There are many strategies for counteracting this type of chronic stress. We can work on time management. We can practice mindfulness, which on one level is just reminding yourself that you are not being chased by a tiger. We can make sure that we remember to breathe, to savor moments, go on vacation.
An additional tool that I have found to have a very profound effect on my serenity and ability to deal with life’s challenges is keeping the sabbath.
The idea has largely fallen out of favor in modern times, although it is a sacred principle in many religious and philosophical traditions. The basic concept is that if we allow ourselves time to rest and renew, to really unplug from daily pressures and set aside time only for nourishing ourselves, for connecting with ourselves, our community, and Spirit, then we have much more energy available rest of the week.
A few years ago I worked in a Jewish Renewal retreat center. Keeping the day of rest was one of the important traditions at the center. I kinda liked the idea. I even bought a book. BUT WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT?! I thought someday maybe I would try it.
The following year my New Year’s meditation really showed me that I was feeling so over scheduled that I was never really present for anything. I was always worried about getting to the next thing. My burnout was clearly affecting my ability to be useful. A conversation with a Catholic friend about the nature of Lent sparked an idea. My friend explained that Lent is not so much about arbitrarily giving something up as it is to get rid of that which is standing in the way of your relationship with the Divine for a trial period.
I decided to try keeping the Sabbath for Lent, for 6 weeks. It’s a nice manageable length of time. I didn’t have to commit to doing something for the rest of my life. And because I’m neither Jewish nor Catholic, I could make up my own rules.
My first rule was no clocks and no appointments for a 24 hour period each week. Since cooking is a spiritual act for me I didn’t want to ban it. I would often have friends over for dinner. I decided I did like the Jewish tradition of taking a bath and then lighting candles to make a distinct line between mundane and sacred time.
This was before smart phones and crazy internet, but I think today I would have a digital detox rule – no facebook, no email, no youtube, no texting.
So what did I do? Woke up slowly. Enjoyed not having any specific goals. Took walks and naps. Read a lot. Talked to friends. Sometimes I would scrub the bathtub in a mindful, Zen sort of way, meditating on the circular movement of my hands and the scrub brush. I sat by the fire. I slowed down.
After a few weeks I began to notice that I didn’t feel so hurried the rest of the week. My schedule hadn’t changed. I still had all the same obligations on my time and energy. But because I had allowed myself to jump off the hamster wheel for 24 hours, it wasn’t stressing me as much anymore. I knew that busyness wasn’t my whole life. That there was time for something different.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, in this article, says that days of rest “are times of release from attachments and habits, addictions and idolatries.” One of my biggest attachments and addictions is to the idea that if I just go harder and push more I will be able to accomplish everything. Keeping a Day of Rest, taking time to just be, makes my doing much more effective, and also helps me remember what my true priorities are. I invite you to give it a try.