Taking pauses for summer and for Shabbat

By Debbi K. Levy

The slow and unhurried summer days are on the way. Notices from our Jewish organizations of their annual meetings are abundant. Temple Emanu-El just recently granted my request for a break in teaching during the month of July. Oddly enough, right now, I am not keeping my eyes peeled for dresses meant for Jewish holidays and festive luncheons in the sukkah. Further, the omer is almost all counted and we will soon find ourselves imagining standing at Sinai’s foot. And then the days will grow longer, with the steady stream of Jewish activities diminishing as summer takes over in the rhythm of the seasons. These low-pressure, uncommitted days of ease can, in fact, be just the rejuvenation that is needed for us to dwell in a hafsaka, a pause. I have a hunch that you, Reader, can hardly wait. As for me, the space between summer and fall sometimes feels lonely, like I’m missing a dear friend.

I spend a lot of my career pursuing pauses. Ironic, isn’t it? I teach mindfulness and meditation daily. “So why the resistance to a Jewish activity break?” I ask myself. I stack up the evidence. Afterall, it is during the resets that the imagination and heart can be heard more thoroughly. I crave long walks, journaling and running wool through my fingers as I create needlework. The best part of summer will surely be spending time on a ship with Barry, the waves rocking us to sleep on those nights of vacation. Yet here I am, noticing myself feeling some dull pangs of loneliness, perhaps a bit lost without the structure of fall and spring. Rather than pushing these feelings away, I am just acting as an observer in my own life, becoming aware and nodding. Perhaps it is simply that old friend “resistance to change” as the summer approaches. Or could it be that I am well-addicted to the art of busy-ness or “doing”? Can I nonjudgmentally watch the ebb and flow of my emotions while contemplating this mental adjustment?

Sharing slivers of vulnerability is something I purposefully do with you regularly, Reader. You often respond with conversation when we greet each other in-person and somehow this exchange has the possibility of capturing intimacy for both of us. So, here is another piece of my Jewish soul puzzle.

I love Shabbat. I mean I LOVE Shabbat! I crave the preparation and make a last-minute run to my post office with bills, donations and correspondence, all sliding down the chute before we are on our way to services. The fridge is full of fresh fruit and Baskin-Robbins ice cream treats are tucked in the freezer. Any contractual work for my business will have been tended to in earnest Friday morning. The practice of philanthropy prior to Shabbat is a special pleasure that we are delighted to fulfill as part of our pre-Shabbat ritual. Clothes are washed and something nice is laid out for services. Five minutes late to Temple, as per Barry’s and my usual, a greeting of hello “Latechilds” with a grin and we are in our seats wiggling our toes and holding hands for the first time all week. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Like the commandment to observe Shabbat between us and the Creator is easy-peasy? But here’s the tension: I often feel that same little pang that I confessed to you earlier. It feels awkwardly familiar. I have been concluding that I may be more in alignment with the Shabbat-prep than the Shabbat pause itself. “Aha,” I can hear in my heart.

Maybe it was Divinely-challenging for Adonai to break from the work that created the world. What if the actual, physical pause from all that we act upon in our doing world must crash into our “being” world? Like all sacred practices, what if the One meant us to struggle in this commandment of putting the mundane aside? Could the patience and compassion I offer my students in mindfulness class be the very gifts I need to offer myself when I feel this discomfort? And lastly, can I let go of self-criticism for not being good at pausing?

An action plan is the stuff I am made of. Here goes. For Shabbat, I will do my best to settle into the quiet and the sacred non-doing. If guilt or small waves of unpleasantness surface, I will return to my breath, for it houses my ruach. I will name this my Shabbat-within-Shabbat practice. I think this is a positive step in naming something that had been mostly vague until now.

And what to do with the summer? Its length will invite the best opportunity to work with the mind: reassuring the mind and body that pauses and spaces are ordained and purposeful, that it is our work to slow down the hamster wheel to take stock of all that surrounds us. Am I certain that this is the way to a mind and heart that can dwell in a little more ease in daily life? Profoundly yes, for I am tuning in to the natural order of being in all the seasons in search of gratitude, joyous moments and simply what is. I am hopeful I am on a good path to further my relationship with the Divine through dedication and devotion, a gentle reminder as we remember the agreements made at Sinai.

Kohenet Debbi K. Levy is typing quickly, meeting her deadline with this very story. She is obviously putting off practicing “being” rather than “doing” today, but imagines herself deeply resting and observing this upcoming Shabbat with a calm mind and a full heart.

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