Elizabeth Gilbert must have been on my mind. After ending an all-consuming job, I had decided to take some time off before pursuing my next contract position. I had just finished reading Elizabeth’s book, Big Magic, which was magically recommended by a friend exactly when I was looking for new creative inspiration. Of course, I had read Eat Pray Love in its heyday back in 2006, and Elizabeth’s journey was neatly tucked away in my subconscious. I hadn’t thought much about it until I was on a break.
Taking a break in between assignments was not a new phenomenon to me. I’ve always believed in pausing between significant life changes such as job endings, relationship break-ups, lost loved ones or moves. There’s a necessary grieving period in between change when you’re straddling both the old and the new. By creating time to reflect and breathe, you’re able to shed the remnants of whatever you’re leaving behind, and open up a space for new beginnings, ideas and opportunities.
When this particular contract ended, I wanted time with friends to enjoy the holidays, but I was also desperately seeking some quiet time in between. So I started looking for a meditation seminar. A friend of mine told me about a five-day silent retreat that began the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I had never participated in a silent retreat before, but it was certainly on my bucket list. Unfortunately, the program was full, and I ended up on a waiting list instead. Since it was only three weeks prior to the start date, I didn’t expect to get in.
Serendipitously, another friend invited me to join her for a week on the island of Kauai and attend a two-day guided meditation seminar held in December. When I found out I had enough mileage points to fly free, I took that as a no-brainer, unequivocal sign to go. Three days after booking the Kauai trip, I got an email saying I had cleared the wait list for the silent retreat. At first, I thought it might be too stressful to attend both, so I decided to hold off on my decision for 24-hours. If the wait list were still open the next day, I would do it. Turns out it was!
Now I should take a moment and tell you a little bit about Thanksgiving week. Having been transplanted from New York to California more than thirty years ago, my husband and I started a tradition of inviting friends, colleagues and employees who didn’t have a place to go for Thanksgiving to our home. We normally have about 20-30 guests. In my typical New York, Italian style, I do all the cooking from scratch and request that no one bring any food. It involves weeks of preparation, and just like my childhood Thanksgivings, I take it up a notch by incorporating Italian food. I serve pasta before the turkey, and many side dishes and desserts have Italian roots. I also send everyone home with favors. One year, I even entertained my guests with a Thanksgiving gratitude rap I wrote.
Back to my journey. As soon as I registered for the silent retreat, it suddenly occurred to me that I had organized my own mini eat, pray, love adventure without even trying. Thanksgiving week would be filled with Italian food, entertaining, cooking, eating and drinking. That would be followed by a week of silent meditation and prayer. A few days later, I would fly to Kauai, often called the island of love. Not sure how that moniker came about, but I did find a reference to a song about Kauai titled “Island of Love” sung by Elvis Presley in the movie, Blue Hawaii, back in 1961! While I wasn’t in Kauai to fall in love, love was all around me. One of my island friends had just gotten engaged. Another one had recently met the love of her life, and one other was at the start of an exciting new romantic relationship.
Each week of my eat, pray, love journey gave me exactly what I needed to de-stress, enjoy, reboot and create. It was a perfectly divine sequence that I didn’t even plan. Or did I? Maybe on a subconscious level, I was channeling Elizabeth Gilbert. Whatever the reason, none of it would have been possible without first making a conscious decision to take a break. The biggest lesson I’ve learned about change is to embrace it by stepping out of my comfort zone and into that unknown space for a while. You don’t have to have an eat, pray, love journey to do that. You just need to commit to taking a break without any expectations or worries about the future. That’s when the big magic happens!