In order to conduct one's sabbatical well, it is important to understand the nature of the physiological and psychological changes that are going to unfold over your break. Once we understand these, we can then decide what to emphasise in order to meet our sabbatical goals -- do we emphasise rest and recovery, do we emphasise reconnection or creativity or exploration....all these questions become much easier to answer once you get a handle on the process.
As you enter your sabbatical, your old self is going to want to drag you back to the cortisol-rich environment of work. Resisting this withdrawal symptom is the most important thing you need to do. If you manage that part well, the rest of the sabbatical unfolds quite automatically.
Sabbaticals are like sleep
Just as we sleep in phases, it seems that sabbaticals also follow a similar pattern.
There is the initial phase where we prepare to rest and lie down in bed, then there's the dropping into sleep, the fading away of the world, the deepening of sleep, the dreaming and at some point the body naturally wakes up. Your sabbatical will follow somewhat of a similar pattern.
I call these phases the Entry, the Deepening and the Exit. Each has to be understood and navigated in its own right. Of the three, the Entry is the most critical phase of your sabbatical. This is where you can seriously compromise the effectiveness of your time off by not allowing the natural process to unfold or by trying to hurry things along (there is a way to hurry things along but that is for advanced practitioners only).
We will be doing a deep dive into each of these phases separately, but for now we'll quickly cover the basics.
The entry into the sabbatical is that liminal space, like being strapped into a bungee cord or waiting to skydive from a plane - everything is still as it should be but a leap will be made soon and anything can happen. The first few days of sabbatical are pregnant with anticipation, like the first waves of monsoon clouds and the sweet petrichor after a scorching summer.
But this burgeoning excitement is also the biggest trap in the sabbatical. And the trap unfolds very sweetly. The trap of work.
Why is it a trap? It's a trap because the job of a sabbatical is to rewire your consciousness and reconnect you with your joy. If you start to work on your sabbatical you will not enter those states and spaces that you need to deepen your experience of being alive and of building a career aligned with your core desires. You will bounce off your sabbatical and back into your old life.
In any case, over the period of your entry you will experience two relaxations. After the first one, the risk of bouncing from your sabbatical early diminishes a whole lot. After the second one your sabbatical truly begins.
Once your nervous system figures out that the environment has changed for real, it releases it's vice like grip on your consciousness. I know you're thinking -- what vice like grip? Trust me, it is there. Like the sound of a fan that you've tuned out because it carries no information, the modern work life has created in your consciousness a tension and alertness that are always there and you can't feel them. Just like you only notice the fan sound when it stops (no doubt due to a summer power cut), you will only know that you were tense when the relaxation happens.
And when it happens it is usually accompanied by a release of energy, the energy that was being used to maintain that alertness is now suddenly available for use and this energy flows through the body as happiness or well being.
On this current sabbatical I remember the exact moment. I was in Dharamshala and I remember feeling "ok! this is more like how life should feel" and I knew I was beyond the second gate and into the Deepening.