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Hereâ€™s what my â€śTo Doâ€ť List on a recent day looked like:
And that was only about the first third of the list. I like having to â€śTo Doâ€ť lists. They give order to my day, and ensure that I (usually) donâ€™t forget to do what I need to get done on a given day. Plus, thereâ€™s that little rush I get when I cross something off the list. Even if itâ€™s a simple task that Iâ€™ve completed, I have at least a momentary sense of accomplishment and the thrill of seeing the number of things that have to get done lessened â€¦ at least until a few minutes later when I think of something new to add to the list.
I always have lots to â€śdoâ€ťâ€”and Iâ€™m really good at getting things â€śdone.â€ť But often, at the end of the day, itâ€™s not a sense of accomplishment that I feel, but a sense of exhaustion. I may have crossed many items off my â€śTo Doâ€ť list that day, but I already have a whole new list for the next day. And then there are those thingsâ€”really important thingsâ€”that too often havenâ€™t gotten the time and attention that they deserve; things like: hanging out with my kids (not in the car on the way to some activity or errand, but just on the couch); eating a relaxed meal; having an uninterrupted conversation with my husband; relaxing and reading a book; or meditating. These are things that arenâ€™t about â€śdoingâ€ť but simply about â€śbeing,â€ť and on most days I donâ€™t get to all, or sometimes any, of them.
And even worse, sometimes Iâ€™m so busy â€śdoingâ€ť the things on my oh-so-important listâ€”usually something like writing a text or email, or looking something up on my computer, something that involves being â€śconnectedâ€ťâ€”that when one of my kids is talking to me, sensing that Iâ€™m not fully present for them, theyâ€™ll say: â€śAre you listening?â€ť
Iâ€™ll respond half-heartedly: â€śOf course I am,â€ť as I go about my typing.
And then, theyâ€™ll call me on it: â€śWhat did I say?â€ť
â€śUm, I donâ€™t know exactly,â€ť comes my lame response, as my kidâ€™s eyes drop and they walk away.
Sometimes Iâ€™m so busy doing â€¦ and so â€śconnectedâ€ť â€¦ that I become â€śdisconnectedâ€ť from the people that matter the most.
Fortunately in Judaism we have a built-in mechanism that encourages us to â€śdisconnectâ€ť from our phones and other devices so that we can â€śconnectâ€ť with the people that matter to us â€¦ and to our own selves. Itâ€™s Shabbat. Shabbat reminds us of what we truly are: not â€śhuman DOINGSâ€ť but â€śhuman BEINGS.â€ť (For more on the idea that we are â€śhuman beingsâ€ť and not â€śhuman doings,â€ť you can read my blog on The Spirituality of Mindfulness Meditation.)
Observing Shabbat in a traditional manner involves lots of things that one canâ€™t â€śdo.â€ť For example, if youâ€™re Shomer Shabbat (i.e, if you â€śkeep Shabbatâ€ť according to the rules of traditional Jewish law) you donâ€™t drive on Shabbat, or use electricity or make phone calls. Often, I hear people who, like myself, arenâ€™t Shomer Shabbat, say that observing Shabbat in a traditional sense sounds too difficult, perhaps even unpleasant. Most of all, they canâ€™t imagine being â€śunpluggedâ€ť for an entire day.
But honestly, I long for a day of being totally unplugged â€¦ totally â€śdisconnected.â€ť And thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m going to participate in the National Day of Unplugging on March 4-5, 2016.
Why am I so excited about unplugging from Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown? Because if I canâ€™t â€śdoâ€ť things like check my email, texts and voice messages, itâ€™ll force me to put a lot more focus on â€śbeing.â€ť After returning home from Shabbat morning services and lunch at my synagogue on Saturday, Iâ€™ll be able to: spend time hanging out with my husband and kids; read a book; play with my dog; or maybe just take a well-needed nap, not worrying that the sound of my phone ringing will wake me up.
I know it wonâ€™t be easy to spend an entire day totally unplugged â€¦ Iâ€™ll miss that rush of dopamine that I get when I see a new text or email come in. But I also know of the benefits that can come if I resist the cravings to connect to technology for a whole day. And if Iâ€™m lucky, really lucky, I may just be able to sense what the rabbis meant when they spoke of Shabbat as â€śa taste of the World to Come.â€ť
Rather than making a â€śTo Doâ€ť list for the National Day of Unplugging, Iâ€™ve made a â€śTo Beâ€ť list, and hereâ€™s what it says:
Will you join me in unplugging on March 4-5, 2016? Here are some ideas of ways to unplug with your family.
On February 17, after enjoying having my three kids off for four days for Presidentâ€™s Weekend, I was ready for them to return to school, and for me to get a lot of work done. But by 5:45 am I learned that their schools were cancelled because of snow. By 11:30 am, as I was trying to respond to work emails, my daughter Tali was complaining that she was bored and wanted to me to play Rummikub with her. My two sons each had friends over, and all of the boys were playing on various electronic devices.
