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Religion, rest and reflection

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Oct. 9th, 2008 | 10:35 am
location: Lab, lab, labbity lab
mood: thoughtfulthoughtful


Apparently, I have entered a cycle of writing posts with content once a month. And only once a month. Here's hoping I do better in the next month and the one after that.

I've had many posts that I've wanted to write, but been generally too busy to have the time to sit down and write and explore the relevant thoughts completely. There's been one post brewing in my mind for a while with tidbits about my mom and the things I want to share with her, and another with pictures and babble about Yellowstone which was an amazing park and a very weird trip and a third about yoga and a societal bias toward expecting success (to the point that we rarely celebrate it) and being hard on ourselves over failures. I'm not sure any of these will get written. For today, I want to write about the importance of rest and reflection.

A few years back, I sat at lunch with a couple of labmates arguing about whether religion, as an institution, had done any good for society. Last week, over coffee with one of the participants in the earlier discussion, the topic came up in a different way. An atheist Jew, my friend teaches religious school to sixth graders... but with the bent and bias of a Scientist -- a person who is taught to question everything. Believe what you believe, decide what you decide... but make sure you've done your homework and have a solid reason why. In talking about her lesson plans, she wanted to point out that the Jews were responsible for weekends. Which is probably overstating things a bit (maybe even more than a bit)... but, that said, she did have a point that one of the reasons that, in Western culture, at least, we view weekends as a time to not work is because of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition which insists upon taking at least one morning and often one entire day out of one's week for God, and for reflection upon what is wonderful and meaningful about life as well as how we can live our lives better. Sort of a weekly mental housecleaning.

I think it is of general social value (and I might get in trouble for saying this) that so many religions teach that it is important to take some time out to rest and to reflect. I think it is also valuable that they provide a social structure for doing so. It is so easy to spend our lives being busy, being inundated with new ideas and new projects and new experiences... and exhausting ourselves between the new and exciting and the endurance test of the daily grind. I find it challenging, with so many things I have to do and so many more I want to do, to include rest and reflection as items on my weekly "ToDo" list. It starts being that thing that I figure I can always do later, when the sewing and the knitting and the cleaning and the organizing and the nurturing of friendships and my relationship and the dancing and the data collection and data analysis and experiment planning and paper writing are all completed. Guess how often I actually get around to reflecting.

I think I was better at it when I made some time to attend religious meetings.

This isn't to say that religion is the only way to create that time and mental space. Just a convenient one. I think taking time out to reflect is important for general mental health. Like so many things, I'm sure the importance varies considerably from person to person . But I hope, in the future, not to forget its value.

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Comments {4}

threadwalker

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from: threadwalker
date: Oct. 9th, 2008 07:20 pm (UTC)
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Understood.

I have been missing ritual space lately. It does help. Secular or spiritual or religious- it's about setting a time and place to focus on a specific thing, whether it's being thankful before dinner or relaxing in the bath. Little things help- if you put on music and light candles in the bat, you create a ritual space different from just a getting-clean and maybe soaking out some tension bath, for example.

It's good stuff, and I too am lacking lately.

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guardmisfit

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from: guardmisfit
date: Oct. 9th, 2008 10:43 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, too bad we don't actually use Sundays for their intended purpose. =(

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catachthonian

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from: catachthonian
date: Oct. 10th, 2008 04:16 pm (UTC)
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Several of my friends have said the same thing about church...that one of the things they most value about it is that it provides a designated time of reflection in an over-scheduled week.

On the larger question...as a kid, I used to see religion primarily as a force for evil (and a relic of the past), but as an adult I've come to see it more as a part of society that can be used for whatever good or evil purposes that people want to use it for. There are certain evils that I particularly associate with religion, such as xenophobia and anti-empiricism, but I don't think these are necessary components of religion, nor do I think they would die out in the absence of religion (unless you adopt a particularly tendentious definition of the term "religion"). To an extent, magical thinking, stereotyping, etc. are an integral part of human psychology and are connected to useful cognitive habits, even if they sometimes go wrong.

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Kragen Sitaker

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from: kragen
date: Oct. 11th, 2008 10:28 am (UTC)
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Agreed.

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