Rest as a Radical Act by Mary Sharratt


 

This summer I committed an act of radical and deeply liberating change. I started taking Sundays off, a new thing for me. As a writer, I had come to regard Sunday as just another working day, part of the same old workaholic grind.

And by taking Sunday off, I mean that in the most literal sense–I went offline and pulled the plug on my internet for 24 hours. Without the distraction of my smart phone, email, or social media, I suddenly seemed to have so much time and so much peace. It was like being on retreat except I could do it here and now, in my own home. In this hallowed time out of time, I now spend my Sundays meditating, reading real books with paper pages, going on long horse rides or hikes, and enjoying deep communion with family and friends.

At first glance, taking Sunday off hardly seems radical. In Western culture, Sunday is the traditional day of rest. In many European countries, shops remained closed on Sundays and the work-a-day world comes to a halt.

From earliest human history to the present day, all religions have observed holy days and days of rest, such as the Jewish Shabbat and the Muslim Friday prayer. The ancient Babylonians, counting from the new moon, celebrated the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th days as sacred and set apart. In some societies, women and girls came into communion during their bleeding time, regarded in prepatriarchal culture as a time of auspiciousness and great power. The modern Red Tent movement has reclaimed this sacrality for women and girls today. Across cultures and faiths, the day of rest allowed people to step off the hamster wheel of work and toil and focus on the sacred. Ideally the day of rest, then as now, offered a refuge, a still point of peace, a portal to the sacred.

Some interpretations of the traditional Christian sabbath have been stiflingly rigid, however. In her autobiographical novel, Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder remembers Sundays as the bane of her 19th century childhood, the day she was forbidden to play or make noise or have any kind of fun. Instead she was forced to wear her uncomfortable Sunday best while languishing through a long, boring religious service.

In most of the Western world, this ultra-austere version of the sabbath has become a relic of the past. Unfortunately it seems we’ve gone too far to the opposite extreme, replacing any notion of a day of rest with a global capitalist work ethic on overdrive, when even an hour of idleness or “unproductive” time is regarded as a moral lapse. For writers, freelancers, and creative people of all disciplines, the temptation to work every spare hour of our weekends can prove insurmountable. Even people with traditional day jobs are under pressure to work weekends to keep apace of ever increasing workloads.

We live in an age where even the most affluent among us have become time poor. Where achieving and maintaining our “success” means we are no longer allowed to have a life apart from work.

In this day and age, the most radical act of rebellion we can commit is to take back at least one day of the week, declare it holy, and unplug. Take back our lives and inner space for a 24 hour period.

What holy days would you like to reclaim?

We don’t need to fill these days with traditional religious observance if that doesn’t speak to us. But we all need that still point, that inner space and refuge, that escape from our fragmented working lives, where we can become whole again.

 

Resources:

Sabbath: The Forgotten Pleasures of a Day of Rest in Yoga International. 

The Red Tent Movement: reclaim your bleeding time as sacred time. I believe there are also purple tents for women in menopause to honor this sacred passage to power.

I found Alex Pang’s podcast and linked articles on prioritizing rest and reflection to be very inspiring.

Reclaim your time and mental space by doing a digital detox.

 

Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write overlooked women back into history. Her novel, Ecstasy, about composer and life artist Alma Mahler is new from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Visit her website.

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18 replies

  1. Unplug the computer? Oh my Goddess, I think I will try it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful post, Mary. You’ve inspired me to reclaim my Sundays and unplug, too. And congratulations on the new book!

    Like

  3. Now that we live in a world of information as I call it, also desinformation, but in this new world with the internet, cellphones and the rest. According to psychologist that have made a study about how this age of so much technology influences us, they do say it is very healthy to just be ¨off grid¨ if you will, for at least a day. I do the same by the way, There are days literally that I go without cellphone, internet or anything. It is actually quite liberating.

    Another thing, Red Tent movement? That´s a new one for me.

    Great and insightful post.

    Like

  4. Excellent idea! Good for you! And for all of us who take at least one day off from working. I used to joke that when you’re self-employed as I am, you can work any 37 hours of the day and any 20 days a week you want to. People usually got it and laughed. But, seriously, your point is very well taken that we are indeed time poor. I’ve been taking Sundays off for several years…….well, I do check my email from time to time during the day, and I have done a bit of my own writing on Sundays, but I seldom do any editing on Sundays.

    Thanks for reminding us all how time poor we are. Brava!

    Like

  5. I think that this is truly a radical post! I think cultural driven -ness covers a huge hole in the center of many minds and bodies, that if uncovered might help people to learn about who they are. I am frankly addicted to having what I call “soul time” every single day. This is easiest to do when I enter the world of Nature because then everything falls away but the present..I notice that if I don’t get this time I become irritable and feel as if I have a lost the day…. When I was in my late thirties I first took one day off a week from my life as a working mother with adolescent children… This radical act had long term consequences that have helped me become the woman I am today, a woman I respect and love.

    Liked by 3 people

    • What a wise and wonderful observation, Sara! We all need that soul time, and Nature keeps us present. I wonder how many of us feel too guilty to take that time for ourselves. It must be especially challenging for working mothers. Brava to you for your brave and radical choice.

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  6. Thank you for the inspiration!

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  7. I am inspired by your post. I must admit that at times my phone seems to have possession over me!

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  8. Thank you Mary! I believe the frantic busy-ness of our society is meant to keep us from thinking with any depth so we can be more easily controlled. And of course, so we can “shop til we drop” and build up our consumer system.
    A day of rest seems to me to be a declaration of independence. That might be a good American slogan to promote the idea.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wisely observed, Barbara. I agree that our consumer society wants us to be media addicted sheep who keep shopping and working and never unplug or contemplate anything beyond our consumer society. We know now how fake news on Facebook skewed the last US president election. If we look at it this way, it’s our democratic duty to get some distance from the whole circus.

      Like

  9. Thanks, Mary, for this important post. About a dozen years ago, I delivered a sermon at my Unitarian Church about the importance of taking time off. I discovered even then — before the big push to plug in — that we Americans are much worse off than our European cousins. In the Netherlands, for instance, the government PAYS every person to take a month off for vacation.

    Like

  10. My practice has been not to do things that I consider to be work on Shabbat. Since I use social media primarily to keep in touch with friends, it’s not work (what’s work is catching up with the email when I’ve neglected it for a few days). But I hate making travel arrangements, so I try to get that done before my day of rest begins on Friday evening. My friend, who associates computer use with work, unplugs.

    Like

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