Pondering the sniffles on Monday got me thinking about something else. Something different, but related. I suppose I would call it an evolving awareness that I’ve come to after 10 years as a counselor and coach.
Turns out I’m no longer surprised when clients tell me they welcome getting sick. Or even being hospitalized for relatively minor surgeries. Some, in fact, hope for it. In spite of my early double takes upon hearing this, I now see the dream beneath the wish: the chance to grab the brass ring of a much-needed time out. Breathing space. A respite.
And in the comments on Monday, Maryse got it down to the nitty gritty when she channeled this quote from Christiane Northrup:
In our society, illness is the only form of accepted meditation.
We certainly can be stoic soldiers, can’t we? Always marching on. Often towards another day just like the last one. And whether that day is delightful or dreadful, there will come a time when we need to ditch the routine and step away. Yet when I ask those clients hoping for minor illness how often they do step away, just because, they invariably reply, “Almost never.”
YEARNING FOR A BREAK
At least once a month, a small, hidden yearning pipes up in my office. And then the soft voice sitting across from me hesitantly whispers, “If only I could take a break, a sabbatical.” Visions emerge of long walks on the beach. Or a quiet room for reading. Maybe an adventure in Costa Rica. Perhaps even a period of intense study.
And hey, I’m all for sabbaticals. As a matter of fact, I consider my once-a-month week in the woods a mini-sabbatical. I’ve even toyed with the idea of a full-blown leave-taking, because I’ve seen its power in action.
For those who use the time to pursue a goal like traveling or writing or completing a training program, the payoff is usually highly focused concentration and movement. For others who step away to retreat and heal from burnout, they’re often gifted with an unexpected angle of vision about what’s next in their lives.
Yet, for all those juicy benefits, setting up a sabbatical takes time and energy. To make it happen, we need financial resources and the support of others. Not to mention the willingness to risk a leap into the unknown. Unfortunately, these days, in this economy, few are able do that, unless it’s forced by layoffs and downsizing. And then the idea of a sabbatical often flies out the window, replaced by hunkering down and serious survival mode.
A DAY TO DO WHATEVER YOU WANT
So for those clients who yearn for a significant pause but aren’t able to make it happen right now, we talk instead about giving this gift to themselves in a smaller way. I invite them to imagine a day when they could do whatever they wanted. A whole day. Just for them. Now that’s something within reach of everyone, even though it may take some advance planning and asking for help.
The thing is, though, people still push back. The same ones who say they’re yearning for a sabbatical. And I’ve heard a bumper crop of reasons why it won’t work:
Things would fall apart.
I wouldn’t get anything else done.
It would be selfish.
I’d fall behind and it would just make it harder to catch up.
What would people think?
And just in case you’re wondering, neither of the sexes can claim superiority on this one. Both men and women protest with equal fervor. And I’ve figured out that the louder the objection, the more urgently the day is needed.
Indeed, it seems that Shakespeare got it right:
The lady (or gentleman, sometimes) doth protest too much, methinks.
LOOKING FOR WHAT’S UNDERNEATH
Back in the day, I thought I could cheerlead people towards action: Come on! You can do it! Go! Go! Go! Rah Rah! Sis Boom!
Yeah, even I know now how annoying that can be. And it never really worked. Clients would return to my office after their designated day for themselves, and tell an anemic tale about how they tried, they wanted to do it, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
And at some point I realized that lurking beneath the excuses were deep archetypal stories. Stories that wanted to be recognized and unpacked. Stories that needed to be aired out. Stories with both shadows and light, that often sounded like this:
The Artist’s story, telling us that it is overwhelming to consider all the creative ways to spend the day, so how could we possibly choose just one? (I readily fess up to this story.)
The Miser’s story, telling us that we live in a world of scarcity, and one single day could never make a difference in our lives.
The Healer’s story, telling us that we must not put our own needs first.
The Wounded Child’s story, telling us that we will never be enough and others will judge us as lazy slackers if we dare to get off the treadmill.
