When I retired I told myself I would give myself six months to enjoy my retirement, or rather, inspirement. The timing was perfect because I retired just before fall and would have the holidays, along with darkness and cold, to hunker down and just be with myself – nowhere I had to go; nothing I had to do. My plan was to enjoy those six months and then start up Spa de la Paz and take on a part time job, one or two days a week.
I began working when I was nine years old and my first nephew was born. That’s when my babysitting started. That’s when I began earning money. My retirement certificate states 28 years of service. But I know that I worked – one way or another – for closer to 50 years. Since graduating from high school at 16 years old, I’ve had to earn my keep, pay my bills, and support my lifestyle. And while I’ve taken time off to care for sick parents or transition from one job to another, I’ve never had the luxury to just not work and not worry about how I was going to pay my bills – even when I was married.
I retired with a great deal of debt. My savings account had little to show for my six figure salary. I borrowed money to make the move to Asheville. And I desperately did not want to withdraw from my retirement accounts (they aren’t that much and financial experts offer doom and gloom advice at any hint of using that money to pay debt or survive while still capable of working). But I was ready to stop working in government. I was ready to move to Asheville. And I was ready to begin an entirely new life.
So I’ve spent the past six months with myself…pretty much just myself. Friends have visited and I’ve made a few new friends. But for the most part, I’ve been alone with my own company; my own thoughts. And what a time it has been! This old house can be so cold that for days at a time (mostly in February) I stayed inside, curtains closed and where there were no curtains, blankets hung to keep out the cold. I had the heat on and space heaters going but anyone who has ever lived in a drafty old house knows that sometimes that’s just not enough. I kept myself busy watching a LOT of TV, eating a LOT of unhealthy foods, reading, and just sitting. But mostly, in all honesty, just distracting myself from boredom; from myself. And in the process, I’ve managed to gain a lot of weight – I’m 20 pounds heavier than I was this time last year!
I blogged a little bit and also shared a few things on Facebook regarding my experience with finances and being alone and also being cold. But I’ve kept most of what I’ve experienced to myself or I shared with just a few close friends. This time was about me for me. I wanted clarity. I wanted grounding. I wanted peace. And I wanted contentment. I wanted to stop running from discomfort of any kind. I was eager and willing and knew I only had six months before I needed to get serious with Spa de la Paz and looking for additional work/income. And then one day I realized the story I was telling myself about how I only had six months, was…well… just a story.
I wasn’t going to share this part of the story. I told myself that to share it, I’d trigger my friends and loved ones and likely suffer the wrath of their judgments; something I didn’t care to deal with. But in the last couple of days I’ve realized that the purpose of this blog and in some ways my life, is to be so authentic and vulnerable that I have no fear of exposing who I am to anyone at any time. And I realized that by leaving out this part of the story – as you’ll see, a critical piece to my new plan – I was being fearful and untrue to myself. If I’m encouraging people to be authentic and unafraid, then shouldn’t I be authentic and unafraid?
First of all, I love love love being retired! I love volunteer work and doing what I want to do when I want to do it. I live in an amazing house that I’ve made my home! Mountain views, horses outside my windows, a big wrap-around porch – everything I could possibly want to be cozy and comfy (having lived through one winter I’ll know what to do to prepare for next winter). And now that my pension has become regular and accurate, I have a stable budget that pays the bills – except of course, the debt.
Last fall I started withdrawing my 401k so I could make my credit card payments. One day I sat down with the intention to develop a plan to get out of debt. Honestly, no matter what I came up with – even withdrawing all of my retirement savings and taking on a full time job – I could not pay off my debt without a lot of pain and sacrifice. And at this point I was paying interest for debts I’d long created and paid off. As we do when we are in the vicious cycle of credit cards, I was paying interest on nothing but interest.
So I started thinking about what I could do with the debt that was weighing me down. I began to see that without that debt, I could easily continue the life I’d created for myself over the past six months. And I would then be free to put money into the local economy – in the hands of local craftsmen, business owners, and credit unions, rather than big banks. So I decided to go see an attorney to learn about bankruptcy.
By the time I made the decision, I had walked through the guilt and shame I carried regarding the debt I created and I was very clear regarding my thoughts on bankruptcy in general. As I was driving to the attorney’s office I realized that no matter what he said – that I could or could not file – I would be the same – no better off and no worse off. I wasn’t attached and wasn’t willing to let debt or finances of any kind, create suffering for me again. I decided right then and there to trust life and know that whatever support I needed to move forward in life was going to appear. I didn’t need vision boards or affirmations. All I needed was the wisdom I’d developed in trusting that life is impermanent, it is always darkest before the dawn, and this too shall pass. I knew that in the grand scheme of things, no matter what happened in that attorney’s office, I was getting the education I needed to move forward in the world and walk firmly in my purpose.
As it turned out, I’m in the process of filing and as anyone can imagine I have felt a great physical and metaphysical release – one that I’m sure will pop wide open when all the documents are submitted and the final adjudication received. I feel free from past decisions – some skillful and some not so skillful. And I’m ready to learn to live within my means. I have been given a tremendous gift and I do not take it lightly! With this gift I’ve made a decision…
I’m going on a 19 month sabbatical!
For the next 19 months I intend to deepen my Buddhist studies and to that end I’ve joined the Asheville Insight Meditation (AIM) Sangha. I was recently asked to become a board member and to lead/facilitate the Sangha’s strategic planning initiative. I’ve also begun one-on-one mindfulness sessions with the Sangha’s leader, Ronya Banks. I have shied away from calling myself Buddhist and yet I constantly come back to the Buddha’s teaching for my spiritual development and really, my sanity. It’s time for me to surrender and follow the Buddhist’s path.
I’ve shared that I love my home and really, it’s the perfect retreat center. While I will continue to attend retreats and workshops, I’ll spend most of my time at home reading, writing, cooking, moving my body, and sitting – learning to take my practice from the cushion to off the cushion and into life.
I began Journeys of a Spiritual Gadabout with the intention to document my Ayurvedic Journey to a healthier life. This new plan – this sabbatical – is a continuation of that journey but with a clearer focus and deeper commitment. In essence, the sabbatical supports my desire for my life to become a daily practice of healthy physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual behaviors that support the rest of my life and my purpose in life.
As a gift to myself for all of this hard work and as motivation to stick with it, I plan to go on pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in September and October 2016. This has been a dream since I first read Shirley MacLaine’s book, The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit. Everything I do over the next 19 months – from meditation to hiking – will prepare me for the pilgrim’s journey. I can’t imagine a better location or time in my life to do this. There are many reasons why the Camino calls… some I can articulate, some I just can’t describe, and others have not yet been revealed. But I’ll be writing about it that’s for sure.
So with Spring comes clarity & direction in the form of a plan for sabbatical, that includes mindfulness, service, movement, and pilgrimage. There will be much to share during the next 19 months and blogging (along with hiking) is part of the discipline I intend to more fully develop. I’ll write a lot more often. So if you enjoy these posts please sign up for emails and if it’s just a little too much right now, just check in occasionally or friend me on Facebook. I’m going to write about the experience – challenges as well as celebrations – and I promise to continue to be vulnerable and authentic.