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Monday, March 30, 2009

Singlutionary's Secular Sabbath

I lived in Utah in my early 20s and I pretty much became as close to being a Mormon as you can get without actually converting. Lots of different religions observe the Sabbath (whichever day it falls on) in a variety of ways. Mormons don't go shopping (or listen to secular music, etc). The concept behind this (which makes a ton of sense if you live in Utah surrounded by Mormons) is that if you're out buying stuff, you're forcing people to work on the Sabbath and nobody should have to work on the Sabbath. Basically, the whole day is dedicated to quiet, restfulness, thoughtfulness, community and (of course) church.

I don't go to church but I have long loved the idea of taking a day off from the world. Our consumer culture is so strong and I am always going full steam ahead on one project or another and running around buying things or working so that I can buy more things so I can do more projects, etc. If I'm not working at a job on Sunday, I'll be working on a project or going on some huge hike which leaves me more tired come Monday. 

Because I am single, its easy for me to keep going full steam ahead all the time and not take time out to just relax and hang out at home without some master productivity plan. I think that coupled people who live together are more likely to enjoy a day around the house doing nothing in particular because they don't have to go anywhere to socialize. Regardless of your coupled or non-coupled status, I am realizing how important observing my secular sabbath is to my mental and physical health!

I advocate for all people (but single work-a-holic types especially) to spend one day a week (whichever day works for you) to be thoughtful, reflective and to enjoy the most simple things in life. I have found that the following guidelines make my secular sabbath more enjoyable and restful not only physically but emotionally and mentally and yes, spiritually was well. Come Monday, I feel truly refreshed and ready to get back to work. You might have different guidelines (if so please comment), these are mine:

1. Plan for a Planless Day. My sabbath is off limits even to social plans. If a friend wants to get together great, he/she can call me when they're ready and just come on over to hang out.
2. Spending Free Day. Not only does this save money but it limits the amount of hustle and bustle in my life and forces me to do simple, quiet things at home and to be imaginative about my activities and/or catch up on reading.
3. Expect Nothing of Myself. I am a very planned, organized, productive person so this is a real challenge for me. I want to make a list of stuff to do like "write a blog, prepare garden for planting, clean the kitchen". There is something to be said for taking a day off from cleaning and chores. Cleaning and chores ARE work. If I am walking through the kitchen and spontaneously wash some dishes, great, that is a bonus, but this is one day where I am not going to shake my finger at myself for having a dirty house!
4. Enjoy the Emptiness. I feel super lazy on Sundays. If I am not intentional about observing my Secular Sabbath, I just get depressed because I don't feel like doing anything and that makes me feel like a looser. But if I just give myself the day off and intentionally only do things that I want to do in the moment I find that I a) surprise myself with the things I do get done and b) am way more productive the rest of the week.
5. Keep it Simple. The best activities for a secular sabbath are simple basic things like: sitting outside in the garden with the dogs, reading a book in bed, watching Big Love on DVD, writing love notes to long distance friends, writing my blog or in my journal, making a nice dinner and inviting a friend over, taking a bath, watering the yard, day dreaming.
6. Keep it Human Powered. This might be left over from my hippie days but I enjoy not using the car for a day. If I want to get out of the house I can walk (or ride my bike if I ever get around to fixing the brakes). Keeping things simple and close to home reminds me to be grateful for my home and to observe the small kingdom that is my neighborhood.

So, fellow Singlutionaries, do you observe a secular (or a not-so-secular) sabbath. What are your guidelines for a simple restful day off? Do you find that observing a secular sabbath enhances your quality of life? What obstacles do you have in setting one day aside to rest and relax? 


Anonymous said...

Oh, I like this idea very much, but feel it is impossible for me, given that my Ph.D. program generally forces me to work work work every moment of every day. If I'm not working, I feel extremely guilty, and I don't know how to change that, at least while I'm working on a semester schedule.

At the end of every semester, though, I take days (several if I can) off, buy junky food and beer, and watch whole seasons of TV shows (my current obsession is The Wire). It's amazingly relaxing b/c it turns my brain off, and at least for a couple weeks I don't have any immediate deadlines.

At the end of this semester, I'm taking two weeks "off" to travel to the UK -- it's a birthday present as well as an end-of-the-semester gift. I'll probably need a TV-show marathon as soon as I get back, though!

-- L

Amy said...

I think I do observe! I used to feel kind of guilty about it, but now I feel validated, esp. since I've learned it has such a super cool name!

My no. 1 guideline will be: I will not feel obligated to grocery shop on the Secular Sabbath.

singal said...

Good luck with learning how to "put your feet up" et al ;-)

I have a suggestion for a different way to call the day .... secular sabbath sounds so formal etc .... and if you repeat it often enough you'll actually learn to call it the new name .....

etc etc

ie. call it what you want it to become - ME-day ... a day devoted to ME and ME alone to do anything I want ....

Also, you said that you become depressed when you do nothing on the "secular sabbath" and you'll "enjoy the emptiness"

You AREN'T doing nothing and emptiness sounds like you are lacking something that you want ... that you're MISSING something - if you call it that then you might just feel bad about it because we've had drummed into us that we have to work work work.

Call it

"Enjoy the quiet" - meaning that your week is always so hectic and frantic that today you will just enjoy peace and quiet - no matter what you want to do. If that's just watching DVD, reading, talking on the phone, sitting in the sun ....

But whatever you do - ENJOY IT. Otherwise it's a waste of time and then you won't have gotten the benefit of taking the time out. Know what I mean?

I could go on-and-on ... but i won't bore you!!! ;-)

Maybe the above will be something you can think about on your next "me-day" ;-) ;-)


i'm assuming that in the US you know that "gal" = young woman/woman??? I absolutely DIDN'T mean sing-petrol gallon!!! ;-)

Purple Turtle said...

I love your post Singlutionary-- when I have a sabbath my week goes so much better. I am trying to figure out how to make it a sabbath since what I do on that day is a lot like what I do on most other days (since I am taking care of the little turtles). Your post got me thinking about how I can do that better...

I like your idea of having the day be intentional and just enjoying the emptiness of no commitments and simple living. It's about remembering a commitment to yourself that you need to rest and to be taken care of...thanks for helping me remember that!

autonomous said...

I totally share the value of planning no plans- a I too have been claiming a so-called secular sabbath for years. Most Sundays I do not shower, drive, shop, or spend money elsewhere. It's for long walks, to read all day, watch dvd's or putter about the garden. Sometimes plans are made but only very selectively- like hiking, horseback riding or barbecues with friends: activities I don't have to clean up for.
Family members and a few friends have chided me as being selfish or tried to guilt me for this one day- But I am merely exercising the right to care for myself on my terms; and I am much better for it.

The Singlutionary said...

I love all these comments! Lisa: I know what you mean, its sorta a new thing that I am able to observe my secular sabbath which is partly why I still enjoy it so much!

In general, I've learned that just because I'm not booked for something doesn't mean that I am available. I can be super busy working on projects around the house and these things are important to me.

For some folks, if they are not working or sleeping they are free to do stuff. this isn't the case for me.

I think it might be expected more that single folks don't need a day to lounge around the house and not engage with the world (because our lives aren't as stressful). But I find that I don't have any forces outside of myself to slow myself down (like a relationship or children). So I have to pace my week all on my own. Secular sabbath helps to anchor my week-- especially when I am not working at a regular job or am self employed!