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Autumn, and Sabbath

I have found no place on earth more lovely than the Colorado Rocky Mountains in autumn. The aspen leaves have faded and fallen, and we’ve enjoyed our first snows as the Earth moves toward a winter’s rest. The days are shorter, the elk and deer are preparing for their winter gestational cycles, to mature into the young calves of spring. The green grasses of summer crisps brown underfoot, and an occasional fog darkens the days, freezes to the trees, and shimmer like a billion crystals in the pine groves.

As the calendar ebbs and the daylight gets shorter, I find myself in a more contemplative mood, reflecting on another year nearly gone. This year, like many before, has been full of great joys and more than a few frustrations, but in the main it has been a good year. In the “personal improvement” category, I have been able to chalk up a few wins.

First, and perhaps least on my list, I’m ending this year with the best level of physical fitness I’ve ever had. This has been no easy task, as I will likely have ridden 4,000 miles on my bicycle and spent 3-4 days each week in the gym. Coupled with a healthy diet – some say borderline ascetic – I’ve kept a very lean, strong frame.

Second came in the form of a mixed blessing. In April I was replaced as CEO of the company I had run since 2008. I was asked (and accepted) to remain with the company that I have loved for nearly a decade (hired on in 2006) and was able to craft a role more aligned with my talents and passions. I hadn’t realized how much stress I had been under! While I work at least as many hours as before, I came to realize that I want neither the responsibility nor the stress that the guy at the top has to shoulder. I was replaced with a friend, and it’s an honor and joy to serve with him.

Third, and most important, I’ve been able to return to deeper reading and deeper thinking. Carrying less stress and adjusting my calendar a bit, I’ve created space in my life for scripture and other deep readings, prayer, meditation, and much thought. By creating a little margin in my head I’ve been able to get back in touch with some of the disciplines that have brought me much joy in years past.

I recently read a series of short books by Laura Vanderkam that have helped me begin to build the same level of discipline around my schedule that I have had in physical fitness and diet for years. My days start much earlier (and end earlier), but have more structure. The alarm sounds at 5:05 AM and I’m up within a few minutes. Three days a week I’m in the gym for an hour; two days I’m reading by the fire. I get a good two hours of important life done before the sun comes up and the schedule of the day imposes.

I also realized that I have blocks of productive time from 8:00 until around 10:30, which I block for work-related reading, writing, and production. I try and avoid meetings or calls during this period, and I don’t check email. (This has been a huge adjustment in a virtual company where we all work from home!) Around 10:30 or 11:00 I’ll check and process email for a while, and then shut it off when the burning embers of my inbox go back to a smolder. I return any calls, make lunch, and get back to production work or any conference calls I’m essential for.

The afternoon is more of the same, with a block of time followed by the niggling issues of email or phone calls. I hit a bit of a wall around 3:00, but that gives me a chance to pick up a kid from school and handle a few personal errands if necessary. I get another flurry of productivity between 4:00 and 7:00, and by then it’s time to shut down the day and do family time.

The overarching theme here is “rhythm.” Like the turning of seasons or the steady inhale-exhale, I believe we are creatures of rhythm. I also believe that this is part of the spiritual truth embedded in the practice of Sabbath. Wayne Muller notes that the world’s great religions all esteem the notion of Sabbath – or deep rest and rhythm – as a time of contemplation, centering, and removing our minds from the incessant crush of busyness. Whether we practice Sabbath because of a deep religious heritage or for a time of personal re-centering, I’ve become a firm believer in built in intentional seasons of rest.

An easy way I’ve started this is with a no-email-on-Sabbath rule. It may seem frivolous but for a guy whose business life revolves so much around email (plus all the social emails that come into personal accounts) I found it too tempting to check my email when I had no legitimate reason to do so. Sitting in traffic, during a commercial break on family TV night, bored in church, sitting on a chair lift on a snowy afternoon – I’ve bowed to my email inbox in all these places, some of which are too sacred to be interrupted by the shrill call of email. So now, from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday email is strictly forbidden for me.

The first few weeks I tried this I was surprised and disappointed at how addicted I am to my email. Not wanting to have someone else’s expectations sitting unmet in my inbox, I fretted over what is getting stale or how far behind I might be getting as folks continued to lob stuff to me when I wasn’t looking. But after a few weeks it has become not only my new normal; it’s something I eagerly look forward to.

I understand that for many this is milquetoast. “It’s not a REAL Sabbath” folks can legitimately say. I am not keeping a Jewish Sabbath, and I’m not avoiding many other forms of technology in which I can operate and still enjoy rest. But getting the constant stressor and distraction of email out of my life for at least a solid 24 hours each week has made a profound difference in my stress levels and in my mindfulness.

Sabbath is quickly coming on this autumn Friday here in the Rockies; the sun is all but gone by 5:00 PM. As my Cabernet muse beckons, I’ll begin Sabbath with a little reflection on this week nearly gone, and some loose thinking of the new week about to be born. And I’ll do it with a greater level of peace and satisfaction than I’ve had in a long time.

Join me in Sabbath.

  1. Carol McClintock
    November 15, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    This is wonderful, honey. I read it to your dad and he said, “Where did he come from? It baffles me that I had anything to do with our children.” (That is meant, of course, as high praise.) We are so very proud of you. Mom

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