Being Sabbatical

Sabbatical Future

As my designated year of sabbath time comes to an end, I have been steeped in the sense that no ending is possible. So much has shifted this year, and so much has deepened, that what I am really intending and actually doing is continuing to live sabbath quality of time to include the work I will begin in mid-September. So my basic orientation will be of a sabbath quality - more contemplatively present, slower, sensing along with thinking - and my work will become part of carrying those qualities forward.

This way, I internalize even farther the small poem of Wendell Berry that has become the overall theme of this year, visible below.


The One-Inch Year

The One-Inch Year:

a steeping in dark grace


And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,  

no matter how long,  

but only by a spiritual journey,  

a journey of one inch,  

very arduous and humbling and joyful,  

by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,  

and learn to be at home. 

and learn to be at home.

~ Wendell Berry ~ 


                                 “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” (Robert Frost)

This poem of Wendell Berry's showed itself as the core of how I have been living this sabbatical year. It introduces how I want to write about it, and have begun to. More will appear in this column...

towards balance

from Robert Sardello's The Power of Soul, p. 45

The natural world calls us to balance. The everyday world pulls us out of balance. Unless we can find our way into the interior of the heart, it is not possible to sustain this virtue (balance) because chaos is now overwhelming the natural balance of the world.



One of the very disruptive habits I am trying to break, or at least become more aware of during this sabbatical time, is multi-tasking. I was given great encouragement in this by this quote from Walter Brueggemann in his tiny but powerful book called Sabbath as Resistance: saying NO to the CULTURE of NOW: (p. 67)

Multitasking is the drive to be

more than we are, to control more than we do,

to extend our power and our effectiveness.

Such practise yields a divided self,

with full attention given to nothing.

It is the real divided heart...

Jesus means the same thing when he says "No one can serve two cannot serve God and wealth..." (Matthew 6:24)


Undoing Doing

Finally, finally, I glimpse freedom.

It took a long time, what some would call
a lifetime, to see through
the close-knit net of illusion
holding me fast, holding me
so close that I could only see
its thick ropes woven
in deceptive rings around me.

Struggling against them,
angry, critical, demanding -
I made them stronger.
Giving them no attention-
attending only to the bright
unfolding star within -
some surprising light
came to my aid, some
unexpected ally appeared
and I am surprised by grace.

Schedules and timeframes
are losing their hold.
Rigid adherence
to small-minded demands
are losing their hold.
Mind and intellect, overdeveloped
and overused, creating
the smallest world of all-
are losing their hold,
though they come in handy
now and then.

Instead, an inner light is glowing
and growing. It does not depend
on anything going my way
or any new possession
I want to acquire. It is not at all
related to having or doing. It
surprises me with its appearance,
over which I have no control.
But I know this: undoing doing
is turning my world inside out
and gladly, for the inner light
sings its unfamiliar songs
not in notes but in warm sensation;
not in ideas but in heart presence;
not in my small-sighted plans but in opening,
hands outstretched
to the plans of the unfolding universe.


This is the life

“hidden with Christ in God.”***

***this phrase, from Col:3:3, became the dominant message from my 30-day Ignatian retreat in 1984

and has shaped my life ever since.

Resonant words


"I've been listening quietly for guidance as one year rolls into the next. I did not anticipate what I heard: a call to a gentle deepening rather than growth and expansion. It was tempting to stay as outwardly busy as I have been this fall, but the gravitational pull is to a quiet interiority......While I do not have clear answers, I do know how to listen — to open my heart and be present to Source. Stepping away from busy distractions, I'm increasingly aware of a longing in the Soul of the World to be received, heard and felt by our human hearts." (Andrea Mathiesen)

Positive Disintegration

I finally found a phrase that sharply describes what has been happening to me so far in this sabbath time: "positive disintegration." Joanna Macy reflects upon it in a short essay in the 2015 Shambala Sun called "The Work That Reconnects." "It is good to realize that falling apart is not such a bad thing. Indeed, it is as essential to evolutionary and psychological transformations as the cracking of outgrown shells."

