Taking Time for Being and Thinking

Buddhas & Teddy BearsAt the beginning of July, unbeknownst even to myself, I hatched a not-even-half-baked plan to take the month of August as a mini-sabbatical. I learned of this plot as my fingers penned a response to my colleague Pamela Grow, who had asked me to guest blog for her. “I’m taking the month of August to just write,” I told her. “I’ll happily make that one of my projects.”

After hitting send, it occurred to me that that was the first I had informed myself of this plan. But there it was, in text on my screen, so it must be true!

I accomplished a lot in what turned out to be six weeks of exploration and reflection (with the exception of journaling and poetry (some of which I shared on Posterous here), very little writing occurred during this “writing time”). Given my early summer posts on taking time to just “be,” I thought I would take a moment to share what I learned from that six weeks – and to begin to introduce the results of that thinking-and-exploring time.

You Can’t Plan a Sabbatical in 2 Weeks
I kept laughing at the fact that I was calling this time a “sabbatical.” During that six weeks, we had our colleague, Christine Egger, fly in from Detroit to brainstorm together for three days. Lizzie came home for 4 days during which we celebrated my birthday and continued the seemingly endless effort to clear boxes out of her childhood room. I got our corporate taxes done and began work with our former Office Manager, Erin Tierney, who has come back to assist Dimitri and me as a virtual assistant (and very real friend).

I had both foot surgery and oral surgery. We created a new video for our home page – the one featured in this week’s Rock Out.  I planned and prepared for two workshops, a salon, and several other functions that became the jam-packed week we spent in Los Angeles just 6 days after my “sabbatical” ended. And I am sure there is more that I am forgetting, that would look to a normal outsider simply like “work.”

When I sarcastically shared with my friend and colleague RuthAnn Harnisch – who has been blogging her own year-long sabbatical – that I learned one cannot plan a sabbatical in two weeks, she chuckled. “You can’t plan it in a year, either,” she told me. “And no matter how long the sabbatical lasts, everyone I talk to tells me that when their sabbatical is over, they felt as if they are just getting going.”

As my 25 year-old daughter would say, true dat.

You CAN Plan a Sabbatical in 2 Weeks
Yes, I was busy with a lot of “regular work.” But I also hung an out-of-office message on my email and my voice mail. I gave myself permission to ignore the world. I put “responding” on hold.

And I learned what a gift that is.

On the days when I didn’t have other obligations, no one expected anything of me, including me. That took some doing, I won’t lie. During that six weeks, I smiled at how good I was at chastising myself for what I was not accomplishing in that time, rather than celebrating that I had given myself permission to take that time at all.

I read. I sat in meditation. I filled 4 sections of a notebook with notes about the work we are doing at Creating the Future. I explored – got piles of books from the library, returned them, got more piles. Then I read some more, sat again in meditation, and scribbled more madly about what I was finding.

Through all that, I sculpted the shape of the programs Creating the Future will offer in the next 5 years. I came to realization after realization about how this movement will indeed change how work is done across this whole sector, around the world. I plastered that thinking across a wall-sized spreadsheet made of post-it notes attached to the sliding glass doors to the back yard, until my living room resembled a scene from A Beautiful Mind.  Window covered in post-its

The Plan
Because people have been asking, I will share briefly here that the result will be programs aimed at everyone working in this sector, however loosely one defines that work OR the sector. Those programs will be crafted to meet people wherever they are in their thinking about our mutual ability to build a more humane world, and to move each and every one of us towards our potential for creating that world.

Skeptics and bodhisattvas and everyone in between; board members and funders and social entrepreneurs and college professors… each and every one of us has two things in common:
1) We all want life to be more humane on this planet, for all beings.
2) We all have the potential to make that a reality.

Our work will be to tap the potential in each and every one of us, in a way that makes that visionary change a reality. And the entirety of that program, across all players in the sector, across all degrees from “I don’t need this” to “I want to teach this” and everything in between – all that was carved during this time away.

What Else
Over the past several months, I’ve been blogging a lot about the fact that we simply do not take time to be and think. I am just as much a victim of that as anyone else. And so, without practice in “being” and a personality prone to do-do-do and then do some more, what exactly does one “do” when given time to just “be?”

I am fortunate that I have a history of escaping to write at a friend’s condo in Southern California – the place where I finished the final draft of FriendRaising and both the very first and very last drafts of The Pollyanna Principles. I’ve never taken longer than 2 weeks there, but at least I know a bit about what to expect – how long it takes me to even begin to decompress, as well as some activities that help me speed up that decompression process, to get the most out of that time on the beach.

This mini-sabbatical gave me 3 times that timeframe – six whole weeks. And unlike those trips to California, I had no real goal – no single book that needed to be worked on. What freedom!

Without those parameters, however, I found I chastised myself often, wondering what I should be doing. It took perhaps four of those weeks to realize I was doing precisely what I needed to be doing – that I had already generated some amazing thinking, and that really, Hildy, could you stop “shoulding” on yourself for just a moment?

In the last 2 weeks, I was finally able to let go. I gardened. I painted on the walls. I read and cooked and spent hours every day moving from deep meditation to intentionally letting my mind wander wherever it wanted to go.

Painting vines along the wall

As I re-entered the real world, I left projects to be completed – some to be painted, some to be written, some to be dug into the soil. Six days later, I was in Los Angeles, creating even more new thinking, more projects to complete.

Over the next few weeks, I will share all of it – including the reading list that helped expand my mind in more directions than I thought possible.

For now, though, I am chuckling. What started as an email suggesting I was taking time off to write resulted in everything but writing. It may take me as much as two years (or more) to produce everything I conceived of during that time of being, exploring, reflecting.

And the guest blog for my colleague – the one that started this whole thing? It’s coming, Pamela. I promise.

5 Responses to Taking Time for Being and Thinking

  1. Hildy, this post really resonated with me – thank you for sharing it. I’m guilty of this as well – always thinking I ‘should’ be doing more. I forget that I’m ‘being’ who I want to be and a lot of things are coming out of it that I can’t necessarily point to and check off a list somewhere. Just last night, I found out that an old friend of mine has been following along on my blog posts and it’s given him some great inspiration. To me, I was just scratching some thoughts together and didn’t think many people were paying that much attention.

    Thanks for the reminder that slowing down and ‘being’ can be so powerful, and amazing things can come out of that time. I look forward to hearing more from your journey soon.

    Oh, and have an awesome day! 🙂

  2. Reading this post felt like walking up to a river bank with you… following the line of your extended hand as you described the far banks, then the eddies and flows of the river itself, and finally down to where the sunshine hit the smooth stones surrounding our bare feet, ankle-deep in cool water.

    Thrilled that you had such a time, Hildy; grateful to have been a part of it; excited to learn as you share more…

  3. Brandon – thanks for being part of this journey!
    And Christine, I am bathing in your words. They beg to be read aloud (which I have done!). Thank you!!!

  4. Hildy,
    I come away from reading this post with a need to just thank you very, very much for caring so deeply, passionately, creatively and brilliantly about the world. Your leadership on this journey is inspiring more than my feeble words can say. Can’t wait to see you in Miami!