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My sabbatical began in June with a focus on clearing my mind and destressing.  The first day of the sabbatical, June 1, I went to Fontanelle Forest and walked for half a day.  I sat by the river and prayed.  The Japanese believe that two hours in the forest has healing properties for mind and body, so this was a good start for a sabbatical.

I also first read Michael Ignatieff’s book On Consolation: Finding Solace in Dark Times.  I felt after two years of pandemic and divorce that this book would be a good place to begin sabbatical.  Plus, I really liked his previous book, Ordinary Virtue, which I read near the beginning of the pandemic.

Ignatieff is not a religious believer, so he searches the intellectual and literary tradition for consolation, sharing the stories of key individuals who coped with the various crises of their lives. People like Paul, Cicero, Montaigne, Lincoln, etc. One goal of these stories is to realize that we are not alone in our distress, that our suffering is part of the human condition.

Ignatieff defines consolation as “what we do, or try to do, when we share each other’s suffering or seek to bear our own.”  He describes it as an act of solidarity in both space and time, drawing attention to the fact that we can find consolation by connecting with a person from the past in their writings, music, and art.  The study of the past also helps us because when we do we don’t “feel that we are . . . marooned in the present.”

Which is important given the difficult times we’ve all experienced the last few years.

For Ignatieff, consolation is more than comfort, which he describes as fleeting.  Consolation he believes is enduring, and is found when we reconcile ourselves to life, when we can once again hope for the future.  He writes:

To be reconciled we must first make peace with our losses, defeats, and failures. To be consoled is to accept these losses, to accept what they have done to us and to believe, despite everything, that they need not haunt our future or blight our remaining possibilities.

That paragraph shaped my approach to the sabbatical as it began.

There is much to heal, learn, and grow from in what we’ve all experienced.  And I appreciated this book that drew upon the wisdom of the ages, from Job to Camus.

Ignatieff closed the book with a meditation on the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz.  Milosz taught that to feel consoled one has to be “reconciled to one’s losses, to have come to terms with one’s shame and regrets, and to feel, despite everything, alive to the beauty of life.”  And, this is quite important, consolation is not work we do once and are done.  It is “the work of a lifetime.”


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