A sabbatical that changed my life
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
If you're like ME, you're probably the center of your thoughts when you wake up in the morning. You think about things and how they relate to you and your day. You mull over the weather, your health, your plans, lingering problems, and hurdles to be faced. I'd long felt that starting out like this wasn't especially satisfying or productive, but I'd never had much incentive to change my thought process. Until recently.
Last September, my wife and I took sabbaticals from our full-time jobs in New York City to spend three months working as volunteers in Bhutan, the tiny Himalayan kingdom wedged between Tibet (to the north) and India (to the south). I worked as a golf coach for adults and kids, and my wife was a consultant to the Chief Justice of Bhutan's High Court, helping him write new laws for the country and leading a workshop for the kingdom's attorneys.
My wife and I were so enthusiastic about our work, and there was so much to be done that we never had time to think about ourselves. Also, because we were volunteers, there wasn't an iota of reason to think about salaries, promotions, office politics, or the other self-centered things that often consume people. That selfless state of mind, I think, gave us the most productive, satisfying, and happy three months of our lives.
I had prayed a lot before leaving New York, searching for a theme for our stint in Bhutan. The answer to my prayer was the fifth verse of "Christ My Refuge," a poem by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. Here's the verse.
My prayer, some daily good to do
To Thine, for Thee;
An offering pure of Love, whereto
God leadeth me.
"Poems," pgs. 12-13
That verse became a daily beacon in Bhutan, a source of motivation and assurance. I mulled over these words every morning while praying, often seated in our living room and gazing at a panoramic view of the Himalayas.
My prayer helped set my mind on a single goal: doing good for the Bhutanese people - in the form of helping them learn to play and enjoy golf and letting that work be a way of praising God. I didn't think that God cared, or knew, about golf. But I felt that God cares deeply about seeing His children express divine qualities such as joy, precision, understanding, and accuracy, and those are some of the qualities that my pupils were learning to express on the course.
It didn't just make me feel good to begin my days aiming to make "an offering pure of Love"; it made me wonderfully productive, filled with energy from dawn to dusk. Love, to me, isn't a sappy, emotional thing. Love is another name for God, and as such it's an active, invigorating power that comforts and guides, that fills our lives with harmony, order, and the ability and opportunity to bless humanity.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned was that human planning is not necessarily the best way to succeed. Before going to Asia, I often mulled over things I'd wanted to see happen in my life - personally and professionally - and how I could bring them to fruition. Things rarely worked out to my satisfaction. My thought process in Bhutan, however, was the opposite. Every morning, I asked God to show me His plan for the day, and I acknowledged that God's plan was good. I never could have concocted much of what happened.
One day, the colonel of a military base in Bhutan offered to let the children in his town use the base's sports field to practice golf. The colonel made this offer without any solicitation, and he said the kids could practice at the base as long as he was in charge.
Earlier, while traveling to Bhutan, we had met an American couple at the Hong Kong airport. They were headed to Nepal as volunteers for Room to Read, a San Francisco-based charity that builds libraries and supplies books for schoolchildren in Asia and India. We liked the concept, so we invited Room to Read to Bhutan. A couple of months later, representatives visited and made plans to expand their work into Bhutan in 2003.
Working to get things for ourselves - happiness, money, etc., - often seems to be the best way to go. But I learned through volunteering in Bhutan that the biggest blessings and most productive work happen when our main goal is to serve and to give.