Imagine a young woman whose leg is injured. She walks with a limp. Though she puts in effort, it seems as if her leg will never fully heal. Eventually, she gives up trying. But, what if one day each week her leg was healed? For that one day her limp is gone. She would never give up hope because she would know it is possible to walk straight.
In Jewish tradition, Shabbat - the day of rest and spiritual refreshment - is meant to offer a taste of a world that is whole. Classically, on Shabbat, Jewish practitioners cultivate a mindset that the world is complete and unbroken. Shabbat is a time of celebration, gratitude, and delight - just the way things should be!
This practice, traditionally observed on Saturday, is also understood as a state of mind that can be accessed at any time. This "Shabbat Consciousness” is a state of joy, relaxation, presence, and deep appreciation. It is a counterbalance to "Weekday Consciousness,” in which we not only acknowledge the fractures and struggles of our world, but we actively engage in their repair. Anyone who is teaching, healing, building, or otherwise contributing to society is in the workday mentality of maintaining or improving our world.
Indeed, our lives need both work and rest. Shabbat and Workweek Consciousness form a balanced pair, each one contributing to the other. Our rest is all the more delicious after we strive towards necessary tasks. Our work is that much more focused and inspired after taking a pause to reflect on and cherish what we have created.
But, what happens when we get stuck in weekday consciousness? What happens when we do not know how to stop fixing the brokenness or cannot bring ourselves to look away from the problems of the world? What if the news cycle or social media scrolling keep us worried, sleep-deprived, or feeling badly about who we are and what we have?
In these all-too-common scenarios, we become people who walk with a limp without experiencing what it means to be whole. The non-stop Workweek Consciousness causes burn-out and overwhelm. Our work becomes futile and hopeless - or at least less effective - because we are not pausing to take a dip in the waters of satisfaction. We do not taste the fruits our labour, choosing to remain in the vigilance and concern of the world which needs mending.
Since moving to Victoria in early 2020, I have been awe-struck at the natural beauty of this city and of the surrounding areas. When I find myself overwrought with work or unneeded information, all I have to do is walk outside or take a trip to a nearby beach or forest. I leave my phone behind and immerse in a world that is whole, just as it is. There are other ways to find appreciation and rest, but our south island ecosystem is an overflowing wellspring.
If you find yourself in a harried state, here are a few tips to find inner peace based on Jewish practice:
1. Find physical delight - a bath, a tasty meal, a refreshing nap - bodily contentment leads to mental ease.
2. Spend time with people who make you feel wonderful (and stay away from people who do not!).
3. Take alone time, especially in nature.
4. Avoid media devices. Even apps that make you happy easily lead to work e-mails or unwanted information.
5. Mark the beginning and end of this time in a meaningful way such as with candles, incense, or song.
May you find rest, may you find balance, may you find peace!
Rabbi Matthew Ponak is a scholar of Jewish mysticism, a musician, and a teacher of embodied transformation. His courses, one-on-one sessions, and contemplative singing events are open to people of all backgrounds. Rabbi Matthew received ordination through the pluralistic Rabbinical School of Hebrew College where he focused on the study of Kabbalah and Hasidic spirituality. He holds an MA in Contemplative Religions from the Buddhist-inspired Naropa University and is a Certified Focusing Professional who helps people explore the wisdom of the body. His 2016 album Bridges of Song contains traditional and original nigunim [wordless melodies] with bluegrass instrumentation. Together with his wife, Melina Ponak, Rabbi Matthew is currently creating a forum to share the spirit of Jewish innovation more widely
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, August 21st 2021
Photo by Denis Agati on Unsplash