Eight and a half years is, by far, the longest I’ve worked anywhere. It’s always been difficult for me to maintain interest. I’ve tended to master a job, get bored, move on. But these years have been characterized by ongoing revealings of ever deeper levels of awareness and mastery that kept me continuously enthralled. And yet recently, a growing sense that pause was needed. To step off the the beautiful but consuming ride. For a moment.
Biblically speaking, the recommended period for sabbatical is one year, every seven years. This tradition was connected to agriculture. Seven solid years of tilling the soil surely calls for a year of recuperation and reconnection to self, family, God.
And yet, in 2018, only 15% of U.S. companies offered sabbatical leave. And only 5% of them offered paid leave. Surely those statistics are out of date. A quick Google search reveals a clear increase in commotion around this topic since the onset of the pandemic. And yet, a tone of skepticism and stinginess prevails. “How can not working help you work better?” and “What if I fall behind by stepping away?”. The Calvinist work ethic and rat-race paranoia that drives much of American work culture is pervasive.
Doubters aside, I gifted myself three months of space. It began on my birthday. Followed the next day by a five-hour drive to the Sierra Nevada for a 10-day Vipassana retreat. The last time I did this was nearly 30 years ago, in the foothills of Kathmandu. It was harder than expected. (I have accumulated so much more to work through during those decades.) Yet more rewarding. (And merits its own post.)
The week after the course involved trying to continue the practice at home, starting to integrate the experience, and generally coming back to the ‘real world’. I cut out Instagram, reasoning that I easily spent 1–2 hours on it a day — time I needed for meditation. I maintained the habits of eating less, avoiding alcohol. It was like the slowest skydive from on high, to a landscape that is often far from ideal. In many moments, I felt the call to return to the mountain.
It was during the following week that I began recognizing how deeply my sense of self-worth is connected to work and utility. Or just a feeling of being networked—preferably at the center of as many nodes as possible. Other not-so-fun feelings included: Discomfort with doing nothing, simply drifting. Fear of not making the most of this precious time. Anxiety about how these three months would end — in a fizzle, or in a state of clarity and resolution.
So one month in, that’s where you find me, dear reader. My intention for this sabbatical was to ‘de-rut’ myself. To break myself out of comfortable patterns and paths. Neither easy for, nor popular with, men in their early 50s. But I’m learning you have to sit with it, to go through it. So here I sit. More soon.