Do a Vipassana meditation retreat.
The Vipassana Meditation experience consists of a 10-day residential course. It “is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion. The entire practice is actually a mental training. Just as we use physical exercises to improve our bodily health, Vipassana can be used to develop a healthy mind.”
The course is rigorous where students are expected to follow certain rules - such as no talking and no eye contract. These rules are meant to allow participants to disengage from the outside world as much as possible. This introspective journey often yields astonishing results in that meditators become extremely aware of the chatter inside their minds – the monkey mind – a term often used to describe the erratic thinking process that most people experience without ever becoming aware of it. Between day 3 and day 4 is often when students get to experience the calming of the mind, something that rarely happens for most people. Just experiencing that moment makes the whole retreat worthwhile!
These meditation retreats are offered in many places throughout the world. The teachings, food and accommodation are all provided free of cost which makes this experience accessible to anyone.
Take a month-long yoga course.
If silence is not your thing, maybe a month-long yoga course is the perfect choice for your holiday! Agama Yoga is a school located in Sri Thanu on the island of Koh Phangan, Thailand. There are other Agama centers in various parts of the world but the one on Koh Phangan is the main one. The “month-long retreat combines both theory and practice of an integral style of Hatha Yoga. The course goes far beyond the mere instruction on physical postures – asanas -, guiding you through: the activation of energy centers – chakras - within your body, the incorporation of breathing – pranayama - techniques, the practice of meditation, and an immersion into the complete Yogic philosophy, collectively known as the complete Agama Yoga system”. I know of many who have completed this introductory one-month course (myself included) and every one of them has given it the thumbs up!
Take online courses while sitting on a beach or at a café.
There are many courses now offered online and many are free. The range of topics seems limitless. Whether you are keen on perfecting your knowledge of astronomy, cooking or photography, whether you want to perfect your public speaking skills or you simply want to understand crypto currencies, there is a course out there waiting for you to enroll. Visit one of the popular platforms such as Edx.org, Udemy.com or openuniversity.edu. Remember, you keep telling your students to be life-long learners!
Make a difference by volunteering for a cause you believe in.
My brother-in-law decided that he needed a change. The stress of his job had taken over his life and his health was at stake. With the blessing of his wife, he took off on a six-month volunteer stint to build an orphanage in northern Thailand. The experience was exactly what he needed – time away to do something that made him happy. It was wonderful to read his Facebook posts, a sharp contrast to what he had been experiencing before going to Thailand. Although his initial reason to volunteer was for his own health, the benefits of this decision were shared amongst many of the children in need of this new home.
There are countless such opportunities to volunteer one’s time and energy. Habitat for Humanity is a great organization that is always looking for volunteers. There is something very satisfying in helping someone in need – and that is exactly what Habitat for Humanity is good at. There are ongoing projects all over the world – check their website and see if you can spare a week or a month joining a crew that is about to make a difference for a child, a family or a village!
Walk across Spain.
A few years ago, my wife and I walked. I mean WALKED. We covered a distance of about 800 kilometers in 34 days. We crossed Spain by foot, something many others have done for more than a thousand years. El Camino, as it is called in Spanish, is a famous pilgrimage undertaken by many who do so in hopes of finding answers, who wish to offer prayers, who want to experience culture, and others, who just want to walk. Regardless of the reason why one walks El Camino, none remain unchanged by it.
The whole focus of the journey is to visit the remains of the apostle St-James that are kept at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Although seen by many to be a religious pilgrimage, today’s pilgrims walk the way for many other reasons. For us, it was the desire to experience a country and its culture by walking through it. To this day, the experience remains at the very top of our list when it comes to life highlights!
One thing we quickly discovered is that walking is probably the best way to travel. The slow pace we adopted on our daily walks, which covered between 20 – 40 kilometers each day, created the opportunity to meet countless people along the way. Some even became lifelong friends. Walking also allowed us to see, to really see the beauty of the landscape, the village life, the abundance of nature in the many tended fields, the goodness of people offering good wishes and blessings along the way. The slow pace allowed us to reconnect to the present moment like we rarely experience in the hectic day-to-day life we live in this technology-oriented world that we have created.
So, if you fancy walking then El Camino might be the perfect thing to do during your two-month break!
Write a book.
How many times have you heard someone say ‘One day I need to write a book’? For some reason, many feel that doing so is a great way to express one’s creativity and thoughts. Being no different than many, that is exactly what I did. I spent two months on the beach in Koh Phangan to write. I managed to write the entire first draft of a book in those two months. The whole experience was one of the most rewarding I ever had. The editing and publishing added a few more months to this process. At the end of the whole experience, I realized that my desire to write a book was more about me writing down my thoughts than wanting the world to read my words.
Is it time for you to finally write that book you have been talking about? You can find very affordable bungalows on the beach in southern Thailand, the perfect setting to turn you into a writer!
A long break is the perfect time to stop and reassess everything about one’s life. To do so can be extremely beneficial – stepping out of the routine we create for ourselves allows us to identify habits and beliefs that no longer serve us well. It can also provide us with the excitement and motivation needed to make lasting changes in many areas of our lives. If this is something that resonates with you, it may be a good idea to seek a companion for this inner journey – a book called “The Code of the Extraordinary Mind” by Vishen Lakhiani. “The Code of the Extraordinary Mind is a blueprint of laws to break us free from the shackles of an ordinary life. It makes a case that everything we know about the world is mostly decided not by rational choice – but instead by conditioning and habit. And thus, most people live their lives based on limiting rules and outdated beliefs about pretty much everything – love, work, money, parenting, sex, health and more—which they inherit and pass on from generation to generation.” Up for the inner challenge?
Regardless of whether you choose to travel, meditate, do yoga, write or simply do nothing, all choices have merit, and more so if they are done with mindfulness. Make your choice one that will allow you to return to your classroom a relaxed and happy person because come August or September, another crazy journey begins!
Michel Leroux is an international teacher who has taught mathematics in nine different countries. He is the co-founder of Educators Home Share (www.educatorshomeshare.com), a home sharing platform that caters to educators worldwide. He currently lives in Indonesia with his wife Christine, who is also a teacher.