I wrote down what went through my head for the next ten minutes. Here it is:
Really?Â A snow day after theyâ€™ve been off school for the last four days. Why not just a two hour delay? The streets donâ€™t look so bad. How am I supposed to get my work done today? I have 22 emails to respond to already.Â How on earth could I play Rummikub with Tali now? I feel guilty that I donâ€™t have time to play with her (and it would be fun)â€¦did I really just tell her to go watch TV?
Ugh! Now the phoneâ€™s ringing. Who is it? Oh, itâ€™s my friend. Iâ€™m not picking up. Should I text her that Iâ€™ll call her later? Now I just lost my train of thought. What was I thinking about?
Seriouslyâ€¦there are four boys sitting in the family room all on different electronic devices. My oldest son Benji is watching a movie on his laptop while his friend is playing a game on his phone. My middle son Noah is texting his friends as part of a â€śgroup chatâ€ť (boy do I hate the â€śpingâ€ť sound that goes off every time he receives a textâ€¦didnâ€™t I ask him to disable that sound a hundred times yesterday?) while his friend is texting from his phone. Why do they even bother to have friends over if theyâ€™re not going to interact with each other? Should I make them go sledding outside?
No!Â Theyâ€™re old enough to figure out what to do themselves. And I need to get back to work. Now I have 26 emails in my inbox. Sometimes I feel like my life is just one long to-do list. I feel like that woman in the commercial from when I was a kid who said: â€śCalgon, take me away!â€ť She had lots of chaos at home, and she probably didnâ€™t even have a job. I want to relax in a quiet bath like she did in the commercialâ€¦or at least not have to answer 26 emailsâ€¦and not feel guilty that Iâ€™m not interacting with my daughter and instead sent her to watch TV.
I wish I could just shut down my computer right nowâ€¦and my phoneâ€¦and turn off the TVâ€¦and go take the various devices out of all of the boysâ€™ handsâ€¦.and we could all just hang out and play Rummikub.
OK, I canâ€™t realistically do it right now. But I CAN unplugâ€”and I can encourage my whole family to unplugâ€”as part of the National Day of Unplugging on March 6-7. We already do things differently on Shabbat than we do the other days of the week. I love it that as a family we always say the blessings and have Shabbat dinner on Friday night (no phones at the tableâ€”thatâ€™s one thing I insist on every night!), even if I do have to rush off at 7 pm to get to services at my synagogue. And though itâ€™s not always easy being a family in which both parents are rabbis, I do especially enjoy those Saturdays when my kids and I go to my husbandâ€™s synagogue for services and weâ€™re all together. Wouldnâ€™t it be great if I didnâ€™t use my phone or computer at all on those days? Could I really do that? Not check my email, voice messages or texts, before leaving for services on Saturday morning? And not check them when I get home?Â
I could just put my phone in a drawer Friday before sundown and not take it out until Saturday after sundown. I remember when I went away on a Jewish meditation retreat last year and I had to put my phone away from Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. It felt weirdâ€¦even scary. And refreshing. And nice. It was humbling to realize that everyone I know (in that case even my husband and three kids, because they were home without me) would be just fine without me. And they were. And I had two days to just BEâ€¦to appreciate lifeâ€¦and creation. It was hardâ€¦really hardâ€¦not getting that dopamine rush I get when I get a text or email for two days straightâ€¦not having anything to distract meâ€¦but it was also wonderfulâ€¦really wonderful.
I could recreate that wonderful feeling on the National Day of Unplugging.Â That feeling of being more fully present in the moment.Â Rather than emailing, calling or texting people and making plans for when Shabbat is over, I could be more truly in the moment of Shabbat.Â Rather than playing my favorite game on my phone as a way of relaxing after services, I could finally play that game of Rummikub with Tali.Â And the boys would probably play too.Â We always have a lot of fun when we all play games together.Â And we really donâ€™t do it enough.
But for now, back to workâ€¦.there it goes again, the annoying â€śpingâ€ť letting us all know that Noahâ€™s getting a text. And now I have 35 emails in my inbox. How many more days until March 6th? I donâ€™t need Calgon. For me, it can be â€śNational Day of Unpluggingâ€¦Shabbatâ€¦take me away!â€ť And by â€śtake me awayâ€ť what I really mean is: â€śTake me away from technologyâ€¦and let me be present right where I am.â€ť
Do you plan to unplug on March 6-7? What will you do with your tech-free time?
There are more and more projects sprouting up around the country to encourage people to have Sabbath meals or Shabbat experiences with others. In the non-Orthodox world, many people who grew up with Judaism or are exploring it as adults do not have a Shabbat practice and so it takes programs to support this new practice people are willing to take on. In fact, as we make spiritual promises and resolutions for our new Jewish year, one of my personal goals is to make more frequent and regular my own familyâ€™s Shabbat practice.
Why so much emphasis on â€śdoing Shabbat?â€ť Itâ€™s funny because Shabbat is thought to be a cessation of work and adding Shabbat to your routine does take a little planning and organization. However, whatever input is needed, I think the results will feel worthwhile.