The Ruler’s story, telling us that we must constantly maintain control and always be responsible.
The Rebel’s story, telling us that if we open this door, who knows what other crazy, radical, revolutionary things we might do?
WHAT’S MY POINT?
The truth is, these stories, these characters, will always be there. They exist beyond our experience or history. They’re universal. They don’t go away. That’s the nature of an archetype.
But, and this is a BIG but, we can change our relationship to them. We can understand both their lessons and limits. And by giving them a voice, we can partner with them rather than unconsciously letting them run the show.
And then, who knows? We might find ourselves spending a blissful day at the arboretum. Or the morning in bed with the New York Times, followed by an afternoon drinking wine in the sun with our best friends. Or even sprawling from dawn until dusk on the sofa, eating comfort food and watching old TV shows, if it turns out that’s what we truly need.
Yes, all these experiences I’ve mentioned come from real life, I’m happy to say. Aren’t I lucky to be the one who gets to hear about them?
They’re from people who decided to claim one single day. And that one day led to another. Then, still more. Until their lives were made up of days that were just what they wanted them to be.
All because they got to know the deeper, universal stories beneath their resistance. The stories that are bigger than all of us put together.
What stories might be lurking beneath your own resistance?
And if you had a day, or even a sabbatical, to do whatever you wanted, what would you choose?
WHY NOT START NOW?
Way to go Girl!!!, “wake em up and move em out”.
In my system of study I refer to this as a change in “Attitude”. The most interesting thing I found, we can all do this in an instant. If we recognise we are “caught”.
The idea of “going to it”(Jung, Nicoll). Dealing with second force efficiently and effectively. How many times that I said out loud, “I need a break”, during the middle of some stressful situation. This simply added to the force of resistance, with nobody to blame, except myself.
It took a long time to learn… but, I can attest that the peace, definitely outweighs the effort.
Thank you for sharing my wise and wonderful friend. Excellent food for thought.
You always make me laugh, Eso! And of course, you’re so right. We can make that shift in an instant. Now wouldn’t we be brilliant if we could just remember that??? Thank you, my wise and wonderful friend, for stopping by these parts to chat a bit.
Hi Patty, this post really speaks to me because for a long time, I was someone who would have major trepidation taking a day off. I’ve learned it’s a bit of an overblown sense of importance to think this way. We all have a role to play and we all deserve to take breaks. I really think some European cultures have a much healthier attitude about this than Americans do.
Next week, I’m planning a personal day all to myself, and husband if he can join me — museums, my favorite tea house, perhaps a movie, definitely a nice meal, maybe a wine bar and some live music.
Thank you for helping to break down the wall of resistance.
You’d like what Jonathan Young says about perfection, Belinda, and that overblown sense of importance you talk about. All part of that darn Creative/Artistic archetype. I know you’ve got it too. Hey, we’re sisters in that one! And thanks for the great point about European cultures. A client returned from Spain and told me you can’t get a coffee to go there. You actually have to stay and sip it. That would be lovely, in my book. Speaking of books, have you read “The European Dream” by Jeremy Rifkin? It’s on my shelf but I haven’t gotten to it.
Patty, excellent post. In my experience, it’s amazing what one day can do for your spirit. I’ve been able to do this lately because I’ve reached the max of vacation days at my job, so now I’m in a “use it or lose it” position. And I simply do not believe in losing vacation days!!! I know I’m lucky to have a job with good paid-time off and to be able to take these mental health days. For me, I almost prefer when Husband works – so I truly have the day to myself. I sleep in. Read. Bake. Work in my garden. Take a long walk with the dog. It’s lovely! I think it’s like the concept of a Sabbath, only I’m not doing it weekly (which maybe I should reconsider).
Oh yes, Eva, weekly sounds delicious. Your entire description of the day sounds blissful. I’ve always been drawn to the Sabbath concept, but have never put it into play myself either. Thanks for reminding me of that. And for stopping by to comment.
