The New Sabbath Equation – Guest Blog by Luke Murphy

Not many laws of physics can improve your life. This one can:

The coefficient of static friction is greater than the coefficient of dynamic friction.*

What this means is: it takes more effort to start something moving than to keep it moving.

If you’re pushing a car, the heart attack will come during those first furious shoves while you’re trying to make it start rolling. At that stage, your enemy is the coefficient of static friction. As soon as the wheels are turning, you can amble down the street, pushing the car before you while calling out cheery greetings to passers by. Why? Because now you’re working against dynamic friction, a puny force by comparison.

So it is with anything we do: the hard part is overcoming the inertia of an object at rest, which means getting off the couch and committing to the job.Once you’ve defeated the fridge-sized fire-breathing lizard that is the Coefficient of Static Friction, his cousin, the Coefficient of Dynamic Friction, will seem like a sleepy gecko on a hot day. Coefficient of Static Friction

The New Sabbath Project is about building community by having people over for dinner. Putting on a dinner is one of those things like working out regularly, reading Moby Dick, or writing the blog post that you’ve promised: you know you ought to do it but today’s not ideal, maybe when the weather improves, we don’t have enough plates, etc etc. Those excuses are the Coefficient of Static Friction sitting on your chest, his scaly haunches pressing you into the couch.

Static Friction likes you to keep things theoretical, aspirational, potential – anything other than real. Static Friction cannot be reasoned with, bargained with, or met half way. He has to be pushed aside and flung into the dark corner where you lost the battery cover for the remote. His greatest fear is action.

Any physical action will give you the strength to raise Static Friction’s leaden lizard loins from off your wheezing chest. When you know you need to put on a dinner – not a theoretical some-day-we-must dinner, but a real event with real people – the best first step is to email or phone your first choice of guests and ask them. At that point, you can’t go back on it without faking a medical emergency, family tragedy or house fire, all of which will demand more effort than simply putting on a dinner. Yes, the Coefficient of Dynamic Friction – gecko-sized cousin of Static Friction, you recall – will nip at your heels and make hissing noises, but Dynamic Friction is, contrary to his name, lazy by nature and easy to ignore.

Host a dinner. Invite a combination of friends and newcomers. Ask the guests to bring some food: it’s less work and less cost for you and gives them something to take pride in. Repeat, whenever you can. Our heroic hosts Ralph and Cortney do this every week; you don’t have to.

And one odd characteristic of the Coefficient of Static Friction: he gets lighter the more often you fling him off your chest. That part is not explained by physics.
*It’s not actually a law, more of a rule of thumb. There are three laws related to friction, Amonton’s First and Second Laws and Coulomb’s Law. They state, more or less: (i) the heavier you are, the harder it is to get off the couch; (ii) it doesn’t matter whether you’re lying on the couch or have one buttock on the arm rest, you’re still stuck on the couch; and (iii) once you’ve got off the couch and started moving, it won’t get any harder (or easier) to keep moving.

Luke Murphy is a freelance writer, filmmaker, animator and designer. Born in West Berlin and brought up in Ireland, he currently lives in Toronto and works on documentaries, screenplays, and fiction.

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Knock Knock, Who’s There? Guest Blog By Award Winning Journalist and Author, Wendy Dennis

I met Ralph for the first time about a month ago, when a mutual friend connected us on a work matter. At some point during our conversation, he told me about the New Sabbath Project. It sounded interesting, so I asked how I might become involved. “We’re hoping people will hold their own dinners and invite people from their circle,” he said, “but you’re welcome to have dinner at our home any time.” Then he gave me the date of their next dinner, with the proviso that he’d confirm the invite after first checking with his wife Cortney about guest numbers and so

He did confirm, and that is how, a few weeks later, I found myself knocking on the door of the Benmergui-Pasternak home
in mid-town Toronto with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and a container of ginger candied carrots in hand. (The only pre-dinner request was that I bring a bottle of wine and, if possible, “a side dish that goes with chicken”.) Bear in mind that when I stood on the porch of the B-P home that evening, I’d only known Ralph for about an hour and had never actually met Cortney. As it turned out, when I showed up at the door, she didn’t appear to have been expecting me. (For the record, Ralph insists he told her.)

I bring this up not to embarrass anybody or get in the middle of a divergence of marital opinion (or what may or may not have
been a breakdown in marital communications). We are, after all, talking about a couple who somehow manage to put together
regular Friday night dinners (to which they apparently invite complete strangers), despite holding two full-time jobs (and then some), parenting two little kids, and dealing with whatever else they have to deal with in their no doubt over-scheduled lives. (Ralph also has two big kids from a previous marriage so you can factor in that as well.)

Anyway, in spite of the glitch, Cortney graciously welcomed me, offered me wine, ushered me into the living room, sat me down in front of a plate of appetizers, which I immediately began inhaling, and made me feel totally at home.
Home is the operative word, because everything about Ralph and Cortney’s home and the evening that followed was immeasurably homey—or, as we Jews like to say—haimishe.

From the aromas that greeted me at the door and immediately transported me, madeleine-like, back to the Friday night dinners of my childhood, to the casual kid clutter and family photographs everywhere, to an actual real live kid named Emmanuel who was running around and greeting everybody, the ambience evoked a homey feeling at every turn.Soon the other guests arrived and the Proseco and conversation began to flow. Then we moved on to dinner, which began with blessings over the candles, wine and bread—the bread being Cortney’s home-made challah, and about which all I will say
IS this: once you tear off a chunk (and tearing off a chunk is the only way to eat it), you are willing to become a challah whore to get your hands on another.
Next, Ralph went around the table and asked each of us to offer a blessing for someone or something we felt moved to offer one for.

