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Sabbath Offers Serenity in a Fast-Paced World
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Posted Wednesday, Apr 27th, 2011

Sabbath Offers Serenity in a Fast-Paced World

By Jill Huber

Once upon a time, the workday ended when we left the workplace and returned home; now, however, thanks to voice mail, e-mail, smart phones, laptop computers, a myriad of other PDAs, and hundreds of cable television and radio channels that provide 24-hour access, our work follows us wherever we go.

And because information technology plays an ever-increasing role in our lives, the desire to utilize its many features can often cause us to focus on what is urgent, rather than what’s truly important, experts say. In addition, finding a sense of inner peace in a world that doesn’t let us rest has become an important consideration that, if ignored, can lead to a chaotic life full of stress and anxiety, they add.

But the ancient institution of Shabbat can bring balance to the equation. Oasis in Time: The Gift of Shabbat in a 24/7 World, the Spring 2011 course presented by The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), will offer ways to achieve a life of rest, relaxation, inspiration, and fulfillment amongst all the distractions and circumstances that breed stress and anxiety.

Rabbi Meir Moscowitz of Chabad of Northbrook will conduct the six course sessions Tuesday evenings and Wednesday mornings starting May 10th at Chabad of Northbrook 755 Huehl Rd in Northbrook.

The practice of Shabbat has a proven track record of positive influence. For example, a 2008 JPSYCH research study at Bowling Green University in Ohio determined that religious beliefs and practices can protect against anxiety and depression among Jews. The research team found strong evidence that indicated religious practice and spirituality is connected to lower stress levels in the Jewish community.

The study also revealed that frequency of prayer, synagogue attendance, religious study, and positive beliefs about G-d are strongly associated with significantly decreased levels of anxiety and increased levels of happiness.

“In this day and age, there is a lot to worry about,” said David Hillel Rosmarin, who helped spearhead the study, “and the practice of religion may help people to maintain equanimity and perspective.”

Other studies also have shown that higher levels of trust in G-d by Jewish believers resulted in less anxiety and depression, greater personal happiness, and served as a psychological and spiritual resource in times of stress, by encouraging a sense of spiritual support, inspiration, hope, appreciation, and gratitude, Rosmarin added.

And promoting a sense of hope and serenity is what Shabbat is all about, according to Rabbi Zalman Abraham, Oasis in Time course author.

“For the past half decade, I’ve taken special interest in the depth and relevance of Shabbat as a model for how to find serenity and a transcendent frame of mind throughout life’s experiences,” he said. “Exploring some of the secret ingredients to Shabbat’s tranquility in traditional and kabbalistic sources, I discovered a wealth of insight that I believe many in society would benefit from tremendously.”

Because unending workdays, top-heavy family and work agendas, and an increasingly wide range of household responsibilities hardly provoke a sense of calm, making time to take care of yourself — through Shabbat observance — is an essential avenue of release, Rabbi Abraham noted.

“The time is ripe for society to explore the depth and relevance of Shabbat’s timeless truths, and unlock the secrets of religion and the hidden value it can unearth that will add depth, purpose, and meaning to our lives,” the rabbi said.

In ancient Judaic texts, there are many references that cite the necessity of maintaining personal health, said author Lisa Pinkus, in BellaOnline.

“Caring for ourselves physically and spiritually is a path of sanctification, of holiness, bringing us closer to God,” Pinkus said.

The consequences of not dealing with stress and anxiety usually have dire and lasting effects on our personal and professional lives, noted Irene O. Sanborn, MSW, director of community outreach for Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey, an agency that provides counseling and other services to mental health consumers throughout the state.

“The negative impact of stress, whether due to the pressures of school work, financial concerns, job security, or PDA access, makes people feel overloaded,” Sanborn said. “The overload can result in panic attacks, unhealthy eating habits, health problems, and burnout. In the midst of all of this interference, it’s hard to define what is urgent versus what’s important.”

As a result, high levels of anxiety can disrupt relationships at home and at the office, and lead to unhealthy outcomes, such as substance abuse; reckless spending habits; argumentative behavior; difficulty concentrating on domestic and work-related tasks, coupled with memory loss; and an overall sense of negativity, she added.

Even a decent night’s sleep can become a thing of the past; the National Sleep Foundation estimates that at least 47 million Americans are not getting adequate sleep because of the presence of stress and anxiety in their lives. These individuals are more likely to get involved in accidents, experience road rage, engage in arguments with others, and suffer from severe depression and a sense of isolation, according to the foundation’s research.

And when individuals feel increasingly isolated from their peers at work or from family members and friends, they have trouble functioning on all fronts, noted Sanborn.

“Isolation is a bad sign, because it’s an indicator that people are having difficulty coping with their stress and anxiety levels,” she said. “When this mood prevails, everything becomes urgent, but in reality, little of it is really important.”

Shabbat observance signifies a change from a daily routine that is driven by stress and offers a period of reflection and peace as an alternative, Sanborn noted.

“The Shabbat provides uninterrupted time to spend with family and friends, and it is something to look forward to, since you know it will be a stress-free interlude,” she said. “As you decompress, you gain perspective and can separate what seems urgent versus what is truly important.”

Stephen Tanenbaum, a real estate developer from Oklahoma City who plans to enroll in JLI’s Oasis in Time course, feels Shabbat observance offers respite from a hectic lifestyle.

“I was once told that the Jews have kept Shabbat and Shabbat has kept the Jews,” said Tanenbaum, 32, “and I think the Oasis course will help me to fully understand this phrase. Only by learning to ‘unplug’ for a 24-hour period can I learn to fully appreciate the importance of distancing myself from the madness of the day and find relaxation through praying, studying, and engaging in more personal reflection and engaging with my wife on a level with less distractions.”

His job often turns into a balancing act; he often juggles as many as fifteen projects in different stages of development, and communicates with a large group of people via office phones, cell phones, e-mail exchanges, text messages, and social networks.

“It’s overwhelming, and even though I attend Shabbat services, I’m still far from truly embracing its power,” Tanenbaum said. “I hope to gain insight into the powerful aspects of Shabbat and find an area that will help me ‘turn off.’”

Ironically, the constant deluge of digital input can wreak havoc with our communications abilities, according to Dr. Ken Goldberg, a robotics professor at the University of California’s Berkeley campus and director of Berkeley’s Center for New Media.

“Paying attention, being patient, listening to people, and concentrating on an idea not easily expressed in 140 characters are skills we’re in danger of losing unless we learn to occasionally unplug,” said Dr. Goldberg. “Ancient rabbis knew this.”

Interested students may call 847-564-8770 or visit www.ChabadNorthbrook.com/JLI for registration and other course-related information. JLI courses are presented in Northbrook in conjunction with Lubavitch Chabad of Northbrook. 

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