March is a month that celebrates quiet. From sundown on March 1 to sundown the next day, people in the US celebrated the National Day of Unplugging. Just days later on the other side of the world, on March 7, Balinese people celebrated the new year by observing Nyepi, a day of silence.
As social media and other tech offerings grow ever more pervasive, and eat up more of our time, the thought of days dedicated entirely to unplugging is particularly appealing.
Thankfully, there are tried-and-tested models for how to unplug, such as the Jewish tradition that inspired the National Day of Unplugging: the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is, in Judaism, the day of rest and contemplation. It corresponds to the seventh day of the week—the day when, according to the Book of Genesis, God rested after creating the world. On this day, which Jewish people observe from Friday evening to Saturday evening, one is supposed to abstain from work to dedicate time to prayer and meditation. Some Christians, too, observe a similar abstention from work on Sunday, but the Sabbath is characteristically a Jewish prerogative.
Observing the Sabbath can be demanding (paradoxically, not doing work can be hard work), with orthodox Jews abstaining from a long list of 39 activities, including writing, cooking, planting, and carrying objects. But there are less strict versions that maintain the core idea of avoiding unnecessary distractions and work to focus on replenishing the soul.
One contemporary version that seems particularly soothing—independent from the religion of the person who embraces it—is the Sabbath Manifesto, a list of 10 principles launched in 2010 by the hip Jewish nonprofit Reboot with the aim of making the meaning of the Sabbath relevant in the contemporary world. These principles have inspired the National Day of Unplugging yearly since. As rabbi Danya Ruttenberg reminded Twitter yesterday, the way to replenishment might pass through eating bread and lighting candles:
There is one element that holds all of these activities (or lack of) together: a soft gentleness toward oneself. The light of a candle, the taste of bread, the air outside the home… these can all make an enormous difference if cherished a day each week.
It’s not even necessary to follow the principles of the Sabbath Manifesto—just a weekly dose of not being busy, with whatever rules that might require, will likely do the trick.