“Aren’t you done relaxing yet?” a well-intentioned entrepreneur friend once asked me.
I was startled. For an overachiever plowing through life, taking time to be with myself and not have anything important to do was the most un-relaxing thing I could imagine.
In fact, it was excruciating.
Last fall, I left my position running business operations at a web startup in Austin to spend what I thought would be four months with myself, the person I’d somehow lost touch with over the years and had been awkwardly avoiding for most of 2012.
I loved leading that team, and I loved working with Noah, who became both a mentor and a close friend. Still, I had a feeling that designing sales strategies, no matter how brilliant they were, wasn’t my calling. The problem was, I had taken such a long break from being quiet with myself that I didn’t know what my ‘calling’ was. Or if it mattered. Did my Chinese cousin who worked in accounting for a Chongqing real estate developer know what her “calling” was? Still, she seemed a lot more content than I was.
Enter my highly uncomfortable ‘relaxation’ time, where I spent five months living in western India, doing a 10-day vipassana meditation course, and deepening my existing yoga practice with Rolf Naujokat, master Ashtanga yoga teacher, a spindly 58 year old German who had been living peaceably in India for 30 years. My intention was to clear some space for the real me to emerge from its hiding place.
Doing less might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’d spent a lifetime cramming in more and more achievement and excellence, which conferred to me the enormous privilege of taking a multi-month sabbatical — but which also distanced me from the part of myself that did have all the right answers to my biggest uncertainties, the part that truly knew what was good and healthy and right.
In reality, my time ‘off’ was anything but ‘off.’ It was a time for me to turn on like I’d rarely had to in my entire life. Lighting the inner light required energy, vigilance and attention. Using that inner light to illuminate my essential self required softness and courage in the face of painful opening and vulnerability. Ultimately, getting to see and know this essential self was my way of finding guidance that no friend, no advisor, no parent, no book, no blog, could give to me.
I gave up a few things for this experience…
- Around $8,400 — also known as, a few short months of living in SF. See my spending breakdown here.
- 10 months of my career to uncomfortable joblessness, aka no safe identity that I could use as social currency with family, friends, and even strangers on the train
- 10 days of my life to Vipassana meditation
- Countless hours and joules to my daily Mysore Ashtanga yoga practice
I gained a lot too…
A way to practice knowing, accepting and attending to myself, every day.
Attention is an act of love, and I discovered that paying full attention to myself and all my internal and external sensations, rather than running towards distraction or avoidance or otherwise reacting to what I observe, was the very real and pragmatic way to love myself without getting too new agey.
Love isn’t in the little luxuries or indulgences I give to myself for a hard day; it’s in the way I unwaveringly observe, with clarity and compassion, whatever it is that is my experience in this moment. Love is not looking away.
Trust in myself.
I thought I trusted myself before, when I was an outwardly confident and successful professional. But, when I left behind the identity that I’d built on my career, my schooling, and other external factors of my persona, I saw that my trust was actually quite shaky — I only trusted my shot if all the conditions were just right.
That trust was fickle; it could go away as soon as my circumstances changed to something unfamiliar, like being a ‘nobody’ in the middle of India, a middling yoga student practicing alongside people who had dedicated their lives to that path. Slowly, I learned to realign my self trust so that it connected to the part of me that’s essential and internal, not my job or resume skills or what my body can do.
On top of these internal gains, I also:
- Met the amazing man of my dreams, who is my friend, teacher, and partner. This is no small feat, as once upon a time I stamped my feet at God and shouted, Is it ever going to happen??!
- Set sight on what it is I want to do with the next few years of my life.
- Reawakened my health and vitality. I’ve never felt more healthy, energetic, attractive (yes!!), strong, and flexible in my life. This alone is worth it. It used to suck to live in this body. Now it’s like swinging in a hammock in paradise, plus I can also climb trees, type really fast, practice yoga, and eat delicious meals.
ANYWAY. There’s lots more I could say. It was 10 months, after all.
If you’re reading this and thinking about taking your own “Time On” sabbatical, I obviously high recommend it. My many thoughts and tips are all jumping up and down shouting “Me first, me! Me!,” making it hard to organize them. So, if you’re reading this, and it speaks to you, and you’re not shy, go ahead — leave a reply in the comments, email me, talk to me! :)
What’s holding you back? What’s pushing you forward? Where do you want to go, and what do you want to do?
UPDATE: It’s been amazing to hear people’s feedback on how this has resonated with their own questions and experience. I realize that not everyone can travel or leave their homes, but… I’m also a believer. I realize that not everyone can travel or leave their homes, but I believe that transformation is for anyone and everyone who’s willing to go out and look for it.
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