We all keep an imaginary list about what we are supposed to do.
It is accumulated through years of parenting, schooling, religion and more. Every year around this time, we will build new boxes and revive old ones for our New Year’s resolutions.
Two years ago, I crossed off everything on that list and turned up empty. It’s a cliché story seen in many films, read in many books, but somehow, when it happens to us, we are surprised. We had the “right” everything, we even changed the rules a few times, but when all the boxes are checked, the only sentiment is dread.
Oddly, I think the shock is part of the Darwinism of the whole thing. The energy in the surprise illuminates a new path full of questions and surrender. It catapults us to begin a thorough investigation of how we compiled that list and how to build a new one—how being the central point here. I began a slow, phased process to find more space to understand the how.
The last step in this multi-year process was letting go of my full-time job. This was the hardest and took the most planning.
I didn’t think my unemployment would last more than a month or two. I was closing in on a job offer and was pursuing consulting options. But two months turned into four, and I’m just realizing this isn’t a transition; it’s the meaty part—an unintentional sabbatical.
Through this sabbatical, I’m learning lessons to build a better list—one that stems from my heart, not the eyes of those around me:
1. Sense of self isn’t tied to how much lies in a bank account.
A bank account certainly takes a hit from a four-month sabbatical. Yet, genuine confusion is the culprit for my furrowed brows, as it evades me how there is absolutely no physical tie between self-worth and a bank account. In fact, in my case, they seem to have a negative relationship at the moment. This lesson has grazed my ears before, but this is the first time it decided to permanently move into my mind and body, and I’m baffled. I’m hoping that if I stick it out long enough, they will make up and understand I need them both.
Just because our bank account is full, doesn’t mean our heart is, or vice versa—it’s much more complex than that.
2. Leave space in life for humanity.
A homeless man in a wheelchair was struggling to open the door to a bathroom in Starbucks. I left my seat to help him and a multitude of worn trash bags full of his life into the bathroom. When I sat back down, the man sitting next to me dropped his cell phone for an instant to compliment me on my act of kindness. That comment swam in my stomach, not in a manner that releases a sense of pride, but rather one that releases deep sadness. I did not order the man a coffee or offer him a place to stay, I held a door open for 20 seconds.
When we allow the life we create to block the life that exists, we block out space for humanity.
3. Really good people are worth every penny, every collectable on the shelf.
Certainly not a subtle one, every inch of my heart is overwhelmed by the beauty in this lesson. Tough times in life are known to thin out the herd, but when we set out on a journey to come home to ourselves, the opposite is true. A brother with a sly smile who tells me he will disown me if I make a mistake, and repeatedly offers a loan. A roommate who regularly inspires sessions of wild laughter. A boyfriend who every day makes me more compassionate toward myself and offers an open hand with no strings attached. Close friends and family who grab the check without hesitation and channel exactly the right words at the right moment.
I have a new definition for priceless, and I think it’s the real one.
4. Motivation and inspiration are the best forms of help to give or receive.
A mental library full of curated inspiration collected over the past few months in the form of stories. Brave strangers, awake acquaintances, wise wanderers and those closest to me become oral authors, weaving together new tales of bravery, softness and peace. My yoga teacher training compatriots became some of the most prolific contributors. Whether in oral tales or through quiet understanding passed in between breaths, we inspired each other. This is the lesson hiding underneath Gandhi’s words, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” and, “My life is my message.”
What we can do is inspire each other to take that very personal leap of faith, with all the perceived and real risks, to overcome (not eliminate) fear.
5. Cultivating your inner voice is one of the most important missions you have in this life.
Hiding under the layers of life and piles of thoughts is a whisper. The orator could be defined as intuition, authentic self or God, but it’s there. The insights carried in the hushed murmurs can carry us across the world, beg us to take on a creative project or ask us to hold out our hand to someone in need. Mine finds the best inspiration and highest volume in yoga sequences, dreams, dance, meditation and daily journaling. Each person has a different volume control. Paulo Coelho has said he finds it in archery.
The Artist’s Way was my entry point, and I’m realizing there is no exit, which isn’t an exit I would have wanted to take anyways.
6. Every moment is a choice.
This hit me over a cup of coffee with a friend who is a recovering addict. As we caught up, the wisdom in her actions to rebuild a life made it clear to me that we always need that moment of choice. Some days are easier and others are more challenging. It gets better over time and then harder again. Each day we awake, we should seek the place of presence or awareness that engages our inner voice in moment-to-moment decision-making that fosters ease, not desperation.
It’s a humbling task that refocuses our attention to a journey, not an achievement.
7. Sometimes the “why” comes later, and those are the best ones.
In February of last year, I signed up for a few life coaching sessions to get more in touch with my intuition. During a session, my coach guided me into a deep visualization meditation to find what I had been hiding in my heart. I struggled at first, the colder side of me kept thinking how pointless this all seemed. After some patience, a little girl appeared—me at five years old. She came with a message: “Hold my hand and let’s dance.” I’ve always loved movement, but have resisted it as something that I needed for years. There is no way I could stare that little girl in the eyes and say no, however. Once out of the meditation, Sandra asked me if I could take some steps to get more involved in dancing or perhaps yoga. A week later, I signed up for yoga teacher training. Now I’m teaching yoga and started dancing again, which for me is as important to my quality of life as breathing.
When our inner voice is guiding us through moment-to-moment choices, messages and directions will come that seem at odds with logic and reality. Do it anyway. It can be as small as refiguring your schedule for the day, or as large as choosing to leave a relationship or a job.
When you listen, you find yourself walking a different path, and although you may not know why yet, you are never lost.
8. Be there.
I have a very intimate relationship with my dreams and the other night I fell asleep asking why I hadn’t found my next step yet, why so many applications have gone belly-up. In the middle of my dream I found myself rearranging the furniture asking the same question. Then a warm voice powered through the surroundings, “You asked me for space and I gave you space. Enjoy the space, be there.” For a while I’ve had a secret desire to take a prolonged exhale, to have space and time to explore my thoughts and creative projects.
I’m there, but I’m spending more time worrying about my next step than enjoying the gift I asked for. Be there.
9. The strongest people have the most beautiful smiles.
Put me in front of someone and I’m likely to get their story—the real one. Having heard so many stories, it always strikes me how people who have pulled themselves from some of toughest places can authentically smile and laugh so beautifully. To pull through the tough matter of trauma requires a softer, quieter strength, action in vulnerability. Many of us want to hide in our anger, bitterness or sadness and find a more brutish sense of strength, but sooner or later that strength crumbles. As we learn in yoga class, strength, rest and flexibility are part of the same coin.
That strength that evolves in softness, in compassion, is pliable and durable—its final resting place is in a beautiful smile.
10. What we love is not silly, even if it will never make a dime or “go anywhere.”
I’ve been inhaling Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcasts, Magic Lesson. In every podcast she yells from the mountain top to do the work you are inspired to do, the work you love to do. Since The Artist’s Way, I’ve started to draw, started a blog with a friend and started to make videos, and I love it all. I don’t make a cent off any of it, but I don’t care. It’s really, really, really enjoyable.
I used to believe there had to be a measurable outcome, a list to stack up against for most things I chose to do with my time. I now realize that’s kinda B.S.
I don’t have a definitive ending for this unintentional sabbatical, but I don’t regret an inch of it. One solution at a time, one blank page at a time and one heartfelt resolution at a time.
I would love to hear what lessons other people have learned while going through their own unintentional sabbaticals. Please leave a note in the comments.
Author: Sara Loca
Apprentice Editor: Heather Lacy / Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Author’s Own