Radical Sabbatical: Don’t Know

“Don’t just do something, sit there.” ~ Silvia Boorstein

In April, when I announced that I was taking a sabbatical, and people asked what I was going to do with my time, I said, “I have lots of ideas, but I don’t really know.”  “And when are you coming back to teach again?” they’d inquire.  “I don’t know,” I’d say.

Kind of a conversation-stopper, that.  Say “I don’t know,” a couple of times in a row and it’s like talking to a grouchy adolescent.  I wasn’t saying it to be annoying or mysterious.  I was saying it because it was the truest thing I could say.

After a little less than a month of Radical Sabbatical-ing, I realize that somewhere in my brain, I had a notion that clarity would come … quickly.  That I would know right away what I needed, wanted, was ready to let go of.  Ah, it would be glorious to know with angel-singing simplicity what my next steps would be so I could get to the doing of them!  As the Indigo Girls sing, “the sweetest part is acting after making a decision.” And I am ready ready ready for that sweetness!

Um.  Not so much.

The feeling of “I Don’t Know” has continued, unabated.  And I can feel myself getting impatient and uncomfortable with it.  Enough already.  Let’s figure this puppy out.  But it has become obvious to me that if this was something that I could “figure out,” that I would have done it a long time ago.  Instead, I need to hang out with I Don’t Know.

So here are a few things I did this week when I Don’t Know poured into my days:

1. Sit – As the title of Sylvia Boorstein’s book so cleverly points out, one of the best things to do when I don’t know what to do is to sit.  Get still.  Listen.  Watch what’s going on.  Oh, the monkey mind is incredible and the fidgets both physical and mental are astounding.  Yet it helps me somehow to rest in the awareness of the moment and know that I’m okay right now.

2. Write – Following the daily practice of Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, I write stream-of-consciousness for 15-20 minutes.  Just whatever is in my head goes right down my arm, into my pen and out.  It feels a bit like a mental flush.  Here’s a little excerpt from yesterday:

“I am at a loss and time is slippin into the future.  Why aren’t those chickens laying?  Why is that chicken limping?  Why did I plant that garden so close to the cypress?  What to do?  How to be?  What is next?”

Not great reading, I grant you, but perhaps you can see why it felt good to get it out of my head.  Sometimes I also scribble scribble scribble on the page.  That feels good, too.

3. Weed – I am my mother’s daughter.  I love me some weeding.  It’s meditative, it helps the garden and it looks better when I’m done.  It’s a way of taking something that is tending toward chaos and reigns it back in.  I figure if I can’t do it with my professional life, I might as well do it in the lettuce bed.

4. Help – Yesterday, when my afternoon collapsed in on itself, Frank said he needed some help on a project so (after some unattractive resistance and poutiness) I spent my time doing that.  It was unskilled labor, to be sure – pulling carpet staples out of a floor so hardwood can go in – but it felt good to be of service and the repetitive work helped quiet my thoughts.  Come to think of it, it was sort of like weeding indoors!

5. Cook – I’m finding great solace in preparing food for my family and friends.  I’ve been experimenting with new recipes and preparations (Farro Risotto, anyone?).  I’ve delved into a new cookbook (Clean Food!  Thanks for lending it, Laura!).  And I’ve played with new ingredients (anybody know what to do with kohlrabi??).  Both the act of nourishing myself and my dear ones, and the creativity of making a dish are satisfying and easeful to my antsy spirit.

So what do you do when you don’t know what to do?  What allows you to dwell in the unknown a little longer when you need to?  Is there something that soothes your weary “Do-er”?  You have no idea:  I would so love to hear about it.

For now, I’ve decided to stick it out with I Don’t Know.  I figure the space may do me good, and at the very least, the gardens will look better, and I might find a new favorite recipe.

  1. kimber said:

    I usually DO something similar to you. Other times, I fall back on the old “make a list of the negatives/positives” as per the advice from good ol’ Mom.

    • Hee. I love that our Mom’s wisdom comes back to us! Thank goodness for them!

  2. meredith tennant said:

    Yeah, I do lots and lots of I Don’t Know-ing. So I walk, or I sit, or I do…something. Dancing’s good! And I try to keep the faith that it will all be all right in the end. That at some point I will know and that there is a reason for this Not Knowing. And then I start to wonder if it’s all a load of hooey and I will never know, so I go walking again, or sitting, or something.

    I do know that sometimes late at night I will hear the still, small voice (mine? another?) that tells me not to fret, all will be well. So I try to hold onto that.

    Kohlrabi was one of my daughter’s first words. I used to simply steam it for her, in chunks, with some butter and salt and pepper, and she loved it, the little tyke.

    • A quote I found recently:
      Everything always comes out okay in the end.
      If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

      How awesome that “kohlrabi” was your girl’s first word!! I didn’t know it until after I was 40 and last night was the first time I made it: steamed with a yogurt/horseradish/dill sauce and it rocked!

  3. I don’t know, either, Susan. But I DO know about kohlrabi, which was abundant in Wyoming. Steam and mash like potatoes, season similarly. Very yum! Hugs!

    • Hidden truths about friends: Connie the Kohlrabi Expert!! I’d never even cooked it before last night. I think a more simple preparation is worth exploring next time… Loves!

  4. What I do when I don’t know what to do is go back to the basics of Nia. The 13 Priniciples. I look at how each of them is a part of my every day life. I make a list of what brings me Joy (dancing, cats, watching a good movie with my husband, walking and sitting around in our 2 1/2 acres of gardens); I look at how I can do more of what needs to be done in Natural Time rather than mechanical time and do I need to do a Slow Dance (Tai Chi) with something or do I need to give something a swift kick out the door (Tae Kwon Do)…you get the picture re the Movement Forms. And so it goes with each of the 13 Principles. It is awe-inspiring to see how deeply each of them is embodied in my every-day living.

    The other thing I do when I get to the “I Don’t Know” scenario is look at what it is I am identifying with. Do I really identify with I Don’t Know or is that my mental or emotional realm attempting to take control? When I choose to identify with the ever-present, always available connection with Spirit — my Spirit — my connection with the Divine, the “I Don’t Know” turns in to “I Trust”. I let go of needing to understand the ways of the world which insist that I make a decision and I enjoy life in THIS moment. Usually the answer to any question for me is found in answering the question: Where is my Identity?

    I love your journey. I love that you are following a path that is unknown and allowing it to unfold with every step you take.


    Thank you, Susan. You are more empowering than you know.

    Jill Campana

    • Well, dang. Well said, Jill. And yes, I can feel the trust in this. And the principles, too. June 1 I leave to do Blue with Helen and I’m looking forward to swimming in that sea for a while! Thanks for your insights! Love, Susan

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