A Twenty-Year Vacation — The Art of Wandering

A Twenty-Year Vacation – The Art of Wandering

Note: A version of this blog was for my Writing Group gathering on June 30, 2017. Assigned Topic: My Best (or Worst) Vacation…

It was November 1996. I had just come home from a weeklong directed retreat under two nuns at a convent in Massachusetts .  When I arrived home, I announced to Jane that during my retreat I discerned that I wanted to retire from my 29-year career at SDRC in the spring – and the date eventually chosen would be April of 1997 – 20 years ago.

The news did not land well with Jane. She literally broke down in tears, “You’re only 54! You have many years of work ahead of you. All that comes after retirement is your obituary.”

Her response, so cautionary and not at all celebratory, took me aback.  Jane was serious about the obit piece, while I, on the other hand, was seeing myself as just now entering the prime of my life in retirement – a life that would not include presentations to SDRC customers, creating budgets, and other business related activities that had so engulfed my life. I was not sure what I would do, but unlike Jane, this “not-knowing” gave me relief, awakened curiosity, and filled me with excitement, not panic or fear. I was going to be on vacation for the rest of my life!

How would I plan out this vacation? Well planning could not really happen – I had no visions, no goals, and no bucket lists. Unconsciously, I would set out as a wanderer – and yes, I’m familiar with the sweatshirt that reads, “All who wander are not lost!”  But that did not apply to me in April of 1997! This wanderer, unknowingly, was quite lost in his life, something he would not even begin to realize until he was well into his “vacation” journey – and then he would discover that, in fact, he could never be lost – but that comes much later in this story.

First stop – serving as a carpenter’s assistant. This was a real break from the “thinking work” as a businessman that had filled my career. A pastor friend of mine, Steve, was planning to build a huge deck on the back of his house and could use a hand. That would be me!  So each day of our summer-long project in 1997 began with readings from a devotional called Day Book, coupled with readings from Tao Te Ching, an ancient Chinese book of wisdom. Then it was off to construction – with a little “design as you go” flare that Steve thrived on. The project, a worthy transition experience from my business life, was complete by September. So what next?

In September of 1997 I ventured forth into the role of Chaplain Intern at Christ Hospital. Why? It was the practicum part of the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program I had completed at a local Catholic seminary during my last three years of employment  at SDRC.

This chaplain intern work, which I did for nine months, consisted of 25 hours per week walking the halls of Christ Hospital, with the intention of offering “spiritual support” for patients and staff as needed. We chaplain interns were also part of a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Program – an experience in which once or twice a week we interns would meet to talk about our experiences on the floor and how these experiences affected us. It was intended to be  a bonding experience.

Actually, as an introvert, true bonding was not my thing! I was not that comfortable with either the pastoral support role or the CPE program – both aspects of this program were an emotional stretch for this man just beginning to expand out of the business world and conservative Lutheranism. But, of course, “stretch,” while challenging, was good for me – I might say it was my initial healing developmental experience!

What next? Well that would be massage school (September of 1998 – December 1999 – at age 56). Unsurprisingly, my student-side was stimulated by the anatomy and physiology I had to learn. However learning to do hands-on massage on real people – that was not really my cup of tea! After completing massage school and passing State Boards, my ineffectiveness in massage notwithstanding, Pat and I started Stillpoint Center for Therapeutic Massage in January of 2000 (I was 57).

Other big steps on this life-on-vacation journey involved leaving my lifelong membership in the Lutheran Church (1999, age 57) and, most challenging and painful, leaving my wife Jane of 34 years in 2000 (at age 57½).  In August of 2000 (at age 58) , now retired, churchless, and separated from my wife, I was at another weeklong directed retreat.  In this experience my director helped me see that indeed this wanderer was in fact lost, very lost. She thought a good roadmap to ground me in life would be Pathwork, and to Pathwork I committed my life energies until the present time – 17 years and counting.

As it turned out (as I’m sure my director knew it would), Pathwork was not a roadmap for life, or at least being a roadmap to follow was not its purpose. Rather Pathwork has been a long process of weaning me off all external life maps and teaching me instead how gradually, over years of deep inner work and trial-and-error experiences, to grow in my capacity to live life via my inner compass.

So in my retirement vacation I would not be a lost amateur wanderer but rather would become a grounded professional wanderer – and as a professional wanderer I would eventually need no maps for life.  Why? By definition, a professional wanderer. is never lost. … Think about that …

So my job in becoming a professional wanderer has been about learning to throw away the maps of life and live fully into each moment wherever I am and wherever I go. And over time – years or decades actually – wandering has been gradually becoming a peaceful and safe experience for me. Over time I am coming to Know that there is nothing to fear while freely wandering in the Mystery that Life is – moment by precious moment.

All through this 20-year vacationing period my underlying biggest lessons have been about learning how to be a relational wanderer! And by “relational wanderer” I do not mean partner-to-partner wandering!  Rather in becoming a relational wanderer I am learning to live relationally with my life-partner Pat as together we learn the art of relational wandering –  living our relational life without maps, without goals, and without expectations but rather learning to live fully into each moment, fully into all of Truth’s many dimensions – physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. This lifelong wandering process has become increasingly rewarding as we learn the art of wandering hand-in-hand in the Garden of Mystery, of Life, and of Love.     What a “vacation”!

Pat and I met 19 years ago, a mere 18 months after the start of my retirement vacation. We have lived together for  the past 14 years. To get into the wandering years has required a long and intense process of “inner work,” most recently guided by our couples’ counselors with whom we have worked for the five past years. It seems that finally this year we seem to be getting more familiar with living as professional relational wanderers in the unknown that a Life of Mystery and Love is. My relationship with Pat has truly been the centerpiece of my 20-year vacation!

But an “Aha” moment comes when I realize “inner work” for Pat and me has become fun in its own right! Yes, full-time “inner work” is being a wanderer who is not lost, as the sweatshirt offers!

Pat and I greatly enjoy our time at Sevenoaks four times a year during the three-day Sacred Dimensions modules. We thoroughly enjoy time with our couples’ counselors Sage and Anthony, as well as our daily “Pat and Gary” time with which we begin each day. Who else would we rather be than happy relational wanderers on our lifelong hand-in-hand “inner work” vacation? 

Shared in love, Gary