This summer, my husband and I were blessed to have the opportunity to take 9 weeks of sabbatical. After months of planning, we hit the road for the trip of a lifetime touring our National Park System. We visited National Monuments, Memorials and Parks, cities and sights, roadside attractions and even my family in the midwest. Upon our return, it’s hard to answer questions such as: “How was it?” “What was your favorite park?” or “What was the worst part?” It’s a little easier to share a few lessons we learned along the way.
Have a community
After several weeks of having only one another to look at and talk to, my husband and I were always excited when we got the chance to meet and visit with new people. We enjoyed connecting with other campers, hikers, photographers, VW drivers and anyone else with whom we temporarily had something in common. While we were away from our friends and colleagues, we had to find community where we could, but it was vital to the enjoyment of our trip.
Have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change
During our trip, we were affected regularly by events beyond our control. We got caught in bad weather; we got stuck in traffic, we even got food poisoning. We had planned in several flex days that helped us maintain our equanimity, but we did find ourselves reciting the serenity prayer a few times to stave off stress.
Forgive and forgive again
Before our trip, our friends joked about the state of my and my husband’s relationship after the trip, wondering if we’d both make it home in one piece. We set a policy on Day 1 that was important throughout the trip – we agreed that we would both make mistakes: navigate a wrong turn, spill something in the van or lose something of value and that none of these were as important as the health of our relationship and the good time we intended to have. We agreed on a policy of forgiveness and that has made all the difference not only in our trip, but in our marriage overall.
Slow time down
A read an article years ago on the nature of time and how it seems to speed up as we get older. The concept is that our brains do not attend to routine events and that you can slow time down with mindfulness, presence and novel activities. We didn’t want to turn around and realize the entire trip had passed us by in a blink, so we applied this principle to our trip. Nothing on this trip would be routine and we focused on cultivating a mindful presence in all of our activities – attending to the sounds of the cicadas, the smell of the flowers and the varying colors of the landscape around us. Only a few weeks into the trip, we felt like we’d been traveling for months…in a good way!
I think the most important lesson I garnered from our travels is about purpose and priorities. Being away from everyday distractions like dusting, paperwork and emails, I got to really think about how I want to spend every precious moment I have on this planet and what kind of life I want to live. It’s very simple. I want to be happy and I want to help other people be happy. Happiness is no trivial matter and I can already see in just the couple weeks since my return how setting it as a priority for my life has helped me be more balanced and appreciative in my work and home life.
All that said, I can more easily answer the questions above: the trip was amazing and inspirational; my favorite park was Bryce Canyon in Utah and the worst part of our trip, even more than the irregularity of our showers, was missing our dog. I’m glad to be home and am happy to be back in the office, bringing a fresh and inspired perspective and energy to my practice. I’d love to help you have more fun and happiness by achieving true health.