The practice of Sabbath is typically thought of by most of us as a specifically religious practice designated for people who are members of particular denominations. But there are mental health advantages to consecrating a time each week for rest, renewal, and delight. Sabbath is more than the absence of work; it is not just a day off when we catch up on television or errands. It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of our time for listening to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true to us. It is a time to set our attention and our minds for honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us.
TRANSCRIPT: Sabbath for Mental Health
Hi everyone, welcome to Thanks for Sharing. I’m your host, Jackie Pack. So today’s episode I’m going to get a little bit real and share some struggles I’ve been having as of late, and I also want to introduce you to a book I first read, I don’t know maybe five or six years ago was the first time that I read it, and just current circumstances have me circling back to that book.
So a couple of weeks ago, I was on Facebook, it was evening, I was home, I was in bed, and normally I will say I’m the kind of person who I rarely have sleep issues. When I was in high school or maybe junior high, people would ask me, like even sometimes in my adult life if I was in a situation and people would ask me, what’s something that you do well, I would typically respond and say I sleep really well, regardless of what’s going on around me or the stress that I’m maybe dealing with, when it comes time for me to go to sleep, I fall asleep, and I stay asleep, and I don’t wake up until the next morning when I’m ready to wake up. So that’s always been something that really I have not had issues with.
Now there was one time in grad school, it was before my first semester break, and it was the week of finals, so this is kind of when I’m getting the feedback for the first time from grad school, and I had a very restless night and kind of kept waking up throughout the night, worried that I was going to miss my alarm clock and not take my finals.
So there was that time in grad school, and then with the birth of my fourth child, she was born around 4 weeks early, about a month early, and when she was born, she had an infection, and they kept her in the NICU, so I was in the hospital, obviously because I gave birth to her, and stayed… I think they let me stay an extra day, so probably stayed around three days, and then it was time for me to discharge, and my baby was staying at the hospital. So I went home to my 3 kids. The oldest would have been 7 at that time, so I had… they were busy ages and demanded a lot of my time and attention, and then I had this baby in the NICU that I was worried about, so again there was one night when she was in the NICU, I think it actually was the first or second night that I was home from the hospital and just had a hard time falling asleep.
Then I would say the third time that I had sleep issues was the night that my mom passed away. We had assembled… she passed away later afternoon, my siblings and I had gotten together at the hospital, and when we left, it was dark outside, it was December, so we left around 7, 7:30 I want to say, and I had a hard time falling asleep that night. Just kind of my brain was going over the images and the day events, all that kind of stuff.
So there were three times that I could count where I had had issues over my lifetime with sleep, and I just turned 50 in May, so in 50 years, I can recall three times that I had sleep issues, and those were pretty big events that I had sleep issues over. And then 2020 came and COVID-19 hit, and I don’t know what happened, but I had a hard time sleeping. I had a hard time falling asleep. I had a hard time staying asleep. It wasn’t unusual for me to finally kind of drift off to sleep 2, 2:30 in the morning and be up like wide awake by 5, and that is just not common for me, and it kept happening day after day or actually night after night, week after week, I just was having sleep issues, and I could not figure out what that was about.
So I started a routine to try to help with sleep and kind of get more into like a relaxation routine before I went to bed, and that helped off and on. I would have weeks where my sleep was just normal, and I felt like I was somewhat getting back to normal, if there’s a normal in this year of 2020. So a couple of weeks ago, like I was saying, I was in bed, it was time to go to sleep. My husband was asleep, and I was laying in bed watching Facebook, which by the way, is not helpful if you’re trying to fall asleep. Getting on your phone or especially scrolling through social media is never helpful in getting yourself to go to sleep. I’ll just say that upfront, and I knew that before I was doing this, but I was doing this. I had worked a full day at work. It was a long day, and I just thought, I’m just going to get on here and catch up with what’s been happening today in the world of news and my Facebook friends’ lives.
