At the risk of sounding trite, my 2nd sabbatical came at the perfect time. As the year-in/year-out demands of balancing family and work keep charging forward, December 2015 turned out to be the crucial pause between two major phases of my life.
It’s easy to trace any of the magic of my last three years back to my first sabbatical in 2012. Sobriety, Kriya yoga vows, and a redesigned career followed. More importantly, as we chase that Hockey Stick Trajectory in our business lives, I realize mine has come in finding meaning through my work.
So what mad cans of Existential Whoopass
would be cracked open this time around?
I’m sharing my sabbatical experience to drive home how critical it is that we send ourselves on retreat. Somewhere in December I learned that going on retreat doesn’t have to be some far away, lengthy, or expensive journey. We can design our lives to reap the benefits while keeping a foot planted in our work, home, or family responsibilities.
Meditation anchors your activity in a reflective state. But it’s not that sulky, brooding reflection we mastered as teenagers. The goal becomes what yogis call pratyahara, or an interiorized awareness. Since we’re constantly getting beat up on the emotional roller coaster of life, it becomes increasingly important that we redirect our searchlights inward.
When we’re lucky, we can see that our life experience is a magic mirror of our internal world. When you practice becoming interiorized, the feedback loop between Your Soul, and the actions you take toward your potential becomes much more efficient.
Because of that real-time feedback, the way you start showing up tends to be more congruent with The Soul. Interiorized souls dwell fully in the temple of the body so to speak. Writing also accomplishes this for many superstar humans.
This is why leaders who don’t practice periods of reflection aren’t actually leaders. They are followers of their ego. If you want to lead, whether corporate divisions, or your child, or even your own life, you’re well-advised to build in reflective practices.
Finding the interiorized state became the goal of my sabbatical, alongside solidifying my relationship with our kids. I’ve been grappling with staying in a more content, joyful state of being, versus feeling like I’m either putting on a show, or working to death while my family has all the fun.
The idea of spending quality time with yourself is naturally terrifying. It’s even more jarring as a parent to bounce between periods of deep spiritual communion on the crazy train of child-rearing. You better believe those big, old souls in little bodies bring your spiritual shortcomings to light! Hahaha.
However, they also inspire us to dig deeper. And, if we’re able to be truly present with kids, we start to remember that we’re just slightly older kids. They are usually always fully present with us, if we take the time to receive that blessing.
*Best viewed in HD / 1080
December was about remembering how to give completely of myself to those who matter most. I wanted to forget my identity as Guy Who Does _______. My identity was only Daddy, husband, and devotee. The interiorized state feels like a transparent vessel to allow something More Important to express itself.
Like most of us, I strive to bend time into getting more stuff done. December created a vacuum of silence across my life. I stopped using my phone, the web, and social media for 3 weeks. All my time outside of feeding, exploring, and playing with our kids was spent in meditation.
In case this all sounds too blissed-out, (or mundane) the sabbatical brought these pursuits of family and spiritual discipline into stark contrast. I had been throwing around the Ram Dass quote since Thanksgiving: “If you think you’re enlightened, go visit your family.” Here I was, thinking I was simplifying for the month!
My wife, and our 3 kids rented a guest house in Encinitas, California; the epicenter of my guru’s teachings. I’d walk many times a day to the meditation gardens, temples, and the hermitage where Yogananda wrote his spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi. Often my 11 year old daughter Elliott would join me, meditating on her own, or silently contemplating the “infinities of sea and sky” to quote the guru.
I was given special access to private retreat meditations, as well as counseling with a monastic disciple (monk). My hope was to reenter my life with deeper reserves of self-compassion and faith.
I needed to quickly release the idea of creating anything. There was little to do, and so much to be.
Outside my daily gratitude journal (I abandoned after 6 days), I wouldn’t even write. Instead I reviewed the fundamentals of Yogananda’s meditation techniques. I practiced them deeply and devotedly for many hours per day. Many sessions were the best I’ve ever experienced. Many still were challenging, scattered, and revealed painful egoic habits I’m working to purge.
But practice hardens your resolve to improve.
As I head into 2016 I can see how focusing on family & spirituality prepared me for a new chapter. Both have always been my chief motivators, and I’m moving into a phase where I’ll lean on them more than ever. Our family feels to tightly bound, and my spiritual family feels forever in reach. As I work to sustain any perceptions from Encinitas, I get comfortable with not knowing how the next chapter reads.
It could include more hockey sticks, but I’m also down for slow builds.
I fell in love again with being a married guy with kids. Being a yogi-householder. No one has an easy path to walk in this life, and at times I’ve felt mine was narrow, and unforgiving. But my soul must’ve erred on the side of maximizing people to love, because there’s no shortage.
These children bloom under the gaze of our understanding. They will know unequivocally they were loved. They will see in all my efforts the effort to earn their trust. They will hopefully reconcile my inevitable Dad explosions with the man I worked to become.
I took so many walks out of packed, silent temples, only to realize I could still feel the Christ Consciousness between my eyebrows, with open eyes! Grinning up beneath a bowl of stars, experiencing Christmas in everyone and everything. Bowing pranam to the golden lotus towers Yogananda built like an altar at the far edge of the West, just a little yogi from the far East, calling ahead to his yogi householder brother from the Midwest. “Let Encinitas be your Family Altar,” he continues to whisper to my heart.
I’d often turn and yell “jai, guru!” at the crest of the hill, looking back at the sprawling magnitude of his impact on the world. …at his impact on me, and our family, and everyone my work touches. My much-needed rescue that preceded this lifetime. Beyond my human capacity for love, I silently chant Jai, guru!
Jai means victory.