I love your writing. It is so true that many do not know how to take time for themselves and for all of the reasons that you outlined. Creating awareness is key, giving ourselves permission to relax and take an hour, half a day, a day, a week etc is pivotal to breaking the habit of “doing”. We all need to take time to recharge, there is a point where doing more is doing less and doing less is doing more. I am reminded of the story of two lumberjacks who apply for the same job. The foreman says I only can hire one of you so I will give you a test. He gave each lumberjack an equal number of trees to cut down and said he would be back in four hours to see who cut down the most trees. The one lumberjack sawed and sawed without ever taking a break. He just went from tree to tree. The other lumberjack took a ten minute break every hour. At the end of the test, guess who cut down the most trees? The lumberjack who took the ten minute break every hour cut down the most trees. Why? Because he took ten minutes every hour to sharpen his saw! We must always remember to take time to sharpen our saw.
Great story, Mark. Thanks so much for coming by to share it. It has so many applications to present day. I think there have even been studies done about productivity and overtime. So I think I’ll go spend some time sharpening my saw right now!
We do need to sharpen our saws and to refill our cups. We run on empty and with our hair on fire unless we choose to take a moment and breathe. Nice reminder.
What a great word picture you paint, Erin. “Running on empty with our hair on fire.” Well said, my friend. Thanks!
It is interesting to reflect back on what got me over the edge to take a day off. It was me living with someone I really trusted and loved and who gave me the example. While he had had a day of bliss, I had a day of feeling dutybound and work. After quite a few of those days, where he didn’t say anything, just showed me his bliss, I finally got to see who was the clever one here. From then on I also had those days of bliss. No ‘telling me’ would not have worked, ‘showing’ me did. I wanted what he had, but mind you I was slow in the uptake and I missed quite a few blissful days as a result of that. xox Wilma
Wonderful, Wilma. Showing is such a much better way to approach it. Telling rarely works. Yup, I’ve sure learned that. Thanks for sharing that delightful story, and hugs to you my friend.
Me, I need to stop. Often. So I do.
I don’t function well at speed. I do much better when I have time to consider my next move. Heck, just to consider.
I like to stand still and take things in. I like to see all the different people going past, see the mish mash of different architecture in my surroundings. I like to hear and smell and… well, think some more.
Most of all, I like to play. I make everything a little game if I can, otherwise I’m bored or overwhelmed… and neither is good for me because then I shut down or run away.
Hmmm… I think I may have gone off the point somewhat. What was it again?
Well, I love to come along anytime when you go off point Tony, because of course you are exactly on point. That room to wander, consider, take it all in with your senses…it’s all part of the inner process of taking a break. I’m quite a dreamy gal myself so I’m right with you, pal. So thanks a bunch for wandering my way today!
I used to take a half day for me every other Friday – it was fabulous. Now I ensure that while I am waiting for my daughter in her different activities, I take the time for me rather than running back to the office or doing this or that – it becomes reading, sitting, thinking, craft/creating time. I love it… and it does help the day just as a walk on my own helps or sharing time with a friend for lunch.
That said, I look at my vacation time and see the hours racking up and my archetype kicks in reminding me that one never knows what the future holds so don’t use those hours unless they are needed! (I am telling her, thanks, her thoughts are appreciated and I understand their value, and yet I am going to Europe next month and taking some of those hours!)
Oh yeah, I love that conversation you’re having with her. Sounds like your responsible ruler is willing to back down a little when you talk nice (but firmly) with her. And Europe – fantastic! Thanks for stopping by, and I hope this is one of those Fridays when you’re kicking back a bit.
Funny, I just used the same quotation from the Bard for an article I’m writing…
Retreat, rest, recline, meditate, surrender…we don’t like those words. As you point out, what comes up is guilt, a feeling of uselessness.
I suppose we could put this in terms of self-improvement, and say that self-inquiry will lead to the discovery of the truth of what we are, and that can help us in our life’s achievements. We could say that but it isn’t authentic. There isn’t anything about awakening which the ego (that word again) would consider valuable. Awakening is about being natural, easy, in flow, in peace.
