Are you ready for a digital sabbath?

What beauty are we missing that is right under our nose?

Digital sabbath

Sounds like a heavy metal band, right? But it is something I have been fascinated with for years, and have been really inspired to try.

The traditional sabbath is about setting down work, machines, cars, phones, etc. from sundown Friday night to sunset on Saturday night. It is a time and space that is carved out for family, for connection, for nature. It is a sacred space for stillness, for contemplation, for creativity. It’s a pause in the week and a powerful ritual.

Wayne Muller, in his extraordinary book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in our Busy Lives, speaks about it so beautifully: “There comes a moment in our striving when more effort actually becomes counterproductive, when our frantic busyness only muddies the waters of our wisdom and understanding. When we become still and allow our life to rest, we feel a renewal of energy and gradual clarity of perception.”

The modern version of this ritual is in the form of a digital sabbath. It is a space we create consciously, where we step away from our screens and our gadgetry, from our blackberries, tv’s and cell phones. It’s a time when we decide not to check our email obsessively and hopefully discover that we didn’t really miss anything anyway. Every time I have experimented with what I call a media cleanse, I have seen really miraculous things. As with any cleanse, you begin to notice when/where you habitually reach for something. What precedes the moment when I check my email AGAIN even though I checked it 30 seconds before? Do I feel bored? Lonely? Is it just a nervous tic? What’s so scary about being in the moment I’m actually in? Am I longing for connection? and if I am, am I finding it in these places? Is there more connection to be found in the woods? or at the roller rink? or inside the pages of a book?

“We have lost this essential rhythm. Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment is better than rest, that doing something–anything–is better than doing nothing. Because of our desire to succeed, to meet these ever-growing expectations, we do not rest. Because we do not rest, we lose our way. We miss the compass points that would show us where to go, we bypass the nourishment that would give us succor. We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom. We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight. Poisoned by this hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest. And for want of rest, our lives are in danger.” Wayne Muller, Sabbath

Longing for Balance

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that this is one of my obsessions. Finding that balance between living my real life and my life online is a puzzle I am always contemplating. I am highly sensitive (so many of us are) and get overwhelmed easily. A lot of data coming at me in whatever form– advertising, radios playing, email messages, tweets, all starts to feel like noise, fast. My threshold is low for how much media I can take in.

Whenever I hear the words “digital sabbath” my ears perk up. Yes! Carving out a space like that, a sanctuary of time that is about connection, real connection— to self, to nature, to each other– makes every cell in me say yes. When I think about Ben growing up in the modern world such as it is, I get scared that one day he will forever bury his face in a screen (perhaps a video game) and forget how much he loves to walk in the redwoods or perfect his dance moves. He already prefers watching a movie over doing just about anything else. And I wonder how much I am modeling the kind of distraction I am trying to protect him from– staring at my own screen, checking my email, even taking videos of him with my phone while we’re in the park.

I heard an interview with the author of Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age and can’t wait to read it.

Have any of you instituted a Digital Sabbath? How do you find balance? Do you all crave it as much as I do?

I’d love to hear in the comments.

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Hi, I’m Andrea

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27 Comments

  1. Keri

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’m totally burned out on information and managing data that I find myself overwhelmed and near tears a lot of the time.

    My husband and I talked about putting our cell phones in a drawer on Sundays and see how different the day feels. We did it a few times but I really think we need to reintroduce this as a house rule.

    Regaining my life from technology is a goal of mine for the New Year.

    If anyone has any good tips to help cope with digital detox I’m interested and thanks for posting that book – I’m gonna seek that out.

  2. rachael maddox

    i love this, andrea. i’m totally on your page, craving digital sabbaths as much as possible. i admire your commitment to experimenting! i’d love to do the same. thanks to you, i’ll let to idea percolate for a bit and talk about it with my hubby. 🙂

    sending happiness and connection your way.

    xoxo,rachael

  3. Jill

    The imbalance (for me) of creation and rest, connection and retreat, is a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. There is so much to do (read, reflect, research, reconstruct, rehabilitate, review) that I am exhausting myself, but I don’t know yet how to set limits, where the “middle path” might be for me.