Here are my top 5 reasons for why itâ€™s so important to have Shabbat in our lives:
1. Rest: Shabbat is a Hebrew word that comes from the words for rest, sit and pause. This is an ancient nugget of wisdom which is timeless. If we never get off the merry-go-round we get dizzier and dizzier. Itâ€™s fun for awhile when weâ€™re whirling and twirling and building speed and laughing and getting things done, but eventually we need to slow it down and gain equilibrium and perspective. Pausing on Friday evening or marking a time apart on Saturday can do this for us.
2. Beauty: We need beauty and poetry in our lives. Sometimes the school/work week seems to make us as efficient, robotic, programmed and structured as possible. These qualities are needed to keep schedules intact and to get everything done, like homework and people to where they are supposed to be. Hopefully, the school day or work day does have moments of creativity, new experiences, closeness, nuance, fun, learning and more which is beautiful, but the week as a whole can feel bland and monotonous. Shabbat is beautiful. The glow of the candles is mesmerizing. Communal prayer can be uplifting. The adorned ritual items like a Kiddush cup or challah cover bring art to the table.
3. Perspective: Itâ€™s one thing to say that we should not sweat the small stuff but when so many small things pile up it can feel overwhelming and exhausting. When the car breaks down and you forgot to pack your childâ€™s lunch and your child is having problems with friends at school and you are not seeing eye-to-eye with your co-worker and you need to make the second trip to the pediatrician that week because the first child got strep and now the next oneâ€™s ear hurts and you are sleep deprived, and, and, and, (and sometimes there are big, chronic things we are dealing with) itâ€™s easier said than done to keep perspective.
Shabbat doesnâ€™t take away our troubles. Shabbat doesnâ€™t make the woes of our week go away. But it provides us a respite. Even if your respite is only thirty minutes on Friday evening over dinner when the mood feels different and the rituals and prayers usher in a connection to the Sacred, it helps. This time, however brief, takes you out of your own little bubble and brings you a taste of paradise, of perfection. And if we can store up this feeling, this mood, these images, it sweetens the difficulties we endure. And the messages about creation that are woven through a Jewish Sabbath remind us to help create the world we want to live in.
4. Gateway: There is an idea in Judaism that one mitzvah (commandment: often thought of as ethical and ritual living) leads to another. One mitzvah may encourage us or inspire us to learn about and try out another. The more one observes, the more connected one can be to Judaism, to the People, history and culture. I donâ€™t think more is â€śbetterâ€ť and that there is an ideal way to practice oneâ€™s Judaism. However, I do feel that observing Shabbat reminds us of the rubric Judaism provides throughout the whole week to add order, purpose, social justice and awareness to our lives. If we love taking time to observe a Sabbath, then we may also be inclined to wake up each morning listening to Modeh Ani, a prayer exclaiming oneâ€™s gratitude for the new day. If we live by the rhythm of the Jewish week and usher in some time of observing Shabbat, we may be inclined to observe Jewish holidays and to see how the sonar-lunar calendar connects us with nature and with history and narratives in powerful ways.
5. Intimacy: Maybe itâ€™s because we are tied to our phones, but many of us crave a time when it feels safe to put the phone away for a minute. We use our phones as distractions, as entertainment, as sources of information, as ways to stay connected and as a safety net for knowing what is happening all the time. I for one like to be able to be reached almost all the time. But, I also love having a moment when I donâ€™t need to hold my phone. For me, that moment is Friday night Shabbat.
The way our Friday nights shake down is that our Sabbath consists of the three main prayersâ€”it doesnâ€™t, incidentally, involve dinner most weeks. This is because my kids usually eat early and my husband is a congregational rabbi. He is often preparing for his services and may grab dinner somewhere before he comes home. Also, we are not foodies. I am not a good cook and I donâ€™t enjoy it. I am working all day on Friday and itâ€™s hard for me to get the family dinner piece together with our schedules. See, I sometimes feel a bit defensive about not basing our Sabbath on the Friday night family/friend dinner.
What we do is we light candles, we say Kiddush (Hebrew word meaning holy referring to the prayer over the fruit of the vine; often wine or grape juice), we eat challah and my favorite part is when we bless our children and each other. I take my kidâ€™s head in my hands and I whisper to them my prayer for them. It is specific and spontaneous. I also say Aaronâ€™s blessing to them. The traditional prayer said to sons and daughters is too gender-binary for my family (this is the topic of another blog).Â I look at my partner and we soak each other in, what we have, what we hope for; we breathe. We kiss. We hug each other. It is intimate. When we have friends over, we bless one another with our words and we feel each otherâ€™s actual presence. When you are alone on Shabbat, this last piece especially, may feel sad or distant. It is not good to be alone on Shabbat. This is why Jewish organizations are working hard and putting resources into creating opportunities for people to find one another over Shabbat.
There are many more reasons to do something to mark the Sabbath each week. Among your Jewish New Yearâ€™s resolutions, will adding or creating a Shabbat ritual be among them? If you are not Jewish but you love someone who is Jewish, how does this all feel for you? Let us know what you are thinking about doing or what you already do. When we hear from one another, we get ideas for what we might want to try. Hereâ€™s to opening this ancient gift and making it come alive in ways that work for you.