Although I’ve only traveled there twice, I consider Guatemala a home away from home. You know those places that you travel where as soon as you get there, something connects? Deep in your heart and soul it just feels right that you’re there, and when you’re away, you long for it terribly. That’s Guatemala for me. It’s the shores of Lake Atitlan, and the busy streets of Guatemala City, and the winding, hilly roads of the countryside. There’s something about breathing that air that is good.
I was there last year in September, in part for my job and in part for a committee that I head at my church. Leading up to going, I was so busy. Between committee meetings, dating, social engagements, networking…I had no time for anything. People would ask me how I am and I would say, “I’m so busy.” (An aside: No one wants to hear that when they ask you how you are. Busy isn’t how you are, busy is an indication that you don’t do well to balance your life. It’s an indication that you have no time for that person who wants to know how you are. It’s a lack of joy. It’s a life not lived to its fullest potential. Read more about that in The Disease of Being Busy by Omid Safi. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I ask how someone is and they say, “Busy.”)
In Guatemala, life moves at its own pace. It isn’t dictated by dates, or committee meetings, or networking, or anything else. We moved from place to place with leisure. We worked. We had meetings. We planned. But it moved along on its own and we were never busy.
When I got home from Guatemala at the end of September, I canceled all my upcoming meetings (non-work related) and social engagements. And I decided to take a step back and re-think how I move through life.
For the next three months, I limited myself for how many things I scheduled on my calendar. If I had a committee meeting one night, I didn’t schedule anything to pack in before or after that meeting. The same goes for a day when I was going out with a friend, even if it was just a quick happy hour drink. I saw the boy who I was dating just once a week. Essentially, I limited myself to one committee meeting, one date, and one friend-related thing a week. Nothing more. I spent my free time doing long yoga sessions; reading at the quiet little neighborhood bar (every Tuesday evening, a different book every time, but always brandy old fashioneds); cooking and listening to theological podcasts; cleaning and donating the things taking up space in my life; sewing and repairing clothes that had long been piling up; and simply taking time just to be alone and re-prioritize. It was my own little sabbatical.
I knew that at the beginning of the year, I would slowly allow more things into my life – that was the promise of my 3 month sabbatical. And I did. Little by little, more engagements with friends. More networking. More saying “yes” to things. More meeting new people. And dating again. But for 3 months, I allowed life to move at its own pace, like it does in Guatemala.
My father is preparing to travel to Guatemala to celebrate Day of the Dead in October. I’m so sad that I cannot afford to go this time, but every time we talk about the trip, I think about this lesson that I brought home with me last year.
Even though I am back to doing more, I retain control over my schedule. The way that we pace our lives is so important. What is the point of having friends if we cannot savour those relationships? Why date if you have no time to bask in the loveliness of the other person? How do you fully flesh out your passion for a volunteer committee (or your job) when you hurry from one meeting or project to another? Almost everything we do should intrinsically add meaning and joy to our lives, and how we do those things is a large piece of finding that joy & meaning.
I think that, even when life is not particularly exciting, I have more joy than typical. Even when I have many things packed into one day, I find myself able to linger in the moment longer, breathing everything in and churning out joy and appreciation and gratitude in return. And for that, I give abundant thanks. My little self-manufactured sabbatical did me good, and I know that I can return to it at any moment if need be. Pace yourself – you have control over the joy you find in life.