This Week I’m Thankful for Shabbbat

Written last night. Revised later.


It’s finally Shabbat! Which means, we’ve made it to the end of the week and a well deserved day of rest. Earlier today, when my friend asked me what my plans were for the weekend I instantly said “I’ll probably do work”. I meant it too. AND I will do work this weekend – I’m a graduate student with four jobs. Every minute counts.

But, something changed for me once Shabbat arrived. Even though I really didn’t want to I pushed down my social anxieties, got out of bed, put on something presentable, and went to Shabbat at the Brown/RISD Hillel. As I was sitting in services, I realized it was the first time all week that I was truly “present”. It was the first time all week I wasn’t running a to-do list through my head, struggling with my perceived inadequacies, recounting or anticipating a conversation, freaking out about my future, or missing UConn. I didn’t dwell on this realization. Instead, I took a deep breath and ceded to this unintended feeling of community and mindfulness.

As the service went on, I found myself stuck rereading one of the interpretations in the prayer book.

“How wise is our tradition to command us to seek rest on Shabbat, and what joy it is for our souls to be refreshed.” 

I read that quote over and over and I kept flipping back to the page to sneak another glance. In most situations, I’m looking forward to what’s next and because of this I usually don’t even acknowledge and appreciate the steps I took to get where I’m currently standing. This is one of the reasons I’m purposely so busy; there’s always something to accomplish next. That’s probably why I never really thought about “resting” as a Jewish value or as a “wise” action. This called for some re-framing!

During the High Holidays I’ve been challenged to reflect, repent, and return to my faith and my Jewish communities both near and far. In the midst of all the change and all the seemingly urgent obligations in my everyday life, I once again, found solace in the familiarity of  the Jewish community.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the paramount theme of returning that we discuss on the High Holidays and how it relates to life. Here’s some background. This past year, I had to learn an important lesson: we cannot know for certain where we’ll be or what we’ll be doing one minute, hour, day, month, or year from now. For example, a year ago I was SURE I’d be going to graduate school at UConn. Some things don’t work out as we’ve planned. Over the course of a year, we may gain some direction in some facets of our life but I think overwhelmingly we’ll miss the mark or end up more lost. This theme of returning, in Judaism we call it teshuvah,  helps us recenter our aspirations and actions. As I struggled to really apply this concept and wrap my head around it, I considered the paradox that sometimes we need to get lost to find ourselves. During the time of the High Holidays we are invited to be self aware, to grapple with our missteps, and recognize or take responsibility for where we went wrong – where we got lost. By evaluating our actions we can return to daily life better prepared for the unpredictable year ahead.

As I was walking home tonight, I was reminded of a favorite poem by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel we used to read each Shabbat at camp.

Tonight is a time to catch our breath.
Whatever we have been doing, making, working, creating
Tonight we pause to catch our breath.

No matter how necessary our work, how important to the world, how urgent that we continue it;
No matter how joyful our work, how fully and profoundly human;
No matter how flawed our work, how urgent that we set it right;
No matter how hard we have worked to gather our modest fame, our honorable livelihood, our reasonable power

Tonight we pause to catch our breath.

So, as I walked with these words in my thoughts I tried desperately (but not anxiously) to recover all the lost breaths and stockpile enough for the upcoming week, metaphorically of course. And as I kept walking (and breathing and thinking) I contrasted this poem with a post I recently shared with my friend from The Belle Jar called “Fuck Busy”. When I shared this insightful, spot on post with her I wrote, “Have you ever read something that is so eerily accurate and it’s like the internet is a mirror?”  [Side note: It’s a great post and I could comment about it for days!]

Here’s the brief version: I know that for me, “busy” is a defense mechanism. If I schedule every minute of every day then I’ll know exactly what to expect. I’m a planner. That’s what happens when you have OCD (for me). I like routines. I like to be able to  anticipate each interaction and mange my time “efficiently”. I realize this is a direct contradiction to what I said earlier, but it speaks to why that lesson was so difficult and necessary for me to learn.

Anyway, I did this busy thing so well in college that I managed to graduate knowing almost nothing about myself other than that I am a hard worker and I am really good at time management. I started to attribute those qualities to my self worth. I found it easy to ignore anything about my life that wasn’t ultimately “productive”.  So, I have a great answer for an interview question some day and some excellent evidence to back it up.

I stay busy intentionally to avoid being “stuck in my head”. I structure my time so I don’t have time to think about me. Which is likely why I struggle each day with impostor syndrome and still can’t attribute my successes to my experience or qualifications (more on this later).  You can probably imagine then how strange it might have been tonight at Shabbat to find myself in a situation that didn’t go as planned but that also wasn’t terrible or accompanied by “flooding”. In the moment  it was really refreshing. Later, I’m definitely overthinking it. [reasons I had to revisit this post the next morning :p]

Part of this project is to become more attuned to myself. The goal is to explore things that make me uncomfortable and rather than avoid the impending discomfort, accept it and learn something. So far, it hasn’t been easy. And, the more I think about what I want to write about and tackle next the more my thoughts race. If you’re sill reading and if you’re wondering where I’m going with all this. I’m getting there. I promise.

So, Shabbat tonight was in the plan but feeling comfortable, happy, mindful, and relaxed was definitely not. I expected to sit through services and watch the clock. I expected to leave quickly after dinner to get back to doing homework, to feeling “productive”. I expected to feel self conscious the entire time and anxious about the conversations I was having. That didn’t happen. Instead, I smiled and took more deep breaths than I have in the last three months. Which is why, when we were asked during dinner to share one thing we’d do differently in the next week I said, “I’m going to try to be intentional about taking time for me”.

I don’t know how it will turn out. I may be totally overwhelmed. I may shut down. I may face more perceived inadequacies. I may make myself so busy so I do not even try it at all. I may like it.

Taking time for me is something I want to be comfortable with not forced to do or reminded about. Too often friends and mentors have uncomfortable conversations with me about “self care”. I’ve been reluctantly having these conversations since middle school. I think moving forward I’ll be more inclined to practice self care once I gain more self-awareness and move into the acceptance and action stages of knowing myself and my needs. Which means, in the coming weeks I’ll likely need to slow down and reprioritize myself in my list of obligations.

I think I’ll start with recognizing and appreciating Shabbat, a built in day of rest and reflection. See how that all comes together?


I touched on a lot here and I realized I didn’t fully unpack most of it. I’ll come back to many of these topics and explore them more as I get more comfortable. Stay tuned! 

 

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