I’m a really good do-er. Give me a to-do list and I’m all over it. Take the other morning for example. I: planned the kids’ birthday parties (both kids in born in December, shoot me now); wrote out, enveloped, and sent checks in the mail; responded to a bunch of emails; created a menu plan and a subcategory list of food to buy for upcoming visit from in-laws; arranged to have house cleaned for said visit; and more stuff I can’t remember now, all while diligently commenting on my friends’ Facebook updates.
While in the throes of ticking off these items I’m high on productivity. It’s like I’m mainlining power, control, competency. Damn, I’m good.
Then the crash. All items on the list are scratched off and my head hurts. I feel tired, like I want to go to sleep. I decide to make some coffee instead. The rest of the day my mind circles back to the decisions I made, maybe even glancing now and then at the list. Did I really get all of that done? I’m just looking for another hit. Can I get the high back?
The fact is things need to get done. If the kids don’t have birthday parties, I’m a bad mommy. Like the kind that gets written about in embarrassing, tell-all memoirs. Checks have to be sent or the house doesn’t have electricity. The in-laws would like to feel welcomed, so some planning must occur. No one is saying you shouldn’t take care of the business of your life. But while you’re so busy being productive, who’s really in the driver’s seat?
Recently while we were meditating my Buddhism teacher said, “If you’ve drifted off, welcome yourself back into yourself.” Then he added, “Where did you go?” I don’t know where I go. I get carried away. Productivity is an especially compelling train of thought; the Buddhists call it restless mind. It gives me a false sense of mastering my world, making it better, making it right. The impulse isn’t bad. I think I’m just barking up the wrong tree.
Jewish people have the Sabbath, a day of rest. It is considered to be of utmost importance. “The apparently simple idea that one day out of seven should be devoted to rest and reflection has always been a radical concept,” writes Anita Diamant in her book, Living a Jewish Life. “It is Judaism’s essential insight, its backbone, its methodology.”
Them’s big words. A day of rest is Judaism’s essential insight?
Diamant cites Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who said that Shabbat celebrates time rather than space. “It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.” Other ideas of the meaning of Shabbat include creating wholeness, or peace, with everyone in your life, especially in your family. I like this next one because I think it speaks to the false promise of productivity.
Shabbat embodies the Jewish vision of redemption. Observing Shabbat fully means behaving as if the world were redeemed – complete, safe, perfect – right now. Shabbat is the opportunity to focus on what is right with the world, and thus to be refreshed to do the work of redemption: of repairing the world (tikkun olam).
I like this idea of relinquishing the need for doing. It acknowledges both the importance of doing, but also the limits. Doing will not lead to a sense of completion, safety, or perfection. But perhaps stopping doing, could. Put the pen down and walk away from the list.