A friend is beginning a sabbatical and asked for advice about how to think about it and use it well. Some thoughts, therefore, from someone who has been blessed by a few so far.
Basic principle: plan it and guard it. Don’t fall into it, exhausted, and then spend days or weeks figuring out what to do. You’ll waste it.
And don’t let other people’s agendas intrude into it and commandeer it. “Well, since you’re off work and have nothing much to do, then how about helping me with my projects?”
No, your time is a gift and a trust from God, whether in work, play, or “sabbaticalling.” Explain to those who need to know that it is not a vacation in the trivial sense of “hanging out.” (Should any vacation be like that?) It is time you have planned to spend in important ways and those plans cannot easily be set aside.
So plan it and guard it.
Now, what kind of sabbatical is it?
Some people begin sabbaticals truly needing a sabbath, a holy rest. They may have been driving hard in their jobs, likely also pressing hard on the rest of their lives, and they are in the burnout zone.
As “accomplishers,” they might well set up sabbaticals as what we academicians sometimes call “study leaves” or “research leaves.” But if you need rest, then rest.
Aleksandr Men offers advice pertinent to all of us in this tense culture, but especially to those needing to take a break:
Determine the reasons for the tension. Are they hidden in either physical or mental overexertion, in all-too-frequent and overly tense emotions, or in unduly impatient quests for the ideal? If so, you should remove those reasons, if at all possible. You may need to say no to a certain activity or put it off for a time. You may need to stop reading certain material or going to certain theatrical productions [read: movies, TV, Internet]. Or you may need to throw out certain memories that cause alarm. If this is not possible, then, at the very least, you must find another way to reduce their effect. (An Inner Step toward God, 135)
The Apostle Paul’s advice comes to mind as deeply therapeutic, and it resonates with the best material I’ve read about creative thinking:
Perhaps you have been neglecting Scripture. Prayerfully pick something sweet and strong to read, and muse on it, unhurriedly, letting God speak to you. (Look up lectio divina and enjoy its practice.)
Perhaps, instead, you have been neglecting fun. Program it! Pick a good TV series and watch an episode every day—but one that will lift your spirits and provoke you to love and good deeds. Read a book, or a bunch of books, that will “take the string off the bow.” (I’ve been impressed by how many truly deep thinkers routinely read espionage, thriller, and mystery novels precisely to relax into a world easy to inhabit, gently intriguing, in which there is a fine moral order despite whatever mayhem initiates the tale.) Sports? Better to do than to watch (although watching, especially with others, can be just what one needs sometimes). Try a new sport or return to a favourite. Let your body move and your mind course along different paths.