How Sabbath Time (aka Downtime) Can Deepen Intimacy in All Your Relationships

One of the first challenges I noticed when I was going through my own “Calling in ‘The One’” process was that I was living my life in a schism; there was the Anastasia who was deeply attentive to my inner world and could carefully mirror and respond to my inner feelings and needs (when I made the time), and there was my robot Anastasia, the older version of me who put the demands of everything else ahead of me – be it work requests, the needs of friends or family, or almost anything anyone could ask for that would reflexively provoke the people-pleaser in me.

Life inside the hours spent with Robot Me were awful. I felt anxious, angry, sad, disconnected, and hopeless all at once. Lasting love felt impossible in this space, and a part of me had resigned myself to a life of solitude that appeared to be my fate. I had no idea at the time that these dark feelings were all warning signs from my body that I’d abandoned myself, leaving my Inner Child to fend for herself, and was unconsciously treating myself the way my father had as a child.

So one of the questions I asked my mentor, Katherine Woodward Thomas, on one of our supervision calls was “how on earth does anyone manage to work a full-time job, manage a life of familial and friend obligations AND take the time to tune into one’s feelings and needs with any degree of regularity?” I remember her saying this was a good question and one facing many of us in this era of constant business. She recommended the book “Sabbath” by Wayne Muller as having practical tools for finding stillness among the demands of our busy lives. I bought the book and devoured it, immediately adopting many of the practices Mr. Muller outlines. To this day, few other books have had such a profound impact on my life and my ability to create space for intimacy with myself or others.

Having returned from a vacation recently, I was struck by how profoundly these practices have created a space for intimacy to flourish in all my close relationships, and especially with myself. Below, I offer a few of my favorite “Sabbath” time practices and principles, in hopes that you too can enjoy the ease that comes when you create conscious space for connection.

Sabbath is not just for Jews! It’s simply a time that you dedicate mindfully to appreciating everything you have and all that’s good in your world – When I was single, at first practicing Sabbath felt impossible or like the saddest thing a person could do – to turn off one’s phone, and simply appreciate what is. But within weeks of me giving the Sabbath a try, I couldn’t choose to live without it. As a single woman in Brooklyn, I’d take an opaque water bottle filled with wine to a sun-filled park near my house, and lay out sunning on a blanket as I read the NY Times. Often I’d prearrange a friend to come visit me there on the hill and we’d share a Sabbath picnic in the sun. Or I’d bike down to the beach, and swim in the ocean before reading my favorite book, with or without a friend. These days were heavenly, and in the spaciousness they created, I learned what it meant to “feel like home” to myself, and eventually to my partner.

Sabbath doesn’t have to be all day; it can be a morning, an afternoon, or even several hours (though I personally have come to adore the benefits of a full-day of Sabbath) – When I first read the book, I thought Mr. Muller was crazy and that there was no way I could survive 24 hours without checking my phone, or Facebook, or texting someone, anyone. So I began turning my phone off for several hours at a time, putting it on airplane mode and then away in a drawer. And very quickly, several hours became mornings, which then became whole days, every weekend. Now I rarely miss a weekly day of Sabbath.

Turning off your phone and computer allows a quality of connection with yourself and others that’s simply not possible with them on – One of my earliest discoveries with Sabbath was that after I took a deep breath and shut off my phone, and powered down my computer, after the initial existential anxiety had passed, something unimaginable came – total peace, and a sublime sense of stillness. It was a feeling I hadn’t really let myself feel in the frantic rush to be with others in arguably one of the world’s loneliest cities. Turning my phone off created space for me to be curious about my inner world – to tune into my feelings and needs with a depth of presence I couldn’t bring to them when a part of my brain was awaiting a text that didn’t necessarily come or any other external distraction. For the first time ever, in the thick of a super demanding job, my little girl came to trust my care for her. She knew that no matter what else was going on, she’d get to spend at least a whole day each week in my loving care. And as this care for myself deepened, almost immediately, intimacy with other people began to deepen too. It’s very difficult to be anything but loving towards someone practicing this amount of caring contact with their inner experience.

