I’ve been back to life as I’ve known it for almost two weeks, and one of the most consistent questions I receive, returning from three months of blissful and spontaneous adventure is, “how are you going to keep the sabbatical glow alive?”
I hadn’t worried about losing the blissed out feeling until I caught my reflection in the window of the L train: sallowness seeped over a formerly bronze demeanor, and dark circles clouded what were sparkley, smiley eyes a week before. A lopping and exhausted gait raised the eyebrows of my doorman one Friday evening as I crossed the finish line of my week.
Despite these moments, I’ve generally been feeling brighter, clearer and more effervescent as I bridge the transition between sabbatical and the real world. I can spot these moments as aberrations, and correct them through thinking back on what propelled me through my international adventures. Here’s how I cloud my glow (… and how I’m polishing it up each day):
Email and text constantly (… strike up random conversations instead.) Scowling at an iPhone and texting through a cab-ride is a great way to feel nauseated before 9 AM and to sink deeper into imagined stresses. I felt the anxiety start to claw and my stomach start to rise, so I resigned to put down my phone and strike up a conversation with my cab driver. While surly at first, we quickly started to talk about life in Bangladesh, family and religion. Curiosity and empathy washed over the hardness of worry, stress and “to do”s and I started to feel like myself again.
Let practicality and planning preside (… find the magic instead.) In one of the best planned cities in the world, it’s easy to get into a mentality as grid-like as the streets. I’ve found myself rushing from meeting to appointment to event without time to let serendipity happen. Some of the most magical moments on my sabbatical came from wandering, sitting and watching and letting experiences come to me. They happen in New York, too, when I give myself time to not just be present but to really embrace it, whether it’s taking time to catch up with an old acquaintance on the street (who just happened to join an incredible meditation community) or to ask a waitress about her tattoo (which just happened to be a snow leopard from her time in Bhutan… see above!). Looking for karma in daily struggles and spotting serendipity in everything from emails to street signs has gotten me out of those gray ruts and back into a technicolored mindset.
Treat self-care as an afterthought (… put yourself front and center instead.) While I’ve maintained a daily meditation practice and managed to get to a few yoga classes each week, the professional life seeps into self-care time. Instead of sitting down to engage with a plate of food, I’ve started to down falafels in between meetings. While I sit to meditate, my mind isn’t always with my breathing, but with what needs to be done with the day. I’m quickly back in the habit of lingering fifteen minutes longer over emails (which easily turns into an hour and a dinner plan missed or a writing session scorched.) It’s an insidious and gradual process and often hard to notice until morning sittings are skipped and meals are substituted with sugary stress snacks. It takes asking where those fifteen minutes are better spent; am I going to get more out of noodling over an email or getting to a yoga class? Will I be more productive if I work through lunch or if I walk and nourish my mind and body? This isn’t to say that one should eschew a working life for the sake of wellness; it’s about the boundaries we maintain and creating an interdependent approach to work and life.
It’s amazing how quickly old habits come back, and how many of them relate to technology. Being on opposite-time in Asia meant that I didn’t have people to engage with on text or email all day (except for you night owls!), and I could really immerse myself in the place and the people. In New York, I find myself Facebooking, Instagramming and texting constantly and scanning through work emails to see the latest from London before I’ve even had coffee; it pulls me out of the magic and the moment and into future worries and past regrets.
The good news is that these are simply small actions that require turning off the phone, saying hi, asking and listening, and carving out moments that I can dedicate myself to, whether at home or at work. As I told my friend Kim the other night when she asked if I was afraid I’d lose the sabbatical glow: “once you’re a pickle, you can’t go back to being a cucumber.” So, as I navigate city life, I’ll do so knowing that I’ll always be brined with each experience I create, whether from my sabbatical or each day in the crowded streets of downtown Manhattan.