by Renée Tillotson
As I prepared to dash back to work after Thanksgiving, my inner voice told me: Stop. Withdraw. Step out of all your doings. Go into retreat.
What?!? I responded. What do you mean: Stop? And anyway, how can I go into retreat? I have so many important and urgent projects. So many things and people need my attention.
To give you the context, dear readers, I felt frazzled. This last year, while I continued to direct and promote Still & Moving Center and oversee our engineering company, Prometheus Construction, I launched our brand new endeavor, the Academy of Mindful Movement, and boy, that almost overwhelmed me. It was an exceptional year of do, do, doing, and on several tracks at the same time. In case you ever consider taking a pause for yourself, here’s a little guide for getting off the road:
The voice inside me is demanding that I take a break.
I think to myself, How on earth am I going to do that? I have so much to DO.
The voice is implacable: Just stop.
All right. OK. I’ll think about this pause idea.
First step – Consider whether you need to build breaks into your schedule: My business coach Tony Bonnici is always telling me, Renée, you have to take time off. You don’t have to do everything yourself. [My interpretation: Stop trying to carry the world on your shoulders. Have a little humility, for heaven’s sake!] Tony says: You have developed a WONDERFUL team. You need to rely on them more. [My internal dialogue: Yes that’s true! Still & Moving Center has attracted to itself marvelously talented staff members. And we have worked hard to develop a skilled, cohesive team who support each other really well.] Tony teaches me: A true leader doesn’t always lead the charge from the front. The best leader helps others learn how to lead.
Hmm…. The more I think about leaving some of my duties for others to do, the more I realize: This could be a great experiment. This little break could allow our young birds test their wings and see how they fly. At some point, flying without Mom is the only way to go!
That settles it. Let’s do this thing!
Second step – Make sure you set things up to go smoothly while you take your break: I talk to my team leaders. I give Operations Manager Neela Vadivel about 5 pages worth of detailed instructions of what I’m counting on her to do. She seems tickled – in her industrious way – that someone is finally giving her the kind of organized task list that she is so good at creating for others! I ask Sarah Hodges – who’s been in training with me for two years in putting out our Still & Moving Center emails – whether she’s ready to take on a month without me. She gives me a hearty, “Yes!” And I ask whether Douglas Groesser and Robin Shepard can carry on alone for a month with our work on the Academy of Mindful Movement. Check. They’re good to go.
I let all of our staff know that I’m not going to Antartica or outer Mongolia. I’ll be right here, snug in my house, available if they really need me.
Last step – Consult with your significant other: I let Cliff know what I’m up to. Why is he the last? Because once I feel comfortable with my plan, I know he will LOVE the idea and support me every step of the way. And he does!
So I stop. I take a little sabbatical from December 4, 2021 to January 4, 2022. And oh, do I savor this delicious, unscheduled time!
When I reflect back, I realize that it has been at least 40 years since I stopped. In May of 1979 I completed 18 years of schooling, college, and a teaching credential program. In June, Cliff and I married. In September of the same year, I started teaching middle school. As a dedicated young teacher, I threw myself into my work, with my job filling not only my days but also my dreams at night. Cliff found me standing up in bed one night, “teaching”.
After a couple exhausting years in my teaching job, Cliff blessed me with a summer off. He worked, we traveled nowhere, and I just sat in my beautiful little room, painted the same golden hue as our Sun & Moon room is now at Still & Moving Center. What did I do? I read theosophical philosophy. I read and thought. I thought and read more. How did all of these great, compassionate teachings – from ages past, about the universe and our place in it – apply my life? As I wondered, I watered and tended a hearty little pathos plant in the pot beside me. By the end of that summer, my pathos had vined its way up the wall and started growing around the ceiling! I like to think my little plant’s growth spurt symbolically represented the inner development I made during that summer off.
So here I am again – four decades, three kids and three grandkids later – taking time to stay in one place, mostly by myself, and turn inward. What shall I do? I again read lots of thesophical philosophy. I think a lot, write life questions and do my best to answer them. I also participate online in a few philosophical conversations during the month. I gain some insight that I’m happy to share.
As it turns out, I start my sabbatical during the Still & Moving Center almanac week of Deep Listening – an especially auspicious theme for a time of turning and tuning inward. During my days of introspection, I record a few of my musings and Aha’s in my almanac as 2021 draws to a close:
- Deep Listening applies not only to our approach with others, but also to our attunement to inner promptings.
