January 19, 2020

Arianna’s Shabbat Journey

“We have been sacrificing the important on the altar of the urgent for so long that our lives have lost their balance and we have lost our center,” Arianna Huffington wrote. “And, of course, we have massively redefined the urgent. It’s no longer just dealing with a blazing fire —  it’s rather worrying about the probability of a fire starting and especially about the possibility of missing some fireworks.

“Some of my most beloved friends feel alive only when they are living life on the brink, dealing with half a dozen crises, wallowing in the drama of it all, and having to drug themselves to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night.”

My friend Arianna wrote those words 19 years ago for a special Shabbat issue of a spiritual magazine I had started called Olam.

I got the idea for the piece at her mother’s memorial, when Arianna spoke of her mother’s disdain for “multitasking.”

“The last time my mother was upset with me was when she saw me talking with my children and opening my mail at the same time,” she wrote in her Olam article titled “My New New Thing: Single Tasking.”

Here is how she connected it to Shabbat:

“To move the important to the center of our existence and tend to our souls — which for me is the meaning of Shabbat — we need to bring timelessness into our lives. It also means, as my mother would urge, putting an end to multitasking — the weapon that helps us gain the heights, but is the enemy of the depths.”

How ironic that she would end up climbing the heights of the media world by launching The Huffington Post, an initiative that was hardly conducive to single tasking.

But as you’ll read in our cover story this week, it’s been a long journey. In an interview with Karen Lehrman Bloch, she admitted that she “collapsed from exhaustion” in 2007 and broke her cheekbone.

Awakened to our culture of stress and burnout, she wrote two books —  “Thrive” and “The Sleep Revolution” — before eventually going all in and launching a movement in 2016 called Thrive Global.

When I caught up with her at the 2018 Milken Global Summit, where she spoke on a panel on “life longevity,” guess what she told me right after her talk? This is what I wrote at the time:

“One of the first words out of [Huffington’s] mouth was, ‘Shabbat.’ She told me that her new movement, Thrive Global, is eager to start a ‘Shabbat track’ because this Jewish ritual of weekly renewal is just what the world needs right now.”

As we detail in our story, she did just that. It’s hard to think of a better supporter of Judaism’s “greatest gift to humanity” than a global media innovator who has experienced the deep need for that very gift.

She sees Thrive Global and Shabbat as organically connected.

“The principles of Shabbat — taking time to disconnect from our work to connect with our loved ones and focus on what gives us value and meaning in our lives — are central to Thrive Global,” she says. “So it made sense to jump at the chance to amplify the movement to spread the vital messages of Shabbat.”

What I find especially noteworthy is that 19 years ago, before anyone had heard of Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, before cellphones became hand-held supercomputers, Arianna was already expressing an urgent need to slow down and refocus on “what gives us value and meaning in our lives.”

Imagine: If some of us were suffering burnout and stress in 2000 before the advent of social media, what kind of stress and burnout must a Twitter junkie feel today?

It’s become a cliche that social media and the internet are societal disruptors on a scale we’ve never seen. On that score, Arianna makes a simple observation:

“There’s an opportunity cost to our screen time. And the alternative to being on social media isn’t just having to be ‘on,’ it also includes downtime in which we can connect with ourselves, which is vitally important to our well-being.”

As digital screens continue to swallow up more of our time, as our attention spans continue to shrink, the ancient Jewish ritual of Shabbat seems more indispensable to our “well-being” than ever.

Arianna Huffington is determined to get that message out. And if she has to occasionally multitask on her way to slowing us down, well, it’s for a good cause.