    Then when I started seeing all of these wonderful “year in review/goal setting” exercises to do in December and January, from very well-meaning and wise people that I aspire to be like, I got temporarily caught up in next year being my “big” year, the moment I would find and accomplish my great work…but then I realized I’m not ready yet. Doing so would once again be pushing past what’s really going on.

    So instead of a digital sabbath, I planning on going on retreat next year. I can’t really leave and go somewhere (I still have a job, write a blog, have a marriage and dogs to care for, live in “town,” am going to the World Domination Summit in July, etc.), but as much as I can, I am going to be mindful about being on retreat: being careful with my time, being “away/apart” as much as I can, sinking deeper into my practices, praying/listening, meditating, dreaming, reflecting, and resting.

    I wish the same for you, in whatever measure works.

  4. Yolanda

    I guess, if I’m to speak from truth, I want to be the kind of person who seeks that kind of sabbatical. But I am not. My lust is for more technology, not less. I don’t have a smart phone and I use a prepaid cell phone plan that limits my texting and ability to talk. I don’t have cable tv. I cling hard to my Apple Tv and Netflix streaming for the entertainment and white noise they provide me. I weep for the turn-by-turn navigator I lack in my car to keep me from getting lost (a source of great anxiety). I just received a kindle as an early Christmas gift, and it has been a near-constant companion for the past week.

    I wish that I was overwhelmed by it. I wish that I wanted to shut it down. But I don’t. There are times when I reduce. When I don’t log into Facebook, when I disconnect from certain blogs, or remove them from my reader. But there is never a time when I want to be media or technology free. I suppose that says something about me, but I guess I’m not yet ready to look at what that says.

    But truly, I admire–deeply–people who express this desire. And I admire even more people who not only talk about it, but carry it out.

  5. jennifer w. mccullough

    Yes I do.I crave it more and more and more each month. I remember one time last year when I spilled water on my laptop and had to give it time to dry out before turning it on. I thought I would be stressed out about the work I couldn’t do but instead I was SO.HAPPY. I believe the word free was what I used to describe how it felt.

    There was a sermon at my church a few months ago about the way things become like golden calves/things we worship (in this case, instead of God). I talked about this with my son, who is ten. Hours later he walked by me in the dining room where I was on my laptop and said, “Mom. That’s your cow.”

    If anyone wants to participate in a digital Sabbath but wants to know they aren’t alone, I’m in. I think I’d have an easier time of it if I knew other people were doing it too.

  6. m

    I kind of had one in the autumn when my broadband was off at home.I had to go to an internet cafe to check my emails and yes life was different and I did do lots of crochet and being in the moment BUT the UNUTTERABLE SMUGNESS of internet stars who do digital sabatticals and come back and tell the digitally unwashed how more enlightened they are as a result of doing one really really makes me cross and angry. It just makes me want to Oh I dunnoe set up another computer or something but they way its set up as another thing to aspire to really gets my craw…

  7. m

    to rant on… sometimes the people who want do to a digital sabattical just don’t want to deal with certain people and situations IMO and instead of dealing the specific they blame the medium. I recently kicked a commitment into touch and I have a huge feeling of lightness as a result

  8. Michie'

    We call it “Unplugged Sunday” No computer, TV, or phone unless it is an emergency. After church we take time to read the paper, take a nap, and maybe take a walk or drive. It is very refreshing!