- Perhaps deep listening entails tuning into the seamless continuity of all things and beings, of the Cosmos and whatever is beyond the Cosmos.
- When I watch wiser elders’ forbearance with the gabbling of a foolish youngster, I learn patience.
- In interacting with others, we need to discern when we are truly helping and when we are enabling someone, when to give advice and when to remain silent.
Taking a pause from our ‘doings’ offers a great opportunity to zoom out for perspective. I look back to the beginning of Still & Moving and I look into its future, as well as the future of the Academy. I also take Tony’s advice and imagine myself 10 years from now, and what ALL the different aspects of my life will look like at that point. I reaffirm how important it is for me to spend time with family and friends. And how much I value thinking deeply on behalf of humanity and having meaningful conversations with others about such things. I put plans for the future into place that I haven’t had a chance to think through while caught up in my daily round.
It feels so good to stretch my wings and soar for a bit.
I touch down with more Aha’s:
- On the theme of Exceptional Calm: Abiding in a place of internal calm, we are exceptionally ready to respond “on a dime” to the needs of the moment.
- Cliff is right: We need to be centered not in our head, but in our heart.
- On Completing a Cycle: We may be the one to start a project, yet we may discover along the way that someone else needs to complete the cycle.
- By attentively and lovingly living each day, looking for the connections and symbolism that it brings, we may gradually learn to understand how our past brought us here, and see a bit further into what kind of future we are creating for ourselves.
- Look for significant times when someone completes a cycle. Create and celebrate with some sort of rite of passage ceremony.
- On Planting Seeds for the Future: I think – although we never intentionally planned it – that Cliff and I somehow destined ourselves to leave our beloved Santa Barbara and come to Hawaii, where we have intersected with the lives of so many amazing souls.
- When beginning any worthwhile endeavor, giving it an invisible period of time to gestate will enhance its success when it meets the light of day.
- Among the “sins of omission” (as compared with the “sins of commission”) is the failure to pull out seeds of negative speech before they have time to take root and grow.
On New Year’s day, up in my little tea house where I’ve been spending most of my sabbatical, I smudge the room, lighting up the sage our daughter Sandhya has given me, chanting the OM and Gayatri mantra in all directions. Just as I finish my little self-made ritual, after days and weeks of downpouring rain, I look out the window in time to see a brilliant rainbow briefly arcing up through the clouds. To stand on the Earth and behold a bridge to the heavens seems a good way to usher in our theme for 2022: Being Truly Human. I record a few more Aha’s over subsequent days to see in the the new year:
- On Being Truly Human: It takes a lot of meditative “peddling” to get the rate of our heart-mind up to speed, so that it may serve as a focal point through which the light rays of humanity may flow.
- On Space – Visible & Invisible: As we learn from the wise old seagull teaching the young gulls to fly better, higher, faster in the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull: “Perfect speed is being there.”
The magical day of January 4 arrives. I come off my sabbatical, and everyone is doing just fine. The Academy has successfully conducted an intro session without me. My mom, who has avidly read all our Still & Moving Center letters through December, asks me: “Are you sure you were on sabbatical, Renée? Those letters sounded a lot like you!” I grin and think to myself: “Ah! Our little birds really can fly!”
I’ve always loved this refrigerator magnet:
Only thing is, by the time I was ready, my little birds weren’t afraid, and they really didn’t need a push. I just got out of the way and they flew!
Of course, I love my job. There are always new edges, and I suspect that I will continue to stand at the gap for quite a while, looking out and preparing together with many people for our futures, and for the futures of Still & Moving Center and the Academy of Mindful Movement. Won’t it be great someday to eventually be so successful as a leader that I put myself out of my job!?!
In the meantime, while others watch the nest for a while, I’ve taken a fancy to flying solo stints on occasion.
Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center to share mindful movement arts from around the globe. Her inspiration comes from the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and from the lifelong learning she’s gained at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. Engaged in a life-long spiritual quest, Renée assembles the Still & Moving Center Almanac each year, filled with inspirational quotes by everyone from the Dalai Lama to Dolly Parton. Still & Moving Center aspires to serve the community, support the Earth and its creatures, and always be filled with laughter and friendship!
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