I tell people to start slowly. Don’t meditate if that scares you. Don’t rest or retreat or take time to look inside. Just release, let go. Letting go of worries, and incessant thinking, and painful emotions–start with that.
Great post, very illuminating, and typical-you, a very fresh perspective!
Hey, we’re on the same wavelength then. Love that. And as usual, you’ve deepened the conversation, Kaushik, and beautifully articulated the way in. I’m going back to savoring your words right now. Nice. Thanks so much!
Well, I can tell you exactly what I’d do, since I’m doing it in two weeks (mid-Weds to mid-Fri, actually). I’m heading off grid to Wilbur Hot Springs to meditate, sleep, do yoga, sleep, enjoy nature, sleep, soak in some stinky hot water, and avoid my computer, my cell phone, my alarm clock, television, fast food, and work. And sleep, of course. And I might do some reading, if I can stay awake.
Because I far prefer to meditate when I’m well.
Haha! But what about sleeping, John? Your retreat sounds perfect. One day (OK two) like that can make a huge difference. I’ve never been to Wilbur Hot Springs but have heard tell it is the best. So thanks for stopping by, and here’s to you for actually doing it!
Cheerio and hello! Just saw John’s comment, and thought I might stop by to say thank you!! We really hope you enjoyed yourself… it’s not just nice to get away from the pace and tech, it’s sort of mandatory nowadays so we can reconnect with our human side… considering most of us are typically robots or zombies.
Just thought I would say hi, and if anyone ever has any questions or thoughts, we are all ears!
Thank you again John, and let us know how it went! =)
Michael at Wilbur
Hi Michael! Thanks for stopping by. Love what you say about reconnecting with our human side. So true!
I guess this is lost on me. All my life, I’ve been stellar at staring out the window or curling up with a book. I never understood what was supposed to be so great about being busy busy busy, or why it was a crime to do nothing.
Don’t get me wrong, when it’s time to work, I am diligent. All those poems on my blog didn’t just fall out of the sky, and I do my paying job well. But I am a human being, not a human doing. As with almost everything else, balance seems to me to be the key.
That’s fabulous that you’ve always had an ability to kick back, Shay. I’m sure it has served you well. And even though its opposite seems foreign to you, lots and lots of people struggle with it. Thanks.
For me, holding back in starting or continuing a project happens when I think of how critical I’m going to be of my work. My body feels heavier in those moments the closer I get to the keyboard. If I find the particularly heavy spot and breathe into it, I can find myself releasing all that heavy energy — perhaps by laughing, or, in really intense moments, by crying. And then I’m off to the races and the critical part shuts up! 🙂
Sounds like you’ve really got it figured out, Chris. Thanks for sharing that!
Hi Patty! I seriously try to take one day a week for myself – like a date. What I do varies, sometimes a beauty day (or massage), sometimes I read or paint all day. Point is, I’m not cleaning, cooking, shopping but relaxing totally. It’s a gift I give myself — because I’m worth it! haha – so I make NO excuses, I do it!
Very wise, suZen. I think the hard part for most is the “not cleaning, cooking, etc.” part you mention. People are willing to give themselves some time off, but can’t imagine a day where they totally let go of that stuff. But really, isn’t that such a crucial part of it? I think so. Thanks for coming by, and hugs to you!
I actually can’t tell if this is a problem for me or not. My husband is always working so hard that I feel lazy next to him, but maybe I am just normal. He seriously will work until he passes out on the couch. I have no idea why or how he does it. He’s very passionate about what he does, but holy moly, I couldn’t do it. That being said, I take time off regularly, or so it feels to me. In fact, I just got back from a mother’s day vacation with a dear fellow mom, without our families. VERY nice! I love to relax, be with friends and family, daydream, and laugh a lot. In fact, I live for it.
Now that’s living life, Angela! You seem like a woman full of the zest for life, work and play. Sometimes I think we get sort of stuck in a rut, in “work” mode, and everything is work, we’re always pushing ourselves. Maybe that’s what your husband does?
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