When one of my favorite books Eat, Pray, Love came out I dreamed of being able to escape like Elizabeth Gilbert did.  But as a wife and mother it wasn’t possible.  Now that my boys are both in college, I took the opportunity to embark on a month-long sabbatical in Portugal and Spain.

There’s nothing like getting away from the day to day responsibilities of life to relax, clear the mind, and ignite the spark of creativity.  For one month I had no “to do list”.  Instead, I found plenty of time for savoring delicious food and sipping wine (Eat).  Time for some inner work, visits to spiritual sites, and co-hosting a small group retreat (Pray).  And quality time with my husband of 28 years (Love).

Yet despite my attempt to disengage, the experiences I encountered kept revealing lessons and metaphors for life that were hard to ignore.

Sometimes we have to step outside our comfort zone to enjoy the grander view

For one week of the excursion I was completely on my own driving through the Duoro Valley, making my way from Porto to Santiago de Compostela to meet my husband who was completing a 200 km walk on the Camino de Santiago.  (He walks…I drive…it works.)

I frequently met women traveling together and they were quick to invite me to join them for dinner, unaware that I was relishing the time to myself.  And when they heard I was driving alone they were shocked as navigating through the city streets was ridiculously confusing.

And then there were the mountains.  As I was leaving one winery hotel to make my way to the next, I was advised to take it VERY slowly.  The roads are narrow, steep, and there are no guardrails.  Add to this the fact that I was driving a stick shift that didn’t always cooperate.  More than once the car stalled, and I started sliding back down the mountain.

So I was really nervous to begin the trek.  But as I already had a reservation, I decided to carry on reminding myself out loud…”I am brave.  I am strong.  And I am an excellent driver.”

Well the road was indeed narrow and steep, so I drove slowly and carefully.  And if someone wanted to pass me by, I let them.

What I wasn’t told was that the views were breathtaking when I had the courage to take my eyes off the road.  And when I finally arrived at my destination a bit worse for the wear, it was like finding a hidden paradise of grape vineyards, olive trees, and a charming inn nestled between mountains.  Well worth the moments of angst.

When the only light you see is behind you don’t turn back – the darkness ahead won’t last forever

On another part of the journey signs on the road indicated I was approaching a tunnel through the mountain and I should maintain my speed at 100 km/hr.  As I entered the tunnel, I could see the light behind me but only darkness up ahead.  Eventually, the light behind me disappeared as well.  The SOS phones every 100 yards or so brought little comfort.  For a full four minutes I drove on in darkness (which is a REALLY long time to be in a tunnel), until finally a shaft of light broke through and I emerged back into the sunlight surrounded by beautiful vistas. 

Just listen quietly for guidance and take the next right step

Throughout the trip my GPS was my lifeline.  The female voice emanating from my phone became my best friend.  And I got to thinking (because when you’re alone for a week there’s a lot of time to think) that maybe I should be more aware of the guidance system accompanying me in life.  What would that mean?

  • Recognizing that I have an advisory board of angels, saints, teachers, and guides who want to help – all I have to do is ask
  • I need to listen very carefully and eliminate distractions
  • I will only receive guidance for the next right step
  • It won’t always make sense to me – they might use language I don’t understand
  • But if I proceed slowly – doing what I believe I’ve been guided to do – and trust – then I will receive the next right step
  • Sometimes – despite the instruction – I might make a wrong turn – but don’t panic because I’ll quickly be re-directed back to the correct path
  • Without fail I will always arrive at my destination if it supports my higher good

Here’s what I learned on sabbatical.  It really doesn’t matter in life if you go around, over, or through the mountains.  What matters is that you find your mountain and consult your personal GPS.  Your destiny is waiting!!  

Be bold.  Be daring.  Be AWE-dacious!