Take a sabbath from self-improvement

Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement...get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.
— Abraham Joshua Heschel

The sheets roll back and cascade to the floor. Ribs heave sideways as elbows graze your ears in a long, luxurious stretch. Your feet swing over the bedside and reach for that knowing stance on the floor. You are present, maybe for the first time in forever.

Your to-do list— in some predestined kind of way— is just out of reach and you move your fingertips along the wooden side table as a balance beam to get you up. 

Getting up in the morning is an act of grace. There is poetry in your movements. Maybe you've forgotten how to do it because it feels more like stumbling blindly to the bathroom or downstairs (without miraculously missing a step) to fumble around for the coffee pot like a groggy, old miner. 

I have those mornings. But I've also had other ones. Long mornings. Slow mornings. Mornings filled with ritual delights like getting out of bed slowly or lighting my favorite Blackberry Absinthe candle that trails the scent of men's cologne.

No smooth piece of digital glass for your fingertips to graze. No stealer of small but important moments that will set the tempo for your day. Just wiggling toes under a white duvet, that can't help but anticipate what awaits downstairs.

Your robe slinks off the hangar as you decide it's time for a hot cup of tea, or if you're like me, coffee with a dash of half and half. You wrap your warm skin in silky fabric and breathe out the word "yes" because it's really true. Today is Saturday.

It's Saturday, and the world is conspiring to give you one good gift: a Sabbath from self-improvement.

I know—I do. The excuses are finding that well-worn path down the back alleys of your mind, taunting you to busy yourself. They say: "You really must reach for that phone. Someone needs you." 

But dear girl, in this one still moment, the coffee needs you. The bare wood floor, it needs you. The blueberries folded into batter need you. The scriptures calling for you to crack open that rumpled spine of wisdom, need you. 

Let the outside world not steal this hidden corner of delight. Don't let it in. This one still moment is for you. Take this time to nurse that Basil plant in the windowsill. Crack the front door to water the rose bush. Flip the oven on and whip up your comfort pastry, and flip to your favorite page in "The Joy of Cooking".  

Make a mess and spill some flour on the floors. You will get it later. Stop letting it steal from the experience of presence. Your presence, in a very real sense, is your power. 

As Sarah Kaufman likes to say "Here is the yoga of grace, the practice, not the perfect." 

As you reach for your morning coffee, open the bag and let it crinkle in your hands a bit, breathing deeply that cognac scent of morning roast. Charge yourself as the caretaker of the plants, luxurious crumpler of clean white sheets, or just laze about on the front stoop in the sun or on the back deck, or better yet, in your favorite wing-backed chair. 

Maybe today you will try something novel and daring, like an aerial yoga class where suspended from silks you'll experience the levity of weightlessness. Will you hike in the woods alone, or invent a new recipe for an impromptu gathering of friends? The day's potential is swelling in your heart. Let it stay there just a few moments longer. Let it inspire you, but don't act. Not just yet.

It's not about improvement, or success or winning. The incremental inches and performance measurements are for the work week, and it has passed. Capture this transcendent moment you're living in. Work with it. Yield to it. Give to it. Enjoy the pleasure of being as you are. 

You, a work of grace, alone in your house. You, crafting artwork in the fat swirls of cream in your coffee. You, an act of poetry, barefoot in the living room.

Ariel yoga was a practice I tried last Saturday on a whim of curiosity. The luxurious orange silks descended from the ceiling, and under the peachy glow of a salt lamp, the practice began with students suspended mid-air. 

Our bodies stretched out in a hammock-like position, the sing-songy instructor's voice asked us to ever so slightly, swing. It was a weightless, disorienting moment, akin to what a moth must feel in its silk-spun cocoon, idling in the breeze.

She asked us to keep our jaws relaxed, a pleading and loosening of effort that was less conscious and more habit. And then, a gentle request that pegged me with this knowing sense of truth: "Today is a Sabbath from self-improvement." 

There were many positions that were dizzying or numbing, particularly the inversion where we hung upside-down like yogi tree frogs from the silks. The instructor was the first to guide me gently in a backward, summersault-like motion over my silk swing until my fingertips brushed the floor and the silks locked in place by threading behind my thighs in a crisscross motion. (If you're struggling to picture what this looks like, watch Chrissy Teigan do this on Instagram in about as graceful a fashion as me :)

At first, I felt an overwhelming sense of discomfort in my hip flexors where the strong silk sustained the pressure of what seemed like my entire body weight. The instructor, intuiting my pain in observing my gingerly movements, said "You must have been a dancer. Those hip flexors are tight."

I sighed in relief that she understood. It was a struggle in letting the right kinds of discomfort exist. Discomfort, whether to rest or to trust someone with your body as you hang from a silk swing, is not always the enemy. 

Discomfort is our teacher when we are hanging by a thread.

Maybe stillness on this particular Saturday means a very literal discomfort. Your body is weighted by the effects of stress in cramped shoulders, neck pain, and tension headaches. Let today be a Sabbath from strife. Draw up a hot bath, open your window for a cooling breeze and reach for those Eucalyptus-infused bath salts. 

Or maybe it's a Sabbath from technology you need. When you stop reading this, maybe find a drawer and put your phone away on Airplane mode until noon and engage in a presence-bearing activity like a yoga session or journaling. Do this for as long as you can stand it. No judgment here. Just baby steps. 

For me, it's often a Sabbath from self-importance I need most—spending time near the vast grandeur of the ocean, or beside a waterfall to remember that I am just a speck in it all, a toiling, precious little speck as conveyed in the Psalms.

"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor." 

Consider this beautiful turn of phrase as you wait for the coffee pot to sputter its magic. Be a precious kind of slow in the act of waking up this morning. And don't be shy to linger at the stir of a spoon or the strike of a match. Being spiritual, as Heschel reminds, is an awe-filled enjoyment of life's simplest of pleasures.