  9. ARC

    I like the *idea* of a digital sabbatical but I think it’s something we’re still easing into. We’ve already ditched TV (we have no channels at all) and Netflix, so we watch just a couple of shows online, and BabyT watches almost nothing. And we started visiting a UU church so our Sunday mornings are pretty much analog by design 🙂 I think the hubby might revolt if I suggest a no-digital-anything day 🙂

  10. Amy

    One of my goals for the new year is to do a longer digital sabbatical (like 72 hours off Twitter and Facebook) and then to set aside the first of each month as a break from social media (I’m thinking of calling it Fresh On The First). I love my blog/social media life but I think that for me, I find myself kind of obsessing over things online, or finding so much inspiration that I then just find more instead of doing something about it. I want to try and live more of my life, not worry about documenting it or saying something witty about it online.

    So yes, I think I’m ready. Lovely post.

  11. Miriam

    I started a computer sabbath when at the beginning of the this school year. I wrote about it here: http://talesofthisfourthgradeteacher.blogspot.com/2011/08/self-care-and-computer-sabbath.html

    I’m not always faithful to it, but I always think about it. Sometimes I have to think about what I’m going to do instead. It’s crazy how much time this stuff takes. I fill richer when I honor my computer sabbath. It’s like being nickled and dimed and then realizing that I’m bankrupt. It’s not money, but I think the time is really more valuable!

    I’m glad I’m not the only one thinking about this!

  12. Spyros Heniadis

    The phone and laptop are my cows.

    I need to practice a digital sabbatical, I’m going to have to talk with my wife to find a day that works for us both, but I am going to do it tomorrow for myself.

    I start each morning with meditation, which always helps ground and center me, but what I’ve noticed lately is that nearly the moment I rise from meditation, I reach for the phone or laptop.

    Nearly the moment I rise from sleep I do the same thing. Like Yolanda I want more, not less, but when I pause to consider it, I realize that more is not better, it is just more.

  13. Shosh

    I’m Jewish, and observe Shabbat. Which means once a week, I don’t use the phone, use electronic appliances (except for leaving lights on that were on before Shabbat, or using timers), or my computer. I have to say that while it’s a challenge in other ways (cooking ahead of time, entertaining guests regularly), the peace and quiet of not having the phones ring and not being distracted by the computer is a total relief. It’s like one deep breath in the middle of the week…and I’m very lucky b/c I live in Jerusalem, and while not everyone in my community is in the same religious boat, you genuinely feel the mood of the entire city change on Friday afternoon. People talking on phones are an anomaly publicly, and it’s more or less a technology free day that focuses on the family and the community (in synagogues, at the park, with neighbors). People are out walking and spending time together, distraction free. It feels a bit timeless, really.
    It’s funny, I got an Iphone about 3 months ago, and while I love it for certain things (being able to look up answers for things I need while I’m out running errands) I detest the fact that I can check my email all the time. I really dislike being accessible always; sometimes when I’m accessible to everyone else I barely feel accessible to myself.
    I want the technology in my life to be a function of who I am, and not the other way around…

  14. Susie

    I recently moved with my family to Israel and while, unlike Shosh above, I’m not observant, you can’t help but feel Sabbath in a big way. It’s QUIET. We move more slowly. There is no running out to Target for last second birthday gifts (for better or worse). I’m still checking email and calling friends and family, but everything else is in slo-mo. It may only be a matter of time before we turn off our phones, the way things are going. excellent post andrea.

  15. Catherine Just

    I have NEVER done this. ever. I’m JUST starting to plug my iphone in in my office instead of next to my bed at night so I am not tempted in the morning to check e-mail first thing. We shall see how that goes. That’s is as close as I get to a Digital Sabbath. I did live in the woods with no running water or eletricity for 6 months – so no tv, central heat, toilet ( except for the out house! ). But we figured out a way to plug in a generator to the car battery so I could be on the computer. Crazy huh!
    So yea – I’m addicted to it. Today I got on the computer when I woke up and I am still sitting here at 6:15pm. Yea…..

  16. Cubicle Rebel

    I totally agree with this…taking a total break from digital worlds. For several reasons I’ve been spending more time than EVER on laptops and I find myself hating it. Even though it’s necessary for work. It contradicts my deeply innate natural side. Can’t wait to be done with it all not just sabbatically but permanently. Yep.

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