Starting my Summer Sabbatical

This weekend we visited our families in Bemidji and relaxed after a busy week of finalizing my corporate position. While I am excited to start my “new thing” I also know that I need a break from the intensity of work for a while.

In the corporate world, it is not as common to take a break of more than 2-3 weeks (at the most) in the U.S. as it is in academia. But I have been dreaming of a break like this for quite some time now. I expect it will be ~2 months for me, and will conclude with my 2-week honeymoon Sept 5-19 with my husband (1 year wedding anniversary).

In the academic world, typically sabbaticals have are granted as a year free from teaching duties that could be devoted to research, travel and writing. Traditionally this occurs in the 7th year. Sabbatical is related to the biblical “sabbath” in origin, the day of rest referred to in Genesis. Leviticus refers to an entire year of rest in the 7th year, as a way to respect the natural rhythm of crop-harvesting, and allow the land to lie fallow.

I love the concept of cycles of intentional activity balanced with intentional rest. An over-focus on productivity in our culture seems to rob us of the ability to rest and play without guilt. We feel like we have to “earn” our rest, and then, if we work very hard and have saved up a lot of money, maybe we can retire formally and finally rest.

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Photo credit link

Personally the idea of going from full-time work, to full time retirement has always seemed weird to me, and not at all desirable. Work often gives us a sense of purpose and satisfaction, even while it can be the source of stress and struggle at times.

If you love your work and it is well suited to your skills and interests, it is something you may not wish to escape. While you may decide to “down shift” in your later years, or work less than full time, the idea of going from 100% to zero has never appealed to me.

Granted, in the days when work was largely physical and humans had a limited capacity for this enduring effort, it certainly made sense. Today, knowledge work demands high focus during “productive time” but can also require rest and intentional play for creative generation.

What if more of us had a more flexible approach to work and life, where we could take a couple of months off every year to recharge and refresh? How might this affect our quality of work, our quality of life, and perhaps even the planet and the environment?

My theory is that quality vacations and sabbaticals may afford the kind of down time that helps us appreciate what is good about our lives, and also what is missing. This time off has required us to put away some savings, and make some sacrifices in terms of luxuries and spending. To me, it is entirely worth it. I have planned 2-2.5 days a week to “work” and plan for my consulting launch.

I am truly grateful for the opportunity and shall make the most of it. My husband tells me the time will go fast, and I am sure it will. I have a stack of books, some Udemy courses to finish, a road trip with my sister, and other connections to renew. I shall savor my journal and writing time, will meditate every day, do yoga, dance and perhaps create some art.

What would you do with a nice, juicy sabbatical of a month or more? I would love to know. 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Wellness Wednesday – move toward Joy

What brings you joy? 

This question can strike fear into the hearts of some people. If it has been some time since you experienced either spontaneous or cultivated joy, you may feel scarcity or grief.

If you have been living someone else’s idea of a “good life” but not your own, you probably feel a lack of joy. Or if things seem to be not going as planned in your life, and you feel a sense of numbness or sadness, joy seems far away. You may be like a poor kid looking through the windows of the candy store, knowing that joy exists (not in the form of candy, actually) but believing you cannot have it.

However, joy can be a daily practice as much as a feeling or an experience. I first learned about this from Martha Beck in her book The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life. I pulled out her book from my shelves last summer and started cultivating joy more intentionally when I realized my work life was no longer bringing me joy. For years, it had provided me with growth, challenge and satisfaction.

Then it seemed the minor annoyances I was tolerating started to grow into major annoyances. The bureaucrazy (yes, this is Freudian slip, and also deliberate) felt more overwhelming. On balance, the joy did not outweigh the suffering anymore. I no longer felt I belonged in that place, in that position.

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Photo credit link – Disney’s Joy character

I started finding joy in doing art projects at home, meditating, writing, doing yoga, reading books, and listening to podcasts that fed my brain new ideas. I started taking more joy in my relationship, planning my wedding (which took place last September). Instead of working late, I left the office early, enjoyed evenings on the patio, which is quite lovely in Minnesota this time of year.

My focus on finding and appreciating joy daily led me to the place where I am now. I feel healthy and more balanced than I have in years. My sleep has improved considerably, with much less insomnia than before. My eating habits have improved, and I struggle less with fighting cravings for sugar and junk food. Those things had been a “buffer” to my feelings and did not allow for me to sit with the reality of the change my soul was calling forth.

