When did we all get so busy? So very busy. So dreadfully, unhelpfully, exhaustingly, busy…
When I ask people how they are, they usually answer, ‘Good, thanks. Busy but good.’ When they ask me, I usually say the same. I’ve never heard someone say they are busy and good. It’s always busy but good; the implication being that although busyness and goodness aren’t compatible, we’re stoically resigned to soldiering on.
If you think you have no say over how busy you are, check out Séan Levahn’s article ‘Busy is optional’. It’s a good reminder that our busyness isn’t a certainty, it’s an option. It’s also a perception. If you say you’re busy, it has less to do with the events of your day and more to do with your perception of those events. This isn’t to say we don’t get busy some of the time, of course we do. But all of the time? No. The trouble begins when we always feel rushed. When we always do a task with our mind on the next thing to do. When life becomes a relentless trudge through a to-do list that never seems to end.
The monotony of this approach to life is opposed to the wonderful and challenging adventure of self-discovery. We simply cannot discover anything of depth or value if we’re exhausting ourselves with distraction. Or distracting ourselves to exhaustion for that matter!
Essentially, chronic busyness reveals an unhealthy relationship with our time. This is an important relationship to get right and most of us are getting it wrong. To get it right means changing some of the things we do. A good starting place is to stop treating every day as if it’s indistinguishable from another; a twenty-four hour unit of time, with no unique characteristics. This isn’t human, it’s mechanical. Days are different from one another, and when we standardise them we remove an important sense of rhythm from our experience of time. No wonder life can sometimes feel more like a dirge than a symphony. A possible solution to this removal of rhythm involves a practice that is very old, doesn’t cost anything and almost always works. If it were a product it would sound too good to be true. But this isn’t something you can buy, it’s something you can observe. It’s called the Sabbath.
If you’re like me, the Sabbath you’re most familiar with has Ozzie Ozborne as a lead singer. In which case, you might be unfamiliar with what a traditional Sabbath is and why it can be good for you. A day of rest, or Sabbath, is an idea that’s firmly rooted in ancient faith systems, specifically Judaism and the two religions that grew out of it; Christianity and Islam. It’s a specific day to prioritise spirituality above work. In Judaism, this is called Shabbat and begins on sundown Friday and goes through to sundown Saturday. Christians call it the Sabbath and have it on a Sunday. In Islam, the most important prayer of the week is called ‘Jumah’ and is a day where congregations gather together – Friday. It marks the beginning of the weekend and the working week is organised to accommodate it. Buddhism and Hinduism don’t have the same history of a specific rest day, because their narratives of creation are different. Nevertheless, both of these traditions emphasise rest and restoration as essential to spiritual health.
It’s very important that we re-learn the art of resting and relaxing. Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus, and find creative solutions to problems. – Thich Nhat Hanh
Unless your day of rest is connected to specific cultural or spiritual practices, when you rest is less important than ensuring you actually do it. There’s no need to feel guilty if your Sabbath isn’t on a Sunday. For instance, if you work in hospitality it’s unrealistic to take a day of rest when your industry is at its busiest. Similarly, if you’re a shift worker, then weekend penalty rates might be an important part of your household budget. Not working on these days and sitting at home worried about affording rent isn’t restful. It’s stressful. And stress is what we’re seeking to reduce. Take the circumstances of your life into account so you can truly lean into your Sabbath. This is supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be restorative. On the other hand, don’t overcorrect and do absolutely nothing on your rest day. I speak from experience when I say it’s tempting to treat the Sabbath as just another day off. A chance to laze about. On this matter, the late, great, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is reliably eloquent. He describes what makes the Sabbath unique.
We do not strive to do; we are content to be. We are not permitted to manipulate the world; instead, we celebrate it as God’s supreme work of art. – Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
And that, in a well-worded nutshell, is the point. On the Sabbath, let your strivings cease. This day isn’t about you, it’s about your relationship with God (or whatever word you use for God.)
So, you have your day of rest on a Wednesday and you call it ‘Soul Day’. Well done you! What next? How do you spend your day? Well, that’s really up to you. Traditionally, you would abstain from work so that you could focus on God. In more secular language we could say the goal is to abstain from activities that disturb your relationship with the Divine/Higher Power.
Small Steps towards Reverence
What these activities depend on your personality. So ask yourself: ‘What do I do too much?’ Too much booze, too much time looking in the mirror, too much online shopping. The list is, literally, endless. A good start is your phone. Almost all of us could benefit from a break from social media. Taking a digital sabbatical on your Sabbath can help us nurture an appropriate relationship with the amazing technologies we consume to excess. Therefore, observing a day of rest is a great antidote to our modern cult of consumerism. It can help us be happier too because rest is a path that leads towards true happiness. This isn’t my idea, nor is it a new one. It’s the Buddha’s.
Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all. – Buddha
And like all giant trees, we need to start small. Reestablishing a healthy relationship with our time is only a small start – but it’s very powerful. It’s entirely possible to respond ‘Good, thank you’, when we’re asked how we are. No references to being busy necessary! There are other restorative practices you can do to assist this process. These include fasting and feasting, prayer, meditation and serving others. All of which are fascinating practices in their own right.