sabbatical your life (workshop report back from AMC2012)

i have recently returned from a 6-month community-supported sabbatical. i am feeling healthier and happier now than i have ever felt in my adult life. i say that as someone who has burned out at least three times in my life, who has patterns of overworking, undersleeping, working in urgent hopeless conditions, and undervaluing my health. my goal with this journey was to get under the patterns that lead me to burn-out – to truly fall in love with myself enough to authentically love my community, to embody health and happiness as i work for those things in my community.

i landed back home right into the allied media conference, one of my chosen familial spaces. i knew i wanted to do some sort of report back, because so many people from the AMC had supported my journey in one way or another. i came up with a workshop which ended up being really emotional to offer, and i’ve gotten feedback that it was life-changing for many of those who came.

i thought i would share some notes from the workshop i came up with for the gathering here.

first, i told the story of my sabbatical. you readers have been on the journey with me, so you know how deep and transformative it was (if you haven’t caught up just scroll back to january and fall into my journey). it was important for me to tell the story, so that folks understand it wasn’t a 6-month easy vacation – it was six months of healing, processing trauma and grief and heartache, learning about health, and learning how to love myself.

then i explained the terms that i started using to think of the processes i went through on the journey:

self-love – when you feel whole, and have the capacity to be caring, and you feel invested in, and fully powerful about who you are and your life. (aka complete self-liberation) 🙂 (i think of this as child/beginner’s mind after seeing how my nephew and niece experience themselves.)

self-restoration – every intentional step you take to achieve self-love from an “unwhole” place.

there is no perfect – self-love is a process.

i believe the process is a cycle that can move in multiple directions. the distinction i can see between moving in a healthy, whole direction and moving in an unhealthy direction is my intentions. when i make life choices and actions without intention, or when i feel like my intentions don’t matter, i am usually on a path towards burn-out. when my actions feel intentional, when it feels like what i truly want to do does matter, i develop the ability to dream, believe, open up, to go where i want to go, and ultimately fall in love with myself.

and i am so in love with myself 🙂

i also identified 5 key elements of my self-restoration process:

1. time. does your time feel scarce and overfull? or abundant? a sense of abundant creative generative exciting healthy time is a major sign of wholeness and health.

2. practices. your practices can shift, but you need to have awareness around what you currently practice in order to get through your life, and what would a healthy collection of practices look like. my practices include/d:
– transformative writing. taking the time to write letters i didn’t send but needed to say, and to really articulate things to myself around healing i needed. (some prompts came from howard shubiner’s workbook on unlearning your pain, some came from a transformative writing workshop in hawaii.)
– developing my own daily yoga practice.
– self-photography, self-portraiture and self-porn. mmmhmmmm. healing!
– body self-love including face masks, hair treatments, rubbing cocoa butter everywhere, and so forth.
– meditation.
– swimming and time in the ocean. crying in the ocean, giving things over to the ocean.
– breathing, all the time.
– smiling only when it was authentic – and increasing my authentic desire to smile.

3. intuition. the path towards healing is within. i knew i longed for a beach cabana all by myself. what keeps coming to your mind when you think about healing places? put yourself on a path to that place.

4. transition and boundaries. the container in which i could actually do my healing work had to be created and respected by me if i wanted anyone else to really hold it.
– giving myself time to transition into the sabbatical [as opposed to one day working and the next day trying to be in pure vacation mode], and time to transition out and intentionally come back into relationship with my family and community and work, was incredibly important.
– holding boundaries around communication and my time was not just key for this sabbatical, but is a skill set i now apply to every aspect of my life.

5. your people. the community that came together to support my sabbatical was a circle of people who were actively loving me. what was crucial was that i gave some of these people permission to be deeply honest with me, holding me accountable when i was slipping in commitments to myself and my health.

once i had spoken of these elements, i had everyone do a self-assessment that looked like this (and don’t lie because it’s just for you!):

a. on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is totally crispy [sad-face] and 10 is totally healthy [peace-smiley-face], how burnt-out are you?

b. on a scale of totally scarce to totally abundant, how much time do you have? (hint: if it always feels like you can’t find time for your own health activities or creativity, you are operating from scarcity.)

c. what are you practicing?
we are always practicing something – some of those practices may feel more healthy, some may feel less healthy – but we are always doing things to help ourselves survive. maybe your practice is eating ice cream, maybe it’s kundalini yoga – list it all out so you can start to be intentional about what you are practicing.

d. who are your people? who are the key people you can trust to absolutely love you and hold you accountable to loving yourself?

once everyone had done assessments, we had a few moments of heightened emotion as folks reflected on what they had learned.

then i had people spend about 15 minutes on these two writing prompts:

1. taking full responsibility, why are you in your current state of burn-out?
[i honor sung e bai for this one, she told me about a practice of taking responsibility for everything and this practice kicked my ass]

2. write a story about yourself, in third person, living a perfect life. what’s happening, how is your time spent?

as the final step, folks got into pairs or trios and read the second piece of writing to each other.

one of the biggest pieces of my healing journey was receiving total permission and support from my community. my best friend used facebook and paypal to organize a lot of people to give small donations towards my sabbatical fund. she presented these to me at my birthday dinner, and it changed my life.

i needed to hear that my community loved me enough to see me healed.

so in the small groups, i asked each person to share what they most needed to hear from others to have permission to give themselves that “perfect life”. then, everyone got the experience of hearing those words said to them, repeated to them, until they could really feel it. some groups took it to a somatic level, holding each others’ hands or hearts as they spoke each others’ permission words.

since the gathering i have received love notes, thank you notes, and stories from the participants – i know this was a powerful experience for them. i invite you to get a few friends together and do it yourself!

if you are interested in a deeper process, i am beginning to work one-on-one with people to support planning a sabbatical or a healing life.

love yourself!!