After the New Year and a return to the Netherlands from visiting friends and family, I did something inconceivable only a few months previously. I decided to take a step back from life, review it and decide whether anything needed to change.
So what prompted this rather radical way of making new year’s resolutions? I’m not entirely sure, but it was evident to both the Captain and myself that while life was good, something in it was not, leaving us feeling unsettled and out of sorts.
We recognised some of this malaise was fallout from our continuing battle (still ongoing) to get money from the insurance company for a vehicle theft back in September. On New Years morning, laid in bed at our friends’ home, drinking our morning tea and looking out over a quintessential English village, I asked my seemingly relaxed and laid back spouse what he was thinking.
” I was wondering how hard it would be to plant a bomb in the building of the insurance company.” This was not a light-hearted or throwaway line delivered with a wry smile, this was the comment from a man who had had enough. I was deeply shocked; of the two of us it is me who is more likely to get enraged, while he is calm, measured and annoyingly reasonable. Yet here we were, on a short break away from everyday niggles and annoyances, and he was thinking about the insurance company.
Travelling home I started thinking. We all have to deal with life issues which drain us of energy and joy. We carry emotional baggage for years without realising we’re doing it; old hurts, angers, disappointments, abandoned dreams, lost chances, bad choices, guilt and shame over past behaviours, never feeling good enough.
My emotional baggage is carried on my back in a huge wicker basket – the type normally used for storing logs or children’s toys or laundry – held in place with leather shoulder straps. Because it’s on my back I don’t see it, but as I wander along things get tossed over my shoulder into the darn thing, as you would old and worn socks into a laundry basket. I may not be thinking about what’s in there, but life stuff gets heavier and heavier without us realising it. Not important stuff, you understand, rather the day-to-day grinding of life’s wheels.
There’s never time to stop and empty it; we make sure there’s never a spare moment in our busy lives. Far easier to ignore it and carry on. But when a spouse is fantasising about blowing up buildings something has to give. And the drain of carrying the basket has been annoying of late.
Easing off the shoulder straps and tipping it out, seeing the contents spill in every direction across the floor, it was enlightening.
Holding the basket upside down, banging it on the floor to dislodge small items snagged in the wicker, I was amazed by the clutter of bits and pieces clattering out, all broken off from things relegated to the trash decades ago. There were several dusty, battered fragments which had been part of my life, but weren’t part of it now, needing to be collected up and swept away.
There were other tangled memories and situations which did need unravelling, re-sorting and trashing. Many were issues resolved eons ago but I’d forgotten to remove them from my wicker hard-drive.
There was suddenly a huge amount of space in my newly emptied life-basket and I was wary of what went back in. I didn’t want to spend time and energy (a vital commodity at my stage of life) on things that no longer engaged or gave me pleasure or a sense of personal fulfilment. I didn’t want it brimming with ‘must dos’ or ‘ought tos’ or ‘should dos.’ I wanted to fill it will good things, memories and important people in my life
Last year I’d been offered wonderful opportunities to explore new and exciting ventures, meet new people, start new projects. It was exciting and stimulating, but I didn’t feel as excited or stimulated as I should. I wasn’t sure I wanted that part of my life back in my basket.
Which begged the question, “What do you want?” along with, “Life’s too short to spend it doing things you don’t want to, if you’re in a position to choose.” And I’m lucky, some things I can choose. Some I can’t. So how to differentiate between the two?
A Mental Sabbatical. Time to step back, reaffirm and realign life onto the track you want to follow. Change the things you can, come to terms with, and accept, those you can’t
It’s a lot tougher than it sounds. Stepping back from everything, and I mean everything, to discover what it is you want and more importantly what it is you don’t. Basic stuff, but how many of us do it? And what a revelation.
Things I thought were important, that I couldn’t live without, weren’t so important after all. Other things, seemingly inconsequential, have turned out to be essential to my mental well-being. An area of work I’d toyed with exploring has been the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.
The biggest surprise has been the most obvious of all – we put unrealistic deadlines, goals and expectations on ourselves, which we would never expect of other people.
Returning from my Mental Sabbatical I can report it has been time well spent. Life does not shudder to a halt if you step back into the wings. Friends do not abandon you, the world does not fall apart. The quiet joy of time out, time to think things through, work them out at your own pace instead of charging through life, is a priceless experience. Finding balance is essential.
This morning I did something spontaneous for the first time in forever. After a freezing dog walk in the dunes, instead of charging off with my ‘to do’ list as planned, I drank tea with a girlfriend. We ended up heading to another girlfriends house to shovel snow from the canal in her garden, and ice skate – for the first time in 30 years.
People and memories; the most important things we have when everything else is stripped away.
Although I must dash, another deadline to meet…