Dormancy and Technology Sabbaths

Dormancy and Technology Sabbaths January 14, 2016

In the Northern Hemisphere, this is the time of the year when seeds lie dormant beneath the soil. Animals, small and large, are napping or hibernating all around us. Despite the unseasonably warm weather in my part of the United States, most of the trees and plants in the forest have shed their leaves and now cast only long shadows into the howling wind.

By Christian Luerssen (Handbuch der Systematischen Botanik) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Christian Luerssen (Handbuch der Systematischen Botanik) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As discussed in my previous article, A Daily Pagan Practice for the Year (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/naturespath/2015/12/a-daily-pagan-practice-for-the-year/), I am working to align my life with the pagan calendar, and my personal theme for the period between Yule and Imbolc is “dormancy and healing.” I feel that this focus reflects the natural environment surrounding me and is facilitated by the long nights and cold weather.

Yet somehow I knew in advance that despite my best hopes for a quiet January, the universe would intervene and present me with the challenge of finding solitude and moments of healing in the midst of an unusually hectic daily life. At home, one of my sons is getting his driver’s license and my car this month. Both of my children have had minor medical procedures, and we’re currently awaiting the results of a biopsy. And of course both of them are teens with all the excitement, socializing, and crises that presents. At work I am managing a large proposal that’s due January 29th. My husband is busy with his own job and we’re preparing to host an elaborate dinner party in two weeks which we donated to our UU fellowship’s fundraising auction. In the longer term, I’m preparing to transition from being the chairman of our social justice committee to the leader of our pagan/Wiccan women’s circle this spring. This includes coordinating two Sunday morning services.

So I have found myself repeatedly trying to answer the question, “How can I even begin to be dormant when my life is so busy?”

I’m discovering that the answer lies in my mental state. I find myself returning to the old analogy of the ocean being calm in the depths beneath even the biggest tempest. This is anything but a simple task, but I’ve found a few practices to be indispensable.

First, and foremost, insight meditation has been an incredible anchor. The less time I have to meditate, the more urgent it is for me to do so. I’ve learned that in a pinch I can skip the soft music, journaling, reading, incense, candles, and myriad of other tasks I have associated with this ritual (admittedly as a way to postpone the often difficult work of sitting still and focusing on my breath) and save time by getting right down to business. Ten or twenty minutes is all I need. My husband is getting used to me dashing upstairs as a dish is cooking or between getting ready for an appointment and leaving the house. It’s not an ideal way to meditate, but I’m decidedly calmer than I am if I don’t, and I find myself facing day to day stress with a more peaceful attitude and better focus. I also find myself much more able to maintain a healthy perspective about what is truly important in my life and what isn’t. And I’ve gotten better at planning and completing tasks in advance so that I’m not rushing around to handle last minute details as a result of procrastination. That’s a big stress reducer in and of itself.

Another aid for finding dormancy and healing are my personal altar rituals. After the holidays I realized I was eating too much, spending too much time online and on the couch, and partaking in more evening cocktails than I should, partly as a result of holiday festivities and partly as a result of stress and laziness, so I set aside time to cast a circle and compare what I truly want in life with how I was living my life. I made a line of stones and stepped over it in a symbolic gesture of returning to healthier habits, including more exercise, higher quality rest, and better dietary choices. It may seem odd to say, but despite my busyness, I find as a result that I now have more time in the evenings to practice the winter hobbies that truly refresh me, such as reading, cross-stitching, and playing musical instruments. To me, that’s dormancy and healing at its best.

Finally, I also have a new tool in my rest and relaxation bag. As a part of my daily pagan practice, I have been seeking out books and videos that touch on the theme of the season. As a result, just after Yule I watched an amazing TED Talk by Pico Iyer called “The Art of Stillness.” During this 15-minute video, he brought up an interesting concept: Internet sabbaths. The idea is simple – set aside one day a week where you don’t use the Internet. I frequently find myself wasting too much time mindlessly perusing websites and looking at social media, despite the fact that I realize that this doesn’t make me happy and keeps me from the people and activities that do. So after some contemplation, I decided that I would transform my Sundays into “technology Sabbaths.” I now try not to look at my cell phone, laptop, desktop, video games, or television for the entire day, other than to sometimes stream relaxing music through our home music system. Sometimes work and volunteer commitments get in the way of this goal, but I’m learning that I can usually overcome these obstacles by doing some preparation earlier in the week. In other words, I have to get my Sunday technology-related work done in advance. But the rewards of doing so far outweigh the drawbacks.

Now when I wake up on Sundays, I no longer grab my cell phone while I’m still in bed to read the latest political news and my friends’ Facebook statuses. Instead, I read a book or cuddle with my husband. I don’t stare mindlessly at videos of cats swatting dogs over breakfast. Instead, I savor the meal. I’m more focused and relaxed during the service at my UU fellowship. Then in the afternoon I have more time for housework, reading, meditating, yoga, personal rituals, napping, creating and listening to music, exercising, and talking with my family. I spend less time looking at the clock and more time enjoying my day off. In short, I’m doing all of the things I love best but didn’t seem to have time for before. And the day doesn’t seem to fly by like it used to. I end the week relaxed and go into Monday with a brighter attitude and a better perspective on life. It’s glorious. I highly recommend this practice to anyone who feels their lives are too controlled by technology and the Internet. It may not be possible every week, but now I look forward to my technology sabbaths.

No matter what you do to rest and regenerate, I hope you will invest time in doing so this season. As with a dormant seed, being still and experiencing solitude is not equal to being dead. Quite the opposite, in fact. The dormant seed is making miraculous, albeit invisible, internal progress in preparation for all the great things it will accomplish later in the year. I believe the same thing happens to people when we take time to be dormant and heal in our daily lives.

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