what gives?
Or as many people ask me, “We already have family time together; what makes Sabbath different?”
First, I don’t believe in creating a division between so-called secular and sacred activities. In my tradition, we believe and profess that God is the Lord of our whole lives. Yes, there are times that we intentionally focus on our spiritual lives, through study or prayer or small groups or a worship service. But all of life is (or can be) an act of devotion to God as we understand God.
That said, I believe the language we use matters–in fact, what we name something changes the nature of the thing we’re naming. It’s great to have family time, and there’s nothing wrong with calling it that. But invoking the word Sabbath acknowledges that God is also present, and that the things we do during this time can nurture our spiritual lives as well as our sense of family connectedness. It gives us a different vision and perspective on that time.
The other day I was listening to Krista Tippett’s On Being interview of social scientist Ellen Langer, and they were talking about this exact phenomenon. In one study, subjects were asked to evaluate a series of jokes and cartoons. For half the group, the researchers framed the activity as work; the other half, play. Those who were told to play reported a much greater enjoyment than those who were “working” at the very same activity.
Similarly, Langer referenced a study of chambermaids–women who are on their feet all day doing constant physical labor. This group experienced actual physiological changes when they named their daily activity “exercise” rather than simply “work.” Fascinating!
So here’s an easy experiment for those of you who want to connect with this old, ancient practice that has such resonance for Jewish and Christian communities but don’t know where to start. Put the label of Sabbath on something you already do: family time, your daily ritual of tea and Sudoku, even your workout at the gym. See what changes, what feels different. See if the activity resonates on a different level. And report back!
By the way, the entire interview with Ellen Langer was fascinating. Did you know mindfulness is possible without a meditation practice?