Many spiritual traditions include a day of rest or sabbath, a day to unplug from the outside world of work and the attitude of “doing”, “accomplishing”, and consuming and turn inward toward reflection, introspection, and replenishment. Viewing the world through the lens of transitions, the sabbath is the fallow or liminal time between the active, outward days of the rest of the week.
Coming from a Jewish tradition but not raised religiously, I’ve always been aware of Shabbat – which begins on Friday at sundown and ends on Saturday at sundown – but until the last few years I’ve never observed it. Like many people, my interest in creating a spiritual community catapulted when I had my first baby, but until I connected to Rabbi Tirzah Firestone I felt lost as to how to discover and live out a Judaism that would feel right for me and our family (especially given that my husband is not Jewish).
As I learned more about Shabbat, I wanted to find a way to incorporate it into our weekly ritual but I couldn’t figure out how to slow down and unplug with a child around. My friend Lisa, who lives in California, and I would have long discussions about the apparent contradiction between Shabbat and mothering; it seemed an oxymoron to say the two words in the same sentence. Of course we both longed to spend Saturdays in quiet retreat, reading spiritual texts, taking long solitary walks where we could commune with nature in silence, and turning entirely inward. But how to do that with chatty, needy, active children around was beyond us. Then one day it occurred to me that, while impossible to put my kids on freeze-frame so that I could take a 24-hour retreat, I could unplug from the tasks that divide me and take me outside myself: namely, I could unplug from technology.
The first time I unplugged was in May 2007. It was such a small act – to shut down my computer (not sleep mode but a full shut down) and pull the plug out of the wall – but the effects didn’t feel small at all. Almost immediately, I could feel the redirection of energy from outward to inward. I could feel more time, space, and silence enter our house. With the two Shabbat candles brightly illuminating our table, I decided to write by their light with a pen and an actual paper journal after my son went to sleep. How revolutionary it felt to physically write by candlelight! No light bulbs. No keyboards. No intrusion of electricity. It was much slower, of course, but the slowness matched the pace of my thoughts. Or perhaps my thoughts began to match the pace of the slowness. Either way, I could feel my body and then my soul coming into alignment with the natural pace of a human life.
It’s this slower pace that is so lacking in our culture and the absence of which inhibits people from aligning themselves with the necessary emotional states that move a transition gracefully through. Simply put, when we move quickly and fill up every available time slot in our days and weeks, we distract ourselves from feeling. We buy, we make lists, we pay bills, we attend to our children, we blog, we work. In a small word, we do. When we redirect the doing energy into a being energy we immediately slow down. And when we slow down, the feelings that are pushed aside have room to surface. This is a good thing. For in order to transition from one stage of life to the next – whether it’s becoming a wife/husband, becoming a mother/father, or moving into a new house or a new week – we need time to slow down enough to feel our feelings, to acknowledge the grief associated with the sacrifices, to relinquish that which is no longer serving us. Only then can the rebirth of inner spring naturally occur.
Although I’ve been unplugging one day a week for almost three years, it’s still sometimes difficult to make the decision to do so; there’s almost always a reason why my active mind thinks I need to stay connected to the Internet. But after we light the candles and say our prayers, I close out my files, bookmark any important websites, press “shut down,” and pull the plug from the wall. As I felt the first time I did it, the effects are immediate. For while I do miss the convenience of a computer, what I gain is a connection to the slower pace of being. If I want to write, I write by hand – and how good it feels to put my pen to paper! I write so much on the computer sometimes I think I’d forget how to write by hand without this weekly practice. If my son asks the meaning of a word, I look it up in an actual dictionary. Carrying the big blue Webster’s (that I’ve had since high school) down from the shelf and flipping through the feathery thin pages brings a different, richer experience to learning a new word.
Sometimes it takes several hours for my psyche to slow down. But usually by about lunchtime of the next day, I notice that I’m noticing the world around and within me with greater acuity. I notice the redness of the tomatoes I’m slicing for lunch. I arrange the turkey and vegetables and crackers on the plate with more attention and artistry. I sit and nurse my baby without thoughts of work life, knowing that with the computer shut down the majority of my work life is shut down as well. And in the quiet, inward state, I notice how miraculously and deliciously small his hands are. A dream rises up from my unconscious, one that I would have surely forgotten had I not slowed down. I see, with undivided attention, the nuthatch and the flicker landing on our bird feeders.
I realize that these are the meditations of motherhood. With a 5 1/2 year old and nearly one year old around, life remains plenty noisy and full on Shabbat. But with my mind turned inward, I see it and respond to it differently. I notice, I cherish, I drop fully into the fullness of mothering my boys in a way that often precludes me the rest of the week.
I believe it was Reb Zalman, the great sage and rabbi who initiated the Jewish Renewal movement, who said that to observe Shabbat – or any form of Sabbath – is a revolutionary act. I couldn’t agree more. How many people take a day to stop, to do nothing, to be as non-productive as possible, to be? Just the simple act of unplugging our computers would have a global energy effect if everyone did so on the same day. A worldwide mental and physical unplugging would result in a global emotional transformation as well.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., is regarded as an international expert in transitions. In 1998 she pioneered the field of bridal counseling and has since counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, “The Conscious Bride” and “The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner,” and her websites, www.consciousweddings.com and www.consciousmotherhood.com. She has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Phone and Skype sessions available internationally for all types of transitions.