5 things I learned from taking a month off work

Aug 14 2019

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Joe Rosser: Clowning in the hoomin on the Isle of Skye

After a jam packed 6-months of back-to-back teaching projects, interspersed with book writing in every possible gap, I decided to TAKE THE WHOLE MONTH OF JULY OFF WORK!

Although my work feeds me enormously, I'd been longing for the beauty of nature, inspiring adventures, centring stillness, heart nurturing connection and boundless play, so I set myself up a 4-part rehabilitation programme. 

I started with a silent meditation retreat in Dorset, before bursting out into 3 days of street clowning for Extinction Rebellion in Bristol. Next I headed up to the highlands and islands of bonny Scotland for a knees up in a field with my big sister and mountain time with my beau. Finally, I rode the train over to the far east of France with another big sister (I have three, you see) and her two hilarious kids, to see my papa and step mum, who live there. 

I've come back to teaching my summer schools, feeling restored and rejuvenated and hoping that I can keep regular space in my life for some of the nurturing activities that fed me throughout July. 

This blog is really for me, as a reminder of what supports me to be a fully functioning human, should I forget. I hope there's something useful for you too.

1.) Stopping Takes Time!

Starting my adventures with a meditation retreat was a great move (pat on the back). I put myself in a beautiful, safe, held space where I could watch my habitual need to do, do, do, slowly fade away and gradually surrender to being. At the beginning, outside of the meditation periods, I watched myself finding endless spurious missions to keep my mind and body busy. By the last day, I managed to spend ONE WHOLE HOUR lying on a blanket in the dappled sunlight, under a cherry tree, just looking at the sky!

We build up so much momentum in our daily lives, it can take a while to slow down. Be gentle with yourself about this, your poor brain and body need support and kindness to let go of their usual frenetic rhythm. It can feel painful to relax muscles that have been constantly flexed, give it time.

2.) Nature Heals

This is obvious, right? But as a city dweller, I often forget how important nature immersion is. Vitamin Nature really doesn't take long, within hours of being surrounded by the green stuff, I feel my cells begin to plump up and replenish. I need to put myself in awesome landscapes, I need massive mountains to tell me how ridiculously tiny I am, I need the roaring sea to bellow at me about my vulnerable fragility, I need brightly coloured flowers and free, wild animals to show me how to celebrate being alive.

I had a real moment with a cloud of flies, who accompanied me through a cow field. At the start of our adventure together, I was disgusted by the filthy flying beasts, dive bombing into cow pats and buzzing right into my face. But after realising the tension this judgement was bringing into my body, I remembered to relax and as my body and mind softened, I saw this cloud of flies as a travelling party! Flies are having the best time out of everyone! – They hatch in a lovely, warm pile of shit, where they're provided with all the nutrition they'll ever need, then they grow wings and fly! They get to actually fly! AND they're surrounded by gorgeous, sexy other flies to make sweet fly love with and create new fly babies. AND they wanted to bring their party to me! Cool! I got to be at a fly party!

3.) Play Is Essential!

Sitting on my meditation cushion towards the end of my retreat, my mind started flickering forwards towards my next adventure. Extinction Rebellion were about to start their summer uprising and I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to get my clown out and play around town with a bunch of nincompoops, as my contribution towards saving the world. But this was my month off and I didn't want to get bogged down with my usual day-to-day task of organising large throngs of idiots to be in the same place at the same time with the right stuff and some sort of inkling as to what they'd be doing.

So imagine my delight upon leaving retreat, to discover that the wonderful Robyn Hambrook was organising an army of rebel clowns to gather each day and fill the protest with colour, laughter and play! I had a ball, playing with my friends and students, making new clown friends and finding games with the public. My body, heart and soul got a work out each day and I felt full of sparkles and love. I remember thinking; wouldn't it be great if I gave myself permission to do this every day? The only one who prevents us from playing is ourselves! If we know that we need it, we've got to make space for it! Play is essential. Full stop.

4.) Connection Needs Space

For 6 months, I'd either been in a room full of people leading some sort of creative process, trapped in my office with my inner critic trying to write a book or lying on the carpet staring at the ceiling with my love. So it took a little adjusting to work out how to hang out with my fella and my family in pretty parts of Scotland and France, without an agenda. To begin with, I overdosed on connection, spending every waking hour in constant contact, which was lovely, but before long, I started glitching out and getting grumpy. 

In everyday life, I have a routine which includes lots of solo activities like meditating, writing morning pages, cycling, yoga, cooking and blogging. All of these activities give me chances to connect with myself throughout the day. But I was on holiday! I didn't need to do these boring things! (Oh yes I did...) In order to have good quality connection, I also need solitude. Solitude allows me to reconnect with myself so that I know how much I can offer when I come back into connection. When I'm in constant connection I often lose contact with my own needs, I forget that I need time on my own and end up feeling exhausted and resentful. I recognise this is a life-long experiment and I'm unlikely to get it right every time! But towards the end of my month off, I managed to hold pockets of space for myself throughout the days and lo and behold – I had a better time hanging out with my people. Make space to listen to and attend to your own needs and you'll be capable of giving better quality connection.

5.) Other Parts Of You Need Attention

Taking a whole month off work is an incredibly rare occurrence for a Holly. It allowed parts of me, other than The Facilitator, The Book Writer and The Carpet Groaner, to take their space in the world. We're living in a time where our success is measured by our output, we're awarded prizes for our achievements and respect for our accolades. Ducking out of the fast lane is a radical and rebellious act. 

No-one is going to give you a medal for spending an hour admiring the shape of a tree. There will be no statue marking those three hours you spent arguing with your nephew, about who's the biggest poo head. No plaque will commemorate the several days you spent listening to your dad and step-mum's stories of misadventures. The parts of you who participated in these situations, the quiet, reflective, playful, receptive parts, need your attention as much as the noisy public parts of your personality. 

I do hope I remember all this as I wade back into the everyday. If you catch me twitching and glitching, clenched jaw and mad eyes, feel free to whisper in my ear “Take some space, go and look at a tree, find a game to play.”

This learning will all feed into the Residential Fools Retreat that I'm currently organising for this October. Click on this link to find out more. Or find the event on facebook.

To read more about my rebel clowning chapter and see pictures, click here

The Rebel Clowns will be out to play again at the next Extinction Rebellion uprising in October. If you want to join in, or find out more about them, join the Facebook group here.

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