What is the role of weekends in our lives? We can choose this role ourselves. The way we spend our weekends often defines the meaning of our lives in a given time period. It also is a strong indicator of our values and priority.
The weekend used to be a day of rest and worship. In ancient Egypt the week was 10-days long, and the last two days of the decan were holidays, Jewish seven-day cycle was practiced since 6th century BC. In ancient Rome, the cycle was 8 days long, with rest on numdinae. Other cultures also used similar weeks. For example, in ancient China, a 5-day week was used, but in medieval China, 7-day structures were used instead.
All ancient cultures I know implicitly agreed that between 10% and 20% of the weekdays should be holidays. In some modern cultures, the weekends get longer, up to 3 holiday days in a 7-day week. That’s a lot. Do we really need it?
How was the holiday used in ancient cultures? They were sacred. Jews used to learn and worship. Chinese bureaucrats used to bath. Romans used to travel, coming from the countryside to the cities. These activities are not so different from what we do today.
The lunar month takes 29.5 days. So the 8-days calendar is inconvenient. But why 7-days structure won over the 5-days and 10-days structure? If we take vacations too often the productivity is reduced. If the vacations are not sufficiently close, we tend to use them for strange projects.
When I was in the army, I was responsible for a service that needed to be manned during the weekend. I had to stay 10 days in service and then I could enjoy a 4-days vacation. This 4-days vacation was very strange. The first day I rested. The second day I socialized. But for the other two days, I simply did not know what to do and read books.
Anyhow, there is a consensus that if we do not spend between 10% and 20% of the week resting there is a risk of burnout.
As we work more effectively during the week, adding more work hours per day, we request longer weekends. The effects of 3-days weekends tend to be measurable. There is lower stress, enhanced productivity due to better work/life balance, and higher overall happiness.
In ancient cultures, a 14-hours word day was unheard of. We use artificial light, tend to optimize the flow state, and spend a long time context switching when getting to work or going home. So when we get home, we hardly have the energy for anything productive. Our ancestors used to wake up in the middle of the night and spend a couple of hours on various activities, but we do not have these hours to spend.
So instead, we want to do these activities on weekends.
Spending one day per week simply resting is pretty much required to reduce stress. The other days of the long weekends can be used for various side-projects.
I think at least one day per month should be allocated for reading. For me, this means reading ~400 articles on various blogs or maybe a couple of books. You can decide what it means for you. If we do not spend at least one day per month reading, we risk becoming totally outdated. This is in addition to spending around an hour per day reading the current communication which simply cannot be delayed.
Probably one day per month or more should be spent on adventures: stepping out of the comfort zone, trying new things. Some adventures are deeply personal, and we can also enjoy romantic getaways and family fun.
Then we still have several days every month for our side projects. I am not talking about something as complex as my keytostudy activities, but definitely something like blogging or tinkering.
And we have several long vacations every year for massive breakthroughs in moonlighting projects or remarkable journeys.
Personally with my keytostudy activities I work A LOT during the weekend, and kind of rest during the weekdays on my regular engineering job. This is not sustainable, and one week per month I enjoy a regular healing weekend. Since this is rare, I really try to optimize it.
What parameters are optimized? Of cause I try to sleep more, get out to nature, and take all the food supplements during that special week. However, there are more parameters to work with.
Give the spine a rest
We seat a lot in front of the screens. This is a lot of pressure on eyes, on the spine, and on other organs. So when I rest, I do not want to seat. I prefer to lie down. If I can listen to music, I prefer music to the screens and big screens to small ones. Definitely not reading paper books: the ergonomy of paper books is terrible.
If I do not lie, I prefer walking to standing. Motion is better than static muscle activation. Low-intensity exercise is good for healing and endurance training.
Release the bad energies
Some levels of aggression need to be released one way or another. Sports are great, but music or creative writing can also work. As we relieve the bad thoughts and experiences in a more structured way, we come up with better more mature responses.
This does not usually require a long vipassana retreat or hours with an expensive clinical psychologist. So far I achieved the best results in lucid dreaming and the second-best in creative writing. Simply talking with a friend and saying everything that truly bothers is giant progress. So try to find friends with whom you can afford honesty.
Motivate and daydream
As we deal with tiredness and stress, we need also to build up positive energies. Pleasant experiences and understanding of the way we make the world better can help. Some of the experiences are very direct, others are in our head.
Visualize, daydream, talk with yourself. It is important to be as compassionate and tolerant of our own mistakes and faults as we are to other people. For me, this is very hard, yet it is getting easier with time. I address some of the aspects in my course http://keytostudy.thinkific.com/courses/keytovision-visualization-and-self-help-masterclass.
As we get older, our senses become less sensitive. By experiencing diverse sensory activations, we can reduce this effect. The relevant science is still controversial and I will address it in a separate article.
The issue is simple: as we experience diverse sensory activations we feel more alive. Yet, as we get into a routine schedule the activations become less diverse and we become less adventurous. So simply generate opportunities for profoundly new experiences. Occasionally these experiences will be strange or unpleasant but the majority of experiences should be very positive and stimulating.
It is normal to develop a “thick skin” as we age. We want to be protected and if we truly care about something or someone we are likely to get hurt. Yet, if we care about nothing is it the life we want to live?
I do not allow myself to care deeply during most of my days. If I get emotionally involved, I cannot switch focus away. I can be consumed by a single emotion for 24 hours. This is a particular specialty of my ADHD complex.
So usually I choose the third or the fourth perspective, acting like Spok in star track. Every now and then I break this pattern and truly allow myself to care: experience the pain of loss, the anxiety of uncertainty, or the thrill of adrenaline in a game. I can spend an entire day meditating, depressed, or gaming. This is profoundly non-productive, yet it allows me to be human.
OK, we do not live like our ancestors. And my lifestyle is unique even for our times. So what do we miss?
- Rituals. Traditional communities have very ritualized weekends. People in these communities absolutely love these rituals. I assume these rituals add order and reduce stress.
- Cleansing. During weekends people used to try cleansing: sometimes ritual and in other cultures very physical. This sacred feeling was very positive and we can experience something different in a spa.
- Long-distance exchange. People who used to live far from each other, physically met in some central place, exchanging goods and news, drinking beverages and fooling around. With omnipresent online connectivity, we do not really need this anymore.
- Fashion statement. The weekend clothes used to be more festive and beautiful than everyday attire. People used to make a fashion statement, put on the best clothes, see others, and be seen.
- Quiet. Occasionally I visit Anna’s parents in a settlement. When the Saturday comes the whole settlement gets quiet. There is no noise, no smells, no cars. Since there is also nowhere to go, this is a very strong detox for the people who live there.
Back to the future
Somehow the history tends to repeat itself. I guess, the more traditional kind of weekends will return. With COVID19, we have a weekend lockdown in Israel, which is very much like a traditional Saturday. As we work more from home, maybe our weekends will get shorter. Who knows, maybe we even lose the 7-day week structure one day…