letting go of expectations (or, what I learned on study leave)

26 Jan

In January, I took 3 weeks of study leave.  It was my first experience taking study leave at First U Lou, and the congregations first experience with a prolonged January study leave as well.

Most UU ministers have four weeks or so of “study leave” written into their agreements. It comes from our history of having an educated clergy.  Not just that we have gotten our masters degrees in Divinity (I never stop laughing at how I have “mastered” divinity!), but that we continue to stay on top of things.  We are expected to continue to learn, grow, pass our experiences and learning through the fire of thought and then share them with our congregations.  I don’t know what ministry was like before email and technology, but these days, I simply don’t have time/energy to read much of anything (even stuff for fun).  So I was looking forward to a study leave that would give me time to catch my breath, to catch up on some reading, to spend time reflecting and thinking.

Study leave is different from sabbatical in that if there is a crisis, or someone dies, I am available.  It is different than vacation in that I am expected to be working – just in a different way, with a different focus.

I had a bunch of books picked out.  Right after Christmas, I had a week of vacation in Iowa with family (during which time I caught up on some frivolous reading, which I also have not had time to do).  I was getting ready to buckle down and study, but a sudden death in my family in Georgia required my energy and attention.  And our director of religious education announced his resignation set for the end of January.  And then a member of First died.  And we realized the church’s budget deficit was about 2x what we had thought…Meanwhile, my kids got sick and I was dealing with multiple levels of grief, attending meetings that I hadn’t planned to attend.

I was very frustrated, utterly exhausted.  While I did manage to squeeze in some really good reading that will inform my sermons in the coming months (or at least, it will inspire some blog posts), I was not able to spend time reflecting that I had hoped to.  I was not able to get into an exercise routine to help promote my self-care…something else I had hoped to do. I was exhausted and not happy with how this had been going.

But at some point, a light bulb went off.  Buddhism teaches that what causes suffering is our attachments.  I was suffering because I had been attached to a specific expectation of what my study leave would be like.  And it wasn’t at all like that.  I realized that if I were able to let go of my expectations, then perhaps I could enjoy what time remained.

So I did.  I let go.  With lots of opportunities to practice (daily, hourly!), I was eventually able to realize that this had been a very productive break.  I realized that I was missing being at church and that this was part of my anxiety.  I realized that I had gotten some great reading in, and that I will be returning rested and rejuvinated.

It was my first study leave, and it was not what I expected.  My expectations caused endless stress for me, until I let go of them.  What I learned, and what I experienced, was not what I thought would happen, but it was a growth experience regardless.  A reminder to let go of my attachments when they are a cause of stress.  We can’t control so much that happens in life – certainly I could not control much of the events of my study leave.  But I can control my response.

I am sure that the universe will provide ample opportunities to practice this learning.

2 Responses to “letting go of expectations (or, what I learned on study leave)”

  1. Chris Condo January 26, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    Well said, Dawn, and I so agree. Letting go of expectations is so freeing … hard to remember to do sometimes especially when you’re in the middle of what you consider to be a “mess.”

  2. Holly Hogue January 26, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    Dawn, I’m really glad that you were able to turn it around for yourself! I just read “Flip It” (actually listened on my ipod to the book) and it sounds like what you did. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it for a quick and easy read/listen. I was feeling down about several things in my life and the book helped me FLIP IT all so to speak. For example now when I look in a mirror, instead of saying to myself, “You are so FAT!” I say, “You could be skinnier.” It helps to keep telling myself things in a nicer way and looking for more positive self-talk expressions.

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