The Life-Changing Secret of Rest and Renewal

The Life -Changing Secret of Rest and Renewal

by , Director of Religious Exploration and Education

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I have recently returned from a three month sabbatical from my position as a Director of Religious Exploration and Education at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester.  I am very happy to return and feel my creativity and excitement kicking into gear.   I am indebted to Vickie Cox- Lanyon and Lee Hill for assuming my duties and doing a wonderful job.  Also, our Religious Exploration team was on top of so many of the details. Thank you Claire Breyton, Jenny Delgizzi, Ana Gregory, and Kim Napoleone.

When I set out on this sabbatical adventure, however, I was quite nervous.  I didn’t know what to expect. I had never left a job for other people to run for that long of a break (except for my two maternity leaves, and that was a long time ago!).  I spent a lot of time and angst prepping to leave, and also a lot of time and angst planning what life-changing things to do when I was gone.

Whenever I mentioned that I was about to take a paid sabbatical, the first questions from anyone was “Wow, what will you be DOING on sabbatical; where will you be GOING?”  Those questions began to set the bar high for me…like I really had to be DOING something noteworthy or GOING somewhere epic.  I also ran across the blog of a colleague who was also on sabbatical. I was overwhelmed by pictures taken at the Ganges River. Here she was partaking in a Hindu spiritual ritual.  Later I saw a photo of her riding a bike through a field of flowers. Arghhh! That was not what my sabbatical would look like.

I had two short retreats planned and a Comparative Religions HarvardX online course to take.  I had plans to slow down, meditate, become more mindful, organize and simplify my life, begin a whole food eating lifestyle, spend time with my family and with some friends I had not visited in a while. My main focus was to REST and rest and rest and be quiet and sit and meditate. Why…because I felt it was the thing that I wasn’t good at, therefore it was the very thing I needed to do to.  I needed to renew and become a better person and hopefully better at my job.

The Friday before I returned to UUCW, I was jarred into reality.  The sabbatical was over and the laundry list that I had written on day one of my sabbatical had not been completed.  I felt like a failure and proceeded to feel bad for the rest of that day. On Saturday, I decided to decipher these feelings and began to write a list of all the wonderful things that I accomplished during my sabbatical.

  1. Spent lots of quality time with my family and friends and especially my granddaughter.
  2. Finished the first section of the course I’ve been wanting to take online.
  3. Enjoyed a quilt retreat at Ferry Beach and completed four quilts over my entire sabbatical.
  4. Completed four major organization projects at my home.
  5. Completed and continue with a whole food lifestyle change.
  6. Completed the research, an outline, and a calendar of a new class I plan to roll out next year for middle school participants.
  7. Spent a few sessions meditating at a local Zen Buddhist temple.

I also made a list of what I did not accomplish.

  1. I never rested
  2. I had to cancel my silent meditation retreat because I came down with a mini-flu the morning of.
  3. I never rested.
  4. I never really rested.
  5. I wasn’t frequently very still or quiet.

The question of the hour was then: how could I go back to work, supposedly “renewed” when I never got to rest?  How could I have let that pesky thing (rest) fall off my list? Oh my gosh, did I really just waste my sabbatical?

Sunday came, I felt a little anxious as I drove to the church for the Youth Group Service.  I parked in the front, and slowly walked in. As I crossed the entryway threshold, I got a strong sense of “being home”.  As I listened to the remarkable high school teens present their service, I could feel my anxiety disappear and my renewal….which, look!  was here in my body after all… up.

I say this sincerely and as my true realization and life- changing lesson:  rest and renewal are not something that automatically go hand and hand. People do not renew in the same fashion.  Not everyone is meant to be a Zen Master. Not everyone is meant to be placid and quiet and mindful. Simple things like sewing, organizing, and playing with a child can be a meditation.  Walking on a snowy Maine beach can be as awesome as a pilgrimage to the Ganges. Being around the ones you love can be even more joyful than riding a bike through a field of flowers.

I am happy to be back.  I am renewed and yet, I am still the busy old me.  I guess that’s ok for now. And my next sabbatical? Maybe I’ll try the field of flowers!

Happily Yours,