Sabbatical 2022: England

The first stop on our sabbatical trip was London, England. I rented us an Airbnb apartment in Belsize Park, as it is located close to the centre of town, and near Hampstead. I generally like to rent an apartment, rather than stay in a hotel, as it gives you the option to eat in, and a comfortable place to come back and relax. After arriving in mid-day, our first job was to stay awake until the evening to combat jet-lag.

We spent our first afternoon exploring Hamstead, a quaint residential area long loved by academics, artists and media personalities. The high street offers a range of shops and places to eat. We particularly enjoyed exploring Mary’s Living & Giving Shop, a small boutique that offers quality, upcycled clothing and furnishings. We then continued onto Hamstead Heath. It is a large park that sprawls over 800 acres, offering some of the most spectacular views in the city. The site inspired C.S. Lewis to write The Chronicles of Narnia.

The next morning, we caught a double decker bus for a tour of the sites. Whenever I travel to a big city, I find it useful to take one. It offers you a great overview of the key cultural sites, all within an hour or so, with the option to hop-on and hop-off, so you can stop and visit any attraction. I personally like to take the full tour of the city before disembarking, as it helps to orient you at the start of the trip. In the afternoon, we made our way to the V & A Museum, which is focussed on art, design and fashion. We caught the Fashioning Masculinities and Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature exhibitions, followed with tea and scones in the museum’s magnificent glass-ceilinged cafe.

On our third day, I took my daughter to visit of the Harry Potter set tour, as we are big fans of the books and films. The Warner Brother’s set is located half an hour from the city centre: easily reached by train. Although I do not generally love to visit theme parks, I had heard a lot of good things about this one, and we were not disappointed. The visit takes several hours, as you make your way through the sets, special effects and costumes. It was fun to walk through the Great Hall at Hogwarts, Gringotts bank and Diagon Alley; but what particularly struck me was the section featuring the artists who successfully translated the page to screen. It showcases their intricate drawings and models: revealing the inner workings of their vivid imaginations. It was the most inspiring part of the visit for me.

On our last day in the city, we visited Camden Market. With over 1000 shops and stalls selling fashion, music, art and food, it is a massive undertaking. We only experienced a small part of it but it was fun to explore. I ate the best falafel pita sandwich of my life at Magic Falafel. If you love middle eastern food, make sure to go there! I also discovered Celtic Dawn, London’s specialist shop in Celtic jewellery. It offers a lovely selection of pieces designed in the UK and Ireland: both my daughter and I left with something special.

We then headed over to the West End to catch a show of Moulin Rouge. The quality of theatre experience in both London and New York is unparalleled in the English speaking world. I wanted to share it with my daughter and this particular show did not disappoint. It was a sumptuous display of music, costumery and sets, featuring incredible singers and dancers. We were on the edge of our seats throughout and it received a standing ovation at the end. I felt deep gratitude to be able to return to the theatre, after two years of pandemic, and experience it live.

The next day, we caught the train north to the Lake District, where we were booked into stay at a beautiful little hotel in Grasmere located on a working farm. I was last in the north-west of England almost twenty years ago, when I moved back to Canada, after living in Lancaster for six years. The Lake District is a region and a national park located in Cumbria. It is famous for its glacial lakes, rugged mountains and historic literary associations (e.g. Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter). We were fortunate to have lovely weather during out three-day stay, which is not always the case, as it often rains in that part of the world.

In my time living in England, I met some wonderful people; and during this visit, I reconnected with a handful of my friends that still live locally. It was incredibly special to see them again. I am always amazed how, even after long periods of time, it is possible to pick up with a good friend where you last left off. This was definitely the case on this visit and we had a lot of fun together. Some highlights included walking the Grasmere and Rydall Loop, and the Helm Crag Loop, as well visiting Hill Top, the farm previously owned by Beatrix Potter. The time flew by, and before we knew it, we were headed on the train up to Scotland for the second part of our sabbatical adventure.

Sabbatical 2022: And so it begins…

― Erin Hanson

Six years ago, when my marriage fell apart, I decided to do something special for myself. It had always been a dream of mine to go on a sabbatical. I had previously been waiting for my husband to take the leap with me; and when I realized that this was never going to happen, I decided to sign up for the deferred salary leave program through my work, and do it for myself. This program allows for an employee to save a portion of their salary, over a period of time, and take a temporary leave from their position at the end (between six to twelve months).