Choosing not to spend money for a day allows you to feel how truly abundant you are – This was a radical practice suggested by Mr. Muller that made me so uncomfortable upon reading it, I knew I had to give it a try. And something magical happened. In those 24 hours I’d committed to perceiving the good in my world, I came to feel actually super abundant, even while working a job that in no way reflected my value at the time. There was so much food on my shelves. I had dresses deep in my closet I could wear and feel like I’d discovered something new. I watched as each of my impulses to buy things dissolved in the attention of my curiosity to explore what lay beneath them. I discovered that the vast majority of things I felt I “had to buy” were really attempts to avoid feeling certain feelings – feelings of emptiness, of not enoughness, or some other version of feeling I would never have enough. So in my Sabbath space, I could turn towards these feelings, and listen to what lay beneath my almost incessant drive to buy. I had time to listen deeply to my Wounded Parts and to let my little girl know what was really true about her – how complete and whole she was, how perfectly enough she was without doing (or buying) a thing, and how much she was already provided for by the universe and always would be. Suddenly my maddening drive to buy things on non-Sabbath days was also deflated. I started to buy things I truly needed or that brought me joy from a place of wholeness. And I discovered how very little it took for me to feel full and that all my needs were and always would be taken care of perfectly.

Sabbath = Sensuality! I was surprised to read that Orthodox Jews practiced regular lovemaking on the Sabbath, seeing enjoying one’s body and one’s sensuality as one of God’s gifts to be savored. As a single person, I let that idea give me permission to enjoy my body (thank goodness for Babeland and Nicole Daedone’s work; if you haven’t read her book, please do!). And as a married woman now, this idea of allowing space for the sensual has been an engine of joy for myself and my husband. I will leave it at that but invite you all to imagine how you might take on the challenge of more deeply appreciating all the sensuality the Universe gave you and your partner (or you and yourself/toys as a single person!). I trust you’ll find no shortage of ideas…

Sabbath can be about sharing all you have with those you love most  – One of the first things I realized would bring me great joy was to regularly celebrate my friendships in the space created by Sabbath. As I said, that sometimes looked like meeting my friends for lunch on a hill. Or now it looks like friends coming over to go walking together in the woods. For many years, my friends and I created a weekly dinner at one of our homes where we’d unite, bringing food to cook together. This created such a beautiful rhythm to life, and contact that would have otherwise been challenging in a city as busy as NYC. Who would you love to spend leisurely time with? How might you create space for regular contact with the people you love most?

Sabbath is time to savor Nature in all its glory – Again, when I was living in Brooklyn, I thought contact with Nature would be a challenge. But soon I began exploring all the parks around me, and biking further afield, almost weekly to various beaches in the summertime. And what joy that brought – to spend part or all of a day surrounded by gorgeous Nature, whatever the season. So many studies have shown the benefits of digging your barefoot feet into grass, of looking at trees, or up at the sky. How might you increase your exposure to all the wonders Nature is holding around you this very moment? Is there a golf course or park nearby you might cross-country ski on this winter? Is there a wooded park you can stroll in, wondering at the beauty of trees resting until Spring? Try this out. See how all the worries that occupy your mind while indoors melt away in the face of Nature’s endless beauty to be explored. Walking in the woods with my husband or with friends is one of my favorite Sabbath activities. How beautiful it feels to remember our place in the larger scheme of the natural world.

Hopefully one or more of these practices inspires you to make space for Sabbath time in your own life. If you take on some of these practices, or have other favorite Sabbath activities you love and could not live without, I’d love to know what they are!

Notice, above all else, how time expands, and work gets done in the days designated for that. And how much spaciousness resides within your decision to claim Sabbath time for yourself. You deserve rest. You deserve time and space to appreciate yourself, your loved ones, and all the beauty in your world that awaits your attention. Not just once, but weekly, if not more often.

I’m wishing you all the peace, loving connection, and stillness that comes when you give yourself time to regularly appreciate how incredible you are, how much you already have, how remarkable the world outside you is, how much you’re supported, and how deeply you are loved.

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