There was a post by somebody that I know here locally, in my profession, and I just felt like what they had posted was somewhat sexist, and a lot of times I practice social media rules like if I don’t know them well, I’m not going to call them out on their post. I don’t know what was happening. I blame the fact that it was like 1:30 in the morning actually. So I made a comment on this person’s post, and they happened to also be awake and reply, and over the course of like the next hour, there were several comments going back and forth, and it was like me and maybe four males who were telling me how this post was definitely not sexist, and I kept saying, I’m trying to see your point of view, but can you see my point of view? I think it is.
So then just that whole event kind of stirred me up, and here it is 3:00 in the morning, and I’m not asleep, and there is no news happening on any social media sites, and I need to be falling asleep, and I can’t turn my brain off. So I finally eventually fell asleep, still woke up next morning, normal time, about 6, 6:30ish, woke up to get ready to go to work, and when I woke up the next morning, I had some time because I still woke up kind of early and had time before I had to really be up and getting ready for work, and I started thinking to myself, what happened last night? First of all, I should not have been on social media at 1:30 in the morning. Secondly, I should not have been commenting on somebody’s post at 1:30 in the morning. Those are two of my rules. And then I just started thinking, and what else is going on with me? Because why would I break two of my social media rules in one night, and why am I not getting to sleep? I thought I had kind of fixed that issue.
So I started thinking, I need to get off social media. I need to have even more rules around social media because this is a crazy year, and this is crazy times, and the rules that I’ve had up until 2020 are not sufficient. So I talked to a friend the next day and kind of told her the situation about what was happening, kind of rehashed why I did feel in fact it was sexist and I was right, and just kind of said I don’t think I can be on Facebook. I need to stay off, and then thinking to myself, just really off of social media, and I thought well I do post stuff for my business a couple of times a week on Instagram and on Facebook, and I have a coaching group that I’m doing, and actually that’s through Facebook which I am starting to re-think. Is there a better platform to be on? Although I have kept some good rules since that episode in the middle of the night or in the early morning hours, I’ve kept some rules about when I get on Facebook, I just go right to that page, post what I need to, read the comments, interact as I need to, so that I don’t get caught up in the vacuum that is social media.
And then I also thought, you know, it’s probably also not a good idea to start… I usually wake up in the morning, I check my email, and then I just kind of spend maybe 5 to 7 minutes usually is my limit that I spend scrolling through Facebook before I get out of bed and get in the shower and stuff, and I thought maybe that’s not the best way to start my day. Most of the time I do start my day with some news, but maybe given the current circumstances, that isn’t the best way to start my day, and then yeah, usually after work I spend some time scrolling through social media, reading some of the online newspapers and stuff like that, and I thought again, maybe not the best way to bookend my day. It might be causing some problems to wake up and do this and then to do this before I go to sleep. Maybe this isn’t helping my life.
So I went to work that day thinking it through. Like I said, I talked to a friend about it, and I came home that night from work, and all of the books that I have that are like daily readings or daily affirmation books, they all came home with me that day from work, and I was like, okay I’m going to keep these books on my nightstand, maybe in the nightstand because I really don’t like stuff sitting on my nightstand, and then I pulled my journal out, which I haven’t been writing in my journal for a while, so I pulled my journal out, had my books that I was going to read. I actually ordered 2 more books and put them in my nightstand by my bed so that in the morning, I can do a reading, and in the night, maybe I can circle back to what I had read and just write a short little thought about it or some type of experience that I had with what I read in my journal and that this would help me kind of get out of the funk and the angsty energy that I was being sucked into with social media and some of the news stories, and maybe be more intentional and more aware of the energy that I’m bringing into my life and that I’m putting out from my being.
So a couple of the books that I have, I have “Days of Healing, Days of Joy” which is daily meditations for adult children. I also have “Let Go and Be Free” which is 100 daily reflections for adult children of alcoholics. That one is one that I ordered off of Amazon. It usually ships within 5 days, unlike the 2-day Prime. I also have “Believing in Myself: Daily Meditations for Healing and Building Self-Esteem.” I also have “The Book of Awakening” by Mark Nepo, and then the book that I circled back to is called “Sabbath” and it’s by Wayne Muller, and the subtitle is “Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives.”