Macy is really quoting Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychiatrist, whose term "postive disintegration" she is highlighting:

He sees it in every global development of humanity, especially during periods of accelerated change, and it functions to permit the emergence of higher psychic structures and awareness. On the individual level, positive disintegration occurs when a person courageously confronts anomalies and contradictions of experience. It is like a dark night of the soul, a time of spiritual void and turbulence. But the anxieties and doubts are, Dabrowski maintains, essentially healthy and creative." They are creative not only for the person but for society, because they permit new and  original approaches to reality..

What "disintegrates" in periods of rapid transformation is not the self, but its defenses and ideas."

So there ARE words to describe what I am going through on this sabbatical! And I did study and write about transformation ten years ago...but now, the living is deeper, the seeing less clouded, and the control all but gone...surrender and consent are my two favorite words these days. And is clearing into a new land.

Contemplative Presence

In the last post I spoke about going more deeply into silence, inspired by Robert Sardello's work. Now that I am a month into his one-to-one course called "Heart Initiation: Contemplative Presence", I feel a distinct shift in how I experience the world. The practices are short and simple but they change the place one lives from. Even situations that aggravate me - sudden changes of plans, noisy disturbances, interruptions - are beginning to settle and to not matter so much.

Instead, I am more steady in a focused way that is not dependant on predictability and plans being followed. It is edgy and and agitating and sometimes even scary. But slowly, slowly, I sense a shift. Something deeper and more solid, some ground of the soul, is emerging and strengthening. It is early yet. But no longer am I just talking about Contemplative is real; it expands my awareness so that -in moments - outside/inside are one.

I have so much to learn and much...and as I age, I consider this new shoot of my eldering tree to become the lifegiving branch that gives more to the world than all my other efforts can.

Silence Practice

Many years ago I discovered that Silence is not at all about the absence of external sound, but mainly about an interior condition that centuries of contemplative practice makes readily available in the abundance of writings we have today.

Then Robert Sardello published his book called Silence. Reading this book not only opens an experience of that deep silence, but pulls the reader into it. I can only read it a couple of pages at a time, though over the last few years I have read it three times.

So now, in sabbatical time, I decided to email Sardello and ask if there is a way I could do an online course of practice and writing in silence and how to move into it more deeply. He replied with his "Heart Initiation" course which I began about three weeks ago now.

Inner shifts, insights, old and unresolved material - all are arising as I do these short practices twice a day. Even in such a short time, I feel my scatteredness and multi-tasking effects losing hold. Some moments are frightening in teir intensity and some beautiful in their unfolding. This, I believe, is the lynchpin of my sabbatical time.


"Imagine yourself

as a diver on a cliff.

Now exhale

and dive into

the unscripted day."  (Mark Nepo)


Unscripted. This day. My day. A fresh day. Waiting.

Ready to be opened. Holding more than what is expected.

No matter the lengthy list of have-to-do, don't-want-to-do,

Enter with a readiness to receive, to appreciate.

Prepare for a full plunge instead of a toe-in-the-water.

Release the tight grip on a measured schedule.

Stand on the threshold of dawn like a diver on a cliff

Eager to receive what awaits, ready for adventure.

Aim for the deep waters of life where the day's activity

Will surely bring an opportunity to connect with the Holy.

Even if there is a chill of morning disgruntledness

Or a hesitation about what the daunting waters hold,

Enter the approaching hours as positively as possible.

Aim toward a full-hearted dive, straight into the depths.

Draw strength while standing on the cliff of faith.

Remember the Guardian of Dawn as a steady companion.

Lean forward with courage. Let go with full confidence.

Leap with a no-holds-on. Leap without dawdling distractions.

Be willing to dive into the unwanted, as well as the welcomed.

Head into yawning humdrum, as well as the extremely exciting,

Summon awareness of being carried on Spirit's supportive wings.

Hit the water with gusto, no matter how dreaded the entrance.

Upon arrival, swim with total confidence and eagerness,

Liberated for awhile from self-imposed drudgery of past days.

Float along now, buoyed by renewed trust and gratefulness.

And when the next day dawns, stand on the cliff of faith again,

With even more assurance, with even more trusted anticipation

Than the day before. Stand on the cliff's solid stone of prayer.

