Friday, May 1, 2015

Shmita, or easing into peace

I no longer believe in the cult of busyness. When I hear people ranting about how busy they are, I feel sad. I know I used to do that - I used to take pride in the amount of activity I undertook, not the results that activity produced. 

Jamaica was a huge opportunity to see something different. My experience of Jamaicans was that people work very hard - those in poverty have to hustle just to survive, and they sell their wares for as many hours of the day as they can in order to get up and do it again the next day. Of course I spent more time with middle-class Jamaicans, who I found similarly hard-working and with the same sense of 'hustle' about them - not the hustle of a con artist, but the hustle of a star athlete. Maybe it comes from living in a society where you don't expect the anyone to step in and rescue you. 

The flip side of that was that I never heard a Jamaican complain about being too busy to enjoy life. When it's work time it's work time, but there is still room for family, for getting together with friends, for dancing and music and playing in the water. Of course my knowledge is limited by time and selective exposure, but it was enough for me to see how false and empty our claims of busyness are. 

Since I've been home - and not going to work every day - I've had a lot of time to reflect on what I want in life. I want more of some things and less of others. I have a plan for accomplishing both the more and the less, and I believe it's necessary to have one to have the other. 

I read once that having crammed bookshelves meant I had no room for new knowledge/wisdom to come into my life; that was when I began letting go of books. I still hold on to ones that I find value in, but my practice before had been to hoard every book that came through my doors. After selling off/donating the ones I knew I wouldn't look at again, new books began to slide in - different books. Books I might not normally have read. Books that showed me something new about myself or the world. Having less meant having more. That was a valuable lesson.

Havi Brooks' blog recently introduced me to the Jewish agricultural practice of shmita, which I know as letting fields lay fallow for a year. It's essential to the health of the land, and - for a commercial farmer - it's good business. It allows a period of refreshing. Just like the sabbath, shmita occurs in a rotation of 7 (on the seventh day God rested, and that practice has been instituted by most major religions). One year in every seven a field is to be in shmita/fallow to allow it to rebuild, renew, stop output and be refreshed. Generally when the field is replanted it produces more than it would have without the year off. I've been following with fascination Havi's experience of instituting a shmita year in her life. 

I landed in Jamaica physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. I'd had few days of rest, let alone reliable periods of it, in months/years. Even 'play' felt exhausting. That is not how I want to live my life. When I have space in my schedule for the people I love I also want to have the energy and the clarity to be truly with them. 

While I think about what it might take to create a shmita year like Havi, I've decided to take it on in bite-sized chunks in the meantime. I'm reinstating the sabbath. To me it is a similar idea - to be consciously unproductive and allow space for renewal, reconnection, growth, rest, peace. 

Starting tomorrow and until September 5 when I'll reassess, from 9 pm Saturday to 9 pm Sunday I am going to be offline.* I will not do work. I will not 'just fit this one thing in.' I will not do research related to a client task or a work project or a story I'm writing. If I create, it will be strictly for the joy of creating and not with another end in mind. I will not purchase anything during those 24 hours. I will only drive if it furthers recreation and connection. These are not laws and commandments - these are dams built to keep the swells of busyness and striving at bay. 

I can already see that this is going to take something. It will require a bit of thinking ahead. Instead of putting chores off until Sunday I will need to remember to do them during the week or on Saturday. I have a lot that I want to do and be and create in my life - for that to happen I'm going to have to make a little more space. Shmita/sabbath is part of that. Not that it is a means to an end, but because it is an access to living at a pace that makes sense to me. 

I'm grateful to Jamaica. I'm grateful to Havi. And I'm looking forward to the fun, challenge, and opportunity of my summer of sabbaths/shmita/peace. 

* Offline as in not browsing aimlessly, not blogging, not Facebooking, not tweeting, not instagraming, not watching TV, etc. Offline as in call me, or text, and let's be together without distraction. 

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