Thursday, January 26, 2006

I Love Being on Sabbatical!

I love being on sabbatical!

This week, the new semester started on campus, and so finally the fact that I am on sabbatical feels more real. At first, it was a strange feeling, watching from a distance as the students came back and the professors scurried to get ready for classes. I felt (briefly) a little forlorn and left out, wishing that everyone could be on sabbatical at the same time. Imagine what that could be like -- a campus on sabbatical together! Even the students! Everyone simply free to pursue their interests as they saw fit! What would happen? What would it be like? I have a vision of what it could be like, and how exciting it could be, but the reality would probably be different from that vision.

But, still, what an idea!

Anyway, in my Bible readings I learn that "sabbatical" indeed means rest. Yet in today's academic institutions, it is supposed to be a different kind of work. Some institutions don't even call it a "sabbatical" anymore, but a "research leave" or something like that. Here we still call it "sabbatical," but we have to apply for it, and in our applications we have to describe what we hope to accomplish. Afterwards, we have to write a report saying exactly what we did accomplish. We are told that these reports will be re-read the next time we come up for sabbatical -- the implication is that if we are not "productive" during this sabbatical, we may not be entitled to take another in the future.

But I'm not complaining (too much), because this is the norm everywhere today. At least here at my institution there is nevertheless a sense of openness and trust overarching this process. I don't feel locked in tightly to a particular agenda -- I charted the course I most wanted to take, and now appreciate the freedom I have to follow where my path leads.

Even so, my life is complex. I have actually still been very busy, following up on projects started earlier, trying to wrap them up and clear space. It is only now, when classes start without me that I do finally feel a tangible difference. Now that everyone else is preoccupied with classes, the pressure on me finally eases and I see that things are different. The quality of my life changes percepibly. I do feel a kind of space opening up before me, and I am so glad!

The key to a happy sabbatical, I think, is finding the right kind of balance: a balance between contemplative time and space, and meaningful connection with others. This is the balance I am trying to find.

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