Working with Our Natural Rhythms Instead of Against Them

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Life has seasons and rhythms. Trying to go through life — through a year, a month, a week, or even a day — in a steady-state of energy expense and activity doesn’t work. There are times we are ON and times we are OFF. Times of expansion, and times of contraction. Times to push, and times to regroup.

In a garden, there are times of planting, growth, harvest … and also time for the ground to lie fallow.

Trying to fight these rhythms is foolish. It is like trying to surf between waves, instead of waiting to ride the waves. By the end of the day you’ve worn yourself out, and you wouldn’t have ridden the board much either.

Ignoring rhythms

Sometimes as leaders we create problems for ourselves, because we ignore rhythms, and try to push at the wrong times. The classic example — ignored by too many pastors — is that of Sabbath. We work for six days, and devote one to rest and spiritual renewal. At least most of us do, most of the time. Ignoring this rhythm has put many leaders in a bad place.

I recently read an article by Douglas Rushkoff about the tendency today for people to ignore rhythms in fields of work like technology and media, where there is relentless pressure to keep producing and not let up. He points out that, while our bodies are tuned to a natural rhythm, many ignore this today and try to match our human rhythms to machines which have no rhythm. A computer can do any task at any time, and it’s processing ability never changes. But humans aren’t like that, we have cycles and seasons. Listen to several paragraphs drawn from the article:

“While our technologies may be evolving as fast as we can imagine new ones, we humans and our culture evolved over millennia and are slower to adapt. The body is based on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different clocks, syncing to everything from the sun and moon to levels of violence and available water. We can’t simply declare noon to be midnight and expect our body to conform to the new scheme as if it were a Google Calendar resetting to a new time zone. Neither can we force our businesses to conform to an always-on ethos when the people we work with and for are still obeying a more deeply embedded temporal scheme.”

“Instead of offloading time-intensive tasks to our machines, we attempt to match the speed of our network connections. Thanks to the Internet, we travel more on business not less, we work at all hours on demand, and spend our free time answering email or tending to our social networks. Staring into screens, we are less attuned to light of day and the physiological rhythms of our housemates and co-workers. We are more likely to accept the digital clock’s illusion that all time is equivalent and interchangeable. But it isn’t.”

“This is the digital trap: Instead of teaching our technologies to conform to our own innate rhythms, we strive to become more compatible with our machines’ timeless nature.”

“Imagine, instead of trying to ride roughshod over these cycles, actually using or even exploiting recent discoveries about our common neurochemical responses to [them].”

Good stuff to think about. What do you think?

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Community Builder

Hello Mark,

Thank you for writing this insightful article.  I resonate with your concerns.  (And here I am, responding to your article--catching up on my email correspondence and social media--on a Friday evening!)  I recall the late Dallas Willard--or was it Richard Foster?--saying that solitude and silence is the most urgent spiritual discipline for us to practice today, as we live in an over-extended and distracted world. 

Thank you for reminding me to be more sensitive to our natural rhythms.  I think I'll log out now! :)

--Leon

Participant

that was Dallas Willard, as interestingly, I just read about that concept in a book earlier today  =)  he considered silence and solitude the 2 most radical discplines of the Christian life.  and Henri Nouwen said that "without solitude it is almost impossible to live a spiritual life."

interestingly the Native Americans tended to live in sync with their natural rhythm but it is not looked upon with much affirmation and usually to their detriment by those that don't follow their natural rhythms... most of us would quite likely get fired and lose our jobs if we did live in accordance with our natural rhythm...  if you are self employed, you have much more flexibility with your work schedule...

what was fascinating to me from my reading today, and I had never thought of this before, was that while the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they worked 365 days a year, every day was the same, there was no Sabbath and the command to honor it had not been given yet... it was after they were freed that God gave them the gift of a day of rest via Mt. Sinai.

 

Community Builder

Thank you, Bev, for clarifying that it was Dallas Willard who emphasized the importance of solitude and silence--especially today.  I agree with him wholeheartedly!  Accordingly, I find "taking Sabbath" an essential practice for God's people today.   

I also like that Nouwen quote.  I remember reading something similar in one of Willard's book (The Great Omission, I think).  Something like: "No one has made significant progress in the Christian life without spending considerable time in solitude and silence."

May the Lord help us all to live this out, and then teach our people to do the same!

--Leon