Get ready for the dive.

slowly dissolving

I have been formally "on sabbatical" or- as I prefer to say - "in sabbatical time" for about 5 weeks now, and since it is summer, I am noticing that the many extra people around here on vacation are making it more difficult for me to enter into what my ideal sabbatical space might be...or perhaps that is just the point!


I am beginning to see that what I set up to be my best desired outcome is not always exactly the best experience - or the most important learning - I could or need to have. What I need to have is the ability to adjust; not the satisfying control of my schedule. And the welcoming of unexpected strangers and friends, not the predictable time-bound visits I would plan and protect. In this first month of my sabbath time, I have been plunged by this usual cottage-country summer into a kind of forced letting-go of plans and expectations and hopes and even books to read. Weather has made even nature time - as much as I'd hoped for- impossible! But now I see the real teaching...the invitation to let go and to receive what is given. Funny...I have been saying from the beginning that I wished my sabbatical to be in a receptive, listening stance. Guess I just assumed I could plan that too!


This is a difficult lesson...yet perhaps the most important one I can surrender to during this whole year. I have begun to read Kathleen Dowling Singh's The Grace in Aging and realize what I have been only sensing up to now: "that with some outer vistas closing as we age, we would do well to recognize that inner vistas, peaceful and joyful and beautiful beyond imagining, can open...this is the time to deliberately re-orient ourselves toward the inner life, an infinitely more reliable refuge than anything the world can offer." (p.3)


Ah! This is the meaning, the purpose of my sabbath long as I release the how of its happening...

Sabbatical Shelf TWO

Book Bed! Someone actually made this!

Here are the books on my second shelf (in no particular order) for Sabbatical Reading:

The Weakness of God: a Theology of the Event by John D. Caputo

Life's Living (Toward Dying) by Vigen Guroian

The End of Night: Searching for Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light by Paul Bogard

Love and the Soul: Creating a Future for Earth by Robert Sardello

Silence by Robert Sardello (for the fourth time)

A  Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller

Dancing Standing Still by Richard Rohr

Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love by Elizabeth Johnson

No Problem: an Inner Workshop by Robert J. Wicks

Mastering the Art of Quitting: Why it Matters in Life, Love and Work by Peg Streep and Alan Bernstein LCSW

From Teilhard to Omega: Co-Creating the Unfinished Universe by Ilia Delio (ed.)

The Compassionate Mind: a new apprach to Life's Challenges by Paul Gilbert, Ph.D.

The Artists's Rule by Christine Valters Paintner

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

The Turning Point: Creating Resilience in a Time of Extremes by Gregg Braden

Rebirthing God: Christianity's Struggle for New Beginnings by John Philip Newell

Sardello's Silence

If there is one thing I aim to do on this sabbatical time, it is to drop deeper into silence. I don't mean to stop interacting, attending choir and Writers' Circle, give up emails and texts, or any of those things, though of natural necessity, they will lessen. No...the one thing I aim to do is to choose silence, intentionally, as a practice that is deeper than exterior silence. I want yo experience inner silence; speak, less, listen more, catch myself in automatic conversation and lessen it.


The only book I have ever read that comes close to what I mean is Robert Sardello's Silence: the Mystery of Wholeness.I have read it three times in the past few years and will go even deeper this year. From the Prologue: Silence is not something we do, nor is it a personal capacity.We can become quiet and by doing so the door to Silence opens. Silence is autonomous. It is beyond us: our task is to coordinate our being with the greater being of Silence. That is the relationship with Silence I wish to develop in this year.

Two weeks in

I have now been "in sabbatical" for thirteen days. So far I am still in the expansive, open space that opened up when I stepped off the plane in Toronto two weeks ago tomorrow. My consciousness expanded and has mainly stayed open in an unusual way, in a way I have not experienced before. Perhaps it comes from slowing everything down. Certainly, fatigue is claiming me more and more as I leave empty space in the days, though being summer, unexpected vistors, invitations, and demands are a little more than fall and winter. It is a lovely way to "ease in" to a year of no work and almost no travel. My whole being, on waking in the morning, sighs - not with relief - but with (surprisingly) a kind of welcome.

 On the first day, I tried to write an intention, but gave up quickly as it sounded more and more like a Chapter statement! So instead, I have been collecting practices I intend to do most days, and see what arises. The purpose of this sabbath time is to shift from active doing to receptive being, to try for more balance in my life in general, and so far, I am glimpsing that possibility, and glimpsing is enough for now.

