6 Aug 2020 5:44 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

by Tim Burnett

Dear Friends,

I just returned from my July sabbatical. For several years I've been taking July totally off from work and from my own habits around work. This leads me to a month of no projects, no meetings, no teaching, minimal email (hard to get to zero on that!), and this year especially: a month of no Zoom!

I spent quiet time at home, made progress on an important personal project, had some downright lazy time, went on three outdoor adventures (two of them solo), and made time to connect with a few dear friends.

It wasn't all peaceful and glorious inside my mind. There were moments of angst and confusion and loneliness. But there were more moments of peacefulness, insight, and joy. And now, I think most importantly is my overall feeling of settling, of unclenching, of relaxing more fully into accepting things as they are, and a renewal of creative energy and motivation to do what I can to be of service while also having the life I most deeply want to live.

I've always appreciated that a root idea inside the word "mindfulness" is "remembering."  This year's sabbatical felt like a month of remembering who I am and feeling into who I might be, going forward.

I'm so grateful to the many colleagues whose support (and restraint during July!) made this possible. And I'm grateful that I've learned to give myself permission to honor my intention.

I've learned that the real obstacle to taking this kind of time away from work is me, myself. In previous years I've found myself scheduling a retreat or a staff meeting or an event in July because we were having trouble scheduling it in June or August. "No big deal," I'd tell myself, "I still have plenty of time-off in there." But what message was I sending myself?

Sometimes the word "sabbatical" feels a little pretentious when I tell friends I'll be off for a month. But looking again at its roots it's bang on. Sabbatical is used most often now at universities where it refers to a free year for research, travel, writing and open ended work by scholars, but it goes more deeply to the sabbath - this idea described in the early Bible of a day of rest. Or a year of rest. A year for the fields to be fallow so that the land can bear again and the farmer can renew herself for the hard work of being in this world.

I am well aware that a month off isn't possible for most working people. I'm lucky and I'm exercising privilege in being able to do this. But don't we all need some version of this? Whether it's a year, a month, or a weekend that's really a weekend? Or building moments of sabbatical even into a busy day - taking a walk during the work day without devices perhaps? Formal mindfulness practice can be a kind of mini-sabbatical too - but it can also become one more item on the to-do list!

Don't we all need to let our internal lands go fallow regularly? Nothing good will come of being always 'on,' always responding and reacting, always connected, always doing something for someone else. And how easy it is for the gas pedal to end up stuck to the floor!

I hope you too will ask for the support you need from family, friends, and colleagues for some real and regular sabbatical time. And I'd also invite you to check out your own internal dialog around the idea of taking more time truly off. Is there a voice in you that keeps arguing: "That's impossible! There's too much to do! People are depending on me!"

That may all be true in its way. But isn't it also true that without deeply caring for yourself and honoring the internal seasons of your psychology and physiology you simply won't be able to go the distance? Not to mention that you won't enjoy this one precious life? Hard work is not bad, it can be a great joy, but nothing but hard work, no matter how noble, just becomes suffering and all that goes with it.

I hope you enjoy your next sabbatical,


Tim Burnett is Executive Director of Mindfulness Northwest


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