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Rabbi David Kalb

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The 3,000-Year-Old Secret to Switching Off (for a Switched-On World)

Posted: 11/01/2012 11:36 am

I recently asked a friend of mine who had just returned from Spain what the best part of her trip was, and her answer surprised me. She said she had seen the most amazing thing in Spain. No one in Spain walks down the street holding a cup of coffee.

Spain has a real coffee culture. In other words, not only is the coffee good and varied, but people sit in cafes and enjoy it. Sitting and enjoying is so much a part of the experience that it is fairly difficult to even find disposable cups at a coffee place. In America, it is exactly the opposite. It would be hard to find a regular porcelain cup at most coffee places in the United States. In fact, when I recounted this story to another friend, he wondered what they drink their coffee out of in Spain without disposable cups.

Of course, for Americans, this is not just about coffee -- in fact, it is not really about coffee at all. It is about the fact that we live in a country where it is hard to switch off. To rest. To take a day off. We often work well beyond a "normal" work week. We increasingly have offices in our homes. More importantly, many of us never leave the office in our minds. We are so switched on, we forget to switch off.

There is nothing wrong with loving work. It is good to enjoy our professions and to support our families. However, there is a line that is very easy to cross, where we become servants to our jobs, and not simply because of our employers, but because of ourselves.

For me, one thing has always prevented my becoming a workaholic: Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. I lead a traditional Jewish lifestyle and as part of my observance, from the moment the sun goes down on Friday until it goes down again on Saturday night, ALL work stops. No phone or e-mails. No work-related activities whatsoever.

If it was not for this religious observance, I could easily be drawn into the 24/7 always-on current that tugs at us all. However, by having a Sabbath in my life I am FORCED to stop. It allows me a valuable perspective on life and work. I am closer to my wife, children, and friends. I take time to sit and look out the window, take a walk, talk to people in a way I can not during the week. I do not even look at my iPhone.

Now I am not for a moment suggesting that all Americans engage in the Jewish ritualistic observance of Shabbat. However, I would encourage everyone to choose just one day each week where they are not defined by their work. Just one day to be with family and friends. Just one day to think, to reflect and to relax.

Here are seven simple ideas for having your own "day of rest" this weekend. Do not feel that you have to take on all of my suggestions; feel free to pick and choose. Perhaps you might have other ideas on how to create a day of rest. If you do, please share your ideas with me. Even if you like all of my suggestions, start slowly.

1. Do something to signal the beginning of your Day of Rest. Some kind of act that will transition you from the intensity of your week to the peacefulness of the Day of Rest. Light a candle, burn some incense. Have a glass of wine. Toast one another. Ask each family member to name one thing they are thankful for.

2. Power down: Put away your smart phone for the day. Stay away from computers and tablets. You CAN have a day without phone calls, e-mails and fax.

3. Avoid Media: Try to stay off line, stop obsessively watching and listening to TV and radio. Take a break from being a news junkie and monitoring every change in the market.

4. Travel Differently: Try not to use cars and mass transit. Go for a walk. Take the scenic route when you go somewhere. Experience nature.

5. Read: Do some non-work, non-household-finance reading. Read a book of philosophy or a great work of literature. Think about the kind of reading you did before you were working, before laptops and smart phones, before you had the responsibilities you have today, and go back and do that kind of reading on your Day of Rest.

6. Spend quality time with friends and family. The best way to have quality time is to first have quantity time. The Day of Rest will give you this quantity time so you can transform it into quality time. Have a meal together at home. Have a sing-a-long. Form a book club or a discussion group that meets on your Day of Rest.

7. Sit Quietly: Take some time to sit silently and think. Reflect on what is going on in your life. Look and listen to what's around you. Mediate, engage in introspection or just sit and enjoy the silence.

I would love to hear how your experience goes, so contact me any time -- except between sundown Friday and Saturday, of course! You can reach me at dkalb@92y.org.

 
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