30-Days of Sentience: The Wisdom of Sabbatical


I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…” Henry David Thoreau

Most of us have encountered the story of author and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau's 2-year retreat to the Walden Woods just outside of his home in Concord, MA, in 1845.  During this period he experimented with a radical reversal of the work/life practice of the time, which had typically meant working six days a week at making a living, and one day per week to actually live. In his now iconic work, "Walden," he articulated the transcendence of living "simply," and his often quoted observation, "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

Recently, on the final day of my own 30-day sabbatical, I visited the place of Thoreau's sanctuary, and gained new appreciation for the man who reconstructed his life so that, "he might participate more consciously in the choices he was making."

My own radical departure from the pulse of modern life followed an extended period of profound stress and uncertainty in both my professional and personal worlds.  While I do not approach life believing that I have to solve everything by myself, the prolonged distress of my circumstances had led to a kind of functional isolation. By the time I realized that I needed to unplug, I was mentally dazed, emotionally adrift, and spiritually disoriented. In the 1950's they would have called it a nervous breakdown. I came to think of it as my "soul storm." 

"…when we stand before life in the fullness of 'yes,’ we are trusting the intelligence, the fundamental goodness of the Universe." Michael Bernard Beckwith

Like Thoreau, my retreat was about regaining a quality of sentience that could shape the life and spiritual choices I needed to make going forward. I established daily routines that alternated practices of meditation and journaling, along with a conscious releasing of solving, managing, anticipating. It was a period of remarkable revelation.

The first thing I noticed was how much pain I was in. The process of stilling the outer distractions to bring mind and body present in the moment meant acknowledging that even the act of conscious breathing was a strain. My stomach hurt. I was not able to achieve a truly deep breath. And I was exhausted. Afternoon naps became the norm.

Next I noticed how many “windows” were open on my mental desktop all the time. My mind had become an internal google browser, and there were hundreds of tabs open. The psychic noise of these virtual placeholders blocked the sound my inner voice, resulting in a persistent state of apprehension.

Last I realized I had lost touch with what “yes” felt like for me. That authentic, visceral release into wholeness, versus the provoked concession to the momentum of circumstances.  I understood then how much we all actually “know” about what is right for us that may not get acknowledged, much less fully integrated, into our choices, relationships, spiritual practice.

"Go to the place you feel most like yourself."
The Lake House, 2006

As I emerge from this time of retreat, and turn to the process of re-engaging my life and work, I know it will be about more than rebooting

It will be about evolving my life structures reflect a new equilibrium.

Trusting Ourselves with Ourselves

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I knew the woman I wanted to become.”
― Diane Von Furstenberg, The Woman I Wanted to Be


I have always resonated with this quote. It articulates something of the way I have understood the path I was walking through my own life.

Although, like her I have pursued a career and been grateful for the rewards associated with it, I’ve always recognized an “inner journey” as the guiding principle for my life. Recently, as I was thinking about how to celebrate an upcoming “milestone” birthday, I realized—I’m there. This is the woman I became.

 The first time I heard this quote was on an American Express commercial, with Diane Von Furstenberg’s voice commenting on her life. I remember asking myself—how will I know when I get there? When I have become her? In response to those early questions three qualities emerged that have shaped my picture of what ‘becoming’ that woman would look like for me—

  • Recognize the sound of my own voice—in my choices, in my relationships, and be able to tell when that intrinsic authenticity had been compromised

  • Know how to be heard—in a way that reflected what I valued

  • Say what is important—independent of approval or consequences.

In the years since I asked and answered those questions, I have come to recognize a subtlety in process of ‘becoming’—which implies working toward an ideal—but also includes getting to a place where you trust yourself, with yourself. No matter where you are on the path to ‘becoming;’ no matter what you have figured out, or still question; what you have mastered or relinquished; you are here, fully present and reliable in the things that matter to you. There is a wisdom in understanding that ‘becoming’ is an invitation to participate in something that is forever unfolding. In this we come to trust that we do not need to be done, to be complete.

A Foot In Both Worlds

“Part of life is finding the landscape that matches your inner journey.” Kristen Hannah, author, The Nightengale (September 25, 1960)


In 1948, Earl Shaffer told a friend he was going to “walk off the war” to work out the sights, sounds, and losses of World War II. (Warrior Expeditions) His walk marks the beginning of a tradition that continues today on the Appalachian Trail—military veterans finding their way home.  

 Warriors have always carried the psychic wound of our communal rage, our inner battles. In millennia past, when the fight had been won or lost, the soldier would begin the journey home, on foot, walking through and beyond the place of brokenness to a place of coherence. Today, in seeking the trail, these warriors continue this soul-purpose of creating equilibrium between our inner and outer worlds. “walking off the war.”

 Some experiences are so profound that this balance sways wildly. When our inner world has been tasked with providing context and meaning for a polarity of jarring extremes—life and death, certainty in the midst of a persistent mystery—the task before us is to choose wholeness, to define for ourselves a congruity that can provision the path forward.  

 This is what I know. Equilibrium is an expression of motion.


“Giving the Snow Permission to Fall.”


“There is a balance point in the movement between intention and acceptance.”

Today in the Pacific Northwest, we have gone within, retreating from a record snowstorm that has effectively paused all movement, all forward focused activity. We nestle in a wooly, comforted quiet, and release our urgency into the drifting whiteness of the moment.

 A decade ago, almost to the day, I sat at another window watching snow fall. I was in a place I did not want to be, directed by circumstances I had tried to shape, elevate, redirect, and avoid; intending instead to align it to my sense of destination. In the wake of the economic collapse in the United States, I found my professional opportunities limited to really one viable option: accept a job I did not want, with a company I did not respect, in a location I would not have gone voluntarily. On that day, however, in that place, the weightless elegance of the snow becoming a meditation on grace, I gave it permission to fall.

Here’s what I know. There is wisdom in giving residence to that which is already true. There is a liberty in understanding where the journey begins.