Do You Deserve a Break?

Reclaiming a Day of Rest

Alan Muskat
March 24th, 2014

Have you ever been upset and talked to someone for an hour, and at the end, they finally give you a hug, and that is all you really needed in the first place?

In 24/6, Matthew Sleet bemoans the loss of the Sabbath. Caught in a worldwide web, few people literally unplug themselves for a day to reconnect with the people or the natural world around them. Few sit still long enough to connect with God or themselves.

Sleet's book is eloquent and persuasive. However, if you want people to actually spend one day each week in rest and reflection, you can't just talk them into it. To reclaim the Sabbath, we need therapy: specifically, body-centered therapy. Because we don't just forget to take a break. We skip the Sabbath because we don't want to sit still. We don't want to sit still because it's too scary to do so.

The most obvious reason that so few of us take a day off each week is that we think we simply can't afford to. Barely treading water as it is, it seems that if we stop for a minute, we'll drown. In other words, we are in a state of chronic hypervigilance, a.k.a., fight-or-flight.

Thanks to an exploitive monetary system, most of us really are working harder than ever before. We spend about fourteen hours, nearly half our weekend, either working overtime or doing laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, running errands, fixing things, paying bills. However, most of us have more choice about how we spend our time than we think. After all, the average American spends 35 to 40 hours a week watching television. That's over half our free time. Why do we choose to spend our precious leisure time either going out or zoning out?

As Eckhart Tolle explains, when most people watch TV, they basically go unconscious. It's a way to sleep without actually closing your eyes. It's the only rest, besides sleep, that most of us are willing to take. We avoid real conscious stillness because what is really in survival mode is our ego. The ego, our sense of self, needs to be constantly on alert. Otherwise, anytime we're truly present, experiencing the moment instead of worrying about the past or the future, the ego disappears. And if you're not really needed, what does that say about your self-worth?

Our fight-or-flight fixation on fixing things is ironic because the solution to all our problems lies not in trying to solve them but in being OK with whatever is happening. The ego thrives on fear, so we avoid the present. We have a negativity bias that assumes a threatening environment. However, you have to start from where you're at, and the surrender of "Thy will be done" is far more powerful than anything you can do. The Sabbath has the same value as meditation: it's about getting back to the present, which is almost always better than we imagine.

The truth is that behind it all, God is in control. However, the truth does not set you free. That's because talk is cheap: people can say whatever they want; it doesn't mean anybody really believes it. Until you truly feel safe and provided for, there's no use telling yourself or anyone else to "relax."

Through meditation, a person can contact "God," or if you prefer, a sense of peace. That's because meditation is nothing more than relaxation, i.e., coming out of fight-or-flight. And being relaxed, i.e., calm and content, is what believing in God means. Faith, peace, relaxation, and surrender all mean trusting in life.

If you trust in life, then you believe in God, and vice versa. It's that simple. But you don't believe in God or trust in life just by telling yourself to do so. Spirituality (or "self-help") is a practice, not an affirmation. It's something you do, not something you say. Only practice makes perfect.

Pascal said, “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Most fundamentally, the reason we stay on a treadmill, avoid the Sabbath, and stay up into our heads is that we are avoiding feeling our feelings. Meditation happens in your body, not your mind. The present is our real experience of what is actually going on, the way we feel it in our body. For most of us, however, the body is too scary a place to be.

Being scared out of your own skin is the hallmark of trauma, and our culture itself is traumatizing. It's not surprising, then, that meditation is, for most of us, so difficult. We carry too much negative self-talk, too many "demons."

But we don't have to go it alone. There is a type of "facilitated meditation" called Somatic Experiencing. It's a way of gently bringing yourself or another back into the present moment, which means back into your body. At The REAL Center, we teach a blend of what we call "Somatic Awareness" with other mindfulness practices, as well as Nonviolent Communication: a way to approach the world in a cooperative, non-combative, way.

We can get by with a little help from our friends. Sometimes all it takes is a good hug.