Self-Imposed Sabbatical

Eighteen months ago we moved back to Mahone Bay to live in a small house in town. For the first time in our eleven year relationship, Pamela was busy outside the house, teaching dance and organizing a theatre company and a new documentary festival in Lunenburg. For most of our relationship we have lived, worked, played, and traveled together every day. With Pamela out most of each week I spent my time in solitude and silence, and grew to enjoy this time of retreat. An occasional walk to the Biscuit Eater for society was enough. I began jogging earlier in the year while living in Blue Rocks and this solitary pursuit gave me much time for reflection. As the metronome played through my headset to guide my pace while running, my mind was free to wander around the chambers of my memory palace. Soon the routine divided the days into separate activities like a monk’s Hours or the sailor’s bells: run, bath, eat, sit in meditation, write, work, lunch, read, write, walk, dinner, eat, movie, read, sleep, and repeat.

In 2013 I ran almost 900km (5k, 10k, and half marathon) and it stopped almost as quickly as it started. Like many things im my life, the interest faded after having been an obsession for a period. The first six months in Mahone Bay changed me and I drew away from others and activities, closed down my website to a landing page and contact form, cancelled all social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and stepped out of all orgainzations and activites to focus on an essential few and my self-imposed sabbatical.

Reading, once again became a joyful expectation, as I re-read many treasured volumes from Márquez, McEwan, McCarthy, Maclean, Banville, Irving. O’Brian, Cather, Fraizer, Erdich, Robinson, and Booth, in addition to new discoveries like Richardson, Morgenstern, Sjon, and DeWitt. Poetry was an easy carry on a walk, so Basho, Thurston, Cooper, Oliver, Gluck, and Leslie accompanied me in my wanderings. A class at the Senior College of Nova Scotia (SCANS) reinvigored my interest in Shakespeare. The dance of words, well placed upon the page, captured my imagination and was only surpassed by images simply expressed in line and color. From Rembrant’s drawing to Peter Scully’s urban sketches, they capture a moment that, unlike a photograph, suspends the image into still life. A drawing embraces a decisive moment but also draws you in from a recent past and carries you forward a step into the future. Like a tarot card that looks back to the image on the left and forward to the other on the right, art allows the imagination to steer its own course rather then a specific path set down by the narrative pen.

Meditation calmed the raging torrent within me, as a mind on fire began to cool in the calmer waters of a tidal pool. Without distraction or excuse, I had to take responsibily for the consequences of my life. As Byron Katie says, what is, is. Gratitude was easier than contentment, for the latter seemed like giving into resolution and giving up on desire. And I was all about desire. Want it, get it, that was my credo. What the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve. But should it? I can conceive and believe in a lot of things that I really do not need or want in hindsight. So a reexamination was required. How simply one can live lead to a purge of books, clothes, and things. Not everything, there is still way too much stuff in my life. Some is sentimental, some involved too great an investment to just pass on casually. Is the question really, how simply can one live? Some may say yes, but there is a gnawing (that may be the problem, what is is) at the back of my head that wonders whether there is another question that needs answering. Then I sit and realize there is no question that needs to be answered. Only to live and experience life in kindness and gratitude. Now I am back to taking responsibilty for my life. Kindness eliminated the problem with contentment and I have much to make me grateful.