Now when I first was introduced to this book, like I said it was maybe 5 or 6 years ago, it was the subtitle, “Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives” that immediately caught my attention, and whatever was happening, I could probably piece it together, but whatever was happening in my life when this book came on my radar, that subtitle spoke to me, and I was like, yes! I need rest, I need renewal, and I need delight. That would be amazing. So I bought the book, I read the book. I actually listened to the audio book, which by the way is read by the author, and I have to tell you I think my favorite was listening to the book read by the author, Wayne Muller, because he has such a great voice for an audio book, and just listening to his voice read the words of the book brought me rest and brought me a sense of renewal, and was somewhat delightful I will say.
So this book talks about the Sabbath, and he doesn’t get real religious or specific to any type of religion. He talks about different types of religion throughout the book and how they practice Sabbath, but he really is talking about the Sabbath is a day of rest. It’s a day of renewal, and it’s a day of bringing delight into our lives, and that could be practiced within a religious organization if you want to do it that way, but it also doesn’t necessarily need to belong to any type of religious affiliation. Now when I was getting on Amazon and looking for a couple of new books since I didn’t have enough.
I will say my kids and my husband kind of joke with me because two of my collections are books and snarky t-shirts. That tends to be what I collect, and a couple of years ago we were cleaning out our closet, and I have these two stacks, pretty good stacks of folded t-shirts on my shelf, and my husband was like, hey do you think you could maybe go through some of those and donate some of them? And I went through all of them, and they all brought me delight and they all made me smile. I folded them all back up and said no, I love every single one of them. So I do have a collection of snarky t-shirts, along with the books that I collect.
So when I was on Amazon looking for more books, I found that Wayne Muller actually has a second book that I of course added to my cart and ordered, and it’s called “A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough.” So I am waiting for that one to come, and I’ll add it to my rotation of books that I am reading from in the morning and before I go to bed at night.
So from the book “Sabbath,” the author says, “A successful life has become a violent enterprise. We make war on our own bodies, pushing them beyond their limits; war on our children because we cannot find enough time to be with them when they are hurt and afraid and need our company; war on our spirit because we’re too preoccupied to listen to the quiet voices that seek to nourish and refresh us; war on our communities because we are fearfully protecting what we have, and we do not feel safe enough to be kind and generous; war on the earth, because we cannot take the time to place our feet on the ground and allow it to feed us, to taste its blessings, and give thanks.”
I just love his description of what a successful life has come to entail, and as you read through that as I just did, to me it’s very clear that what occupies our time and our energy and our attention are not the things that bring us rest, renewal, and delight, and do not call out our better selves. When I read this book, I’m trying to think, how old would my oldest have been? Maybe around 14. So my youngest would have been around 7, and he has some great suggestions in the book about things that you could do as a couple or as an individual or as a family on this day of Sabbath to kind of make it stand out from the rest of the days in terms of how this day feels.
So one of the things we did… I had gone to, I would say it was a training, it wasn’t necessarily for my field, but it was definitely maybe like a self-exploration, self-improvement kind of thing that I had gone to, and while we were there, we had an experience where we did some sage burnings and kind of set intentions, every day we kind of set intentions of what we wanted. I did really good journaling during that time period of what I was learning and what I was uncovering about myself and what insight and awareness and growth I was having.
So that was something when I was reading this book, it reminded me of that experience that I had had not that long before I was introduced to this book, and so that was something that I started to do with my kids, and I’m just telling you right now, they loved it, and we would do kind of the sage burning, and we would bless each other, and my kids absolutely ate that up, being able to bless our backs with the burdens that we carried throughout the week and the front part of our body for the things that we would be facing during this week, and just different things, and it was just kind of nice. We would sit on the basement floor… it wasn’t like cement or anything, but we had a finished floor, and we would sit down there in a circle as a family and we lit a candle, which my kids always loved candles. If candles were part of any type of ritual we were doing, they were mesmerized.
So we would light candles, and it was a little bit darker downstairs, and we would just talk about maybe what we had or what we had experienced the previous week and what was coming up in the next week, and just had this opportunity to maybe reflect and rejuvenate and hear from each other what was going on, and one of the things I remember about the book that he talked about… so he was talking about in the Jewish tradition of Sabbath, which starts from if I’m remembering correctly, it starts like at sundown on Friday and then ends at sunup on Sunday. Is that correct? The book’s at my office, so I didn’t have that to reference and make sure.
