By Rabbi Dovid Markel
There are various claims that today, as a society, we are one that reads too little.
Personally, I see the problem somewhat in the reverse – we read too much. We are a society that is constantly plugged in, being fed information and content from the internet, facebook and various other information streams.
Not only can this surely not be emotionally healthy, but doing so we lose the ability and are often uncomfortable with being alone with our own thoughts.
In such an environment, not only is it difficult to be creative, but being inundated with information, merely reflexively responding with likes and dislikes to facebook posts etc. makes it difficult to be truly open to digesting the very information that we seek to imbibe.
I was thinking earlier during a rare walk that I took today about a practice of the Rashba to take a daily walk.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out (20 Shevat 5730, Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar, 5740) that when one looks at the rigorous schedule of the Rashba it seems mind boggling that he was able to take the time to walk when he had so many things that needed his undivided attention.
He was a doctor, authored halachic responsa literature and gave a daily class to his students. How did he have time to walk?!
I’d like to suggest that it was paradoxically *because* he made time to walk that he was able to make time for his various responsibilities without becoming overwhelmed by the emotional burden.
We live in a society where we are always running, always doing, and way over worked in the belief that the longer hours that we put in, the more productive that we will be.
Often time though, the opposite is the case. Unplugging every day to take a walk, to sit and think, to daven at a slower pace where we can hear our own inner thoughts might be the very thing that we need to bring about a healthier balance in our emotional and spiritual lives and ultimately live more productive lives.
The suggestion to walk to alleviate stress is already expressed by Rambam (Shemona Perakim, Ch. 5) for someone that is burdened with “mara shechora.”
Similarly, Rashbatz writes on the Mishna’s (Avot 2:12) statement: “all your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven,” that “when you find your body weakened from study and need to go for a walk in the marketplaces and the streets, your intent should be to broaden one’s mind to return to learning.”
In a society that is obsessed with being plugged in and imbibing copious amounts of stimulation the idea of hitbodedut, being alone with one’s thoughts, expressed as an important value in chassidic and mussar is more important than ever.
The Seridei Aish (Vol. 4, Pg. 285) writes of R. Yisrael of Salant’s mentor, R. Yosef Zundel’s custom to take a daily walk, to be alone with his thoughts and mentally review works of mussar.
It seems that it is often the fear of being alone with our own thoughts, and ruminating on them, is the act that propels us to seek constant connection.
However paradoxically, it is often the time where we are alone, and free to process and digest that makes the connections that we so desperately seek, deeper, healthier and more meaningful.
I think in our culture of constantly being plugged in, absorbing constant data in a way that humans never have before, it is important to step back every once and awhile and be alone with our own thoughts so that we can digest the copious amounts of information and formulate our own thoughts.
Try it out, unplug your phone, sit in a room by yourself for a half an hour, or take a walk. You might just love it, and work out things that have been bubbling deep inside of you for awhile.