The one practice that has had the most immediate effect is a quote from Eckhardt Tolle. I have not read or listened to him in many years, but when I read this line, I knew it was what I needed now, at the beginning.  "relinquishing the psychological need for what comes next: renounce thought, time, the next moment." This practice allows me to step out of the momentum and stay, empty, until I am claimed again. It is very restful.

Sabbatical Shelf

As I came closer and closer to my sabbatical time these past few months, I found myself purchasing books that I intend to read during the year. Piled up in my room, I finally had the idea of a "sabbatical shelf",(which has now become two shelves) and placed the books I intend to read all together on empty shelves in the bookcases which line the living room loft.  Often people remark to me that they check my website for books to read, so I have decided to list most of them here. I suspect there will be more as the year goes on.

I have come to see that - after 67 years - I am not searching for meaning as much as finding meaning, and not in the ways I would have thought even a few years ago. So when I experience some kind of resonance with words, or sentences, and even more so now with nature in all its expressions (more about this will emerge on this page) as I wander and open to receive what is there, I know that is the meaning and connection meant for me, without further analysis or thought process. Resonance is in heart, body and soul, the mind coming last in this new opening.

So here is the beginning list of my Sabbatical Shelf. It is not in any order but what comes to hand. I have not read any of these yet. And I am listing only title and author: all other information is easily available. Below are the contents of the first Sabbatical Shelf. There is another, which I will list later:

The Unfolding Now by A. Almaas

Seven Thousand Ways to Listen by Mark Nepo

Full Body Presence by Suzanne Scurlock-Durana

An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson

Aging as a Spiritual Practice by Lewis Richmond

The Province of Joy :Praying with Flannery O'Connor by Angela Alaimo O'Donnell

The Four Virtues: Presence, Heart, Wisdom, Creation by Tobin Hart

Finding Inner Courage by Mark Nepo

Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation by Richard Rohr

A New Heart: Eleven Qualities of Holiness by Robert Morneau

The Night Country by Loren Eisley

Conversation: the Sacred Art (Practicing Presence in the Age of Distraction by Diane Millis

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Gardens of the Soul: Making Sacred and Shamanic Art by Faith Nolton

The Presence Process by Michael Brown

The True Secret of Writing by Natalie Goldberg

A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times by Jack Kornfield

The Lotus and the Lily: Access the Wisdom of Buddha and Jesus by Janet Connor

Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice by Christine Valters Painter

Collapsing Consciously:Transformative Truths for Turbulent Times by Carolyn Baker

How the Light Gets In:Writing as a Spiritual Practice by Pat Schneider

The Twelve Degrees of Silence by Marie-Aimee de Jesus, O.C.D.


Although I am three weeks away from formally beginning sabbatical contemplative time, the awareness of it begins to fill me. I will begin on the 40th anniversary of my Final Vows: July 14.

Here is my focus for the year; at least to do more of this:

Stop talking.

Stop thinking

and there is nothing you will not understand. (Seng-Ts'an)

Annie 28.07.2014 14:20

Thank you for sharing this wonderful work you are doing on self.
I am inspired by your action.

allan 27.07.2014 14:27

This is my take away shift from active doing to receptive being,

Instead of worrying about "what's next?" how can i receive "the seeds of what is"?

mona 26.07.2014 18:48

Brenda!!!!! Thank You So much! This is wonderful! What a rich bookshelf!
Thanks, Blessings on this moment, this day. Mona

Mary Beth 25.06.2014 14:27

Send you wisps of stillness and encouragement to live into what is already drawing talking...thinking....just being...

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Latest comments

23.11 | 19:20

Hi Marilyn...can you share your writing when there's a chance? Love to read some!

04.01 | 19:04

Thanks, Andie...that's it exactly ! So glad you experienced it!

04.01 | 18:36

'Whatever you need
and wherever you go next -
will come to you'
My holiday experience.

28.12 | 15:12

Hi Brenda,
I've just finished reading The Choice - got it from the public library. What an amazing story and an unbeatable spirit. I'll check out youtube now