The art of 'taking a step back' in life

Somerset, 21 September 2023—


Many of us chase time: we feel we don’t have enough, that it goes too quickly etc. But it’s merely our perception that is flawed. The more we chase time, the more it will elude us and run like the sand of an hourglass between our fingers… When we stop and drop into the moment, when we fall between the crack between two seconds, we finally are really present.

So, how we use time is the key. And I know I haven’t been particularly good at that for a while. I wanted things to go fast… too fast. I’ve skipped some essential steps for which there are no shortcuts. Call it the fire of youth maybe… But looking back, there are shortcuts that are not worth taking. I’ve come to realise that taking time to sink into the things going on in my life at key moments was time well spent and would avoid me making mistakes. Such moments are the start of a new job, a new romantic relationship, making a key decision or moving to a new place for example. Strangely enough, I used to be under the impression that “time is money” and I must never stop otherwise something horrible was going to happen. That any minute wasted was going to adversely impact me. Maybe others would get ahead? Not sure. It was a diffuse and elusive feeling. But I was wrong; so wrong. And today I know what was going on: my ego mind was trying to keep me in the deep water and not allow my higher self to surface, to take some height and see my flaws and shortcomings.

What surely didn’t help is that I was caught up in the energy of cities for many years. In particular, a gigantic city: London. The pull of the collective energy within the M25 (London’s orbital motorway) is so high that you just can’t escape it. There’s just too many souls concentrated at the same place. It’s excessive. But I didn’t realise it before a while. And, yes, I was often in a frenzy… jumping from one thing to the next. One cool activity to the next. One meet-up to the next. It was an endless stream of entertainment and things to keep me busy. And what stopped that? Covid did. A big blessing in disguise it was.

Because, when the music stops, when you find yourself facing yourself without distraction—and cities are an endless pit of distractions—you will inevitably feel uncomfortable. Tragically, our societies have normalised the constant escapism to avoid facing the Self. We run away from our unprocessed emotions and traumas and we pretend everything is all right when what we truly need is processing our stuff, addressing the problems and healing ourselves.

So, what did I learn to do differently? I learned that, sometimes, you simply need to slow down. Do less things, keep free time and put your focus on what really matters. And some other times you need to stop, buy time and put things on hold for a while, do something else and get back to yourself after. In short: take a break. And it’s so refreshing! The best kind for me: taking holidays to a new place, somewhere I’ve never been where I can get absorbed by the novelty and stimulation of it. Then get back to my ‘normal life’ and see things under a different light. Oh, it’s so precious, it’s so healthy, yet long have I resisted to do that. At times my ego was so compelled to keep on the current trajectory that I’d deny myself the opportunity for a break and work nonstop for 6 months or so before the burnout is looming—and then I knew I had to stop, but it was already overdue; and I had made poor decisions because of fatigue.

Breaking from doing the same stuff each week allows for observation and reflection on what it is you are actually doing. Because if you never stop, you never have the hindsight to see what’s really happening to you! Taking a step back and giving yourself time for reflection when conflicted about your life is one of the best gifts you can do to yourself. Yet, most people have never been able to afford, or allowed themselves, to take a big break, a.k.a a sabbatical. But that can change everything. When you’re so disengaged with what your life is supposed to be and step aside for a while, it will change you. You loosen your sense of identity and attachment to: your job, your house, your partner, your regular activities. You allow your ego to be diminished. And your certainties to be shattered. Only then can new insights flow into your life. Not when you’re caught up in your carefully crafted routines that shield you from reality and cushion you from unpleasant realisations about who you think you are.

And it’s probably what most people secretly fear in taking that well deserved break. Their ego is terrified about taking that backpack and going to the other side of the world for 3 months and leaving all behind… Here comes the great fear… but they miss the great relief too! You need to overcome your fears to find the treasures. I’ve never felt as alive and present than during my first sabbatical. It was life changing. Truly, they’ve all been. I consider that at least once in a decade, you need to seriously unplug to take stock of your life. That means months, not days. I also recommend taking short breaks when you feel stuck. Because the time you take to step aside from a situation you don’t fully understand or disturbs you is a blessing. Because there are times when you lack the precious hindsight to steer your life. And all you need is time to process things. All you need is push the ‘pause’ button.

What will you find out when you take that break? You will have some aha moments: when you finally see why someone bothers you so much, see your own behaviours under a new light, realise you’ve put other needs before your own and that’s why you felt miserable, understand that your partner treats your poorly, reconnect with your long lost life purpose that you had left aside for ‘later’ etc. Yes, some big sh#@ can and will come up! You could well realise you were led astray and taking the wrong route in life… But if you never stop, if your life is a constant race from one thing to the next—by choice or necessity— then you will never create the conditions to have the hindsight to see what’s really happening to you!


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