Recently I had the blessing of a taking a 3-week sabbatical from work. My employer bestows the additional (paid) break in your fifth year of service.
The expectation is that you can do whatever you want with the time, but you’re highly encouraged to use it to either better yourself or the world around you.
What would you do if you had the gift of 3 paid weeks off? How would you spend it?
Where would you go, and what would you hope to get out of it?
Even though I knew it was coming for five years, that didn’t stop me from applying my typical duality of Clark Griswold over-planning, mixed with a little overwhelmed procrastination. I kept adding loftier ambitions to an already long list for five years, before torching all of it a few weeks prior.
I would travel. I would write. No, I would take Gayle to Europe. No, I’d write, record, and release a new album within three weeks.
On and on, the list grew increasingly unrealistic as the break drew closer. I’d skydive with dolphins. No, I’d safari through New Orleans.
In the weeks leading up to my exit, and in the two weeks since my return, people asked the same question every five minutes. It was either phrased as: Where are you going? or, Where did you go?
The general assumption is that our day to day lives are so busy and relentless, that if we’re given a break we should run screaming for the hills. Or the islands. Or the airport. Just about anywhere that’s a good distance from the demands of our desks or homes.
“Quick! Hit the road as fast as your ass can move, Eddie Money.
You’ve got TWO TICKETS to PARADISE!”
Through my own digging, I started to wonder what we’ve been running from.
As my sabbatical list grew, I did a bunch of research. I looked at retreats, at ways of becoming either a cowboy or a monk for three weeks, all-inclusive tropical drinking binges, and on and on.
You know, the kind of stuff that vividly reminds us how exotic and inspired our day-to-day lives really… aren’t.
It was becoming increasingly apparent that our dreams of material and spiritual opulence, or peace and rejuvenation have to be pursued beyond our walls.
Or, do they?
As destinations presented themselves, I realized my only option was staring me in the face. We have three young children, so traveling with them wouldn’t necessarily fit my romantic ideals of a sabbatical. And understandably, leaving them behind with my wife while I went on a spa retreat would make her want to murder me.
I must’ve answered the question a thousand times in the weeks leading up to it, but when asked Where are you going? I’d respond in one of two ways, either “I’m taking a journey…. within” <dramatically drawing my fingertips down my sternum>.
Other times I’d simply say: “Akron, Ohio! Heard of it? It’s glorious in April!”
Their response always followed a brief silence: “Ohhh, a STAY-cation. I get it. Cool, coooool.”
When I think of a stay-cation, I think of drinking beer on the couch or sun-bathing out in the yard. I picture the family painting a canoe together in the carport like the Brady Bunch.
With our chores and responsibilities everywhere we look, how much relaxation could actually take place?
One last time, I wrote out my list of what I wanted my sabbatical to look like. This time I saw the common thread: creation. The time would be a huge gift, so I needed to come out on the other side with something to show for it. Something meaningful that would define at least the next five years of my life.
My wife is incredible, because she was cool with me keeping my normal business hours. In that daily time Monday through Friday I’d close the door, and work.
I’d work on myself; on my art; on my spiritual connection; on my vision and my plan; on all the stuff I wanted to work on full-time for five years. It didn’t matter if I had one week, three, or fifty-two.
Whatever time I had would be my canvas, and I could fill it however I chose.
Technology. Friend or foe to creativity?
I started to realize how uncomfortable we are with being alone with ourselves. Our handheld technology is always within reach. It’s our easy escape-hatch from the present moment, or any hum-drum drone of routine. We’ve collected everyone we’ve ever known as action figures, and filed them conveniently close by in our digital Rolodex. We peek in on them and their exotic vacations, their epic life events (because we typically block the mundane life event sharers).
We reach out to others constantly and habitually, filling every gap with outside company versus our own comfortable silence.
Fuck this, I thought. Technology is off the table. No iPhone or internet during my weeks of creation. No meeting makers or instant messenger. No texting. No checking the weather before opening the front door.
I’d allow very limited reading or information consumption of any kind. Only the humans who physically cross my path or dial my home phone. I’m making this a “SabbRADical.”
As it is with the rest of my Non-Negotiables (soul / vitality / family / art / work), the things which often seem the most ordinary become radical when reframed.
As I refined my idea, it truly felt radical. No technology in Akron, OH. The possibilities!
In that decision to unplug and confront my true work on my self, I felt the sweet relief of freedom in my current hectic life. The three weeks felt like a celebration for having passed some test.
Days would become longer, conversations more profound. My meditation and running wouldn’t be bookended by mental obligations to message so and so, or consume empty content. My travel logistics would be paused, for the first time in 5 years. All digital inputs into my life would be closed off, temporarily allowing a more rich, and deep human experience.
(I’ll cover tech-fasting in greater detail in upcoming posts.)
Everything over the past 2 months distilled down to another lesson from my meditation practice. There is no escaping the work we’ll eventually need to do on ourselves. We take us with us wherever we go, and though the change of scenery and situations can be inspiring, we still have to return to the lives we set into motion.
If you could save yourself thousands of dollars, WHILE getting more dialed in with your greater purpose or deeper sense of satisfaction (all within the comfort of your own home) why wouldn’t you?
Anyone who has spent more than 5 minutes with me in the last 18 months knows my fascination with the beautiful book “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda. I’m on my fourth reading, and it kicks my ass on new levels every time.
In chapter 13, the young monk Yogananda flees his guru’s hermitage for the Himalayas. He’s convinced that enlightenment awaits him in the caves where so many other monks became saints.
He believes that his work in achieving God-realization through meditation is at least partially dependent on geography. He would need to meditate in a cave, where his spiritual heroes had gone for centuries. The location would protect him from the temptation and delusion of the material world. It would be his most direct route to the Divine.
On his journey he meets the sleepless saint, Ram Gopal. Of course the master drops wisdom bombs:
“Young yogi, I see you are running away from your master. He has everything you need; you should return to him. Mountains cannot be your guru.
Are you able to have a little room where you can close the door and be alone?”
“Yes.” I reflected that this saint descended from the general to particular with disconcerting speed.
“That is your cave.” The yogi bestowed on me a gaze of illumination which I have never forgotten. “That is your sacred mountain. That is where you will find the kingdom of universal dominion”.
His simple words instantaneously banished my lifelong obsession for the Himalayas.
Freedom in the familiar.
In the weeks leading up to my sabbatical, I optimized my music studio, office, writing area, and meditation ashram for maximum vibe and productivity. Each space became the ideal location for its designated function.
They became what Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos calls “one-click” accessible, offering far better accommodations than I could rent for 3 weeks.
In getting reacquainted with our home I literally found treasures right under my nose. I became the young shepherd boy in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.
The treasure I had been scouring the airports, internet, and my sales territory for had been right here all along. Right where I left it. My gratitude swelled.
All of our potential and the means to realize it has been accumulating right around us for years.
So, when blessed with a break from the grind, the question isn’t really Where are you going to go?
The question is What are you going to do to earn this gift?
I emerged after 3 weeks with my 10,000 word manifesto for This Epic Life. (An “Owner’s Manual”). A handful of new songs wrote themselves. A clear vision of my work over the next couple decades presented itself. The official site is in production and preparing for launch.
You can preview the overview HERE.
Our family spent some great times together around our neighborhood…
And I am so, so grateful for all of it.