12 Hour Sabbaticals Can Be Successful
By Sue Ellson
In 2007 I participated in the Australian Scouts Jamboree at Elmore, near Bendigo in Victoria, Australia. I was part of a small team that fed 1,200 parent helpers and scout leaders three times a day. In the middle of dust, heat and flies, I worked hard and near the end of the two weeks, I had a day off and took the short bus trip to Bendigo with a fellow helper.
It was nice to be ‘back in civilisation’ and away from the tents and experience nice cool air conditioning – it really is the little things that we so often take for granted! Glenyse and I had real food in a café with a floor, explored the historical precinct and decided to visit the Bendigo Cathedral.
The first time I visited the Bendigo Cathedral was back in 1988 when I was on a road trip to Sydney from Adelaide. I could not believe that such a huge building existed in regional Victoria! I imagined I was visiting a famous cathedral in the middle of Europe and took a few happy snaps.
But the visit in 2007 was different. I entered the building and didn’t know whether I should burst into tears or run away quickly. That surprised me because I had never had that experience before and I knew it must have been significant.
So it was with fear and trepidation that I travelled back to Bendigo to find out ‘what was this all about?’ later that year. This time, I entered the building and felt a sense of awe and spirituality and decided I would sit for a while. I chose a particular seat and then the thoughts just flowed.
My next visit was after a conference I presented at in May 2007 and again, the thoughts flowed. I had travelled to Bendigo with a friend who met me after my Cathedral ‘session’ and he was intrigued about the effect the building had on me.
Fast forward to 2015 and I can tell you that I have now made numerous pilgrimages to Bendigo Cathedral over the years. I have travelled with my children to a Sunday service. I travelled with an Australian repatriate who had family in nearby Castlemaine. She wasn’t religious at all but had her own epiphany when she visited and admired a painting near the entrance.
I have travelled with my children and two adult friends and I have now chosen to make each trip on my own.
For someone who is accustomed to being around people, it surprises me that the ritual I have created needs to be done ‘on my own.’ It has grown and developed too.
I don’t drive to Bendigo to have my 12 Hour Sabbaticals. I catch a suburban train and then a country train. This is important because it takes almost three hours to get there in total and that gives me enough time to ‘unwind’ from city life. I also don’t have the hassle of driving!
When I arrive in Bendigo, I do a little bit of shopping to support local traders and buy some souvenirs that I can treasure after my visit (just practical things like a new pair of casual walking shoes and a nice pen to write my notes). I then head over to the park next to the Art Gallery and enjoy my lunch sitting on the grass under my favourite trees.
It is often hard to leave this spot because I find it very grounding and relaxing. It is the final ‘decompression’ phase.
I used to visit a little Opportunity Shop in an old church when it was open on the way to the cathedral, but that has now closed. It used to be fun fossicking around in there for a retro piece of clothing.
I then enter the side door of the Bendigo Cathedral and find a little place to sit. Naturally, I have my favourite seat, near the centre of the church at the crossover section, just behind and to the right when facing the altar. I have since found out this was where the original altar was before the cathedral was completed. If Christ was lying on the ground, anatomically, this would be at the location of His ‘heart.’
But that is not always possible. Sometimes when I arrive, there have been other activities occurring. I have sat through two weddings, an afternoon musical concert (where they played my favourite tune ‘Rhapsody in Blue’) and several organ rehearsals.
In fact one organ rehearsal was so incredible I had to close my eyes to fully absorb the heavenly music. I have never heard anything like it before in my life! That particular day was extra special because I also had a chat with the organist and a tour of the organ area.
This is what makes coming to the Bendigo Cathedral extra special for me. Not only do little surprises like this happen, I receive little blessings. One day I arrived to find a piece of lavender on my favourite pew seat. After the wedding, the person collecting the pew decorations left the decoration on my pew for me to enjoy (I saw this as a little sign of acknowledgment).
It must seem strange to the people who are part of the church or visiting to see see me sitting there for so long (never less than one hour and up to four hours). I contemplate all sorts of challenges in my life, both personal and professional. I regularly cry during this time as my emotions are released.
I always take a notebook and pen and record my thoughts and feelings and have been intrigued at how I seem to ‘solve’ all sorts of issues by escaping the city and heading to my ‘Mecca,’ the Bendigo Cathedral.
Every time I visit, I notice a new feature of the building. When I visit around Christmas, there is always a lovely nativity scene. The local custodians do a wonderful job of ensuring that the grounds are well maintained and that the premises are ship shape for visitors and parishioners from near or far.
There is a prayer book available so I always make sure that before I leave, I add some details. The church requires a substantial amount of money to remain open so I make a contribution too.
As you can imagine, if it took almost three hours to get there, it takes almost three hours to get back too. I often fall asleep on the train but on this occasion, I am writing this blog post (5 November 2015)!
As I reflect on the last eight years of 12 Hour Sabbaticals, I encourage you to find your ‘Mecca’ and consider making pilgrimages a few times a year. Unlike an overseas holiday or a weekend away, it takes virtually no preparation or unpacking. If you really need to, you can choose to remain ‘connected’ via your phone or the internet, but for an even better experience, I encourage you to disconnect electronically too.
You don’t need a passport, a visa, travel vaccinations or a suitcase. You can take your own lunch and the only ‘cost’ is your travel fare. You don’t need to learn another language or map out a complicated route. Your destination may be a park, the sea, a building, a river, a waterfall or a tree. It could be three minutes from home or three hours from home, but you only 12 hours away to enjoy your sabbatical.
You can use this time to:
- plan for next year
- resolve your thoughts and feelings
- be open to solutions for your challenges
- find peace with your circumstances
- gratefully acknowledge your blessings
- accept what you cannot change
- send your own wishes to loved ones
- connect with your own spirituality
- re-connect with your authentic self
- listen to your inner voice
- contemplate your navel (in other words, do nothing)
A 12 hour sabbatical is not about achieving some goal or purpose, it is about giving you some time and space to just be. To stop rushing on with everyday life and give yourself an opportunity to reflect and relax. If you allow yourself this time (as little as 12 hours in total) in a different environment, you may just find that it gives you the inspiration and motivation to be even more authentic.
It is a little gift you can give yourself and you can create a short sabbatical that suits you. I know a lot of people have a similar experience when they meditate, exercise or go fishing. Personally, I return from these days out and constantly ask myself, why don’t I do this more often? It is so beneficial.
If you have a similar process, I would love to hear from you! I am also happy for you to add your comments below and give other people some alternative suggestions.
P.S. Please note, this is not a ‘religious’ blog post, I am not suggesting you need to go to a church for your sabbatical, I have just found this particular cathedral suits me.
If you have any further questions, please contact Sue Ellson directly.