I’m currently reading a wonderful book by my Twitter friend @ExmoorJane, better known to readers of The Lady and numerous health and well-being magazines and books as Jane Alexander.
The book’s called The Overload Solution and it’s packed to the page numbers with good sense and practical strategies.
But sometimes all it takes is one line. Propped up in bed this morning - Sunday morning - I was looking at the chapter on downshifting, simplifying and slowing down, when I read the words ‘keep one day a week as a sabbath’.
Keep this one day clear, Jane goes on to suggest, from ‘mundane tasks, shopping, and so on. Use it for soul work - meditation, prayer, contemplation - and for your family’.
It’s such a perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you
That single thought took me back to simpler times in my own life, as a child, free from the kind of demands and responsibilities that have brought me, so many times in recent years, to the brink of overload (and a few times beyond…).
In our home Sundays were reserved for family and friends. The shops were shut and so was the office. The housework had been done the previous day, which left the hours from dawn to dusk as open and full or promise as a field of freshly fallen snow. There was nothing obviously religious about my parents’ decision to keep the sabbath; very rarely did the day involve going to church. Rather, they were continuing a tradition they’d grown up with: dad was doing what his father before him had done, hanging up the flour-caked apron on the bakehouse door and putting on his suit for that one day when even the horse that pulled the family breadcart got a rest and an extra ration of oats.
So the radio would go on and after a lazy breakfast with the paper both mum and dad moved to the kitchen from where the smells of a roast beef lunch would fill the house. Later, grandparents would arrive to share that lunch, bringing with them their own particular smells, of rosewater and facepowder, of sweet tobacco and greenhouse tomatoes. Roast dinners still smell like home to me.
Or we would pile into the car and head out to spend the day with cousins, aunts and uncles playing pitch and putt on the municipal golfcourse, or rounders on top of Coombe Hill. Or with old schoolfriends of our parents’ and their young families, who’d haul board games from toy cupboards or take us to the local swings.
On the rare occasions we didn’t share these sabbaths with others my dad might drive us to the woods to pick bluebells or to the viewing platform at Luton Airport to watch the planes land (the fact that both things were possible then gives you some idea of how long ago this all was).
Sunday bloody Sunday
Somewhere along the way Sunday’s lost their specialness in my life, to the extent that very often all they offer is more of the same: more stuff to do, more lists, more shopping, washing, cleaning, answering emails, catching up on work. There is no shape to the seven days of the week, but merely an endless morphing of one day into the next, and then the next after that.
And yes, I am well aware of the irony of writing this blog on a Sunday because I didn’t find time on Monday, Tuesday, Saturday or any other day for the last few weeks. But bear with me, because when I used that quote from Perfect Day a moment ago - ‘I’m glad I spent it with you’ - I wasn’t only suggesting we could think about saving one day a week to spend with loved ones. Spending time with ourselves is also spending time with those we could show more love to…
For me, spending time with myself is a key part of a perfect day, a perfect sabbath, meaning space for reflection, looking inwards, making the time to listen to myself and to connect with what I feel to be true in that deepest soul level that Jane Alexander speaks of. Sometimes my way of getting there is through the words I write on a page or screen.
Spiritual not political
At the end of a week in which millions of words, and most conversations, have focused on riots, looting and lawlessness across the UK, and their causes, I’m drawn more than ever to Russell Brand’s conclusion in one of the most articulate analyses of the week that I have read: ‘we all intuitively know that the solution is all around us and it isn’t political, it is spiritual. Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.’ http://www.russellbrand.tv/2011/08/big-brother-isnt-watching-you/
Jane is careful to talk of a sabbath rather than the sabbath. It need not be a religious thing but a choice for the soul. A chance to reconnect with our spirit, to keep sacred for ourselves, for the things we love to do, the people we care about but find it so hard to make time for, for slowing down enough to taste our food, see the seasons changing around us and yes, smell the roses, one day a week.
That wouldn’t be a bad way to start being the change we want to see…
Jane Alexander’s website http://www.janealexander.org/Home-set.htm
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