In 2013, my wife Kerry & I went on a year-long spiritual and creative sabbatical which took us from meditating in a Scottish Buddhist monastery to learning Yoga in a Himalayan Ashram and writing our novels in an artist retreat in Portugal and many places in between. It was the best year of our lives. Here are some reasons why you should consider a similar journey. Also, do watch this excellent TED talk on the power of time off.
1. Growth is the very purpose of life.
The Yoga Sutras liken the meaning of life to an eagle flapping its wings high, then flapping them down again. First, one grows, experiences everything the material world has to offer, evolves to the maximum extent possible, only then begins his inward journey. In a well-planned sabbatical, whether you are learning Yoga in an Ashram or working on a creative project in an artist retreat, you will constantly push your boundaries, un-distracted by the numbing routines that characterize everyday life—and grow tremendously as a result.
2. Your creative quality and output will surprise you.
In Senna, this excellent documentary about the legendary Brazilian race car driver, he talks of moments when he was driving at such intense speeds that “God took over the wheels of the car”. Said another way, he would lose all conscious perception of driving, it was as if some super-conscious instinct guided the wheel. Now I understand what he meant for there are moments in writing THE SEEKER when I lost all sense of authorship so that the characters wrote the story themselves, something that didn’t happen in my first two novels. I attribute this to both the cleansing practice of Yoga and meditation and the devoted time I had to pursue my writing during the sabbatical.
3. You’ll develop an independent Yoga and meditation practice for life.
Imagine being able to do Yoga every day in your living room without having to rush to a studio. After a month of hardcore training in an Ashram, you will become your own Guru and the universe will help you improve your practice. Similarly, meditation will become a part of your everyday life, unleashing tremendous short and long term benefits.
4. All aspects of your life will transform without you trying.
First, the occasional cigarette will appear destructive, then the hard drinks will become too hard, beer and wine go out next, coffee becomes too assaultive, next you quit meat and diet sodas, soon you’ll become the person you never wanted to be. A vegetarian teetotaler! Fancy that, whoever wanted to be a dude who drinks green juices and herbal teas and raves about kale, collard greens and a plant based diet? But you wouldn’t have done a thing consciously. As your spiritual practice deepens, unhealthy cravings get sublimated rather than suppressed.
5. The usual irritants of life will disappear.
The physical discomfort in your sabbatical–whether it is taking cold showers for a month in an Indian Ashram or sharing a room with six snorers in a Scottish monastery or taking a thirty six hour long bus ride from Greece to Turkey in local buses—and the significant emotional upheavals that one faces in ten days of intense silent meditation puts the small discomforts of home in perspective. Once you return, you will find yourself less reactionary and more a witness to petty office politics, an offhand remark made by a cousin on Thanksgiving, how your career seems to be going nowhere, and other first world annoyances. And if you are lucky enough to take a sabbatical with your significant other, you will go through so much together that you’ll never bicker at small things again.
6. Nothing would have changed in the world when you get back.
Two new restaurants would have opened up in your neighborhood, your old job is replaced by a new one, John & Jane have gotten engaged, the same ups and downs and predictable rhythms of life. So don’t sweat even a bit about the world passing you by when you were backpacking across Sri Lanka. Nothing changes in your absence. Except you—and quite dramatically, at that!
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