Everyday Shabbat and Mindfulness

young woman with her eyes closed, face up to the sky
Image by Hannah Williams 

I’ve watched in awe and admiration as the mindfulness movement has grown immensely over my lifetime. What started as a group of techniques practiced almost exclusively by Buddhist monks has been distilled, studied by scientists, adapted to Western culture, and found its way into the very heart of the conversation of mental health, well-being, and productivity at work.

As a student of world religions and as a rabbi—a specialist in Judaism—I am inspired to share helpful techniques from my own tradition to add to this emerging global mindfulness conversation.

Many of the most beloved mindfulness techniques involve relating intentionally to the breath and bringing awareness to the present moment. These methods have been shown again and again to promote calm, clarity, and a more spacious mind. In Jewish culture, we cultivate similar qualities on Shabbat, the day of rest and delight.

Based on this millennia-old tradition, here are four simple ways that anyone can find beauty, appreciation, and deeper refreshment, even while on a break during their regular workday.

1. Put that phone away

The whole idea of taking time off from your work (even for 15 minutes) is to be engaging with something pleasant, not with the “to-dos” of the world. Whether it’s notifications from social media, emails from colleagues, or an update about the worst things that happened today (otherwise known as “the news,”), your devices are incredibly likely to remind you of how the world is lacking, broken, or difficult. Being refreshed on a break, first and foremost, requires disengaging from anything that needs to be fixed, and giving attention to what is nourishing, enjoyable, and whole.

With that in mind, the next three points are about feeling good!

2. Eat something delicious

What’s your favorite food? Take some of it to work. While we often think of “overindulging” or “spoiling ourselves” with treats or delights, in the right balance and at the right moment eating something truly enjoyable can take us home to that feeling of all that is right in the world. Whether it’s with the main course, a snack, a salad, or a dessert (or all of them!), culinary bliss is an incredibly easy and fundamentally human way to relax and be content.

3. Seek social balance

Are you an introvert who works with people or in high-stimulation environments? When you take a break, spend time alone or in whichever way allows you to feel recharged. Do not bend to the pressure that may exist around you to have lunch with co-workers when you know you will feel drained.

Are you an extrovert? Do you crave connection during your free time? Find people who want to hang out and talk. Or, if there are particular people you really like spending time with, seek them out. As much as possible during your break, be around those who bring you joy or mutual compassion.

As Joseph Campbell said, “follow your bliss.” But, in this case, follow it specifically on your break. Whether you’re in the mood to be with others or not, aiming for social contentment and well-being will lead you to a much higher likelihood of feeling energized.

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4. Bring positivity to mind

If step 1 is about saying “no” to what is broken in the world, step 4 is about saying “yes” to what is intact. Study after study shows that more gratitude in your life leads to greater well-being. Finding even small things to celebrate and appreciate can lift your mood and recharge your batteries.

Next time you take a pause from work, whether you are alone or with others, seek out one thing you can think about or bring up in conversation that you feel truly grateful for. It could be the accomplishment of a friend or family member or noticing nature or architecture you find beautiful while looking out the window. Maybe it’s just about naming how glad you are to have your health and enough food to eat. Whatever it is, bringing tangible positivity to mind can uplift the way you feel in a short time.

Let Your Downtime Fill You Back Up

Try out these four methods on your next lunch break and I guarantee it will bring you more happiness and well-being. There is plenty of time and many worthwhile reasons to engage with what needs improvement, but to get the most out of your time off, it’s best to leave that aside for the moment. If you immerse yourself in things that bring ease, positive feelings, and delight, you’ll feel better on your break and be able to bring a clearer mind to the work that lays ahead of you.

Copyright 2023. All Rights Reserved.

BOOK BY THIS AUTHOR: Embodied Kabbalah

Embodied Kabbalah: Jewish Mysticism for All People
by Matthew Ponak

cover of the book Embodied Kabbalah: Jewish Mysticism for All People by Matthew PonakTouching Infinity with your feet planted in ordinary reality; this is the goal of Jewish mysticism. In this transformational work, Matthew Ponak brings forward essential teachings from Kabbalah and places them side-by-side with profound inspirations from our era and the world's great wisdom traditions. In an age polarized between materialism and spiritual bypassing, Embodied Kabbalah offers a vision that is balanced, nuanced, and hopeful.

For more info and/or to order this book, click here

About the Author

photo of Rabbi Matthew PonakRabbi Matthew Ponak is a teacher of Jewish mysticism, a spiritual counselor, and the cofounder of the Mekorah Institute—an online spiritual center for embodied practice. Ordained with honors as a rabbi at the neo-Hasidic Rabbinical School of Hebrew College, he also holds a Master’s degree in Contemplative Religions from Naropa University.

Matthew lives in Victoria, British Columbia, and is certified as a Focusing Professional to guide others to deeper self-knowledge and healing. He is the author of Embodied Kabbalah. Learn more at matthewponak.com

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