The blessings were simple and eloquent. Besides providing an insight about the person delivering it, each one
engendered a lovely sense of connection with that person. The food was plentiful, the meal amazing, the conversation
thoughtful and engaging and the atmosphere utterly unpretentious.
After the meal, Ralph asked each of us to express thanks for something for which we felt grateful that week, and so we went around the table once again. At this point, I feel I should mention that I am basically a heathen. What I mean by that is that while Jewish cultural traditions were a big part of my growing up years, unlike virtually all of my relatives and friends, my family didn’t belong to a synagogue, or attend one, even on the High Holidays. Nor did my siblings and I attend Hebrew school—unlike everyone else we knew. While I did grow up with Friday night dinners, by the time my own generation came of age, that ritual had mostly become a thing of the past, and I haven’t actually been to a Friday night dinner since, well, last century.

But there I was, sitting at a table and offering blessings in front of people I’d only just met (none of whom were Jewish, by the way, besides the hosts and me), and doing so seemed like the most natural thing in the world for me to be doing. The naturalness of the experience, the feeling of being present in it, and the sense of connection and community it engendered in me, are something I really want to stress, because although I am deeply interested in the idea of connection—with myself, with those I love, with work that engages and inspires me, with larger social, cultural and political matters—I am not, by any means, a let’s-make-a-blessing sort of person. I actually recoil at anything with even the slightest whiff of formal religion or New Agey-ness or groupthink, and if I sense anyone trying to shove that sort of thing down my throat, or make me participate in a ritual that feels like a kumbaya moment, I basically start looking for the exits. Which is why the way I felt at Ralph and Cortney’s table is so significant.

The evening felt authentic in the best sense of that word. Not only did it serve as a truly pleasurable oasis at the end of a week of mostly just trying to get through (sound familiar?); the experience inspired me to think about how I might pay it forward. On a more selfish note, I’ve already had a coffee with a writer I met at the dinner who happens to live in my ‘hood and with whom it was helpful and fun to share writerly tips and preoccupations.

So I’m a fan of the New Sabbath Project. I think Ralph and Cortney are onto a pretty cool idea here, and heathen that I am, I’m delighted to have been asked to share in it.
–Wendy Dennis

Wendy Dennis is an award-winning journalist and author who writes for many leading publications, including The Walrus, Toronto Life, where she’s a contributing editor, and House and Home, where she writes a regular column about lifestyle trends.
She has also been a high school English teacher, instructor of magazine writing at Ryerson University, and editor at Toronto Life and Fashion magazines.

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Finding Time to Rest and Be Grateful

At this week’s New Sabbath Project table, we decided to incorporate something different — something our friend who twinned with us a couple of week’s ago incorporated into her New Sabbath Project dinner. In addition to our blessings over candles, bread, wine, and our personal blessings around the table, we included a questions about gratefulness and gratitude. “What were we most grateful for in the past week?”

In a culture with communication devices that can keep us tied to the workplace around the clock — chipping away that sacred space around what could and arguably should be time for rest, rejuvenation and reflection, I’m embarrassed to say it was actually a little tough to come up with something I could identify at that moment — not because I hadn’t been grateful for things this week — but because I find we are so rarely “present” during so much of our daily living, that those moments — even the more challenging ones — that help us learn, grow and feel good often pass by too fast to remember and thus purposefully acknowledge.

It got me thinking more about the connections between gratitude, sabbatical and the impact the interaction of those two things have on our daily well being – both mentally and physically.

Positive psychologists and many others have written a fair bit on the correlation between gratitude and happiness for instance — that practicing gratitude through daily meditations for instance just help us feel better. I have tried this and have felt the effects. It’s a tough thing to keep up though I find because with full time work and 2 small children, it means carving out even more time to do something with intention — that doesn’t involve just stopping. The net effect unfortunately, is that such beautiful practices are the first things to go in a hectic, busy schedule — kind of like exercise. Funny — we then have to find ways to forgive ourselves for being too busy to take care of ourselves.

It made me think about what I recently read on a website I came across called “Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life”. Here, someone writes that “rest is a route to productivity. It’s a myth that we succeed through unceasing and tireless effort“. Yes, research does find that consistent and deliberate practice leads to elite performance in many fields. But focused work and consistent practice are not the same thing as unending work. Olympic athletes must rest or they get hurt. Fruit trees forced to produce for more than one season lose their ability to bear fruit. And us worker bees can slowly develop sleep debt so deep and burnout so profound that we are left too exhausted to function“.

On Rabbi and blogger Henry Glazer’s “Grateful Rabbi” blog site, he suggests we should think of the sabbath — whatever day that might be for you — as a day of gratefulness. What a great idea — and one so easy to forget if you never slow down to make it happen — to build a fence around that place in time.

In the end, I of course remembered something I was very grateful for this week. It was watching my older son — who has just this year learned to read — take my younger son onto his little lap and read him a bedtime story. How grateful I am to have that and to have witnessed the love these two brothers have for each other — easy to miss in the day to day where horse play and competition for parental affection and toys often blur those other fantastic memories.

The morning after an incredible night of making new friends around my dinner table, it’s also fair to say I am extremely grateful for the reminder that even short sabbaticals truly create the space to nurture so many good things — including the presence of mind to live more consciously — and to remember and reflect on the things for which we are grateful.

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