Joy is always not in the big, bright moments of happiness. These can be a part of a joyful life. However, it is often in the small, quiet moments of gratitude for the abundance that surrounds us. Joy exists in moments of internal peace and in finding our center. Sometimes there is suffering embedded in joy, and it is an almost bittersweet experience. I would not trade it for any material thing.

What brings you joy? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

300 posts!

This is post 300 of the mexi minnesotana blog!

It seems almost unbelievable to me, but this blog has motivated me to keep posting and creating on an almost daily basis since last fall. I had thought I would post 2-3 times a week originally, but as the fountain of ideas opened in my mind, sometimes I have had a hard time limiting myself to just one post per day…

Over time I have tried to be more concise, shorter and more focused. But now and then I cannot resist a longer piece when I need to really explain and explore my ideas. Fortunately there is room for all types of content on the web. Nobody forces us to read anything.

I want to thank all of you who have commented, liked and encouraged my writing. An unexpected bonus of this process has been finding a community of similarly spirited people who write about topics that interest me. I am truly grateful for your engagement in creating and envisioning better realities for us all. While we may not always have the time for detailed comments and feedback, knowing that others are willing to contribute to this online writing community is such an amazing gift.

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Thank you all for your engagement and participation in this wild and woolly web called the internet! 

Wherever your writing leads you, I hope you have a great journey along the way.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Cutting back

It is not easy for me to cut back on this blog. I tried it before: taking Tuesdays and Thursdays off so I can focus on some other projects. But I enjoy writing my daily post, and it can give me an energy boost to spend 30 minutes writing in the morning before I move on to the other business of the day.

Now I am setting my sights toward working on a new professional endeavor, so I will have to honor this commitment to myself. How strange that it is a commitment NOT to post a couple of days a week rather than the opposite.

When I started this blog back in September, I had no intention of posting daily. In October I challenged myself to see what I could do, if a daily post were possible for a month. It turned out to be 6 months of daily posts before I first tried to cut back. Now I have a long list of topics I want to write about. It has been hard to limit myself to daily. I will be up to 300 posts by the end of July. I find no shortage of topics on which I want to write.

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Photo credit link

As someone who is mastering her struggle with attention, I have many interests that cross fields. I am in a constant thirst for new information, new ways to think about problems, ways to feed my creativity. I believe focus can and is important at certain times. But I can also pair myself with others who have this focus, and allow my associative, creative mind out to play more often.

I used to wish I had more focus, wish my mind were easier to “discipline” and could be more concrete, sequential. At times this is useful. But I have many people around me who are really good at concrete, sequential tasks. Might it be better for me to partner with their great gifts and strengths while fully exploring my own? 

True, I am cultivating my focus through meditation daily, and this helps greatly in my ability to single-task more work-wise. I turn off social media, and minimize the distractions. Thus I am able to finish things more quickly. But most of that advice is directed toward more “neuro-typical” people, and my brain is not wired that way.

Sometimes in total silence it is difficult for me to work. I actually have MORE internal thought distractions when it is too quiet. Music playing in the background can help, or even going to a coffee shop with a little quiet conversation around me can help. I often get quality work done on airplanes despite the distraction of food service every two hours.

A.D.D. is more about variable focus, which is why it is a misnomer. When something fascinates me I can literally spend hours focused, forgetting to eat meals, get dressed for work, etc. I have all kinds of little alarms and reminders to help me get to work on time, get to yoga class, and generally do what life requires.

So I will try gradually cutting back on this blog, taking Thursdays off. Maybe I’ll do a “throwback Thursday” and revise some earlier posts. I want to submit more writing to magazines and journals. So maybe I’ll take my “B minus” versions and polish them up a bit for fun.

I write this blog to discover: What do I love? What do I most care about? How can I share and connect with others during the process?

Happy weekend, amigas/amigos!

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Local art in Bemidji

My husband and I like to have breakfast at the Dunn Brothers cafe in Bemidji where there is typically art on display from local artists. Some of the art is quite good, and I have actually bought two pieces while sitting here admiring the works while enjoying my coffee and breakfast.

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Art in Dunn Brothers: Tawnee Corning

Today I decided to take a holiday from writing and feature a couple of photos from the cafe to showcase some art by Tawnee Corning, an artist from Northern Minnesota. The photos don’t do the work justice but I found them very beautiful. These are from a series called “Inner Space”.

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Art hanging in Dunn Brothers, Bemidji – by Tawnee Corning.

