Digital Detox: A Modern-Day Sabbath

A Sabbath is a day of rest, observed by some Jewish people from Friday evening to Saturday evening and by some Christian people on Sundays. Within these religious traditions there’s also a ritual of worship on these days. For the past few years, I’ve created my own Sabbath rituals and I thought it was about time I wrote about them.

Since 2014, I’ve blocked off “Sabbath weekends” every few months. On these weekends, I don’t work, I unplug from the internet and all digital devices, I don’t schedule too many projects for myself, and I focus on restful activities, like reading, meditating, going for walks, and journaling. On a few Sabbath weekends, I’ve even tried not to spend money.

Sabbaths digital detoxI start these weekends around dinner time on Friday, which gives me a few hours after work to check my bank account online, give all my social media accounts one more look, tell my friends I’m available by phone call only, and, well, get the digital itch out of my system. At first, I found it curious to discover that the real purpose of a Sabbath weekend, for me, was to get offline. Work wasn’t the problem, neither was stress or goals or even spending money, although I miss the coffee shop visits on the no-spend Sabbaths. Really, the Sabbath weekends are about unplugging from the online world.

I end these weekends around dinner time on Sunday. This gives me time to ease back into the week by catching up on personal e-mail and social media, as well as texts and messages from friends.

The middle parts of Sabbath weekends are where the real magic happens. It can feel so luxurious to read and journal all day. Meditation stills my mind even further and I can sometimes get two sessions in per day. I also take time to cook or bake and putter around the house. Cleaning takes on a slow, ritualistic quality, as do any walks I take. I can easily find myself watching the sun angle its way across the walls and windows for an hour or more – it gets that relaxing.

It’s not always easy, though. Sometimes I get a real itch to check e-mail, Twitter, or Facebook. I wonder if I’m missing important messages. I pick up my phone compulsively until I calm my system down enough to break the habit. Sabbaths when I don’t spend money are rare because I at least want the stimulation that coffee shops or dinner with friends provide.

digital detox sabbathBut the difficulties of a Sabbath weekend make me much more aware of how stressed and plugged in I am. Feeling “wired” feels normal until I unplug completely. And on most Sabbath weekends, I reach a level of relaxation that rivals a 7-day vacation.

By the time Sunday evening rolls around, I’m sometimes eager and sometimes sad to plug back in. After my first Sabbath, I was incredibly disappointed that nothing interesting had happened by e-mail or social media. I scrolled and scrolled and there was nothing interesting! And yet I normally see these digital channels as incredibly important and interesting. Well, it’s always good to check your assumptions and routines.

These days, I’ve found a balance for my Sabbaths. If it’s a no-spend weekend, I stock up on books, magazines, and good food. I plan small projects, like cleaning and organizing, journaling, meditating on certain heart issues, yoga sessions, cooking, baking, writing to friends, and napping. (Naps are the best part of Sabbath weekends.) I’ve hiked on Sabbath weekends, but I try to resist a post-hike beer or ice cream treat. Mindfulness is key to these experiences.

On Sabbaths when I plan to spend money, I determine in advance if, how, and when I’ll go out. I can be mindful and unplugged in coffee shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and even bars. But I need to check hours and movie times before I turn off my computer for the weekend!

digital detox sabbathWhen I think about the next year, I’d like to do a Sabbath weekend every month. It’s not feasible for me to be offline every weekend (or is it? that’s an assumption), but a once-a-month reset works wonders. I also think I could stand a no-spend Sabbath once every three months. These are true resets, like mini-vacations.

In an age when we’re all plugged in, more and more so, and the news cycle is fast and furious, a Sabbath weekend seems to support my peace of mind, my physical health, and even my wallet.

Do you honor Sabbaths within your faith or on your own? Have you ever done a digital detox? If you have tips to share, or questions, please post them below!


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