Even before candle lighting approaches, there is so much work that goes into getting prepared for Shabbat. The late night Thursday night shopping rush, pushing between people in the aisle to find the chili sauce, trying to find the perfectly ripe fruit to serve for dessert, trying to figure out how much chicken to get. Then theres’a the all-day Friday prep. Making sure all of my meat is properly defrosted. So much cutting and dicing. Counting down the minutes as a I fry another batch of schnitzel. So much effort for the day of rest before you can enjoy that moment of calm that eventually hits you sometime Friday night.
Even then, so much of the Sabbath follows the same routine. Eat a meal. Maybe with some guests. Probably eat too much. Hopefully there’s some Torah for the table, but sometimes it’s just a friendly meal between friends. Then there’s going to the synagogue, seeing the same people, making the same small talk and the same jokes. Prayer is almost always the same. Maybe you try to add some extra kavanah into it, or maybe you just try to get through everything. Saturday, it’s the same thing, but maybe with a nap, or maybe reading a book.
It’s all so routine.
If this year of our global pandemic, so much was interrupted in our lives, and this routine is no different. How many other people counted down the days until they could have guests again? Or waited until the synagogues reopened? Or worried about the dangers involved with going back to almost normal? Even now, I still wear a mask when praying inside, and some places want to see my green pass that shows I’m fully vaccinated.
Covid changed everything, but maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.
One thing that I started to do after all of this happened, when I was barred from going too far from my home and we were forbidden from having guests, was to go outside and just sit. That’s it, just sit outside on the small bench in my landlord’s yard and really think.
It changed something for me.
I’ve been learning a lot of mindfulness exercises as part of my therapy program, and one of them focuses on just really becoming one with your surroundings. You go somewhere and sit (it doesn’t have to be outside but I prefer it), and get into a comfortable position. You practice controlled breathing, where you breathe in through your diaphragm for six seconds, hold for three, and then exhale for six seconds, ending with another three second hold. You do that a few times, and then you just get into a cycle of focused breathing without counting. Slowly, you feel the sensations around your body: what you’re sitting on, the smell in the air, the wind touching your skin, the warmth of the sun. Slowly, you expand your consciousness outwards, and hear the birds, people around you, and all if the movements in your area. Eventually, you try to phase as much of yourself out and let in as much of the world as possible.
Sometimes thoughts come up, and that’s ok. They can be annoying thoughts, thoughts of fear, or just distractions. Just acknowledge them for what they are and let them be. They have no control of you.
You are only in control of yourself and your mindset, and that you are becoming one with everything around you. You are becoming part of G-d through His creations, and you can feel the web that connects every bit of light in the world.
I challenge you this Shabbat or Sunday after church, or whatever day of rest you choose to have, to take a moment to just go outside and try the exercise I described. For me, it makes my Shabbat so much more enjoyable.
Often times, we can get so lost in the routine that is Shabbat or Chag. The meals, synagogue, napping, reading, or just spending time inside. Shabbat is a day of rest, but it’s also a day to connect to Hashem in a way that isn’t possible the rest of the week. Our soul is more revealed, and we are more receptive conduits for holiness on these days. Why spend all of that time cut off from the real world? You’re already cut off from the electronic, so focus on what’s really true and real in the world. Hashem isn’t found just in the synagogues or in our homes, He’s everywhere. Connecting to His creations through meditation and focusing on making yourself truly one with Him and the universe is so spiritually uplifting.
Thank G-d, I live in a land where the air I breathe and the earth I step on are imbued with holiness, so maybe it’s a little bit easier for me. When I feel the air on my skin, I know that this is the air I’m meant to breathe in and surround myself with. I know that when the sun shines on me here, it shines with all of G-d’s grace and compassion. I can truly empty my mind and make myself a vessel to fill with the sounds and presence of all of His creations around me.
Take some time and try, see if it works for you. If not, that’s ok, it’s not for everyone. I just wanted to share something that helps me break up the mundane, even when the day is holy. Let yourselves live in the world, and remember that G- d is everywhere, and man, are his creations amazing.
Shabbat shalom from the holy land, much love.