After returning home this evening from a laborious day at the office, I retired to the verandah to enjoy a cigar (A. Fuente Rosado Gran Reserva R54), a cocktail (a Sazerac — a rye-based drink with bitters, simple syrup and a hint of absinthe) and the current issue of Cigar Aficianado magazine. While reading the feature interview with Matthew McConaughey, and especially the parts about the launch of his career, a thought occurred to me: The reason I so enjoyed the billowing smoke and sweet beverage and the early-spring sun was because the whole experience was, in a way, sabbath.
Yes, yes. I know; Sabbath — I can hear you say the word with a capital S — is a religious thing. It’s the stuff of Judeo-Christian tradition, whereby people don’t do manual labor on Sunday and … um … like go to church or something. It’s hard to argue with 3,000 years of recorded history.
Yet small-S sabbath is vital for one’s mental health. We all need downtime. We need to take time to escape from the worries and cares of the day to unwind and enjoy the moment. Too many take too few such opportunities, even if briefly.
I burned the candle from both ends in the wild and crazy days of my youth. I’d get up by 7 a.m., go to work, then drive 60 miles south for school, then return. One semester, I made the Grand Rapids-to-Kalamazoo trek twice daily. And through it all, rare was the day I’d be home before midnight. In those days such schedules were routine; I never had any extended and uncommitted time, and even my weekends were filled with work and church volunteering and sundry social events.
Six years ago I kicked that habit and downsized most of my day’s schedule. It took a full three months before I could come home at night and have no commitments and not feel stressed out that I should be doing something. Now I find that if I go too long without a break, I get surly and tired.
We need sabbath. We need periods of rest to recharge our emotional and spiritual batteries. We need to take time to enjoy the small things without the guilt pangs that come from thinking we should be occupied with that huge to-do list. Without real rest, we get stressed to the point when enjoyment of any kind becomes a fleeting thing.
I’ve been tinkering with the idea of taking an entire day each week, perhaps Sunday, to do nothing but vegetate. Read, go for a walk, go out for breakfast, watch the latest delight from Netflix, whatever. Just not anything I must do. That’s why this evening’s 90 minutes of relaxation proved so refreshing, because I had spent most of last weekend writing papers and running errands and otherwise being busy. As a wise philosopher once said, “No downtime and no beer make Homer go … something-something.”
It’s cliche to suggest we all should stop every now and then to smell the roses. Yet without sabbath, we never manage plant the rose bushes in our souls that allow us to enjoy the sweet fragrance in the first place. No one is so busy that he cannot profit from real and regular sabbath and learn to enjoy the moment before the moments worth enjoying become the unplumbed regrets of old age.