When I first joined the program, I did not really believe that I would make it to the finish line. It seemed like such a long way off and I had a hard time imagining that I could sustain the savings over such a long period of time; but it felt good to join the program and dream big for myself. I began telling people about my plan to travel with my daughter. I figured that the more I talked about it, the more likely I would follow through; and although it is hard to believe, six years flew by, and here I am about to embark on my grand adventure.

I am taking eight months off from work, with three of them spent in Europe. My thirteen year old daughter is accompanying me. Our travel itinerary includes a month travelling around the United Kingdom and Ireland and two months in France. We fly into England, continue up to Scotland, move onto Ireland, and finish up in France.

I have always been a heavy packer, so I made a concerted effort to pack light for this trip. As we are moving around so much for the first month, it makes sense to try to limit our luggage to carry on items; and I set myself a personal goal to keep things simple. It was a bit of a challenge as we needed to pack for all kinds of weather, including hiking boots and rain gear for the West Highland Way, and warm weather clothes for the south of France. Miraculously, we managed to squeeze all of our belongings into two small roll-on suitcases and backpacks.

After two years of living through a pandemic, I am finding it hard to believe that we can travel safely again. I feel nervous and excited about stepping out into the big, wide world. We begin our trip by flying from Vancouver to London, England. I am really happy to be returning there after almost twenty years, as it holds a special place in my heart. This whole experience so far feels very surreal but I am ready to be brave and take the leap. One. Two. Three. Here we go!

Something to Inspire

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“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy

My Joy Journal

I previously posted about my social media project, #JoyBlogging, in which I visually capture little moments throughout the day that give me joy. For the last few years, I have also been privately keeping a joy journal that captures more in depth personal experiences, big and small, that are particularly special to me.

I find it really useful to have a record to look back upon, and it is amazing how many of these experiences I would forget about, if I did not write them down. Every entry reflects a lovely moment, and together, they form a powerful tool; it fills me with happiness every time that I read through them.

I would like to start sharing some of these entries with you, with the hope that it will inspire you to start your own joy journal. Here is my first one:

Joy Journal: May 9, 2022

My dear friend Elise arrived in to Aix yesterday. We met almost twenty-eight years ago when we attended art school in Lacoste together. Provence will always be an important part of our friendship, as this is where we met, and we both maintain a special connection with the region. Elise is a painter and I am a writer. Part of our commitment on this visit is to spend time each day being creative and making work.

Today, we wandered in the old part of the city, where we came upon a little café in Place Richleme, and found a table in the shade. It sounds funny but I had never thought to go to a café to work; and I have been staying in the apartment most of the day to write. It turns out the French have a lovely café culture. You can order a coffee, and stay put for several hours, watching people, enjoying the sun on your face, and working. We had a really nice waiter who brought us each a “décaf allongé” with a little almond cookie on the side. We worked quietly, across from one another, for some time. It was a really lovely experience. It is definitely going to become a part of my daily practice from now on.

Something to Inspire

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If I could find the right words to soothe you, 

to calm you and comfort you,

I would blanket them around you 

with blessings and prayers

And remind you that you will make it through

No matter how dim and narrow and harrowing it looks

A golden thread extends forward into eternity

pulling you forth 

A cord of light from your heart 

that connects you to the great sea of Being 

that is the whole of us

yes invisible 

but do not doubt it,

for it is the very fabric of our Being

the hidden secret 

that wells our eyes with tears

as we recognize ourselves 

in each other.

~ Mijanou (Mystic Mama)

Something to Inspire

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“Status quo is not very helpful for spiritual growth, for using this short interval between birth and death. On the other hand, expanding our ability to feel comfortable in our own skin and in the world, so that we can be there as much as possible for other people, is a very worthy way to spend a human life.”
Excerpted from:

Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World
by Pema Chödrön

“If you make happiness your primary goal, you might miss out on the challenges that give life meaning. ..Bringing good things into your life, whether love, career success, or something else, usually involves risk. Risk doesn’t necessarily make us happy, and a risky life is going to bring disappointment. But it can also bring bigger rewards than a life played safe, as the study of happiness, academic achievement, and income suggests. Those with the highest performance at work and school made decisions that were probably unpleasant at times, and even scary…

As with everything in life, happiness has its trade-offs. Pursuing happiness to the exclusion of other goals–known as psychological hedonism–is not only an exercise in futility. It may also give you a life that you find you don’t want, one in which you don’t reach your full potential, you’re reluctant to take risks, and you choose fleeting pleasures over challenging experiences that give life meaning.”

How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness. 

