One of our congregational leaders is fond of using the term dooless which the Urban Dictionary defines as “Utterly useless and worthless. Describes a person incapable of completing a task or an object that serves no purpose.” It’s certainly true that some people are more motivated than others (I’m sure we’ve all experienced this phenomenon), but perhaps we should also think about how we allocate our time and the sheer volume of “doing” in our lives. We Americans are doers. Once upon a time, more people worked to live — clocking in from 9 to 5 and generally spending evenings and weekends with family or friends. These days it seems many more live to work allowing work tasks and unfinished projects to creep into our iPhones (and consciousness).
Obsessive doing and excessive stimulation are particularly pervasive in cities where a recent study shows a higher incidence of depression and even insanity. We urban-dwellers try to do too much, too often. I gave a sermon last Rosh Hashanah encouraging more uni-tasking. One interesting statistic from that talk relates to the ubiquitous “screen.” A Kaiser Foundation study found that 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes per day to electronic media. And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multi-tasking’ (i.e., texting while watching TV and playing Angry Birds), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media consumption into those 7 1/2 hours. This is certainly a problem and uni-tasking is a good strategy for doing fewer things at once, — giving our undivided attention to a book or a patient, a kiss or a game of cribbage.
But today, as I write these words overlooking beautiful Lake Walloon in Northern Michigan, I want to argue that we should spent a bit more time doing nothing at all — that we literally do less. I, like so many of you, live in a world of productivity and occasionally get frustrated by the dooless who force the rest of us to pick up the slack. But having a healthy work ethic doesn’t mean interminable doing. It means when we work we work hard and well. And then we stop.
Jewish tradition has a model for the cessation of doing and the return to being — Shabbat. The Hebrew is related to the word “to strike.” God’s first Shabbat was also the first labor strike. Shabbat is a once-a-week get out of jail free card. Understanding the inertia of doing, Shabbat’s purpose is to force us to take a break. But Shabbat is more than a day; it’s also a state of mind. Properly understood, Shabbat is a litmus test of healthy living, challenging us the other six days of the week to pause, look up from the screen and take stock.
This “Shabbat-oriented living” is hardly simple and requires a fair amount of willpower and mindfulness. I must admit, I am far from mastering it myself. Which is why those of us who proudly call ourselves urban-dwellers must occasionally get out of dodge to places like Lake Walloon where the breeze is just now coming off Lake Michigan, the air is clear and the most pervasive sounds come from birds, children and luffing sails
On that note, dear reader, I will now now put away my laptop. I have an appointment for the next hour to do… nothing.