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If you haven’t taken time off in a while, you probably see the signs of wear.  Lack of concentration.  A bit of fatigue.  At the same time, more stress accompanies the familiar and leaden routine.  

When we feel worn down, most people say “I need a vacation.”  

And a vacation is tempting.  I recently heard an enthusiastic cruise line CEO mention the on-board go-karting and 27 restaurants on his ship, which I believe he called a “product.”  I must say, the kid in me could really use a good go-karting experience. Except I’m no longer a kid.  

And a beach getaway sounds too soporific.

Vacation Alternative

Maybe I don’t need a vacation.  I need…a sabbatical.   That is, a period of intensity rather than forced relaxation. I could use the free time to reduce the number of I wanna’s.  You know–I wanna write more.  I wanna play some music.  I wanna climb a mountain.  I wanna go to the Hamptons.

OK that last one snuck in there out of habit but you get the idea.

“Sabbatical” implies a time away in search of a concerted effort of self improvement.  The idea is that you can get closer to a life goal, as well as relax.

How do you relax while intense pursuing a life goal?  Here, I am advised by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian-born psychologist who enunciated the value of “flow,” or losing oneself in a task.

The Great Escape

Csikszentmihalyi describes any number of flow experiences–like repetitive motion, such as swimming or walking; acts requiring deep concentration, like writing or problem solving; or artistic pursuits like singing or painting.  In these cases, the brain substitutes deep relaxation and a sense of timelessness for daily cares and worry.  And, at the end of the experience, you get a second benefit:  the actual product produced.  The written essay, the invigorated muscle, the enduring song in your head.

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So “flow” is pleasurable in itself, but also has some of the aspects of a vacation:  getting away, seeing something different, feeling apart from one’s worries.  It is not necessarily escaping the world–it’s escaping yourself while being in the world.

So I propose to get away for the flow of it.

Practical Ideas

Of course, “sabbatical” in the normal sense involves taking a year off. This unfortunately is above my financial ability.  But I might be able to go away for several weeks or a month.  What would a short sabbatical look like?

I have three ideas for a sabbatical-like get away:

  • Pilgrimage.  My friends have enjoyed two guided pilgrimages to holy sites in Ireland and Italy.  They take about two weeks and involve long walks and/or bus rides, lectures by people familiar with the history of the region, and periods of prayer and meditation.  The food is generally simple and there is no television or night life.  I buy this as a sabbatical–the idea that you separate from the world in order to calm the senses and find some peace, even as you visit a different part of the globe.  I might try the Shikoku pilgrimage, a visit to 88 sacred temples on the Japanese island of that name.  It can take 60 days to complete on foot, but it is considered normal to take a bus or taxi  to shorten the cycle.  I love Japan and being on the far side of the world would satisfy that desire to be far away from my daily cares…
  • Language Immersion.  Learning a language can seem the opposite of flow–after all, language is hard to acquire.  But I am amazed at the number of people who contacted me after I mentioned I have an international tutor.  There seems to be a language hunger out there.  I would love the famous Middlebury immersion school in Mainz, Germany.  One possible complication: you are required to pledge you will communicate only in your immersion language.  
  • Writer’s Course.  The name Iowa is famous among writers who need to get away.  The University of Iowa offers non-degree programs with a detailed application and a required manuscript.  Other programs provide group residences in more rigorous surroundings. These are for more-established artists.  I found a list of 27 programs, which can occur from ranches in Wyoming to isolated islands off the coast of Maine.  
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I think the point is that time is fleeting.  A serious pursuit seems a really worthwhile way to use it.  And, with the right pursuit, your flow experience can make time seem to stop.

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