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Why I Don’t Answer The Phone: Lessons on Sacred Space, Self Care & Executive Functioning

Why I Don’t Answer The Phone: Lessons on Sacred Space, Self Care & Executive Functioning

If you try to call me at my office, you’ll immediately get a voicemail asking you to leave a message and telling you that I’ll call you back (and offering you hotline numbers to call if you’re in crisis). If you call me at home, you’ll soon find that, almost magically, my phone there also goes to voicemail. No call screening, no maybe I’ll pick up, just a very matter of fact this is what my friends, family, loved ones and clients all know to expect. I don’t even hear my phone ring…I don’t want to hear my phone ring, and I don’t need to hear my phone ring. This is not because I’m antisocial (far from it) but because I’ve determined where my sacred spaces are, created boundaries for my own self care, and established what I require for my own executive functioning needs. I also don’t immediately respond to text messages, but respond to them as I can, and as the appropriate time and spaces allow and present themselves.

Sacred Space:
I take my practice of Social Work seriously. For me, while I work with people across all faith traditions (or no faith traditions at all), I am a social worker because it is the truest expression of my personal faith – to be a part of the Tikkun Olam, the healing of the world. In that light, my office is a sacred space, and one in which I wish to give my fullest attention to the work that I do while I am there on behalf of my clients. While I would never answer a phone during a session (nor would a client ever hear one ring)! I also don’t want to be distracted by a phone while writing reports, or case notes, or conducting research. It is far easier for me to schedule a time to call people back (which we’ll get to in the executive functioning section in a moment).

My home is also a sacred space. It is where I unwind, where I connect with my friends and loved ones, and my furry children. Judaism treats the home in a very special way, and I work to ensure that harmony always exists there as best I can. Part of the way I do this is by ensuring that my home is always a sacred space, with as few disturbances as possible (and a doorbell that is easily turned off to further support this cause). Visitors are always planned for, peace and quiet reign.

Self Care:
In a previous post, I took some exception to some popular memes that were going around about always being available to others. Simply put: I’m not (and I don’t think most people are, have the capacity to be, or should be). I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Fibromyalgia. In order to ethically practice Social Work I need to make sure that I have the energy to do so, so that I can be mindful and present for my clients. Part of the way that I am able to do that is by being aware of, and managing my energy. If I allow others to dictate my availability, I place my energy and its consumption in the hands of others. Rather than the immediate communications that have been forced upon us by today’s technology, I have made the choice to instead interact with messages differently; treating phone calls and texts and PMs and IMs and DMs as if they were letters delivered by the Pony Express…and I try to give them the thought, and consideration, and the meaningful answers they deserve as well, in the form of what I hope is an equitable trade of for those who are sometimes frustrated at the lack of instant gratification (not that I think that anyone is entitled to make the demand, but I at least want to validate the frustration).

And, truthfully, you don’t need me right now, this very instant! You have coping skills – a lifetime of them – that have allowed you to reach this very moment in time without me…a few moments more won’t be that intolerable.

Executive Functioning:
Finally: part of mastering the effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia are learning its impacts on my executive functioning. Many of us have something that impacts our executive functioning. By learning to reject the fear of missing out (FOMO) that comes with not answering my phone, I have the privilege  of listening to a message, triaging it, looking up any information I need to in order to respond to it, scheduling a time to call back, and giving it the thought that it deserves. I also no longer deal with spam calls and robo calls that would intrude on my day, make me forget what I was doing, and interrupt my thought process. I am able to guard against what would otherwise impact my executive functioning.

So please, give yourself permission to disconnect in ways that are meaningful to you, and in ways that enhance your development as a person. Just because others choose to be connected all the time, doesn’t mean that you need to be always on. I dare say that you’ll find ways of being social and connected, even without running whenever a bell rings (pavlov would be proud).

Blessing For The Open of a Refugee Sanctuary

Blessing For The Open of a Refugee Sanctuary

Blessed are You oh God! God of our fathers and mothers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, God of Sarah, God of Rebecca, God of Rachel, and God of Leah!

God who wrestled with Jacob and was overcome by him, and so had it proclaimed “Jacob your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans, and you have overcome!”

You, God, who in Your infinite wisdom gave Abraham the morning, and Issac the afternoon, that you choose the one who struggled – Jacob – to give control of the night to, this most precious and sacred time…

This time where we are invited to enter into the realm of our deepest truths and dreams, to dance with the Hosts of Heavens, with the music that fills our souls, and where all those who journey can find cover and safety in your blanket of darkness, and reassurance in your stars.

Mighty and awesome God, transcendent god who bestows lovingkindness and creates everything out of love: bless and protect this space, hide it from all who seek to do it harm, and yet may it shine as brightly as the Pillar of Fire that brought your people out of Egypt and into freedom, so that all those who are seeking refuge and are in need may find there way to it.

May it serve for as long as it is needed, and may we reach a time soon where we will no longer need to transport people in secret or in cover of darkness, and where nation shall not turn upon nation, but where we can accept each other as brothers and sisters as one.

– Matthew L. Schwartz
Written in Honor of the work of Rev. Justo Gonzalez II

Mussar Musings

Mussar Musings

הכרת הטוב
Recognizing the Good / Gratitude

What are you feeling grateful for today?

Have you noticed a difference in yourself through your gratitude practice?

Have any blessings recently come your way in disguise?


What situations might be difficult for you to show honor to someone? How do those situations make you feel?

Have you noticed a change in how you ‘see’ people that you do not know?  Are you less likely now to make snap judgements?

Did you find this Middah to be more difficult than others we have studied?

Are you able to honor and show respect to those who you do not agree with or who do not honor or respect you? Are there other middot you could use to help you do this?


In what area of your life do you struggle with patience the most?

Do you consider yourself to be a patient person? Would others say the same?

What happens when you lose your patience?

What will you do differently this week to enhance your practice of patience?

How can your patience phrase help you when you’re feeling impatient?

Have you struggled with this middah? Have you found it easier than others we’ve studied?


Pay attention to how many opportunities you have throughout the day to do an act of chesed.

How will you focus on your chesed practice over the weekend? How can your concept of Shabbat enhance your practice?

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