So he was talking about how we had to tether kind of this beginning and ending of Sabbath to something that we didn’t control. So sundown was something that we couldn’t beg the sun to give us a few more minutes. We couldn’t beg the sun for 30 more minutes, and it was just something that like happened. It was outside of our control, and we went with that. We allowed that to happen, kind of signaling this letting go of control and accepting the time as it was.
When I read that it reminded me of my mom. My mom was a schoolteacher. My mom also always had to be doing something. She was just a busybody, and I remember as kids sometimes we would be sitting down to watch a movie and we’d say, mom can we please watch the movie with the lights off? Because we always had to watch movies with the lights on because my mom was grading papers or doing something to prepare for the next school day, or she crocheted a lot, so she was crocheting things. My mom just always had a project everywhere she went. If she was at the dentist office and she had to wait five minutes, she had the project, she was ready to go, she was crocheting whatever.
So I remember reading that and thinking, oh that is not how I grew up. I grew up with a mom who felt like any minute of the day that was not used was wasted, and so that was going to be something I had to shift in my thinking. Again, I was one who was begging to watch a movie with the lights off, so I was a little bit ahead of my mom given the circumstances, but I had to realize I was going to have to shift that thinking from not wasting a minute to recognizing that restful moments are not wasted, and they are very necessary.
Wayne Muller also says, “if busyness can become a kind of violence, we do not have to stretch our perception very far to see that Sabbath time, effortless, nourishing rest, can invite a healing of this violence. When we consecrate a time to listen to the still, small voices, we remember the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful. We remember from where we are most deeply nourished, and we see more clearly the shape and texture of the people and things before us.”
He also says, “Sabbath is more than the absence of work. It is not just a day off where we catch up on television or errands. It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true. It is time consecrated with our attention, our mindfulness, honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us.”
Now I grew up and when I was having kids, we were still actively attending the Mormon religion or LDS faith, and one of the teachings and one of the practices in this religion that I grew up in is about keeping the Sabbath day holy. Now I know that’s not unique to the LDS or Mormon practices. I know that there’s a lot of different religions that kind of have a practice around the Sabbath, but I think sometimes as maybe religion tends to do sometimes, especially if it’s like consecrated in a certain area, so like Utah has a higher percentage than most other states where neighborhoods are going to be high LDS population, and I think when there’s circumstances like that, whatever the religion may be, that sometimes the cultural norms become a little bit more overexaggerated than maybe the teachings or maybe the doctrinal or the religious beliefs actually require.
So it became something that… like you went to church, obviously, so you’re supposed to go to church on Sunday, but you weren’t supposed to really work very hard. Now a lot of people did kind of make fancier meals on Sunday, which also would lead to some dishes, so it’s not like we’re the Amish. I was on a plane once and somebody sitting next to me asked where I was from, and I mentioned that I was from Salt Lake City, Utah, and they were asking me, oh I didn’t realize that you could fly on airplanes, and I was like, what are you talking about? I was like, oh yeah, we can fly on airplanes. I don’t know what that’s about. He’s asking me several more questions, and finally I was like, I think you’re thinking of the Amish. That’s not the Mormons. That’s the Amish. Mormons can use electricity, and we can fly airplanes. We could fly airplanes, but we can also fly on airplanes for travel.
So again, we had some rigidness, it’s all comparative, right? But I think sometimes those cultural norms especially when you’re living in a community where everybody is the same religious beliefs, religious affiliations, and so how do we show our uniqueness, or how do we show our righteousness when our neighbor believes and behaves the same way we do? Well, we start to up the ante so to speak. We start to outdo each other and we start to become more righteous or more holy on the Sabbath day or things like that.