But our victory has never been about winning over anyone, or even our circumstances. The victories are all small adjustments in the pursuit of self-mastery. My wife and kids got to witness the flawless beauty, infinite inspiration, and impact that Yogananda’s life— a living scripture, could create. Often it was through my eyes, or the recounting of stories from the guru’s life. Mostly though, all of it become the painting we were living in for the month.
Our company Centro graciously made the sabbatical possible, but I’m proud to have seen the signs of when to take it, and what to focus on. I’m just quietly grateful to have entered the moving walkway toward the family altar. Business Insider interviewed Centro’s founder and I on the sabbatical program last Summer.
The tragedy of success is that we can spend decades building these expansive lives or careers, only to resent them when we think they keep us from the next shiny thing.
Yet, we can also recommit to those nuclear reactors that got us here in the first place. As our family returned to our little snow globe in the real world, I’m only left with love….
Only love could’ve brought us this far.
Only love could be the reward for walking our path. Only love can adjust my shoulders when I want to turn sideways. And if I don’t love myself enough sometimes to do that, I better love everyone around me hard enough to do it for me.
Love magnifies through us, but only in our transparency. (<- Click to Tweet) We should aim to be fully expressed in the world while staying interiorized. It keeps us, and our sacred work free from the burden of self-interest.
Our homes are wherever our people (or pets!) are. Within my home I’ve created a few makeshift altars of candles and gurus to bless my efforts. Encinitas, California will remain our family altar.
4 Profound Lessons from Sabbatical #2
- Take walks as a family. Based on Gayle’s Fitbit, our family averaged 18-22K steps per day. Roughly 6-8 miles. On the low end we covered 150 to 200 miles over the month. Walking made us feel part of the community. We met people. We shared so many stories, family folklore, and sang made-up songs. We rented a car to drive to LA, and outside of seeing dear friends, have a car was a rude awakening to the simplicity of walking. I also felt no need to go running. Walking scratched the fitness itch.
Lesson: Deliberately walk more with your people. Just for the sake of doing it. Everyone will stop whining eventually, and you’ll connect more deeply than being in a car, or on a device.
- Fly a kite. Outside a kite shop we met a full-time, professional kite pilot. Mark introduced himself by hovering a stunt kite right above our faces as we laid in the grass. (You can witness his sick skills in the video above). Eventually our kids took turns flying his arsenal of kites. We went back to the shop and bought a Prism Bora-7. That investment brought us so much joy the rest of the trip! We carried the nylon bag (no sticks! no plastic!) with us everywhere and flew it proudly. The 15-foot tail mesmerized kids and adults alike. I’m pretty sure men wanted to be me and women wanted to be with me. Or not.
Lesson: Buying stuff doesn’t guarantee any fun. Buying the right, often simple stuff creates magic.
- Everything is Sadhana. In my counseling with the monk I complained about many of the same issues my meditation students face. How do I find more time to practice? Even with being free from work I would run from doing dishes, back to the temple for meditation. Every morning I’d experience proof of the existence of God as the growing bliss in meditation, before returning home to the family in full swing. Brother Bhumananda offered compassionate words: “Everything is sadhana.” Sadhana means “spiritual quest, or discipline.” The way we feed, and love our kids can be spiritual discipline. The walk over to the temple, or the commute to our offices. What we choose to read, and how we choose to speak to ourselves can either be a spiritual quest, or time wasted. The brother inspired me to reframe my entire day as a spiritual act! It was so simple, yet so complex.
Lesson: In every circumstance we can drop the story of something we’d rather be doing. We can instead infuse the matter at hand with our love and compassion.
- Best Christmas Day ever. Santa somehow found our rental property, and each child received roughly 4 gifts: 1 to want, 1 to need, 1 to build, 1 to read. It was my my wife’s brilliant idea. Their reactions to the paired down gifts will stay with me forever. Each one mattered so much more. The Saturday prior I attended an 8-hr Christmas Meditation, and felt the lingering bliss of that effort all week long. On Christmas Eve my dear friend Alice Bandy arranged cars to pick up our family and shuttle us to a party. Even new acquaintances felt like old friends. Our tiny tree was decorated with everything the kids made in Sunday school. It was all yogis and stars of Christ Consciousness, with a pipe-cleaner star on top by Gayle. We built Legos, played with dolls, and cruised Ellie’s skateboard all day. That night our landlady Mary (a phenomenal entrepreneur, radio host & author) was planning a quiet dinner with her daughters. So Gayle made a ton of food and we walked it over for a combined feast. At that point their family became ours, and vice versa. Sometime that day we walked all the way to Cardiff and back along the coast. Lesson: Suess, by way of the Grinch nailed it. Christmas doesn’t come from a store.
Our little band of weirdos.
A rare authentic smile for Frankie, who’s been enjoying making crazy faces in photos lately.
The sweet crooning of Kurt Cobain from Nirvana Unplugged. Just another gem we borrowed from the library.
Elliott Rose, age 11 years. Beside a massive bloom at the Self Realization Fellowship Mother Center, founded in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda.
The Brownies on a rare, pristine clear Los Angeles morning.
The sun danced for us all month long, and told many different fascinating stories throughout the day.
Taking the kids through Yogananda’s hermitage where he wrote, lived, and meditated. They could all feel those undeniable vibrations.
Clowning around. Hitchhiking on Pacific Coast Highway.
Proud Dad, on the best Christmas morning ever. Master’s hermitage is on the middle left, at the far edge of the cliff.
I remember this looking like a painting even before I snapped it. The 81-ft tree at Moonlight Beach.
My favorite bench in the meditation gardens. Completely surreal.
We watched this tiny boy become a small man this month. His teachers are amazed how he grew.
Would love to hear from you! How did December set you up for 2016? What can we do differently next year? I’ll respond to each of your comments below. -kc