As a kid, there was no mistaking when Sunday rolled around. Sunday was so clearly different than any other day. The morning began early, but was quiet and subdued. The day moved on a special schedule, with a cadence and rhythm all its own. The day was slower, quieter, calmer. The day was sacred.
But, somewhere and somehow, between then and now, things changed. Weekends have become about chores and errands, laundry and grocery shopping, emails and work projects. Since I do most of my freelance work while the kids are sleeping or otherwise occupied, Sunday is just another workday for me, which is exacerbated by my addiction to technology and social media. My iPhone is rarely out of arm's reach so that I can read and respond to emails quickly, monitor any earth-shattering Facebook news, and generally be ready just in case something comes up.
As a result, each day tends to morph into the next without any designated time for personal restoration or any intentional effort to re-center. Part of this is due to the fact that my husband and I are raising two young children. Gone are the days of sleeping in and lazy brunches and long, quiet walks, but even aside from the Groundhog Day repeating quality of life that comes with young children, as my Sundays became busier, as they became filled with activities and outings and chores, my entire week lost a certain purity and I lost a sense of connection -- to family, to self, to the divine -- as a result.
A couple of months ago, I set out to regain this lost connection and sacred simplicity by instituting a personal Shabbos/Sabbath one day each week when I would turn off to tune in. A time to disconnect from work and technology in order to reconnect with family and friends. It is a time to look inward, rather than reaching outward. A time to focus on what I have, instead of searching for something new. A time to quiet the external noise so that I can hear my own powerful voice.
During this 24-hour period, I don't email, text, turn on my cell phone, surf the web, turn on the computer, work, shop (including grocery shopping), do chores, or watch television. Instead, the day includes rest, music, church, time outdoors, intentional prayer or meditation, personal writing, time alone, sitting still, reading, and focused time with family.
While Shabbat or Sabbath are longstanding religious traditions for Jews and Christians, a deliberate decision to periodically "turn off to tune in" is something that transcends religious practices, something from which everyone benefit. In fact, I think "turning off to tune in" might just be what we are longing for in our collective soul.
We have become a society that is dependent on instant gratification. Want to know how to make strawberry-rhubarb pie? Google it and you will find thousands of recipes NOW. No need to pull out Grandma's old recipe book and decipher her stratchy handwriting. Want to listen to the latest Vampire Weekend album? You can download it NOW. No need to trek to the record store. Want to know whether you should where a sweater today? Check your Weather Channel App and find out the temperature NOW. No need to step outside and feel the air. Want to check in with a friend? Send a quick text NOW. No need to spend time sending a card or writing a letter.
We have also become a society that relies on technology to numb our stress and anxieties. Had a rough day at the office? Turn on the television and watch the Real Housewives of Wherever. Angry at someone? Exacerbate your frustrations by playing violent video games. Family coming over for dinner? Make sure the football game is on.
Technology allows us to fulfill our wants and needs NOW, and that isn't always a bad thing. If you're lost on the way to a baby shower, Siri or Google Maps can safely lead you there. And technology also fosters communication, allowing us to more easily stay in touch with one another. But a constant reliance on technology to do everything RIGHT NOW has the potential to feed our impatience and self-importance; an over-reliance on technology as a means of communication has the potential to trivialize our relationships; and the use of technology as a coping mechanism to numb our emotions has the potential to prevent personal growth and development.
Don't get me wrong, technology is a wonderful and useful tool, provided that it is used in an appropriate and healthy way. And I'm afraid that my over-reliance on technology has resulted in an unhealthy dependency that has hindered personal connection and internal consciousness. By unplugging for one day each week, I am trying to balance the utility and urgency of technology with a little delayed gratification and patience, trying to slow down time a little bit, trying to remember that life unfolds on a timetable that is not always in my control.
Turning off for one day each week is not without its challenges, however. It requires preparation and commitment, along with a fair amount of willpower. Knowing that I won't work on Sunday means that the remaining six days are a little busier, chores can't be saved for the last possible minute, and my husband and I need to communicate in advance any household, work or family obligations.
But, one of the most difficult side effects of unplugging is the forced time with my own thoughts, feelings, and emotions. By removing distractions, sitting still, and clearing internal space, difficult situations and an uncomfortable feelings can't be covered up. They must be confronted, dealt with, and I am slowly learning to become comfortable with my own discomfort in order to gain a certain depth of self-awareness and figure out how to work through, not around, problems.
All in all, a technology break opens up far more experiences and activities than it eliminates. Communication is more intentional and authentic than the one-sided (and often showy) declarations that are so prevalent on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. Conversations can linger and are spurred by what is in our hearts, instead of what has caught our eye on the television. Time is made available to read, slowly walk through the neighborhood, or take nap. My children's laughter is louder, a friend's support feels more sincere, and my own voice becomes more recognizable. Ideas can be molded, shaped, and solidified before they are acted upon. Sunsets are more spectacular, birds' chirping is more melodic, a cool breeze is more refreshing.
And, perhaps best of all, by "turning off to tune in," I feel like I have almost captured time in a bottle, that I have stopped the frenetic pace of my life. For there is a slowing of time in the stillness and the quiet and the waiting.
Until my 24-hour technology moratorium is over, that is. Then I'm reaching for my iPhone faster than any high-speed internet connection.