The idea of sabbatical has its origins in the Bible where it is called schmita, meaning “release”. Every 7th year, the land was to be left fallow and all agricultural activity was forbidden. The time of rest also applied to people. Only the necessary chores were to be done: no improvements, no implementing of grand schemes, just rest. It would have been a time of moodling, I’m guessing, and a chance to think about life, a chance to repair relationships that had become frayed with the press of work. Chapter 25 of the Book of Leviticus promised bountiful harvests to those who observed the shmita.
Today, people usually associate sabbaticals with careers; professionals take an intentional break from their work in order to learn a new skill, or to fulfill some goal, e.g., writing a book or travelling for research. But I have no demanding career – in fact, my boss, the Canadian goverment which is providing my pay cheque these days, doesn’t care at all what I do with my time. And yet, I am taking a sabbatical.
I’ve believed in the value of sabbaticals for a while now. Rest from growth and vigour is part of every natural cycle, and human beings are no different. About 20 years ago, when I woke up one morning so exhausted I didn’t know which end was up, I took my first sabbatical from every group/church/committee/volunteer work I was involved in. That year, as I gave myself permission to say no to requests for help, I took more time to pray, to think, to read, journal and create, and at the end of it, I was ready to go again. Since then, I have made a point of taking a sabbatical about every 7 years to regroup.
So I’m poking around in my life. No, I have no demanding career, but gradually, over the seven years we’ve lived in the Comox Valley, our commitments and involvements have increased. Are they all good commitments and involvements? Am I doing what I should be doing, or am I just travelling in a rut? And yes, we are retired and we should have all the time in the world to rest – at least, you’d think so, but as those who are retired mostly say, “I really don’t know how I ever found time to work.” Still, as I poke around, I realize it’s not a rest from busy-ness I need. I need a rest from myself – at least the bits of myself that aren’t true or good.
About 4 years ago I began making a mandala to express what I believe many women go through as they enter the last third of life. My woman figure sits on a landscape of flowers. Buried beneath her are the many experiences that have gone into her life – success and failure, motherhood, education, family relationships, friendships, and so much more. All have left their mark on her spiritual and emotional health. Now she sits in contemplation. In her hands she holds a black stone, standing for painful burdens, and a white one which portrays the good and the joyful. What will she do with these? As she enters this last stage of her life, can she release the bad and embrace the good? Can she move forward in peace? My mandala is not finished, although I’ve had it pinned to my design wall many times over the years. Sometimes, a new insight becomes clear, and I add something to the montage.
What insights will occur this year? Perhaps I can come to grips with my need for control – the resident sweetie would like that. Perhaps I will be able to ditch this pervasive feeling of being responsible for the happiness of all the people I love – that would make our children happy. Perhaps I can learn to let go of old resentments, not listen to negative voices, be content with less. It would all be good.
And perhaps, this sabbatical year is the year I will finish mandala woman. I’ll keep you posted.