Saturday, March 5, 2011

Breaking the Rhythm

Lord knows we could all use a break.

God takes the 7th day off in the Creation story of Genesis. "And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done."

The revolutionary sabbath of the Israelites is built right into the cosmology. It is there from day 1...or day 7 anyway. It carries not only an acknowledgment that we all need rest, but that we need rhythm.

Today, we take the seven-day week which shapes and orders our lives for granted. Its rhythms are played out in all kinds of ways which shape our daily decisions: from attempting to skirt week-day "rush hour" traffic to the expectancy of Saturday night to the simple pleasures of the secular Sabbath, "lazy Sunday."

These weekly rhythms define life even for the increasing number of us whose schedules don't fit the pattern. A waiter may gripe over having to work Saturday night even though abundant tips might afford two work-less weekdays. Students like myself celebrate the coming of the weekend even though weekend leisure is just as pricey production-wise as weekday relaxation. And closing on weekends is seen as suicidal in the world of retail these days, which depend upon the lift they get from weekend shoppers.

Regardless of our religious commitments (or lack thereof) we all struggle to maintain the discipline of rest in our lives. Yet the rhythm sustains. We power through Thursday on the anticipation of the weekend, even though we may know deep down that the work will continue through the weekend.

Coming out of college, I worked the traditional 9-5 schedule and enjoy the clean compartmentalization of this tried and true pattern. Work was work, and I generally left it in the office when I went home. Now that I am student once again, every hour feels stolen from ever-impending coursework. Still, the rhythms of the week keep me focused on the task at hand and provide handy justifications for leisure in turn: "It's Monday morning, I better get out of bed and get to work...It's Saturday night, why can't I got out and enjoy a few drinks with friends?"

Of course, the academic calendar has its own unique rhythms of seasonal blessings and curses. Today's spring break sun throws the looming shadow of finals into relief. I have happily retreated to the the hopes that the peace and quiet will yield productive preparation for the gauntlet ahead.

Yet I am tremendously grateful for the reprieve. It may not bring the exhilarating escape of an adventurous vacation, but it brings the same blessed break in rhythm. For though rhythms help sustain us, they can also lull us into stupor which prevents us from appreciating the glorious opportunity of every it Monday or Sunday. Hopefully, we've all known that pleasure of waking up on vacation and realizing that you don't know what day it is...and celebrating the fact that you don't care.

What are the rhythms that help sustain you? Which tend to wear you down? How might you reinvigorate your day with a break in the rhythms which frame it?

Writing this blog has been a wonderful new weekend rhythm of my life. But it can only maintain its wonder if that rhythm is occasionally broken. This week, I will celebrate the rhythmic reprieve of spring break with three short blog posts (as opposed to one lengthy Saturday effort). On (Ash) Wednesday, I will reflect upon the rhythmic role of this odd and oft-forgotten holiday. Friday, we'll look at reestablishing and refreshing the rhythm.


  1. Great blogpost from Scott! One common adage that can be applied to some of the concepts presented by Scott is "everything in moderatin, including moderation". Balance in life is critical, but its also important not to get too focused on complete balance to the point where spontaneity loses its place in your life.

    I remember hearing in school that 45-50 minutes in the typical amount of time humans are able to sustain focus in classroom/lecture settings. After 45-50 minutes your brain becomes less productive and its best to take a break. After hearing this in college, I made an intentional effort to take hourly 10-15 minute breaks during my exam/project study sessions. Sometimes when I got really focused I would stray from this practice a little, but for the most part I applied this knowledge/model to my study efforts. All in all, this rhythm made studying a lot less daunting, more productive, and generally more enjoyable.

    Has anyone else used context-specific rhythms such as this in other areas of life?

  2. Really timely post for me, Scott, as I struggle to establish new rhythms in my shifting life (from full-time employee of someone else's to student/hourly employee/self-employed entrepreneur). What I have learned is that SOME kind of rhythm is really valuable, and we thrive on it. In its absence things get a bit messy -- at least they have for me. I now have the luxury/burden of trying to define which rhythms actually work for me and put them into place in my life. I'm inspired by your post to keep working to figure that out!