I will just say that that’s not necessarily my personality, and it definitely was not my third daughter’s personality. She hated Sundays. She still… I mean, she just turned 21 last week, so she’s getting better at this, but she’s never really been a kid who liked to sit still, and if she sat still, she fell asleep. She was a kid who was up early in the morning, full of energy, and she went full until that energy was gone, and then she was asleep, and there was no waking her up when she fell asleep. So for her, going to church was pretty torturous because again it’s three hours of sitting, and people are talking and maybe there’s some discussion and teaching, but it’s a lot of sitting, and she did not do that.
So we had to, as a family, we had to figure out how to do some things that would entertain her and keep her happy and give her a way to channel her energy, or our Sundays were hell, like none of us liked our Sundays if we didn’t keep her entertained. So we would do some things to kind of keep her entertained. She was one who loved the sage burning, and I had to start to recognize how kind of consecrating this time to… for me, maybe not for her, but listening to kind of these still, small voices and being able to like see more clearly the shape and the texture of the people and the things that were before us.
I think it actually helped give me a lot of patience for her, and I didn’t get too worried about who she was and the energy she had and how she channeled that and who said what about her. There were times I had to talk to her first grade teacher, second grade teacher because she just couldn’t sit in her desk, and I had to just be like, can it just be good enough if her butt is close to the chair? Can that be good enough? If she’s touching her desk and not touching another kid, can that be? I don’t know what to tell you. She’s not just going to sit still for 7 hours at school, and I think because we were kind of in this practice of consecrating some time each week as a family to sit down and see each other and appreciate each other and see what was before us as people and as this family unit, I think I did less stressing about who she was because I could see what she was and kind of this life-giving source that came from inside of her.
In the book when Wayne Muller says “It is time consecrated with our attention, our mindfulness, honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us.” Again when I was reading his book, no, actually when I was listening to him read his book, his voice, I would say his voice is just this calm, reassuring, sustaining voice throughout the book, and so in many ways it kind of I think helped me bring myself into the rhythm of the different days of the week and the rhythm of Sabbath, the rhythm of renewal and resting and kind of taking a step back from.
Now again when I first read this book and was listening to him read his book, that wasn’t my life phase that I was in with young, active, energetic kids, but I found that I could find that within myself regardless of whether their energy was kind of a quiet force or this small voice. It was within me, which I think gave me maybe some patience and some contentment with myself regardless of the energy that was happening around me with my kids.
He says in the book, “Like a path through the forest, Sabbath creates a marker for ourselves so if we are lost, we can find our way back to our center.” I feel like during that time period, that’s something that I did on a weekly basis, found my way back to center, regardless of what we did to kind of consecrate this time and do something symbolic with this time as a family. Whatever that was, just the idea of Sabbath, of taking some time that was different, that was slower, allowed me to kind of move myself back to a center, and I never got too far away from that mark because again, it’s happening on a cycle. It was happening every six days, so there was a cycle to that, so I couldn’t get too far out in the forest and I couldn’t get lost.
Wayne Muller says, “When we live without listening to the timing of things, when we live and work in 24-hour shifts without rest, we are on wartime, mobilized for battle. Yes, we are strong and capable people. We can work without stopping, faster and faster, electric lights making artificial day so the whole machine can labor without ceasing. But remember: no living thing lives like this. There are greater rhythms, seasons, and hormonal cycles and sunsets and moonrises and great movements of seas and stars. We are part of the creation story, subject to all its laws and rhythms.”
So after I had this incident a couple of weeks ago and brought all my books home and was going to change how I was doing things, which I have started to do, I have changed the way that I start and end my day. What I also realized was it’s not just about maybe adding something or taking away something. It’s also about getting into the rhythm, getting into these greater rhythms, seasons, sunsets, moonrises, the great movements that are around me, whether I choose to tune into them or whether I tune into something that is more distracting, these rhythms are there and they’re waiting for me to plug into them, and they can bring me rest, and they can bring renewal, and they bring me delight.
So I just wanted to share that with you if part of this whole season of 2020, this year of 2020 has gotten to you, maybe it’s time to unplug. Maybe it’s time to bring to consecrate a time period in your life where you bring something slower, something more still, something more quiet to your life. Maybe you start to look at the greater movements and rhythms around you that can bring that renewal and rejuvenation to your spirit.