The full article can be read in the Atlantic:

https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2022/03/chasing-happiness-leads-to-dissatisfaction/629427/

A Fresh Slate

For the last twenty years, my garage has been overflowing with other people’s possessions: boxes, paintings and frames, dishes and china, photo albums, clothing, furniture, art work, paper work. You name it. I have stored it. Most of these items never get picked back up again. People move or they forget that they have put them there. People pass away. It has become the land of forgotten things.

This week, I spent four full days cleaning out my garage and getting rid of everything that is not mine or in active use. The junk guys had to do three pick ups from my house. It was epic and exhausting but I feel a great sense of accomplishment, ease and joy now that it is done. I have reclaimed this space. It is no longer cluttered, clogged and impossible to walk in. It is spacious and open.

It is interesting how physical spaces are often a reflection of our internal lives. I have only recently learned how to set boundaries and to say no. I was never taught this skill as a child, and if anything, I was actively taught that I should always say yes to others. No matter my own needs, the needs of others always came first.

I have since learned that this is neither healthy or sustainable. As Brené Brown says, “the most compassionate people have the most well-defined and well-respected boundaries.” This is because when they say yes, they mean it, and when they say no, they mean it. There is no hidden anger or resentment. A yes is an authentic yes. So moving forward, I am going to say no when anyone asks to store something in my garage: it is not theirs to fill up. This will leave me with the space to say yes to the things that I truly want to.

Something to Inspire

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“People often say, ‘Meditation is all very well, but what does it have to do with my life?’ What it has to do with your life is that perhaps through this simple practice of paying attention—giving loving-kindness to your speech and your actions and the movements of your mind—you begin to realize that you’re always standing in the middle of a sacred circle, and that’s your whole life. This room is not the sacred circle. Gampo Abbey is not the sacred circle. Wherever you go for the rest of your life, you’re always in the middle of the universe and the circle is always around you. Everyone who walks up to you has entered that sacred space, and it’s not an accident. Whatever comes into the space is there to teach you.”

Excerpted from:

Awakening Loving-Kindness
by Pema Chödrön, page 54

Cultivating Hope

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I really enjoyed the Netflix series, The Good Place. It follows the story of four characters who enter the afterlife and undergo a series of adventures together: Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason. It is funny, silly and smart, providing the perfect combination for a great comedy. Although full of laughs, it also has a reflective undertone, commenting on how hard it is to truly be a “good” human being in our current world, even with the best of intentions.

“Life now is so complicated, it’s impossible for anyone to be good enough for the Good Place,” Michael explains to the Judge (Maya Rudolph), the overseer of the afterlife. “These days, just buying a tomato at a grocery store means that you are unwittingly supporting toxic pesticides, exploiting labor, contributing to global warming. Humans think that they’re making one choice, but they’re actually making dozens of choices they don’t even know they’re making!”

According to Roger Gottlieb, a philosophy professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, these dilemmas are unavoidable: “Morally, we are caught in a system we did not design, faced with unpleasant choices we would rather skip over, torn between wanting a little more ease and a nagging conscience that suggests that such ease is not worth the moral cost, and sometimes compelled to choose what we would think is the least bad of two distressing alternatives.”

Although somewhat demoralizing, the reality is that we can only just keep doing our best: moment by moment, day by day. As Glennon Doyle advises in her book, Love Warrior: “Just do the next right thing, one thing at a time. That’ll take you all the way home.” I cannot share a lot more about this tv series without giving too much away. All I can say is that it is definitely worth watching. It will make you laugh, reflect, and cry; and the ending is one of the best that I have ever seen. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Something to Inspire

“Someone once said, ‘Anxiety is excitement without the breath.’ What this means to me is that if I can breathe through the anxiety, I can recognize that it is a friend trying to warn me when it thinks I am in danger.

Unfortunately, it is sometimes the very traumatized friend—lingering anxiety in me, launched by something awful someone said or did—that is emerging at times when there is no immediate threat.

I learned if I could see free-floating anxiety as my traumatized friend who is always with me, I can learn to breathe through the terror I experience so viscerally and transform trepidation into curiosity. We can offer our traumatized friends within both consolation and encouragement using this affirmation:

Thank you, anxiety, for helping me stay alert to the multiple emotional, physical, and spiritual threats in the world. You can relax, as I am breathing through the worry.

~ Excerpted from:  “On Being Lailah’s Daughter” by Kamilah Majied in Black and Buddhist: What Buddhism Can Teach Us about Race, Resilience, Transformation, and Freedom.