Mental Health Minute - Slowing Down

An article in the Harvard business review tracked an interesting change in our culture over the last 100 years. In the old days, being able to afford leisure time was a status symbol. It meant that a person was wealthy enough not to work and it was viewed favorably.

A new trend, however, has changed all that. What is now perceived as high status is when a person says they are busy. It is a sign of success and value that a person is constantly busy. It must be they are always wanted for their talents and ambition. While sometimes true, it means people look to become busy for the sake of status. There is a danger, however, that comes with always being busy. It seriously infringes on the ability to think big and have the peace of mind to capture important opportunities in life. Furthermore, it destroys mindfulness, a cornerstone of mental health. Noted psychiatrist Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk describes it this way, “mindfulness not only makes it possible to survey our internal landscape with compassion and curiosity but can also actively steer us in the right direction for self care.”

This idea is borne out when we analyze how the Torah communicates the initial stages of the exodus. Moses arrives on the scene and the Jews are receptive. He has given them the special password that redemption is around the corner and they are ready. Pharaoh, in contrast, is not ready to let go of his slaves. He devises a brilliant plan of how to keep them in Egypt. One might think, Pharaoh should make it slightly easier, convince the Hebrew slaves that it isn’t so bad in Egypt. Instead, he does the opposite. He makes things much worse. He adds layer of work to an already difficult situation. He prohibits the normal Shabbat break and the reading of hope filled scrolls detailing a future redemption. He knows that if he can just make them busy and cut them off from their break that it would be sufficient.

Sure enough, that is exactly what happens. Rather than let the slaves go and ease their work, Pharoah makes their life much worse. The slaves engage in super intense work that is unending. When Moses comes and claims that the plan for redemption has only hit a hiccup but will continue nonetheless as promised, the Hebrews don’t listen this time. What is interesting is why they don’t listen. The Torah says they didn’t listen because they were ‘short of breath’ and because of the ‘hard work’. As Pharoh understood, when stressed in the moment and fatigued, it becomes hard to think, and even harder to activate mindfulness. Even though it was detrimental to stay in this situation, they couldn’t think about the thought of change or develop the self- leadership to make it happen.

This is the danger of a busy life. It leaves us short on thinking in general, and in particular with the ability to think about change. Luckily, we are not enslaved, but can be busy and constantly bothered by our technology. It is crucial we don’t let busy short circuit our ability to process life. Via Shabbats and quiet moments throughout the day we can make sure we have moments of big thinking and mindfulness.