Celebrate creativity in all of its forms! What a great privilege to be alive and to create beauty in the world.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Kindred spirits

One of the most rewarding parts of my travels and of meeting international colleagues is when I encounter kindred spirits on the journey. This happened to me on Wednesday night, right after a particularly grueling day in which I was frustrated with my inability to communicate as effectively as I intended with my director.

We had gone into some planning sessions and I’d agreed to dates for our next team meeting in late September, realizing that I truly do not plan to be in that position by then. However, I had not had the time to talk with my director 1:1 to let him know my intentions for August/September, in terms of moving on or at least taking a sabbatical.

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Is this a mule or a donkey?

As we took our break for the day before dinner, I wrote for a while to process the cognitive dissonance, and then took a walk outside. As it happened, I encountered what was either a mule or a donkey (do you know the difference? I cannot tell) and two women from India who were as fascinated as I was. It turns out one of them was a person I have talked with many times on conference calls, and I had never met her in person. So a nice surprise.

After a bit of walking on the grounds of the Abbaye de La Ramee I began feeling better, and I sat next to the pond with my journal. I took off my shoes and let my bare feet touch the ground while I watched a families of ducks swimming by. I considered the privilege I have in being able to travel like this, and meet colleagues in other places, collaborate with clinical scientists and engineers to create solutions for patients.

I went to dinner with a much better attitude, and tried to keep myself open to meeting new people and making the most of my experience. As it turns out, a bit late into the meal, a Hungarian colleague sat down a bit later into the meal after we had received the appetizer. The room was noisy so it was hard to talk and hear, but I sensed we had some things in common. So I made an effort to find out, and it turns out, we had a wonderful conversation.

My team scattered to find others that they wanted to talk with that evening, and my colleague and I shared a fascinating discussion of our respective challenges in the areas we work, along with thoughts about what might be next. After dinner we went for a long walk, talked about our mutual joy in yoga and running. He shared some brilliant invention ideas, and we brainstormed ways to realize faster innovation at such a large company, and how to partner with others who can help advance the work.

All in all, I was so grateful to connect with someone who clearly was a kindred spirit and “old soul” in terms of awareness and consciousness of the ways we want to create change in the world. Sometime we are put in the right place at the right time, to meet others on our cosmic “team” to do the work we are meant to do. Amazing and incredible.

Happy Friday, all.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Solving for scarcity

We are not going to solve a broken health care system with a food system that is poisoning our population. Until we begin to understand that sugar, flour and other processed and “powdered” foods are killing us, and that we are addicted to them, both systems will remain broken.

When I began to understand the role that food was playing in my life as a comfort mechanism and a way to “medicate” my emotions, I started waking up to what I needed to do in order to promote vitality and health in my life.

What I see in our national discourse is a lack of understanding of how privilege and knowledge function in keeping some people focused on their next meal, rather than on the future they can build. 

I love personal empowerment literature and believe many of us can control our destinies because of the choices we can make. But there are systemic problems in our schools, communities, cities, states and the world that do not allow every person with high potential to thrive.

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Photo credit link

Hidden Brain replayed an episode on the scarcity trap a few weeks ago, on the problem we have of the “tunnel vision” that develops when we are desperate for something. We spend our time and mental energy focusing on the scarce item item (whether it is food, or time, or health) so obsessively that there is little time for anything else.

But really then we have a scarcity of insight, because we focus so strongly on the current problem that we are unable to see the bigger picture. We are unable to make good decisions for the long-term because all we see is the lack, the need. We may sacrifice long-term rewards because we are stuck in that cycle of lack.

When people feel they lack power over their own lives, they make decisions that may not be in their own best interest. They fall back on “what they know” rather than trying something that may feel risky to them, or that could jeopardize what they do have.

Taking good care of our health and well-being is not something we see modeled for us in this culture of “busy-ness as a status symbol” (thank you Brene, Brown). It is indeed a radical act of self-love and self-compassion to attend to our wellness regularly and without apology.

Taking in only what nourishes us and rejecting or minimizing anything that depletes us is the way to true health and lasting joy. For those of us with enough privilege to know where our next meals are coming from, and who have decent health care and a good support system, we have amazing power to choose in our lives.

Let us now empower those around us to get what they need as well. In a country of plenty, what if nobody lacked basic necessities such as food and health care? Imagine the explosion of creativity and innovation that could exist if we could empower every person to live up to their full potential.