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.
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?