As I reflect upon my childhood, some of my fondest memories involve celebrating Friday night Shabbat with my family. The thought of a delicious meal in a home filled with joy and gratitude still brings a smile to my face.
The essence of Shabbat lies within the family. In fact, for my family, Shabbat was a weekly ritual. Following Friday night services, we would head home, light the Shabbat candles, say the blessings, and eat. What made these evenings so memorable was that we were present. No cell phones. No television. No iPads. No video games.
Today, in an increasingly digitalized world, “real life” family dynamics are seemingly pushed to the side. It is ironic that devices intended to connect, in fact, do the opposite. Interpersonal relationships have been confined to a 2-inch by 4-inch screen.
When dining out, it is commonplace for me to observe adults and children glued to cell phone screens. Some families go entire meals without having a meaningful conversation! Regrettably, I am sometimes distracted by digital interruptions as well. In fact, who isn’t? These habits are in stark contrast to the ideals and traditions of Shabbat. Interconnectedness. Positive engagement. Mindfulness.
Mindfulness, a practice that promotes serenity and present-mindedness, has become a hot topic in the psychological community. In a world confined by “what ifs,” “if onlys,” and “should haves,” mindfulness encourages us to take a step back, be present and self-aware, and approach the world non-judgmentally.
Like Shabbat, mindfulness is practiced ritualistically and encourages us to reconnect with ourselves, engage with others and restore our sense of faith. Let’s take advantage of Shabbat to process our days, learn from the teachings of the Torah, and care for others. Mindful practices can be creative and should involve the entire family. Some practical recommendations include inviting friends for Shabbat dinner, having children pick the menu and help cook, or surprising everyone with a fun dessert. It is even acceptable to order in! The possibilities are endless.
Family oriented, ritualistic experiences are not limited to Shabbat. I encourage families to carve out these moments throughout the week. In my family, UGA football is sacred. It has always been a family ritual to watch games together and to cheer for the Bulldogs. Weekly game nights, weekend ice cream gatherings, or trips to the park might be other experiences to promote connectedness in families.
As we celebrate mental health awareness this month, let’s be mindful in our approach to improve ourselves and our relationships. Let’s turn off our cell phones, disconnect the Wi-Fi, and put our technological lives on pause. Let’s get back to the essence of Shabbat and strive to create mindful and meaningful experiences. Visit www.mentalhealthshabbat.org for a collection of resources curated by The Blue Dove Foundation to host Mental Health Awareness Shabbat Dinners.
Dr. Matt Levy is a clinical psychologist with the Sandy Springs Psychological Center. He is also a volunteer and contributor for The Blue Dove Foundation, which promotes awareness, education and outreach about mental illness and substance abuse in the Jewish community. If you or someone you know is struggling with these issues, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org, or The Blue Dove’s resources pages, www.thebluedovefoundation.org