Going on Sabbatical

On Thursday, Mark and I travel to a small island in the West Indies. We stay for five weeks in a little cottage by the ocean. Our time is “unplugged”: no Internet, news, TV, email, or screens. We get to the market via bikes, no car. It’s an unconventional life that nourishes our spirits.

This is our eighth trip. (They occur every other year.) Before our first trip, I remember a colleague from Lawrence asking, “Can you do that? Is that okay?” I smiled and said, “Yes, we can do that. It makes us better professors and people.” Even now, I’m met with surprise or disbelief: “What do you do all day?” “That wouldn’t work for me.” “It sounds interesting but also a little scary.”

I understand all these reactions. They arose in me when Mark suggested this practice. But I also felt a deeper longing: Give this a try. My first experience was freeing, energizing, and eye-opening. It’s an amazing relief to lay down responsibilities, unplug from the virtual world, and live a simple life.

Each year before I go, I have a clutch of “is everything prepared and wrapped up?” This very sense of importance (I’m a big deal!) and urgency (do this now!) is what I’m grateful to leave behind. I welcome the reminder that my to-dos are not as important as I imagine and that things get done—just fine—in my absence. Interestingly, I must remove myself from traditional culture to get appropriate perspective. It’s a trust fall that works every time.

Without the varied distractions of daily life, there’s space to look more deeply and cultivate amazement in ordinary moments. What do we do all day? Read books, make food, practice yoga, meditate, write, draw, converse, swim in the ocean, nap, walk in the garden, take out the compost, sweep floors, and create. I take long runs and shoot photographs. Mark takes long walks and makes music. We commune with ourselves, each other, and nature.

My doing-self surrenders (not always easily) to my being-self. It’s an interesting place to pay attention. Who am I if I’m not doing and accomplishing? The “I” falls away and I’m just presence, awareness, love, curiosity, compassion, and creativity. The “I’ returns, falls away, returns, falls away. And after five weeks, I better understand myself (and my habits). I come home with a nourished heart and a renewed intention.

I will miss you, friends! Yet I’m grateful to go away on this unplugged sabbatical. Take good care of your precious selves. Find moments—create moments—of just being. Embrace small moments of quiet, kindness, ease, beauty, grace, and joy.


breathe and Be.